Healthy Eating Tips for the Holiday Travel Season

By: Robyn Flipse, MS. MA, RDN–
Consultant to the Calorie Control Council

One of the best things about the holidays is the chance to spend time with the people we don’t get to see as often as we’d like throughout the year. But getting together with far-flung family and friends means we have to spend some time traveling. Packing the right clothes for your final destination may be top of mind, but it’s important to consider the foods you’re going to pack for the trip so you can have a healthy journey.

Traveling by Plane

Anything you bring to the airport to eat or drink on the plane must pass through the X-ray machine at the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) checkpoint. Liquid and gel foods larger than 3.4 ounces are not allowed in carry-on luggage, just like the restriction on other liquids. Hummus and yogurt fall into this category so consider packing them in smaller portions or substituting with solid foods if you are hoping to eat them on board.

The TSA Liquid Rule also applies to any food gifts you may have packed in your carry-on bag, even if wrapped. Keep that in mind and pack these products in checked luggage or mail them in advance so precious gifts are not thrown away.

Food items taken through security must be either whole, natural foods, like a piece of fruit, or foods in a container (salad) or wrapped (sandwich). No open food is allowed, such as an unwrapped donut or slice of pizza, since they can contaminate the security equipment.

Consider purchasing additional foods and beverages after you have cleared security checkpoints. There are no restrictions on foods and beverages purchased in the terminal or Duty-Free stores after you have passed through security.  Given the close quarters in airplanes, however, it does make sense to select items that are easy to eat and without strong odors. Individually wrapped granola bars are a good choice. A tray of sushi is not. Additionally, be sure to bring and refill your own water bottle and take advantage of any free in flight beverage service to stay properly hydrated in the air.

Even on flights under two hours, you will probably get hungry before reaching your destination if you consider your travel time to the airport and waiting at the gate. I count on a small bag of mixed nuts to hold me over since I can pack them or buy them at kiosks at most airports.  Eating my snack with a complementary can of diet soda on the plane means I am less tempted to order something from the in-flight menu.

Traveling by Car

Whether traveling by plane or automobile, you’re going to spend a lot of time sitting so you won’t be expending much energy in transit. This means you won’t need high caloric foods to sustain you along the way. While there are more places to buy food on the road than in the air, you’ll have to resist all the tempting fare lining the shelves and select the healthy, low-calorie options. One way around that is to plan your pit stops so you know where the better roadside eateries are on your route and what’s on the menu.

Another option is to BYOCF (bring your own car food).  I recommend eating a meal before you leave and packing a small cooler with individual “road food” bags for each person, similar to packing lunches for school or work. Sandwiches can be made to order, choice of fruit can be packed whole or peeled and sectioned, and preferred vegetables can be combined with a favorite dip in containers. Pre-frozen non-carbonated diet drinks and single pack light yogurts can be used to help keep things cool. And if you want to include chips and other snacks, it’s best to get the small individual bags or pre-portion them at home to help with portion control.

Don’t forget to include plenty of ways to keep little ones entertained so they don’t resort to mindless eating just to pass the time.

By starting out with the appropriate foods and beverages needed by each person in the car for the duration of your trip, you can avoid the temptation of buying something every time you stop to stretch your legs and use the restroom. You’ll save money this way, too. I do suggest reserving the option to buy one “treat” on the road to make the journey more fun, especially for children. Everything from sugarless gum to beef jerky is available, plus, this allows the driver to get a cup of coffee without denying the kids a little something extra.

For most of us, the best part of our holiday celebrations is the special meals we get to share with the people we love. Don’t spoil it by overeating while traveling.  With a little planning, you can arrive with an appetite, enjoy the celebration, and maybe even play together to release some of the energy you had to contain during your travels!


Robyn Flipse, MS, MA, RDN is a registered dietitian, cultural anthropologist and scientific advisor to the Calorie Control Council, whose 30+ year career includes maintaining a busy nutrition counseling practice, teaching food and nutrition courses at the university level, and authoring 2 popular diet books and numerous articles and blogs on health and fitness. Her ability to make sense out of confusing and sometimes controversial nutrition news has made her a frequent guest on major media outlets, including CNBC, FOX News and USA Today. Her passion is communicating practical nutrition information that empowers people to make the best food decisions they can in their everyday diets. Reach her on Twitter @EverydayRD and check out her blog The Everyday RD.

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