Saturday, August 22, 2015

Healthy Eating on Vacation - Part 3. Train travel

Welcome to Part 3 of my Healthy Eating on Vacation series - Train travel.

Mid-way through our trip, we took a train from my family's to my in-laws house.

This involved:
1.  2 hour drive to the "big city" (Erie)
2.  Dinner in Erie
3.  Overnight hotel stay
4.  Breakfast at McDonald's (included in the hotel stay)
5.  Train trip to Upstate NY

Train travel is much like airplane travel.  The food on Amtrak sucks (I know this by experience).  Luckily, this was a short trip - supposed to be 6 hours (was actually 7 due to construction).  I've been on 24 hour trips fun in the food department.

This trip had a few new challenges:
1.  We had to carry all our bags with us (no checked bags)
2.  We were leaving from a hotel room, not from home. That limits your food choices.
3.  We were in the city for dinner, with no kitchen

Let's start with step 1: dinner.  Erie is like any other city, with many restaurants and grocery stores.  I knew that my stepdad would want to have dinner at a restaurant, and truthfully - we hadn't eaten out all trip at that point.  I chose Applebees, because I know they have paleo-friendly, lower calorie options.  I also know that they have meals that my stepdad likes.

In general, I avoid sit-down restaurants with the kids because the 3 year old cannot sit still.  And in fact, he didn't.  When his older brother was 2 to 4, we didn't eat out either.

I ordered the Napa chicken with portobellos.  I have to say, it was kind of bland and overcooked.  But my 3 year old loved it.  So much for choosing healthy - I ended up eating one of his mini-sliders. I tried to talk him into getting chicken, because he likes chicken, but NO.  (Step #1 of a good mom, always order something that your kid likes.  Step #2 be willing to trade with him.)

From there we went back to the hotel to go to bed.  We had a room with 2 double beds.  My stepdad was next door.  We all slept great!  Okay, I lie.  My toddler fell out of the bed.  So my husband joined us so we could trap him.  Two adults, one toddler, in a full bed.  And the toddler did NOT want to share, so he woke up every half hour to push, kick, and complain.

Train left at 7 am.  So we were up at 5 am.  We went to McDonald's for breakfast.  I know, I know.  But this particular hotel had no breakfast, but they gave you a voucher to the McD's across the parking lot.  Again, you have to be flexible.  Big boy ordered pancakes, but only ate one.  Toddler ate the other one.  I had a coffee (my second, the first was from the hotel office), and an Egg McMuffin, because I figured it would be filling.

Next thing we did is pack up.  This particular room had a fridge.  I'd taken some snacks in a cooler up with us.  This is a good tip - your food choices expand when you have access to refrigeration.  It was very nice of my stepdad to drive us up and stay up overnight to take us to the station.

Snacks from the fridge that we packed up:
1.  string cheese
2.  hard boiled eggs - I peeled them at the hotel and put them in a baggie with salt and pepper
3.  apples
4.  raw veggies again (cucumber, carrots mostly)

Other snacks:
Granola bars
2 small bags of M&Ms from grandpa's house.  That candy did come in handy.  My newly potty trained toddler is afraid of public restrooms (can you blame him?) His reward for using the train bathroom was the M&M's.
Water bottles

So my meals looked like this:
Breakfast: egg McMuffin
Snack: shakeo protein shake (I just made it and shook it up and drank it on the way to the train station)
Lunch/snacks on the train: Quest bar, raw veggies, apple, eggs, string cheese.
Dinner: birthday party at my MILs house!  Did I mention that we were traveling on hubby's birthday?

Again, my husband and kids bought some additional snacks, coffee, water, and lemonade from the train.

All in all the 7 hour trip wasn't too bad.  Amtrak seats are pretty comfy and spacious. The kids napped, watched movies, colored, played games on the pads.  We enjoyed the sights, the brief view of the lake.  We had to stop 2x for construction, which made us an hour late.

Probably the most exciting/ scary/ stupid part was watching people at the Erie station.  There was a cargo train that went by before the passenger train.  About 1/4 mile down the tracks there were two people purposely standing in front of the train and jumping out at the last minute.  For both trains.  I hope they were arrested.  Sometimes I think about Darwin, but really you have to feel bad for the guys driving the train.

Have you ever traveled by train?  Do you have any other tips on packing food for the train?

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Healthy Eating on Vacation - Part 2. When you are the cook

Welcome to Part 2 of my series: Eating Healthy on Vacation.

Part 2 covers "When you are the cook", aka "When you have control".

Let's face it, when you are cooking at home, you have control over what goes into your food and what you eat.  Traveling has a whole other set of problems.  I went over my method of controlling my food on an 18-hour day of driving and flights (basically, take all your own food).  Now I'm going to review my methods when I'm the cook.

We spent a week with my stepfather.  He doesn't cook, so I did the cooking. This is a good thing!  However I had to navigate some picky eating - his and mine.  And my brother's family was over for dinner a couple of times, resulting in my cooking for 8 or 9 people.  This wasn't too terrible because I normally batch-cook anyway.  There were just no leftovers.

The difficulty in a new place is the type and quality of food.  My options were Walmart and... Walmart.  (That's not totally true, there is a farmstand and family gardens.)  My stepdad insisted on buying vegetables ahead of time, which is hard when he doesn't eat them. I am picky about my veggies.  I get very high quality in California (hello CSA!)  So when in other places, I am likely to look at the veggies, and the price, and make choices.  For example, I may go in looking for cucumbers and peppers, but leave with cauliflower and carrots, because they look better.

That meant I was doing a LOT of winging it with what he got.  He generally wasn't interested in the veggies himself, so I tried to make what we had tasty.  Here's what I made:

raw veggies: peppers, carrots, cucumbers (from his and my sister's gardens) with hummus
Greek salad (onion, peppers, cucumber, olives, tomatoes)
Sauteed frozen broccoli
Sauerkraut and kielbasa (homemade sauerkraut from my BIL!)
Baked chicken tenders with hashbrowns

I also went to a family party (took the Greek salad to it). My siblings brought lots of yummy foods, homemade mostly.  I tend to give myself one meal "off" a week, so I don't need to stress in that situation.  And I didn't!  I also have a bunch of recipes saved for later.  There was cowboy beans, pulled pork, jalapeno dip, corn pudding, pie, meatball sandwiches, veggies and hummus, salads...

The big difficulty during this week was the junk food - candy, cookies, chips, gatorade, soda, beer.  (This was also a challenge for the second half of the trip.)  It's hard to say no to it all the time, and my 9 year old is a gatorade fiend (we almost NEVER buy it).  I ended up hiding the candy so that they didn't know about it, and they only really had chips or cookies a couple of times.  I admit to a beer (or a few) and some sodas.  The liquid calories were the killer all around, especially gatorade for the big kiddo.  The little one was fine with water and milk.

It's hard to say no when it is there!  This is why my #1 recommendation for anyone trying to lose weight or be healthy is this - KEEP IT OUT OF THE HOUSE.   Now, there are some things that I didn't realize would even be tempting - like the soda! I don't drink it anymore.  But it was.  Seriously tempting.  Because: there it is, staring at you.

Many people don't want to "deprive" their spouse or kids of the junk food, so they still buy it, and are still tempted.  I say "what??"  I mean the spouse and kids can get it EVERYWHERE - so let them eat it out of the house!  Not stocking it doesn't mean they never get it.

All in all, I did pretty well this week.  It's nice when you have control.  Then, when it's hot out, you can enjoy a little ice cream.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Healthy Eating On Vacation - Part 1. The all-day plane travel

If you are a friend, or follow me on FB or Instagram, then you know my family recently traveled on summer vacation.

This was the year that we traveled to visit our families on the opposite side of the country, for two weeks.  The vacation started with one VERY long day.  We left the house around 5 or 5:30 am, drove two hours to Los Angeles, parked the car and took a shuttle to the airport.

Next up was two 3 to 3.5 hour flights, with a short layover in between.  Then another 2 hour drive to my family's house (luckily my stepfather picked us up AND borrowed an Explorer from his brother).

So, how do you eat healthy traveling all day?  It can be tricky.  You can buy food in the airport, but it is rarely healthy.  If you find healthy food, it's expensive (I paid $7.64 for 2 bottles of water at LAX).  You can find salads, but I find that many salads from "elsewhere" make me sick - as if they don't wash the greens first.  My niece travels for business and she carries ALL her own food, often for 3 full days - otherwise she'll go off plan.  (You can read her blog here.)  That's a little much for me, and I'm not sure how well the food would keep when traveling for as long as we did.  (By the time we made it to the house, we'd been "on the road" for 18 hours).

It's of course frugal to bring your own food, also.

Well let's start with my parameters.  First of all, my breakfast is pretty much shakeology every day.  I prefer to blend it with ice and banana.  On the long flight, that's what I did - made it, chugged it, and rinsed out my container and packed it before we left.

I'd really planned on staying "on track" with the 21 day fix for the full trip.  Here was my loose plan on the first travel day:

Breakfast: Shakeo w/ banana (1 red, 1 purple)
Snack in the car: 2 hard boiled eggs, Mary's gone crackers (1 red, 1 yellow)
Lunch at LAX: Vega One shake, apple, raw veggies (1 red, 1 purple 1 green) (I chose Vega One because they mix will with just ice and water)
Snack on the plane: Cashews and cucumber/tomato salad (1 orange, 1 green)
Dinner in Houston: Quest protein bar and more veggies (1 red, 1 green)
Snack: Kind bar: (1 blue, 1 tsp)

I did pretty well, but honestly don't remember exactly what I ate.  We spent a couple of hours or more at the United Club in LAX.  They had nice breakfast options (and good coffee), so I may have had part of a bagel.  They had switched over to lunch before we left.  For my lunch I had packed a tomato and cucumber salad - the lunch offered included hummus and kalamata olives, so I took some of the olives to add to my salad and some hummus to eat with my veggies later.  I also tossed some cheese cubes in my container to go with my crackers.

Of course I drank a ton of water, but carefully timed because you don't want to be stuck on a plane having to pee when the seat belt light is on.  Which the boys and I BOTH had to do when we weren't allowed up.  When the light went off again, yes I went to the bathroom FIRST.  But on the other hand, I let my old son pee in a bottle, while I held a blanket to cover him.  Those $7 bottles of water came in handy.

Bonus: they have bubble water/ seltzer as an option now on United flights, which beats juice/ soda for me.

More about the Vega One: I got the vanilla chai based on online recommendations, and it was yucky. And now I have 28 more of them.  I think I may try to blend them with blueberries, and see if it gets better.  Or bananas.  Or donate them.  Because, yuck.

So, what did my family eat?  Well, I wish I'd taken a picture.  But I didn't.  Each family member got two small baggies with their name on them.
One had raw veggies (carrots, snap peas, cucumber, peppers)
One had other snacks, like nuts, granola bars, or a small chocolate bar.
Each family member also had an apple.
I also took string cheese that I'd frozen so it would defrost as we went.

I did not worry about lunch and dinner for the family.  They ate at the airports.  It's too much work to worry about me AND them, and they like eating out anyway.  Honestly, I don't even remember what they ate at the airports, aside from the free food in the United Club.

In summary, recommendations for healthy eating for long plane travel:
1.  For produce, pack as many fruits and veggies as you'd normally eat during that time.
2.  Fruit: pick things that keep well: apples, oranges - not bananas that mush easily.  Berries or melon in a tupperware container will be good too, and more of a "treat" (with a plastic fork).
3.  Vegetables: raw is your friend. Maybe you can find hummus at the airport.  Chopped salads are great, especially ones that you can pre-dress, like cucumber or bean salads or kale salads.  Depending on how long you are waiting to eat them, I'd avoid dairy.
4.  Pre-pack in baggies or containers with everyone's name, so you don't forget anyone.
5.  Make sure to pack "treats" (100 calorie chocolate bars for us) for the trip.
6.  Bring an empty water bottle for each person (I paid $7.64 for 2 bottles of water at LAX).
7.  Bring some protein - hard boiled eggs, string cheese, nuts.  You can bring tuna packets but do NOT eat those on the plane!
8.  Eat the perishable foods FIRST.  Early in the day you'll be eating the eggs and cheese and berries.  Later in the day you'll be eating apples and nuts.
9.  For inspiration, pretend like you are camping without refrigeration
10.  Pack an "emergency" snack bag, in addition to bags for each family member.  I cannot tell you how many times we have been traveling and we ended up running between flights - so NO time to get food in the airport.  Then, on the next flight, we'd end up in the back of the plane - they would run out of food for sale before they got to us.  My emergency snack bags usually have nuts, fruit, candy, granola bars, crackers.

Let me know in the comments if you have any more tips!