DEAR FFG: My three children love competitive swimming and are on a team that requires us to spend a lot of time traveling to practice and meets (we live two hours away from the team’s home pool). Unfortunately, we eat out a lot. Not only is it fattening — it’s also really expensive! I have gained about 30 pounds. I could really use your advice on healthy meals and snacks that can be packed in an ice chest. I need to find a way to stay healthy despite our travel schedule. —Marion
DEAR MARION: Wow. That’s a TON of time to spend on the road. I don’t envy you. My first inclination is to ask whether your husband can shoulder the load a bit more — if he’s not already taking the kids sometimes (either on the weekends or during the week), he should. You may not like missing meets and practices, but for your own health (physical and mental!), you need to force yourself to carry less of the burden your children’s swimming puts on your family. In my eyes, that won’t make you a bad mom — it will make you a healthier mom.
But enough of the division-of-labor stuff. It’s true: Even though there are lower-calorie, healthier options on most fast-food menus now (have you heard the hype about the Taco Bell diet?), it’s tough to swallow a grilled chicken salad when everyone around you is munching on burgers and fries. Not to mention the damage it does to your bank account. I would suggest packing an array of items from the various food groups instead of trying to create specific meals. That gives you and the kids more choices and makes it easier on you to get out the door. Here are some tips for packable snacks:
- Healthy proteins: tote hard sausages, string cheese or Lite Laughing Cow cheeses, hummus, peanut butter or other nut butters, nuts, hard-boiled eggs.
- Portable veggies: carrots, celery, red pepper strips, a container of greens (lettuce and/or spinach to put on sandwiches or to eat as a salad), raw or blanched broccoli and cauliflower
- Flexible fruit: Pre-cut apples and other mixed fruit (I’ve found that it’s easier to get my kids — and myself — to eat fruit if it’s already cut up), grapes, cherries, Clementine oranges (easy to peel and eat)
- Good grains: whole-wheat bread, pita chips, flatbreads
- Condiments: salsa, light dressings (for wraps or salads), light mayo
Assembling a portable pantry could help you stay satisfied as long as you’re aware of portions and don¬ít graze continuously. Another idea is to create cold salads, using rice or pasta as a base and including chopped veggies, meats like salami, ham, turkey and chicken, and vinegar and oil dressings. I’m not sure what your kids like, but involving them in shopping for snacks and prepping for your road trips might get them more excited about eating what you pack.
Another suggestion: Since you’re stuck at practice for a few hours while the kids swim, take that opportunity to exercise. Before my son’s short-lived wrestling career ended (one hard pin was all it took!), I would to duck out of practice and run on the high school track. You could do the same: Walk or run around a track or in the neighborhood surrounding the pool, join a gym near the location and use the time to squeeze in a workout, etc. You don’t have to sit there and gab with the other pool moms — invite them to come along. That bit of activity can help balance out the occasional fast-food meal.