This post was written by Nourish Registered Dietitian Stacey Chmiel who currently lives in Chile!
1. Be prepared. No one likes a “hangry” (hungry and angry) person! Over time I have found that to feel my best (being well energized and mentally present), and to avoid overeating at meals, I need to eat a meal or snack every 3-5 hours depending on my activity level on any given day. My husband is the same. Thinking back over the past 2.5 years that we have been married and living overseas, the majority of our disagreements were due to hunger with a lack of food in our bags while out and about, or the inability to make a decision on where to eat (I will take blame for that one). I now always keep snacks on hand.
Here are some snack ideas that travel well, keep me energized, and are really yummy!!
– Bananas, oranges, and apples (these are so easy to throw in a bag to chomp on later)
– Raw walnuts or almonds mixed with some raisins
– Peanut butter or almond butter packets (some airlines will not allow peanut butter onto the plane in your carry-on)
– Granola bars or protein bars (some of our favorites include: LARA bars, GoMacro bars, KIND bars, Oatmega bars, and RX Bars)
– Instant oatmeal packets or cups (many hotel rooms have electric kettles in the hotel rooms and you can ask for hot water on the airplanes)
– Hardboiled eggs (if I know I will be eating them within about two hours with refrigeration)
2. Sometimes picking out your produce is just as enjoyable as eating it.
It’s so easy to write a grocery list, drive to the supermarket, and be in-and-out in 20 minutes or less, especially when you want to avoid the crowds in the aisles and the possibility of the checkout line getting busy. Our lives are filled with things that we perceive as more important than picking out produce and other food products. I have always been someone who enjoys going to the grocery store and wandering the aisles, but I didn’t really purchase my food from somewhere outside of a commercialized building. Since moving overseas, “grocery”
shopping has become an event. I now take advantage of the ferias or open markets. These are very similar to farmers’ markets in the USA, but a little bit larger in size and there are usually people selling other items outside of food and beverages. Some things I have noticed since buying from the open markets: there is more variety in fruits and vegetables than at the grocery store, the prices are significantly cheaper, and the fruits and vegetables are almost always better quality. The produce is usually at the perfect stage of ripeness because they weren’t picked too early with the plan of shipping it internationally. But, the best part of shopping at open markets are the relationships that you make with the people you buy from. I find shopping for food a more enjoyable experience when I actually meet the farmers who are growing the produce, or meet the families who sell the produce. I know who I am directly supporting with my purchases. Every Thursday my husband and I walk to our local feria to buy enough produce to last us for 5 or 6 days. We are always greeted with smiles, handshakes, and hugs. Just last week we were gifted a glass of fresh pressed passion fruit juice. I know that not everyone will have the opportunity to shop at a “local feria”, but here are some ways you can mimic this experience back home in the USA:
-Shop at your local farmers’ markets. If you don’t know where there is a farmers market in your city, look it up online. There are many websites such as https://www.localharvest.org and where you can search for a farmers market near you!
– Join a Community-Supported Agriculture (CSA). A CSA is an opportunity to buy seasonal, local, fruits, vegetables, and sometimes eggs, meat, and dairy products directly from the farmer. Some farms will even offer the opportunity for you to come visit or even work on the farm where your produce is coming from. You may not have the same experience walking through different tables of produce in a market type setting, but you will be eating the seasonal and fresh produce from a farmer or family that you know you are supporting directly.
3. Hydration, hydration, hydration!
I know that it can be tough to drink water consistently when you are at work or traveling around the city, from state to state, or from country to country. We lose track of time at work,
and while we are out running errands we forget to pack a bottle of water. When you don’t drink enough water, you run the risk of becoming dehydrated. Mild dehydration can cause fatigue, headaches, alter short-term memory, and produce disruptions in mood and cognitive functioning like concentration and alertness (1). Approximately 60% of an adult human body is made up of water, with our hearts and brains being composed of 73% water (2). Those are two vital organs that need water to run efficiently! To ensure that I drink enough water, I always try to carry around a stainless steel refillable bottle with me. I asked for this bottle for Christmas, and have definitely gotten my money’s worth out of it! It holds 32 ounces, so I try to drink almost 2 a day. This would be 64 ounces of water. I have also started treating myself to a cup of ginger lemon tea every time I go into work (~10 ounces), and have a cup of decaf tea before bed in the evening (~10 ounces). When I exercise, or if it is hot outside, I make sure to drink even more!
What I just described above may sound like a lot of water to you, but it actually meets my daily requirements. So, how much water should you drink in general? According to The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, an adequate daily fluid for men would be about 15.5 cups (3.7 liters) of fluids and about 11.5 cups (2.7 liters) of fluids a day for women; their recommendations are based on fluids from water, other beverages and food, with about 20 percent of daily fluid intake coming from food and the rest from drinks (3). If you subtract the 20% of water coming from food (soups, fruits, vegetables, etc…), as stated above, this would mean that men should drink around 3 liters of water each day, and women around 2.2 liters of water each day. Please note that every person’s body is different and that these are very generalized recommendations and not medical advice. Depending on your health condition, and activity level, your water needs may be different.
4. Food tastes better in fellowship with others. My father-in-law recently asked me what some of my favorite meals were since traveling overseas. When I answered him, I noticed something that most of them, if not all of them, had in common. The meals were consumed with another person, or a group of people; I did not eat them in insolation. Not only was the food delicious in and of itself, but it’s not just the taste that I associate with those particular meals. I remember the person who put in time, energy, and love making the dishes. I remember the laughter and story-telling, and relationships that were forged and grew over the course of the meal.
In today’s world, it is so easy to find yourself eating meals at your desk, in front of the television, in your car, or by yourself because we don’t have time for conversation. We have to eat, and then get back to work as soon as we can. When eating in community, I noticed that I ate slower, was more mentally present in my eating experience (to actually taste the flavors and experience the textures), and felt a true sense of connection with the other person or other people that I ate with. I also noticed that I felt full sooner while eating with others because I took little breaks to talk and listen, allowing my body to assess its level of satiety.
Figure 6 Eating cous cous with my hands at a women’s gathering in Morocco
According to a survey seen in the scientific journal Adaptive Human Behavior and Physiology, it was concluded that “people who eat socially are more likely to feel better about themselves and to have a wider social network capable of providing social and emotional support” (4). It also concluded that evening meals at which laughter and reminiscences occur is likely to enhance feelings of closeness (4). I truly do enjoy meals more when consumed with another person or other people, where laughter and words are shared outside of just the food.
5. Sometimes you have to step outside of your comfort zone, and you might be surprised what you find out.
I have always been someone who isn’t bothered by routine when it comes to eating. I usually find a few recipes and restaurants that I like, and then stick to them. I thought it made life easier because I knew exactly what ingredients I needed at the grocery store, and I knew exactly how to make each dish; I also knew exactly what I was going to order each time we went out to eat. Little did I know that by doing this I was totally missing out! My husband and I have lived in three different countries over the past 2.5 years, which means we have had access to completely different kitchens, grocery stores, restaurants, markets, etc.. Because of this, I have learned to cook different dishes in the kitchen, and have tried many foods that are culturally unique to where we have visited. To my surprise, I have enjoyed this experience of trying new things and learning to cook outside of where my comfort zone was previously.
Some interesting dishes that I have tried in restaurants since going overseas:
– Cous Cous in Morocco
– Tagine in Morocco
– Eggplant Zaalouk in Morocco (this remains a favorite)
– Tapas in Spain (spinach with garbanzo beans and ratatouille were my favorite)
– Paella in Spain
– Feijoada in Brazil
– Pastel de Choclo in Chile
– Handmade pizzas and pastas in Italy (I didn’t really eat much Italian food before this)
– Empanadas in Chile (mango with gouda cheese and green onions is my favorite)
Some things that I learned to make while living overseas that I never knew how to make while living in the United States:
– Beans and lentils (made from dried beans and lentils and not from a can or box; it may sound simple, but knowing how to use these has been super useful)
– Homemade hummus
– Homemade salad dressings
– Homemade rolls and mashed potatoes (for Thanksgiving in Morocco)
– Steaks on the stove
– Overnight oats
The list goes on and on………
In summary, consider carrying snacks with you to prevent “hanger” and becoming ravenous. Explore your local farmers market. Stay properly hydrated and see how you feel, even if that means carrying a water bottle with you everywhere you go. Eat in community when given the opportunity, even if that means inviting a co-worker out to lunch, or eating homemade lunches together. Try new foods. Your new favorite food might just be lurking around the corner!
As you can see, living overseas has not only been a very cultural experience in and of itself, but it has reinforced some basic eating and drinking concepts.
(1) Popkin, Barry M et al. “Water, hydration, and health.” Nutrition reviews vol. 68,8 (2010): 439-58. doi:10.1111/j.1753-4887.2010.00304.x
(2) “The Water in You: Water and the Human Body.” Water Science School, USGS, www.usgs.gov/special-topic/water-science-school/science/water-you-water-and-human-body?qt-science_center_objects=0#qt-science_center_objects.
(3) Mayo Clinic Staff. “Water: How Much Should You Drink Every Day?” Mayo Clinic, Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, 6 Sept. 2017, www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/nutrition-and-healthy-eating/in-depth/water/art-20044256.
(4) Dunbar, R.I.M. Adaptive Human Behavior and Physiology (2017) 3: 198. https://doi.org/10.1007/s40750-017-0061-4