Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Healthy Food Choices on the Road

A moment of Déjà vu passed over me. I had seen this view before while sitting in a parking lot one evening. Straight ahead, a gas station within the lot; to my left, a huge building stretching almost a block, a Walmart superstore; and to my right, the large, yellow, curved “M” on a post signaling a McDonalds.  Today, these appear be the cornerstones of small towns in middle America.

Driving through rural areas, the arrival to a town is often signaled by a food and gas sign at the side of the freeway. These signs encourage you to exit and fill your car with gas at Texaco or Valero or any of the largest gas station chains, and feed your hunger with McDonalds, Burger King, Taco Bell, or Subway. The products remain remotely the same everywhere.  To an average driver, the accessibility of a gas station is likely the biggest factor in if they will stop or continue driving. Gas price, although varying only slightly within region, and familiarity with the coffee, or other convenience store goods may also influence if someone decides to wait until the next station. Fast food comes in different varieties, but fast food chains all fit in one terrible category – fast food. In more metropolitan regions there are healthy versions of fast food, but what is found in small towns, right off the freeway fits the core definition. This food is convenient, processed, packed with calories and formulated to be tasty. Even health food fans sometimes admit they enjoy an occasional indulgence, but those who are road tripping, plagued with hunger, and watching their route stretch on will read sign after sign offering the same solution to their appetite.

So how are we supposed to make healthy food decisions while on the road? Sometimes a place to pull over to for a short break from driving and a chance to replenish our bodies is absolutely necessary.

My solution involves a grocery store visit where healthier snacks are more available. The caveat is finding a place to sit with this food. My car is essentially my magical home on wheels and I can sit there in a pinch, but my bottom usually needs to feel a different chair and my eyes want a change of scenery. Sometimes I head to a fast food chain, buy myself a coffee, and eat my yogurt or other food while in the corner, watching. I used to drive around with protein shakes until I stopped consuming artificial sugars. I would bring a warm shake into a fast food chain, buy a cup of coffee to pay for my right to sit in their establishment, and ask for a cup of ice. The ice cooled my car-warmed shake and essentially improved the flavor. I have grown fond of buying yogurts, pre-cooked hardboiled eggs, boxes of lettuce, hummus, apples, bananas and avocados to supplement bags of nuts, protein/nut bars and the occasional bit of dried turkey. Lettuce is my substitute for crackers; essentially calorie free, important nutritionally, and naturally lightly flavored. I find I am able to eat lettuce throughout my day so when I do decide to buy a meal, I do not have to worry about still needing to get some vegetables that day. Your favorite, simple, healthy foods may be different from mine, but the idea is to buy whole foods with real nutrition, rather than processed food.

My resolve to eat healthy, to keep my body in the condition I prefer to see in my photos, sometimes fails. Even I cave on occasion and purchase fast food. But the way I feel afterwards reminds me why I stay away. My hunger is replaced by an unending thirst, and I am not even certain I am satisfied. I could teach my body to accept fast food, but the idea of forcing my body to adjust to unhealthy food would be crazy. Unhealthy food does not give me the energy I need to function at my best.

By being conscious about what I eat while literally on the road, I am able to be a little less selective when in a restaurant situation. Sometimes a pastry with a coffee is essential to my happiness, or having a real meal at a sit down restaurant when faced with the opportunity and time. Overall healthy eating allows us to make indulgences, and periodically we need this.

(One night out with a friend - ramen with a zillion calories of goodness, brussel sprouts and sake)

There are times when we feel completely helpless in the battle against our American food options, as we are bombarded with visions of temptation and occasionally they seem like the only option. I may not be able to avoid what our nation now offers readily, but I can push myself to making healthier decisions.  For me, a couple of days of practical eating are worthwhile for the energy, physical fitness and the reward of a great meal without any worry about the calories or fat later on.

Just a bit of food for thought.

Photographed by NRS Photo