Being away from home for days at home means temptations are around every turn, from airport fast food to hotel room service, all vying for my dollars and will power. In keeping my lunchbox healthy, I not only have more control over my weight, but I also have more energy to get me through my day. It’s no secret that flying is exhausting, for both passengers and working crew, so by metaphorically putting higher quality gas in my tank, I can go further.
Typically, I’m gone for trips 3 days at a time. Here’s what my ideal lunchbox would look like:
- 2-3 breakfasts
- 4 servings of a big batch meal for lunches/dinners
- Finger fruits, veggies & nuts or nut butter
- Something sweet
This formula varies based on how much time I have/what I have in my kitchen. Obviously, this doesn’t cover every breakfast, lunch & dinner for 3 consecutive days, but I’m generally just trying to cover time on the airplane/airports when fresh healthy options aren’t available. During layovers, I usually try to get out of the hotel and eat something local, so 4 servings of something usually leaves a meal hole or two for some exploring.
We just moved from Atlanta, and I frequently stocked up on bottled smoothies from Arden’s Garden, a local juice & wellness spot that sells bottled smoothies & juices at the grocery store. These were great for when I didn’t have time to make something myself while also getting plenty servings of fruits & vegetables.
If I have more time, I’ll try to make something from scratch. One of my go-to recipes is from Sprouted Kitchen for oatmeal breakfast cookies (linked here). These bad boys are nutritious, gluten-free, dairy-free, almost vegan (only 1 optional egg!), and easy to boot. They’re tasty enough that even Matt gets in on the action when I make these. They also freeze well and thaw on the counter overnight or just in your lunchbox after a few hours; I only travel with half a batch at a time. I don’t particularly care for raisins, so I sub 1/4 cup dried cranberries & 1/4 cup mini chocolate chips. It’s a breakfast/anytime snack that tastes like dessert.
A couple slices of bread along with some nut butter is an even easier breakfast solution. Pre-coronavirus, I could always find a banana on the airplane and slice it up on some almond butter toast. Lately, I’ve been packing an avocado and red pepper flakes to make avocado toast. It’s just the two of us at home and getting through a loaf of bread before it goes bad is a challenge, so we’ve taken to leaving sliced bread in the freezer. This is a new practice for me, and I was surprised to find how well bread retains its texture. After sitting at room temp for a couple hours or a quick pop in the toaster at home, you’d never know it was frozen.
Being gone for so long certainly requires some planning to eat well, so the last thing I want to do is spend more time over the stove than I need to. I’m constantly trying out different recipes, which usually serve 4. So if I find one I’m excited about, I’ll make it the day before I leave and portion it out into 4 containers. Ideally, I’ll make something that can be eaten cold or at room temperature so I don’t have to worry about packing oven safe (read: heavy) containers or finding a microwave in between flights. I have a hot logic mini if I really want something hot on the road, but it’s not my favorite because it takes so long to heat food completely.
Grain bowls & salad bowls are easy to make up last minute based on whatever I have in my kitchen. My go-to grain is farro because I’m obsessed with its dense, chewy texture and buy it in the 10-minute bags from Trader Joe’s, but any grain is a great vessel. Some of my favorite additions are fire roasted bell peppers (also from TJs), roasted veggies, blueberries, dried cranberries, walnuts, salad greens – seriously, pretty much anything. I like to quick pickle cucumbers or shallots for an acidic crunch to break it all up. I’ll pack a sauce on the side in my Lunch Bots stainless steel container and dress it as I go to keep it fresher longer. Sometimes I’ll even pack a separate container of chopped herbs to add before I eat if I’m feeling extra bougie.
Overall though, I try to eat vegetarian when I fly. I’m not a day-in-day-out vegetarian, but it’s a lot more forgiving about the temperature of my lunchbox than meat. Matt is always a good sport about vegetarian dishes I want to try when I’m home, but he prefers meals with meat. So I’ll also use my time away to try vegetarian dishes that he’s less excited about. Chickpeas and sweet potatoes are nutritious and infinitely riffable vessels for all kinds of different things.
Fruits, veggies and nut butters help me to avoid less healthy temptations (I’m looking at you, cheez-its). My go-tos are bell pepper slices, apple slices & almond butter, clementines, frozen grapes & TJs omega trek mix.
I keep a tea bag collection of bags I’ve picked up in hotels for when the mood strikes me. My favorites are Earl Grey and lemon ginger.
My sweet tooth is a force to be reckoned with, and if I don’t plan ahead for it, I can get easily carried away with whatever it immediately available. I try to pack berries or chocolate to tame the beast when the mood strikes.
This is something I’ve started just recently, but it really makes a difference in avocado toast or anything that just needs an extra oomf. I just keep some good kosher salt in a small screw top jar, which keeps me from having to use packets of table salt from utensil packets or hotels.
That’s the general concept! Obviously, there are some changes here based on how much time I have/what I have available to me, but this is overarching goal. There’s no reason these concepts can’t be pared down to a smaller scale if you have a traditional job and are home every night. Either way, in being thoughtful about what you’ll eat for the week, you’ll make healthier, better decisions that leave you with more energy, a smaller waistline, and a fuller wallet.