Eat Smart: How to Make Healthy Food Choices on the Road

Registered dietitian Jennifer Sygo travels all over the world to advise organizations like Athletics Canada and the Toronto Maple Leafs on healthy nutrition. Here are her essential tips on how to stay fuelled while working away from home.


If you’re flying east to west, push your breakfast time until later. “I don’t want to eat that 6 a.m. breakfast in Toronto, because by the time dinner rolls around in Vancouver I’m on my fifth meal of the day,” Sygo explains. Another tip: Skip the heavy – and often expensive – hotel breakfast and power up on oatmeal instead. Sygo heads to the nearest Starbucks, where she orders hers made with steamed milk, or uses the in-room kettle to boil water for the packets of oatmeal she carries in her suitcase. A handful of pumpkin or hemp seeds mixed in raises the protein content.


When flying domestic, bring a light salad to eat on board. “People always think you can’t bring liquid food through security,” says Sygo, “but salad dressing is allowed if it’s less than 100 ml and fits in your clear baggie.” Cut-up fruits and vegetables are another staple for frequent travellers flying within Canada, as is hummus. Crossing a border can present more challenges with customs regulations, so look for healthy options to purchase inside the airport, like smoothies or wraps. 


When confronted with unexpected delays, it’s good to have some healthy non-perishable snacks in your carry-on. “Planning ahead gives you a tool to mitigate any gaps between meals,” says Sygo, who regularly relies on meal-replacement bars like an organic Clif Bar (her go-to flavour is chocolate chip) or a lower-calorie snack like Lärabar’s fruit and nut bars. And be sure to think before opting for an alcoholic drink – on an empty stomach it can lower inhibitions and facilitate poor food choices.


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Lunch breaks during seminars or conferences can sabotage your working energy just as you’re getting going. Refined carbohydrates like bread, pasta and pita cause blood sugar to surge and then crash. Discipline is key, so limit yourself to one plate from a self-serve buffet. “My plate is one-quarter protein, one-quarter carb, half vegetable, and I call it a day,” says Sygo. An after-lunch coffee is fine if that’s your normal routine, though remember that the average half-life of caffeine in the body is seven hours. Often, a short walk and some daylight are an equally effective post-lunch refresher.


Don’t be afraid to ask for menu substitutions. In Sygo’s one-on-one nutrition counselling to business executives, she encounters clients who are reluctant to ask caterers or hotels to provide special dietary arrangements. But her own experience working around allergies to peanuts, chicken and fish (she’ll pay a premium to replace chicken with beef on a salad) has reinforced the importance of speaking up. “I tell my clients that if they become insulin-resistant or diabetic, they’re going to need special accommodations anyways, so they might as well make it a priority now.”


And finally, remember that a client dinner can offer traps in the form of rich restaurant food and peer pressure. “I’ll eat a handful of almonds before I leave for dinner,” says Sygo, “because the fats in nuts help to suppress appetite hormones.” This strategy to take the edge off hunger goes a long way toward choosing healthier menu options. A glass of wine or beer with dinner is okay, but don’t lean on alcohol to help with sleep – it may feel like it’s easier to fall asleep in an unfamiliar hotel bed after a few drinks, but the quality of rest diminishes while the body is processing alcohol.