A healthy diet is an important cornerstone of good health, but that does not mean it is always easy.
Along with exercise and stress management, healthy eating reduces your risk of lifestyle diseases and helps manage health conditions.
However, the average American does not eat a very healthy diet. The Healthy Eating Index from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) gave the average American diet a score of 59 out of 100, using the most recent data from 2015.
Healthy eating while you are away from home and on the go can pose unique challenges.
You may be tempted to skip meals. It may also be hard to find out where to purchase nutritious foods, decide what you should pack in your lunch bag, and determine how to maintain a balanced meal while eating out.
This comprehensive guide explains how to maintain a nutritious diet while you are on the go.
The basics of healthy eating
To eat healthy, you need to get a variety of nutrients from the five food groups — dairy, protein-rich foods, grains, fruits, and vegetables.
Each food group offers a different, main nutritional benefit, so by combining the food groups you can get a spectrum of nutrients that support good health.
Examples of foods from each group are:
Dairy: milk, cheese, yogurt, lactose-free milk, fortified soy milk
Protein-rich foods: seafood, meat, poultry, eggs, peas, beans, nuts, seeds, and soy products
Grains: wheat, rice, oats, cornmeal, barley
Fruits: fresh, canned, frozen, or dried fruits and 100% fruit juice
Vegetables: fresh, canned, frozen, or dried vegetables (raw or cooked) and 100% vegetable juice
It recommends making at least half of your grains whole grains, varying your protein sources, and choosing low fat or fat-free dairy products.
To build a healthy plate — whether it’s for a meal or a snack — try pairing foods from at least two food groups to get a diversity of nutrients.
Pair a grain with a protein-, fat-, or fiber-rich food.
Your body digests mixed meals that include protein, healthy fats, and fiber more slowly than grains alone. This makes you feel full for longer, which can help support a healthy weight and blood sugar management.
How skipping meals can backfire
You might wonder what is so bad about skipping meals.
It is not unhealthy in itself, but skipping meals can backfire, causing you to be ravenous later so that you overeat at your next meal or load up on unhealthy snacks. We are often not great at making healthy diet decisions when we are hungry.
If you find this tends to happen to you, you might find it helpful to have preplanned food ready to grab and go when you’re in a rush.
That said, research has shown that skipping breakfast is not necessarily bad for you. If eating breakfast (or food at any particular time of the day) just is not part of your eating schedule, that is OK.
Some people also forego meals intentionally for religious or cultural reasons or when practicing intermittent fasting. However, this is often preplanned and not the same as unintentionally skipping a meal because you are in a rush.
Here is how to eat healthy in five common scenarios when you are on the go.
1: Rushing out the door
If you find yourself constantly rushing out the door in the mornings without a plan for breakfast or even lunch, In this situation, we can recognize the importance of meal planning and preparation.
Even if you are not able to change your busy schedule soon, you can become more prepared to nourish your body despite the rush.
Planning your meals will help you become more organized and intentional about having nutritious foods in the morning. It will also help you stop skipping meals unintentionally.
Prep the night before. Prepare your breakfast meal and morning snack the night before. For example, overnight oats and chia pudding are simple to prepare for a quick grab-and-go option. Pack a lunch bag with your meals and a reusable water bottle to stay hydrated.
Smoothie bags. You can prep bags full of premeasured smoothie ingredients to make one serving of smoothie for a quick drink before you head out.
Buy or make healthy bars. Protein or energy bars can be a quick bite on the way out the door or on the road until you can sit down and have a meal. Make sure to purchase bars with a lower content of sugar and a higher content of protein, fiber, and other nutrients.
Preplanning your breakfast meal and morning snack can help you become more organized and intentional about your nutritional intake. It will also help you avoid skipping meals unintentionally due to your busy schedule.
2: Dining out
Despite the economic effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, eating away from home — or ordering in — remains a primary source of food for most Americans each week.
Of course, dining out has its benefits. The food itself can be very enjoyable, dining with others is a great way to socialize with others, and it is an opportune time to explore new food cultures and tastes.
Learning how to maintain healthy eating when you are ordering restaurant food or dining out is key to supporting your overall lifestyle.
Here are some tips and strategies to keep you on track:
Plan ahead. Many restaurants have online menus that you can review. Decide ahead of time which dishes you might be interested in trying. Keep the basic principles of healthy eating in mind when building your meal combos.
Portion sizes. Before you begin to eat, ask for a takeaway container and pack away the extra food that will be too much for you to consume. Then, eat to satisfaction, not until you are stuffed.
Deserts fit too. Healthy eating does not mean depriving yourself of pleasurable foods. However, consider limiting the amount you eat. You could do this by choosing mini deserts or sharing deserts with others.
Dining out — or ordering in — continue to be popular among Americans. To eat healthy while you are dining out, review online menus prior to arriving and have a plan, be mindful of your portion sizes, and opt for smaller or shared deserts.