Eating Healthy On The Road


eating healthy on the road

Bonjour, friends. I have food on my mind, ALL THE TIME! And no, I’m not pregnant. It’s no secret that the food in Costa Rica and Ecuador did not appeal to me, except when we ate at our friends’ house. A special shout out to all of our friends in Ecuador who cooked for us, yum, now that was good. Eating healthy on the road has not always proven successful for us. On most days I try to eat healthy, exercise and keep my sugar intake in check, but we have had some eating habit changes since becoming a slow travel family.

How you ask…

Organic: Standards vary worldwide; however, organic farming in general, features practices that strive to foster cycling of resources, promote ecological balance, and conserve biodiversity. Organizations regulating organic products may choose to restrict the use of certain pesticides and fertilizers in farming (wikipedia).

Then: We were pretty much a 90-95% organic family. In the US we had organic options at our fingertips. I miss it. When we lived in Cambridge, Massachusetts we had three chains that carried a large selection of organic products within walking distance. It was easy to eat organic. It did cost a little more, but we felt the expense was worth it. Avalon and Largo have been fed primarily organic from the moment I found out I was carrying them. Before that Will and I ate approximately 70% organic.

Now: So far it has not been easy to find organic products. And if we do find them they are often partially organic depending on the country regulations for organic classification. In Costa Rica, we visited an organic market every Saturday morning. The products were sold directly from the farmer and they had to go through an organic certification. In Ecuador organic was something that was just starting to make an appearance. We were lucky to have a very small organic store about a 10 minute walk from us. However, the choices were limited, you had to arrive on delivery day (Tuesday) or you were out of luck and the abundance was unpredictable. In France, we apparently have an organic market here, but it is far from the city center and we really need a car to get to it, which we don’t have. We have not given up on organic here, but we need to figure some things out to commit to this every weekend.

Free Range: Denotes a method of farming husbandry where the animals, for at least part of the day, can roam freely outdoors, rather than being confined in an enclosure for 24 hours each day (wikipedia).

Then: In the US we ate as free range as possible. Again, we were lucky enough to a very extensive selection of free range options at Whole Foods just down the street. It was not hard to eat free range.

Now: I have not heard this word used in Costa Rica, Ecuador or France. I am not doubting that it exists here in France, but with my language disabilities, it’s hard to communicate what I am looking for. What I do know is that it is not common practice and readily available in our town. I am suspecting I would have to form an alliance with a local farmer in order to get products that meet these criteria. Again, a car would be necessary.

Preservatives: A substance or a chemical that is added to products such as food, beverages, pharmaceutical drugs, paints, biological samples, cosmetics, wood, and many other products to prevent decomposition by microbial growth or by undesirable chemical changes (wikipedia).

Then: Since we were eating mostly organic and free range our preservative count was pretty low. However, we did buy some frozen and boxed items at Whole Foods and Trader Joes. The products sold in packages at these two establishments have fewer preservatives than more traditional chains do, however, they still exist.

Now: I think we have actually improved in this area. We very rarely eat anything in a package, but when we do it has a considerably larger amount of preservatives than our options in the US. Luckily we mostly cook from scratch which eliminates our preservative intake.

MSG: Sodium salt of glutamic acid, one of the most abundant naturally occurring non-essential amino acids. Monosodium glutamate is found naturally in tomatoes, cheese and other foods (wikipedia).

Then: We never consumed this in any products in the US, that we knew of.

Now: It was in many items in Ecuador and Costa Rica. We always had to read the labels. I am not sure about France. I have not seen it yet, though.

Pesticides: Substances meant for attracting, seducing, and then destroying any pest. They are a class of biocide. The most common use of pesticides is as plant protection products (also known as crop protection products), which in general protect plants from damaging influences such as weeds, fungi, or insects (wikipedia).

Then: Since we ate mostly organic our life was pretty void of pesticides and if we did get them it was a very watered down version of pesticides.

Now: Oh boy, this was a big issue for us in Costa Rica. As I stated above we were able to eat organic, but since that market was only once a week we often had to supplement. Usually, mid-week we would buy fruits, veggies, and berries from the street guys. It took us a while to connect the dots, but what we learned was that there was a pesticide on the strawberries that caused Avalon to be sick for many months. We made the connection during our last month in Costa Rica and luckily she got better once we removed them from her diet. She never once got sick from eating the strawberries from the organic market. We did not have a similar experience in Ecuador thankfully. And so far in France, we are all doing well.

Sugar: The generalized name for sweet, short-chain, soluble carbohydrates, many of which are used in food (wikipedia).

Then: We have never been a big sugar consuming family, ever. We were lucky enough to be able to find very tasty treats in the US that were made with healthy alternatives.

Now: Well, this is two-part. First, the three countries we have lived in consume sugar and the alternatives are limited. Second, and more importantly, we want to try the local goodies. We have really had to compromise our eating beliefs in the name of foreign food education. I do believe food connects people and it is part of our cultural education so we have had to make some compromises. We do not go crazy, but we definitely have made some modifications to our sweets consumption. Sometimes I feel guilty. However, that quickly dissipates when I hear my kids discussing differences in the places we live and the food we tried is part of that conversation.

Fast Food: Also known as a quick service restaurant (QSR) within the industry, is a specific type of restaurant characterized both by its fast food cuisine and by minimal table service. Food served in fast food restaurants typically caters to a “meat-sweet diet” and is offered from a limited menu; is cooked in bulk in advance and kept hot; is finished and packaged to order (wikipedia).

Then: Never, we never ate at them. My kids had been to McDonald’s maybe three times in their life before we left the US.

Now: We have done it, I must confess. When we land in a new country (although we are getting better at this) we are usually tired, stressed and have a lot on our plate. Quick and healthy options are not as readily available at all hours of the day outside the US. We do what we need to in order to settle in, get our work done (McD’s usually has amazing Wifi) and adjust quickly. Often that means some fast food. As we settle in that comes to a quick halt. None of us like fast food so there are no objections once we are ready to cut the cord. In Costa Rica, we went regularly in our first month, mostly because we needed the internet. In Ecuador, we went just a couple of times and here in France we have been once. We are improving.

Red Meat: Is animal flesh that is eaten as food. Humans have hunted and killed animals for meat since prehistoric times. The advent of civilization allowed the domestication of animals such as chickens, sheep, pigs and cattle, and eventually their use in meat production on an industrial scale (wikipedia).

Then: We had a good selection of quality meat in the US. We ate meat from time to time, but we favored fish and veggies.

Now: We eat less meat now. It is expensive. Plus, we have had some unfavorable experiences outside the US which have let to a couple of us finding red meat unappetizing.

Our biggest obstacles involving healthy eating in other countries thus far are:

  • Transportation. Often the organic options are available, but we don’t have a car or public transportation available to access them.
  • Variety. Even when organic products are available the variety is often limited. One can only eat so much salmon and carrots.
  • Cultural learning. We want to learn about the local food and more times than not it does not fit into our definition of what is healthy eating, but since we don’t eat out or local every day I try not to get too worked up about it.
  • Availability. When we travel beyond our slow travel home for adventures we don’t always have a handful of options. If we are on a night bus our only options for food may be when the vendors come on the bus with chips and coke. However, we do try to pack healthy snacks, but sometimes in South America, a three-hour bus ride can end up turning into an eight-hour trip and everyone is starving.

If you are reading this and a bit depressed because you are a super healthy eater, don’t be. I know tons of travelers who eat healthy all the time, eat vegan, carb free, preservative free, whatever your needs are, you can make it work if you’re willing to make some compromises and put in the time. However, don’t miss out on the cultural experience by sticking to your guns too much. Be flexible. In our experience, when local friends come to our house they are excited to share their traditions and food. I don’t want to lose that connection because we are overly committed to healthy eating, everything in moderation.

Your thoughts? Do you think if you were deciding to travel for a year this would be an issue? Would you try to land in an area that could provide healthy options or would you be more into the experience of trying local food and throw out your healthy food philosophy? If you have done either of the above in a foreign country please share your thoughts with my readers.

Ok, gotta go have some cheese and a baguette for lunch.



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