Healthy eating and dieting are a nightmare when you're travelling. Unless you pack your own lunch, you're at the mercy of what's in front of you, with little if any choice. What there is often ain't very good. The old British Rail sandwiches might be a cliche, and wouldn't win any awards, but I suspect they were healthier than some of the delights on offer today, whatever your mode of transport.
As it's holiday season, I thought I'd share some of my best and worst healthy-eating-on-the-move experiences.
Trains. This particular rant started last year when I was on an East Coast train between Dunbar and London. I had recently started my diet, and in the past I'd have treated myself to a bacon roll and kit kat and that would have done me. But now I was on a diet and had to pay attention to what I was eating. I tottered off to the buffet just after York and looked for something healthy. Nothing, not an apple or a banana. Not even a salad in a box. It was cheese toasties or cake or chocolate. The nearest thing to healthy was an oat bar over 500 calories and more than my whole daily allowance of fat. I took it back to my seat with some undrinkable luke warm tea (I'll spare you the tea rant). I did not tick my healthy eating boxes that day, and even tho I could tick the will power box, chocolate would probably have been healthier.
Planes. Well lots of people complain about airplane food not being very nice, but I used to quite enjoy some of it - until I began to think about what I was actually eating. I have no idea how many calories are in the meals they serve, they look too tiny to contain much of anything, but I suspect there is quite a lot of fat and salt in them. Someone told me there can be more salt in airplane food than you think. There were no healthy options and the snacks were lethal. One of the the apricot biscuits I got with my tea was 209 calories. That's right - 209 calories for one biscuit with marginal food value. What a waste of calories, I should have had a glass of wine!
Once you're a captive consumer you're done for - even when you want to eat healthily, you often don't get the choice, and you rarely get enough information to know what you've actually eaten. If like me you're daft enough to ask about healthy options, you're likely to be laughed at. I was laughed at by the buffet keeper on that East Coast train which is particularly galling as we bailed them out.
Now I take my food with me and top up with apples and portable meals from many of the excellent food stores around and there are some shining healthy beacons. Many major train stations now have Marks and Spencers foodstores with all the range, diversity and information you need. They, along with Waitrose, Cafe Nero etc are at motorway service stations to give some relief from the usual fast food nightmares and that awful greasy smell that sticks to your clothes.
One of the biggest areas of improvement has been at airports. EAT and Pret are at many airports now and do fantastic healthy food that is fresh and even contains vegetables (note to ed, do blog on vegetable rant). EAT has a large and very yummy chicken soup at 290 calories which fills you up in a most delightful way. Pret do a magnificent smoked salmon and crayfish salad at 140 calories - less if you leave off the salad dressing which is on the side. After food like that I feel I have had a real treat, I've eaten good quality food and only 140 calories. Win-win! I like that I get information on what's in the food so I can decide for myself what I eat. I like that I have the option of eating good healthy honest foods, a bit special and no additives. Perfect.
It's also great that you don't have to go to posh hotels to get a good healthy breakfast. Premier Inn offer you the usual cooked or continental but with organic yogurt; green tea; fresh fruit salad and porridge amongst a range of options. Nom, nom.
Travel can be pretty toxic at the best of times and it is often a time for caving in on the healthy eating front. But I find that having to eat rubbish food just makes the whole travel thing more tiring and bad for my system. It's great to have choices about whether you do want to have that full Scottish and a pint or two of lager at 4am or the organic low fat yogurt, fruit salad and green tea.
That's some of my travel heroes and villians. Things are getting better, but it will be some time before I travel without an emergency apple and a banana in a case.
Wherever you're heading this summer, for work or play, I hope you travel safely and well. If you have heros and villians on the healthy eating front - spread the word!