A healthy diet is an important pillar of good health, but that doesn’t mean it’s always easy.
Along with exercise and stress management, healthy eating reduces the risk of lifestyle-related illnesses and helps manage health conditions (1 Trusted Source, 2 Trusted Source).
However, the average American does not eat a very healthy diet. The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) Healthy Eating Index gave the average American diet a score of 59 out of 100, using the most recent data from 2015 (3).
Eating healthy while away from home and while traveling can pose unique challenges.
You may be tempted to skip meals. It can also be difficult to figure out where to buy nutritious food, decide what to pack in your lunch box, and determine how to keep a balanced meal while eating out.
This comprehensive guide explains how to maintain a nutritious diet while traveling.
The basics of healthy eating
To eat healthy, you need to get a variety of nutrients from all five food groups: dairy, high-protein foods, grains, fruits, and vegetables.
Each food group offers a different main nutritional benefit, so by combining the food groups you can get a spectrum of nutrients that support good health.
Examples of foods from each group are:
Dairy: milk, cheese, yogurt, lactose-free milk, fortified soy milk
Protein-rich foods: seafood, meat, poultry, eggs, peas, beans, nuts, seeds, and soy products
Grains: wheat, rice, oats, cornmeal, barley
Fruits: fresh, canned, frozen or dried fruits and 100% fruit juice
Vegetables (non-starchy): fresh, canned, frozen or dried vegetables (raw or cooked) and 100% vegetable juice
MyPlate is a nutritional guide and meal planning tool that helps people eat healthy. The USDA developed it based on the Dietary Guidelines for Americans.
She recommends making at least half of your grains whole, varying your protein sources, and choosing low-fat or fat-free dairy products.
To prepare a healthy dish, whether for a meal or a snack, try combining foods from at least two food groups for a variety of nutrients.
How to fill your plate for a healthy meal
Fill half your plate with non-starchy vegetables like spinach or cabbage.
Then fill a quarter of your plate with protein-rich foods, such as chicken, fish, or navy beans, depending on your preference.
Lastly, fill the remaining quarter of your plate with grains like rice or quinoa.
Healthy Meal Example 1: Garlic Butter Baked Chicken, Sauteed Vegetables, and Rice
Healthy meal example 2: a cheese sandwich made with whole wheat bread, cottage cheese, and sliced tomatoes
Combine a grain with a food high in protein, fat, or fiber.
Your body digests mixed foods that include protein, healthy fats, and fiber more slowly than grains alone. This keeps you full longer, which can help you maintain a healthy weight and control your blood sugar.
Healthy Snack Example 1: Apple Nut Butter
Healthy Snack Example 2: Yogurt with Dried Fruit and Nuts
How skipping meals can backfire
You may wonder what’s wrong with skipping meals.
It’s not unhealthy in and of itself, but skipping meals can backfire, leaving you feeling hungry later and overeating at your next meal or filling up on unhealthy snacks. We are often not good at making healthy diet decisions when we are hungry.
If you find this to happen to you, it may help to have pre-planned meals ready to grab and go when you’re in a rush.
That said, research has shown that skipping breakfast isn’t necessarily bad for you. If eating breakfast (or eating at any time of the day) just isn’t part of your eating schedule, that’s fine.
Some people also intentionally give up meals for religious or cultural reasons or when they practice intermittent fasting. However, this is usually planned in advance and is not the same as accidentally skipping a meal because you are in a rush.
Here’s how to eat healthy in fi.ve common situations when you’re on the go.
Scenario 1: run out the doorIf you find yourself constantly walking out the door in the mornings without a plan for breakfast or even lunch, you are not alone.
This is a scenario that I found myself in often during my dietary internship. Short sleep times combined with high stress and poor meal planning meant I often skipped breakfast without intending to.
In this situation, we can recognize the importance of planning and preparing meals.
Even if you can’t change your busy schedule soon, you may be more prepared to nurture your body despite the rush.
Planning your meals will help you be more organized and purposeful about eating nutritious food in the morning. It will also help you stop accidentally skipping meals.
Prepare the night before. Prepare breakfast and morning snack the night before. For example, overnight oats and chia pudding are easy to make for a quick on-the-go option. Pack a lunch bag with your meals and a reusable water bottle to stay hydrated.
Shake bags. You can make bags filled with pre-measured smoothie ingredients to make a smoothie serving for a quick drink before you go out.
Buy or make healthy bars. Protein or energy bars can be a quick snack on the way out the door or on the go until you can sit up and eat. Be sure to buy bars that are lower in sugar and higher in protein, fiber, and other nutrients.