A Quick Guide to Eating Healthy in a Hotel (on a Reasonable Budget)
Traveling over the holidays and know you’re going to be spending some time in a hotel? Staying healthy while on the road is a huge challenge, but eating definitely doesn’t have to be. After the last decade—and the last three years traveling with the healthiest husband/eater on the planet—I think we’ve managed to dial our hotel eating into something ultra-healthy, whether we’re at a Motel 6 with no fridge, microwave or breakfast buffet, or a baller hotel with a mini-kitchenette and full breakfast bar.
Before You Hit the Hotel
Check what your hotel has as far as amenities go. This might mean calling to see if you can get a fridge, or booking at places that have fridges and microwaves in each room. Check reviews as well, especially if the hotel offers free breakfasts, so you can see what’s typically available.
- Trail mix (raw nuts, dried fruit—best option is to mix it yourself vs. buying prepackaged)
- Protein powder (I’ve been digging Vega protein powder with greens)
- Tea (I usually have a green tea and lemon ginger tea with me)
- Sea salt (it’s not that I’m picky about my salt, it’s just it’s cheaper to travel with one shaker than buy a new one every time!)
- Packets of hot sauce
- “Emergency” bars: We usually have a few Epic bars and Lara bars with us for when trips get super-long, i.e airport delays, traffic jams… It’s always good to have a backup.
- 2 glass Pyrex containers (if you pack these in your suitcase, just use them as holders for socks, toiletries, etc. to save space, and make sure to pad them with clothing)
- Utensils (trust me, a fork, knife and spoon in your suitcase will be a huge help)
- Reasonable knife (but not so big it gets confiscated by TSA)
- Small cutting board
Swing into a grocery store before you get there, or as soon as possible. We usually stock up on:
- Eggs: Pre-peeled hard-boiled are usually the safest bet since you can keep these fresh even in an ice bucket if no fridge is available.
- Peanut or almond butter
- Fruit: Usually skip apples and bananas if the hotel has a free breakfast, since you typically get apples and bananas as part of that spread. I prefer an easy-to-eat choice like clementines rather than a labor-intensive grapefruit.
- 2.5-gallon jug of water (because let’s be honest, hotel tap water usually tastes sorta crappy)
- Almond milk (for protein shakes)
- Yogurt (plain)
- Sweet potatoes, rice or oatmeal if there’s a microwave
- Cereal (usually a gluten-free option without added sugar) if there isn’t a microwave
- Lunch/dinner ingredients
If you have a fridge and a microwave, you’re basically good to eat like you would at home. We usually do a sweet potato with some spinach and eggs. If you’re up for a bit of a weird way to cook, we use a glass Pyrex, whisk eggs and add spinach, then microwave. It’s a really basic way to make scrambled eggs.
We’ll also do yogurt with fruit (double the fruit compared to yogurt) and honey, or cereal with yogurt on busier trips. If there’s a free breakfast buffet, try to keep it healthy and skip the pastries in favor of whatever version of eggs is available (usually at least hard-boiled), and the least sugar-filled cereal, with whatever fruit you can find.
I’ve been amazed how good hotel breakfast buffets are getting, with actual hot scrambled eggs and even plain oatmeal being offered now. It’s getting really easy to eat healthy with the free option!
I also use the breakfast buffet to grab some stuff for the rest of the day, i.e oatmeal packets, condiments, PB&J, apples, bananas, chocolate milk… I know it sounds crazy, especially the condiment part, but I’ve found a few packets of ketchup/mayo actually have saved us big-time in not needing to buy bottles of the stuff for the sake of a sandwich.
We usually keep hotel lunch really simple, and honestly, this is when we’re most likely to be eating at a restaurant or cafe, since we’re usually out for the day and in at night. But if you’re cooking in your room, we usually do something similar to breakfast, or similar to dinner. In the US, this is typically Panera or Chipotle if there’s nothing awesome and local. (A note on eating at restaurants for lunch instead of dinner: it’s usually a lot cheaper since lunch menus are less pricey and you’re less likely to booze it up!)
I talk to so many people who say it’s impossible to make a good dinner in a hotel room and takeout is the best option. And I admit, I fall back on Chipotle, especially if I’m eating by myself. But for less than what a two-person meal from Chipotle costs, you can build an amazing protein-packed salad from a place like Whole Foods if you head to the regular section of the store and skip the hot and salad bars.
Grab a container of greens (the best part here is the plastic containers can double as your eating vessel if you didn’t bring a Pyrex!), a pepper, some olives, and whatever veggies you like. I’m a fan of adding an avocado and just sea salt, and that’s enough dressing for me, but if you’re doing this a couple nights, a bottle of dressing is a reasonable buy—and a lot of stores even sell single-serve packets of dressing fairly cheap. Then, either go for protein in a can (like chickpeas, tuna or salmon) or my favorite, a roaster chicken. Even at Whole Foods, a small roaster chicken already roasted is usually around $10, and it’s more than enough for two people to fill up.
That’s $5 for greens, $5 for a couple veggies, $2 for a few great olives from the olive bar, $2 for an avocado and $10 for a chicken. THat’s only $24 for two people to have huge salads! ($15 if you opt for chickpeas, and $27 if you throw in a bottle of Three Wishes wine.)
I’ll be doing another post about what we do when we have our full food kit with us—and how to build a baller setup—so stay tuned!