October 15th, 2010
09:28 AM ET

How can I eat right on a business trip?

Every weekday, a CNNHealth expert doctor answers a viewer question. On Friday, it's Dr. Melina Jampolis, a physician nutrition specialist.

Question asked by Amy of Washington

Hi. I am being sent away for travel for two weeks. How do I eat healthy, knowing I will be eating out every meal?

Expert answer:

Hi, Amy. This is a terrific question that I frequently get from my patients. Without knowing where you are going (domestic or international), the best advice that I can give you is to do a little homework, plan ahead and make smarter dining out choices.

First of all, if you are traveling domestically, find out whether the hotel serves breakfast and what kind of options are available (continental breakfast versus full breakfast menu). Also, find out whether your room contains a microwave or mini-fridge. As soon as you arrive at the hotel, find a nearby market and stock up on healthy essentials such as fruit, nuts and low-sugar energy bars that can serve as breakfast on the go or a healthy snack between lunch and dinner, so you don't arrive at restaurant meals famished.

If you have a fridge, include yogurt or milk and whole-grain cereal for an easy in-room breakfast option if the hotel choices are not healthy.

Be sure to pack a few plastic sandwich bags in your luggage so you can portion out nuts and whole-grain cereal for an easy, on-the-go snack. If you want to shop ahead of time, you can bring a few packets of low-sugar instant oatmeal (with added protein if possible), since most hotel rooms have coffee machines that allow you to heat water.

If you will be attending breakfast or lunch meetings, try to find out what will be served and whether there is any way you can order a healthier option if you feel that the choices are not terrific. If not, eat breakfast and do the best you can with less-healthy lunch choices. You can also bring a couple of healthy snacks with you to eat before and after lunch so you can have a smaller lunch without feeling ravenous.

When dining out, do your best to choose lean protein, vegetables and whole grains at meals. Limit high-fat preparation methods including frying, sautéeing and breading, and watch for hidden calories in sauces and dressings. I always recommend getting any sauce or dressing on the side so you can use a smaller amount or simply dip the end of your fork in the side dish before each bite. You may also want to consider getting two healthier appetizers for dinner, since restaurant portions are often much larger. Finally, try not to indulge too much in bread, dessert and alcohol, which are often much more readily available and appealing when dining out.

And don't forget trying to squeeze in a little exercise each day, even if it is just running up and down the hotel stairs for 10 minutes and doing 10 minutes of calisthenics in your room if the hotel does not have a gym.

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soundoff (26 Responses)
  1. Chip Hart

    When I travel for work, which is often, I try to eat as much food as I can *from the grocery store*. Even non-fast good restaurants make over-rich meals too tempting, especially after a long day.

    Instead, I hit a supermarket and grab an apple (or some fruit), some power/granola bars, and perhaps some healthier salads from their deli. Even a quick homemade salad in my hotel room is 1/2 the price of room service and less likely to include onion rings 🙂

    October 15, 2010 at 10:14 | Report abuse | Reply
  2. Lucky

    Before you buy perishables, like dairy, for your room fridge – realize that they are often just refreshment centers not designed to keep things cold, just cool. I bring a zipper-pull thermometer and check the temp first. It should be below 40 degrees to be safe. Nothing worse than spoiled milk.

    October 15, 2010 at 10:15 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Constantine

      I guess two weeks is the limit – anything less than that – i just order off the menu and thats that

      October 17, 2010 at 00:09 | Report abuse |
  3. Kate

    I usually stock up on some Greek yogurt and throw that in the fridge. When I'm out I usually try to eat only half of my dinner at the restaurant and save the rest for later just to save some calories and even money lol for more great tips check out http://www.diet-myths.com

    October 15, 2010 at 10:16 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. Glenn

    Gee. It sounds so great. But sure doesn't work if your meals are with colleagues or clients. You can't very well invite them to your room for a salad. Plus, many of the restaurants in many areas don't offer "healthy" options. So, it isn't as simple as what is being suggested.

    October 15, 2010 at 10:42 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Noocrat

      God forbid you have to practice – *gasp* – portion control!

      October 15, 2010 at 14:39 | Report abuse |
    • FreeSpiritGal

      Glenn – when there's a will, there's a way 😉
      Losers have excuses; winners create solutions.

      October 15, 2010 at 14:46 | Report abuse |
    • Constantine

      screw portion control – i go expensive and that justifies the control

      October 17, 2010 at 00:10 | Report abuse |
  5. Karen

    Sandwich, low sugar instant oat meal, whole-grain cereals? Not really healthy. At the hotel you can better take the bacon and eggs for breakfast. If you are eating out, ask for more vegetable to replace the rice, potatoes, pasta and bread. And skip the sweet desserts. More ideas you can find here http://bit.ly/9OYe5F

    October 15, 2010 at 11:06 | Report abuse | Reply
    • vieille

      All carbs are not evil.
      The writer should have specified, and you shouldn't have assumed.

      A sandwich with low-sodium turkey/chicken on Ezekial bread (or another whole wheat/grain bread with all natural ingredients and no HFCS) with lettuce, tomato, and maybe some mustard would be healthy.

      Quaker Old Fashioned Oatmeal, plain, with some agave nectar to sweeten would be healthy. So would steel-cut oats, but they're on the more expensive side and are harder to find.

      As for whole grain cereals, how about Kashi Good Friends? It's comparable to other cereal when it comes to carbs and protein, but it packs a whopping 12 grams of fiber into each serving.

      As for the rest... eggs, yes; bacon, no–not unless it's turkey and low sodium; vegetables, obviously yes; rice, yes–if it's brown; potatoes, yes, if they're sweet potatoes; pasta, perhaps, if it's whole grain; bread, see above.

      And I think it goes without saying that people should avoid sweet desserts. If you find yourself craving though, get some super-dark chocolate. Don't eat too much of it though; it can be calorie-dense, but it has antioxidant properties that can be beneficial. Just don't eat it with a glass of milk, because that nulls its healthy properties.

      October 15, 2010 at 11:34 | Report abuse |
  6. Graywolf

    On a business trip, you'll spend very little time in your room, and almost never have a meal in your room. Dr. Jampolis obviously hasn't done many business trips. I've been flying on business trips for two decades non-stop, and find this advice not practical at all. Didn't even mention that you have to pack food in checked-in bags (can't take food in a carry-on through security), and I've had many bottles of wine, laptops, and food packages get devastated in my checked-in bags, even when packed security in the middle of all my close and well padded. Finally, most business trips take you to business centers and hotels where real grocery stores are not readily available. Total waste of time.

    October 15, 2010 at 11:21 | Report abuse | Reply
    • LM

      Actually, you can bring food through security/in your carry-on. Done it many times! (I have food allegries and cannot eat most airport food)

      October 15, 2010 at 12:52 | Report abuse |
    • Zink

      Yes Graywolf....food is ok in carry-ons, just not EVIL LIQUIDS...I pack my own lunch on every flight I take!

      October 15, 2010 at 18:53 | Report abuse |
    • Constantine

      yeah – dont think the doc travels much either

      October 17, 2010 at 00:10 | Report abuse |
  7. Erika

    For breakfast at least you can always count on Starbucks now that they have oatmeal on the list of available items. That, a bottled water and non-fat latte or coffee are a perfect morning routine when I travel since there's usually a Starbucks in the vacinity. Lunches and dinners are another story.

    October 15, 2010 at 12:15 | Report abuse | Reply
  8. Cheryl

    I am one month into a two month trip. Luckily, I have a micro and small refrig/freezer combo in the room. The hotel continental breakfast includes plain oatmeal, apples, bananas, hard boiled eggs, and yogurt. Most days, I have the oatmeal for breakfast and take a yogurt and piece of fruit on the go with me for snacks later. I run to the grocery for skim milk, light bread, and a variety of items to make light dinners. In a pinch, I rely on low-cal frozen meals. When I'm stuck with a restaurant, I choose well and drink a lot of water and tea so I'm mindful of when my tummy is full. I have dark chocolate back at the room for "dessert" later on. It can be done, but it's not easy!

    October 15, 2010 at 12:40 | Report abuse | Reply
  9. Susan

    Here's how I wound up losing .5 pound on a recent week out of town (part business, part family event)
    1. I got fiber in as often as possible, from choosing Raisin Bran at the hotel breadfast bar to ordering salad/veggies with every meal
    2. I took advantage of the hotel gym and squeezed in 30 minutes on the treadmill or bike most days
    3. I ignored the donuts and snacks offered during meetings
    4. I did not clean my plate at every meal

    Hope this helps –

    October 15, 2010 at 13:51 | Report abuse | Reply
    • JSR

      That is great- and a very important point that the article left out- the hotel gym!

      October 15, 2010 at 15:14 | Report abuse |
  10. CJ

    Doesn't offer advice for foreign travel, where 1) I don't speak the language 2) there are no grocery stores or markets nearby in the business district 3) I don't have a car here and 4) the local cuisine is quite fatty with not much concept for 'healthy' options. Also, its difficult to travel light and bring gym clothes and shoes in addition to what I need for business. Even domestic travel I frequently don't have time to go find grocery stores and do the shopping.

    October 15, 2010 at 16:18 | Report abuse | Reply
  11. gotoit

    This is very possible domesitcally. You don't need a grocery store. Even 7-11's and gas stations have single serving fruit, cereal cups etc. If you have a fridge – I try to stay in extended stay hotels, then you can buy enough for a few days and breakfast is covered if there is not already free continental breakfast offered by the hotel. I tend to eat very light dinners so when I am not dining with colleagues, a can of soup or peanut butter crackers and milk suffice. Veggie sandwiches or wraps with baked chips are a lunch staple.

    Occasionally I splurge on Indian restaurants or such where going veggie does not seem to be an imposition. I love meat but was forced to give it up on account of cholesterol. Even the leanest meat has the same amount of cholesterol as the most fatty pieces.

    Easiest way to lose weight is to give up meat and cheese. You can easily lose upto 5 pounds in a few weeks without altering anything else. The difficulty is to accept less choices in your meals because most American food is so full of meat and cheese. Don't mistake it, I love it, but it just is not good for you.

    October 15, 2010 at 16:44 | Report abuse | Reply
  12. Fred

    When traveling I enjoy eating out. I search for healthy places like seafood places, japanese restaurants, vegetarian places.

    I eat at home when I'm not traveling. On business trips the little luxury of eating out is something I take full advantage of.

    October 15, 2010 at 19:21 | Report abuse | Reply
  13. hellary

    you should get a good fridge with you , one of those fridges that are portable and have their own charger so you can place them in your car or office , here , this should help you choose the best one

    October 7, 2015 at 04:12 | Report abuse | Reply
    • hellary

      you should get a good fridge with you , one of those fridges that are portable and have their own charger so you can place them in your car or office , here , this should help you choose the best one

      October 7, 2015 at 04:14 | Report abuse |
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Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.

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