Eating Well on a Road Trip

Somewhere between Manitoba & Saskatoon

What a week! I just got back from a 5-day trip to Saskatoon for my sisters wedding. We drove, so I had to manage eating at truck stop diners and making smart food decisions with celebration food/drink at the bridal shower, rehearsal dinner, wedding night & day after gift opening party.

In similar situations, I’ve heard many of my clients say “oh well, there won’t be many good food choices that I can make during this time, so I am just going to forget about healthy eating (in efforts not to stress myself out), and just enjoy the festivities”. Have you ever said that to yourself? Do you really think that there is nothing you can do, or do you feel this way just because you don’t want to “miss out”?

You can definitely get off track in 5 days, so the best thing to do is not get off track in the first place. I certainly understand not caring about one meal or one day, but I had 5 days…and I didn’t believe that there was “nothing” that I could do about eating healthy on my trip. There is always a “healthier” food choice.

“Not stressing yourself out for 5 days” – just because their might not be bran buds and low fat yogurt served with whole grain toast and natural peanut butter – could actually cause you more stress when you get back from your trip, especially if you have put on a few pounds.

In situations like this, whether it is for a family vacation, a one-day festive holiday like Thanksgiving, or a business trip, you have to think about incorporating “Damage Control”.  That means, rather than turning your brain off, and trying not think/stress over all the bad eating your are going to do, you want to take it up a notch by “tuning in” to your eating by planning and paying more attention than you usually do.

Here is how I managed “Damage Control” for the road trip and celebrations without stressing too much about my waistline.

Yes it is possible to manage healthy (or shall I say healthier) eating while traveling or dining out…

Tim Horton’s: They seem to be everywhere, which makes stopping at them convenient while on a road trip. I don’t think that Tim’s has a stellar selection of healthy choices, but you can easily get something filling, without adding to your waistline if you make some smart choices.

  • One morning I had a breakfast sandwich with ham on a low fat English muffin, the other morning I had a yogurt parfait with a coffee (only added milk to my coffee).  I ordered one of their whole wheat sandwiches for lunch on the road. All options that I choose were less than 500 calories.
  • Too keep my meals below 500 calories; I stayed away from all of their cookies, donuts, & muffins. Low fat or not, they all have trans fat in them.  Oddly, the Tim bits don’t have trans fat in them.  1 Tim bit is between 50-90 calories.  Not a great snack, but 1 won’t do any harm (but can you really stop at one?).
  • Keep in mind that bagels are 2.5 servings of grain products (average bagel is 114 grams, and a Canada’s food guide serving for grain products is 45grams).  They are more of a meal, than a snack. Mulit-grain is not whole wheat (it is still a white bread product, and low in fibre).
  • If I had soup, I would have chosen a reduced sodium soup (they serve about 7 that are 25% less than the regular versions)…not a big difference, but remember these are damage control tips, every “better choice” counts.

Truck stop diners:  (We stopped at Smitty’s and Denny’s):

  • The key here is to always order a salad with dressing on the side before your meal. This will help you fill up. You want to control your salad dressing, because some of these restaurants can really pour it on (which can add an unbelievable 200-300 calories to your meal).
  • The second key is to never eat your entire meal (especially if half the plate was fries and no vegetables).  Most of these restaurants over portion food about 2-3 times what we need to fuel up (plus you are sitting all day and not burning it off).  Depending on what you choose to order, you have to use your best judgment on this one, but I looked up some of the nutrition values of these types of restaurants, and the average meal (breakfast, lunch or dinner), are all 800-1200 calories per meal.
  1. All the skillets, pancakes, waffles are over 1000 calories.
    1. All of the breakfast sides are about 300-500 caloires (perfect about for a Never get tooooooo hungry on your trip. This is so you don’t over eat on the restaurant food. Pre-pack in your vehicle healthy snacks (like apples) and trail mix (like almonds, a few dark chocolate chips and dried cranberries).  I packed a cooler with yogurt cups, cheese, fruit, and milk).

    ***Note: A meal should be around 500 calories and a snack around 200 calories.

    Buffets: The wedding meal was a gorgeous buffet. Some people think that buffets are hard to manage, but I think they are the best. You can usually load up on the healthier foods and then take smaller portions of the unhealthy food.

    • My first game plan is to always take a walk around the buffet and quickly look at everything being served. Decide what you “must try” and what you don’t really need to try.
    • Then implement the “Plate Method” and you should do fine.  Load up ½ your plate with vegetables. Usually there is a fresh veggie platter, a salad selection and steamed veggies. Make sure to take from all selections.
    • Then make ¼ of your plate meat, and a ¼  of your plate grain products…add a side salad too. Share a bun with a family member, or make sure you choose a small one.
    • If your plate your meal like this, you will even have room for a small dessert.

    *However…this was a wedding. After the meal, we were served a crème brule dessert, but I knew that there was also going to be wedding cake. So I had to make a decision on which I wanted more…and I decided to go with the wedding cake and shared it with my husband.


    • My best advice is to try and sip your drink as long as you can to make it last through out the night.
    • Drink a glass of water for every standard drink you have to stay hydrated.
    •  There is no alcoholic drink that is better than another…it is all liquid sugar…and try your best to consume in moderation.

    Burn the excess calories off when you can:  If you know you have over done your eating (especially if it is a few days in a row)…make sure you try to get some exercise. This is really important for damage control. If you have over consumed what you body needs for energy, the excess calories are converted into fat storage. If you go for a walk, swim or work out in the hotel gym you will be less likely to gain any weight.

    So those are my tips that work for me. I’d love to hear from you and see if there are other tips that people use to manage these “eating well” challenges. Hope these tips help you out on your next road trip or social event! ~ Susan


    FYI – Menu info.:

    Tim Hortons:






About alittlenutrition

Susan is passionate about teaching others how to achieve optimal health and wellness by taking the confusion out of nutrition and promoting fun ways to stay active. Susan has been a certified fitness instructor for over 8 years and enjoys teaching yoga, pilates, and fitball classes at Elite Fitness and Dance. However, her main interest in nutrition has led her in the direction of becoming a registered dietitian. Susan completed her undergrad in Human Nutritional Science at the University of Manitoba and has recently completed her dietetic internship with the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority. Currently she is now combining her fitness skills with her nutrition knowledge and offering comprehensive nutritional and lifestyle coaching. Prior to becoming a dietitian, Susan worked as a sales executive for a variety of paint manufactures for over 10 years. She created innovative sales initiatives and marketing programs for corporate and independent retails stores. Now with her knowledge of nutrition and her business experience, she helps restaurants and food service operations create healthier meals options for their customers. Susan is highly involved in community health promotion, as she has been appointed to sit on the Recreation and Wellness Commission of Niverville and the Chair person for the South Eastman RHA District Health Advisory Council Western division. She is the co-founder of former the Niverville Active Living and she has put on many community health promotion activities such as: * Lose It For Life - Weight loss / Lifestyle Transformation program * Family Fitness Month…Win A Will Contest * Niverville Fair ~ Smoothie Booth * Community Cholesterol Reduction Challenge * Cooking On A Budget * Couch Potato Race She is a member of the College of Dietitians of Manitoba, Dietitians of Canada, Manitoba Fitness Council and the Canadian Obesity Network. In her spare time, Susan enjoys cooking for her family, gardening, photography and being physically active outdoors with her husband and friends.
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