Eating Paleo in your own kitchen is hard enough. But doing it on the go can be even harder. In a contest between real food and processed junk, the real food wins hands-down on nutrition, but it really lags in ease of portability.
It’s not impossible, though! The obvious option for travelers is restaurants, but relying on restaurants for every single meal gets expensive, and if you’re stuck somewhere like an airport, there might literally be nothing OK for you to eat. It’s absolutely fine to eat at restaurants and most places will have something Paleo-friendly, but not everyone wants or can afford to do that.
It’s cheaper, and often tastier to pack your own food, so here’s what to pack for any length of trip, no matter where you’re going or how you’re getting there.
Paleo Foods that Keep
Unless you want to haul around a whole kitchen with you when you’re traveling, you need pre-cooked foods that stand up relatively well to room temperature.
The first suggestions are usually “bars” of various kinds – and you can find plenty of bars made with technically Paleo ingredients. Larabars are a favorite (most flavors are just nuts, dates, and spices), but there are also all kinds of other bars based on fruit and nuts (and plenty of recipes for making your own).
The downside of these is that making a meal out of dates and cashews is technically Paleo but well outside the spirit of Paleo nutrition. There aren’t any vegetables there, there’s not nearly enough protein, and these kinds of snacky foods make it very easy to overeat.
Instead of relying on high-sugar, low-protein bars, here are some better ideas:
Trip Length: 1-2 Days
For this length of trip, bringing a cooler makes it totally feasible to pack 100% of your own food if you want. Line the cooler with cold packs and stuff it with…
|Protein||Fat||Fruit, vegetables, and carbs||Other|
*Anything marked with a * will keep at least a week and doesn’t need temperature control.
If you’re just packing for one, you can just get an insulated lunchbox instead of a whole big cooler.
Don’t forget to bring lots of water, too: dehydration on the road is the worst! And if you’re a coffee or tea drinker throw a little of your favorite kind in the pack too; if nothing else, it can be very relaxing to get that little taste of home.
Trip Length: 3+ Days
For trips much longer than a few days, you’ll probably need to stop and stock up on provisions partway through your trip. Before you take off, look up where the grocery stores will be along the way, and plan time for stopping by. You can usually find pre-cooked meat (chicken breast and ham, for salads) and eggs, or even take advantage of salad bars if you land somewhere fancy.
What About Airplanes?
If you have to travel by plane, it does get a little more complicated, but not by much.
First off, the bad:
- Don’t expect to bring any liquids past security. You can bring empty bottles, though. Bring empty water bottles and fill them up when you’re past the checkpoint to avoid taking out a second mortgage to pay for absurdly expensive airport water.
- Don’t count on finding any good restaurant food. You might – recently, airports have been slowly figuring out that not everyone wants to eat fast food all the time. Sometimes, there’s a salad bar or a couple healthier options. But don’t plan on it unless you’ve been to the airport before and already know the place.
- Plan for delays. Bring more food than you think you’ll need because it’s very likely that you’ll end up stuck there longer than you thought.
- Bringing food on the plane should be OK. Unless Security is really jumpy that day, you shouldn’t get any grief over bringing a reasonable amount of food.
If the TSA decides to wreck your day and take your food, don’t panic. Scope out the local convenience stores for dry-roasted nuts, bananas or other fruit, or fresh salads without too much gunk on them (it’s hard to find salads without some kind of breaded meat, but it’s worth a try).
What If I’m Staying in a Hotel?
For long-term hotel stays, the best option is to find a room with an in-suite kitchenette. In that case, you’re totally set: go to the nearest grocery store, stock up on provisions, and just start up your cooking routine as usual.
Failing that, the next best option is a room with at least a fridge. With a fridge, you can buy things like rotisserie chickens and bagged salad mix, and keep them good for a few days.
If you don’t even have a fridge, bring a big cooler (or buy one when you’re there – the Styrofoam ones are really cheap and if it saves you one restaurant meal it’s paid for itself) and keep replenishing the ice so you always have a reasonably cool place to store food for a day or two.
Summing it Up
Traveling Paleo is hard. But it doesn’t have to be impossible. Even if you plan to eat in restaurants most of the time, packing some food for yourself is still a good idea, because it gives you a fallback: what if there’s nothing at the restaurant for you to eat? What if you get hungry between meals? What if you get stuck at the airport over lunch?
Pack up some pre-cooked meat and healthy fat to go with it, and all those problems suddenly disappear. Or for a longer trip, just throw in a few cans of sardines or baggies of trail mix, and you’ll have a healthy snack to fall back on if you ever need it.