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MARY GANZEL: Five tips for healthy eating on the go

HEALTH AND FITNESS: A fast-paced life does not mean settling for waist-expanding fast food

Mary Ganzel

Mary Ganzel

Let’s face it, we would all probably love to sit down to a nice meal at the table with our family three times a day, but the reality is it doesn’t happen and will probably seldom happen because of our busy lives. This doesn’t mean we can’t eat healthy because we have less time to prepare meals than our parents may have had when we were growing up.

The combination of work responsibilities, family commitments, traveling, kids’ school and extracurricular activities drains your energy, leaving little energy for planning and preparing healthy meals. But eating healthier can be achieved. Eating well will not only keep you healthier, but will increase your energy so you can do even more!

Skip fast food and say no to sugary snacks. Even though they’re tempting, they’ll just leave you too tired to do the things you need to do, let alone the fun things you’d like to do. Mary Hartley, registered dietitian and nutritionist for CalorieCount.com, has some great advice about maintaining a nutrient-dense diet despite a hectic schedule.

No. 1 of the five tips for staying healthy on the move is eat a quick, healthy breakfast. There’s no way you’re going to survive normal everyday work activities — let alone fun activities like water parks, state fairs and backyard barbecues — if you don’t start the day with a good breakfast.

It’s tempting to skip the first meal of the day in favor of a few extra minutes of sleep, but rather than starting your day on an empty stomach, Hartley suggests packing a healthy breakfast the night before and storing it in the fridge. That way all you have to do is grab and go. She says to choose simple foods from two, three or more food groups to get more bang for your breakfast buck. Some quick, healthy, on-the-go options include:

— Peanut or almond butter and banana sandwich on whole grain bread;

— Half of a whole wheat pita stuffed with chopped hardboiled egg, shredded carrot and diced red and green pepper;

— Plastic container filled with low-fat cottage cheese, berries and other seasonal fruit;

— Cooked quinoa tossed with a handful of raw nuts and frozen berries packed into a leak-proof container.

Tip No. 2 — pack a nutritious, satisfying lunch. Being on the go shouldn’t mean forgoing food.

“Don’t starve yourself at lunch – it will only lead to overeating later,” Hartley says.

At lunch you need to eat about one-third of the servings you require from all of the food groups. This means avoiding the drive-through and making something simple and power-packed the day before you go, or in the morning if you have time. Some super-quick and tasty options are listed below, which can all be easily customized based on your preferences and how many mouths you’ll be feeding.

— Cook up some whole wheat pasta and toss with your favorite raw chopped veggies, olive oil, lemon juice and fresh herbs.

— Make a batch of brown rice and add a can of drained and rinsed white beans. Mix in some lightly sautéed greens (Swiss chard or kale) and other colorful vegetables of your choice. Top with a low-fat dressing or drizzle of olive oil and balsamic vinegar.

— Wraps and pocket sandwiches are quick to prepare and can be nutritious. Stuff a whole wheat pita with hummus, canned tuna or sliced grilled chicken, baby spinach, diced onion and cucumber. Wrap it up and you’re ready to go!

Hartley advises choosing healthy dine-out options – tip No. 3. Being on the go means you’re going to end up eating out at some point, especially if you’re on the road with work or have a long drive when vacationing over the summer. Hartley says, “Pay attention to portion size.” She suggests asking your waitress exactly how large your order will be before you commit.

If you have a smartphone, there are many apps that tell you how many calories are in various restaurant meals. Try Restaurant Nutrition (free for iPhone and iPod Touch) which has a database of more than 30,000 food items from 200 popular restaurants. And don’t be afraid to ask how certain dishes are cooked so you know exactly what you’re getting (roasted versus fried, for example). You can also ask for sauces and dressings on the side, avoid anything fried and don’t feel compelled to clean your plate.

“As soon as your order arrives, split your dish into two servings to share or eat for a later meal,” the nutritionist adds.

Tip No. 4 is plan ahead. “The best way to combine a jam-packed schedule with a healthy diet is to plan ahead,” Hartley says. Don’t let a weekend trip spoil a week’s worth of healthy eating.

In the days before a road trip or particularly busy weekend that will have you running all over town (and beyond), stock up on nutritious, on-the-go foods like apples and oranges, snack-size low-fat yogurt, raw nuts, raisins and other dried fruit. That way, even if you don’t have time to pre-make breakfast or lunch, you will have healthy snacks to keep your energy up and supplement any eating out you do.

“Most people will eat junk food because it is convenient, but they’ll often choose healthier options if it’s made available,” says Hartley.

The fifth tip for eating on the move is to keep track of calories. One of my co-workers has been doing this since January and has lost nine pounds. The key to healthy, sustainable weight loss (especially when you’re on the go and it’s hard to keep track of what you’re eating) is being mindful of calories consumed versus calories burned, explains Hatley.

A smartphone app like MyFitnessPal (free for iPhone and iPod Touch), allows you to enter what you’ve eaten from the database of more than 750,000 foods and track how much you’re moving, so you know where you stand even on your busiest day.

If you don’t have a smartphone, Hartley suggests using the CalorieCount.com text tool. Simply text message “food” and the item you’d like nutritional information to 432584 (“HEALTH” on most phones) and you’ll get a response with the specific calorie count.

So there you have your five simple tips to eating healthy on the move. Any positive step to improving your health is a step in the right direction. Now, get moving!

Mary Ganzel is senior program director at the Albany Area YMCA. She has a master’s degree in exercise physiology from the University of Kentucky and has worked in the fitness industry for more than 25 years. She’s been certified through multiple national organizations over the years as a personal trainer, exercise test technologist, health promotion director, group exercise instructor, Cycle Reebok instructor and Pilates instructor through Cooper Institute, American College of Sports Medicine, American Council on Exercise, Aerobic Fitness Association of America and the Young Mens Christian Association.