It’s starting to feel like summer, and if you haven’t hit the open road yet, there’s no question that most of us will be taking a trip or two in the coming months to visit friends and family, and hopefully enjoy some R&R. When we are early into our recovery or if we have special dietary needs, changing our food environment can be a source of angst. What will I eat? What if I go “off” my plan? What if I am forced to eat my trigger foods?
My good friend Lisa (of KreativHus) is an expert on taking her diet on the road. In addition to being a vegan, she has struggled with a few different health issues and has had to eat very consciously at times (no sugar, wheat, yeast, vinegar, etc.)—including over the course of almost two months on the road last summer where she and her partner were hosted by an array of family, strangers, and friends. She is also no stranger to the challenges of “going home” to a family that, despite best intentions, may not always understand her dietary needs. I asked her if she’d be willing to share some tips on how she manages food when she travels and, sure enough, Lisa had some great suggestions!
Q: What are the staples you make sure you have on hand when you travel?
A: Convenience is the key to healthy eating on the go so I make sure that I have all of the staples with me. This way I can throw a simple meal together or modify non-vegan dishes so I’m not stuck. For me that includes:
- unsweetened almond or soy milk
- a super food breakfast cereal; these are so easy to have on the go!
- a natural sweetener of choice; personally I love xylitol because it can easily be substituted 1:1 for sugar
- nut butter
- quinoa, complete protein and so diverse! I even make quinoa breakfast pudding.
- Probiotics and digestive enzymes for digestive support if I choose to go off my plan.
I plan snacks in advance so I’m not stressed, hungry, or scrambling later. I usually like to bring along homemade cookies, kale chips, or other healthy snacks that are ready to go. My significant other and I have even camped with a Vitamix! If I show up prepared I can also share my favourite treats with others and I never feel like I am missing out. Most people will have veggies and I know I can easily get fresh produce in most places if my hosts happen not to have veggies around.
Q: How do you help your hosts understand your dietary needs without coming across as rude or ungracious?
A: This is a case of open, clear, heart-centered communication. I always tell my hosts that I am excited about the visit and don’t want them to have added stress about my dietary limitations. I let them know upfront what I can’t eat and offer suggestions for easy things that I enjoy. This helps us all avoid awkward moments later and depersonalizes it if I decline from a meal.
I also let them know that I’m happy to bring along ingredients that I need, shop with them when I arrive, and prep my own meals. Often people want to provide everything I need, and in this case I give them a list of the staples. Arming hosts with knowledge is a great way of reducing awkwardness and stress. Many hosts struggle with knowing what to buy and make for vegans and appreciate some guidance.
It helps me to remember that good relationship building requires authenticity. I like to be honest about my needs so I show up better for our visit and give them an opportunity to get to know me.
Q: Have you ever had someone not respond well? If so, how did you handle it?
A: Most of the time people are great but I have faced some challenging moments and criticism.
Difficult comments and pressure to sway off my diet mostly come from people that are confused about nutrition, in denial about their own health needs, or simply having a hard time seeing me change. Sometimes people also feel defensive when faced with choices that are different than their own.
I try to remember that eating well is a primary way that I take care of myself and that it is my duty to honour my own needs. I don’t get into arguing or defending, try to maintain humour, and take an ‘each to their own opinion’ attitude. I try to look at these situations as practice in letting go of judgment.
Q: What else do you need to feel grounded with your food/eating when you travel?
A: Mealtime can be such a lovely communal activity and often feels best when shared. I like to ensure that I have something along that I can contribute with my hosts and other guests. I also like to feel that I have some treats that allow me to feel indulgent and nurtured, like raw cacao or macadamia nut butter. Perhaps most importantly, I try to remember that I don’t have to be perfect. I try to listen to my body and go from there.
Q: Any other tips on being a gracious vegan house guest?
A: Be yourself and accept yourself. Everyone has unique needs and these days it is more common than ever to be conscious about what you eat. If you feel happy and comfortable people will love having you around! Focus on what you have in common with others and enjoy your host’s company (and be tolerant of their choices too). Gratitude will go a long way and helps to maintain perspective and positivity, even in difficult moments!
Thanks Lisa! Depending on what your needs are, the most important piece for me is keeping things in perspective! Sometimes you might choose to eat something that doesn’t agree with you and THAT’S OKAY! Trust your body to let you know what’s what and course correct if need be. And why not impress your hosts with a nice vegan meal? Here’s a simple salad that can be a great addition to any dinner table!
Leek n’ Olive Spring Fling Salad
- 2 leeks, chopped (white parts only)
- 1/3 cup black sundried olives
- 1/3 chopped parsley
- ¾ cup shredded carrot
- 1.5 tbsp olive oil
- Herbamare or salt and pepper to taste
Steam leeks over medium heat until soft, about 3-4 minutes. Transfer to a bowl and mix with remaining ingredients. Toss and serve!