Business travel is one of the chief foils of New Year's resolutions. It can wreak havoc on your diet and fitness plans--however well-intentioned you might be.
The good news for those travelers who have resolved to lose weight or eat better on the road is that there are more options than ever to help you stick to your plans. The bad news, of course, is that it's still up to you to turn down that double chocolate espresso cheesecake.
Hotels have become much more health-conscious in their food offerings in the last few years, mostly in response to consumer demand, said Anne Hanch, vice president of catering and convention services for Hyatt Hotels in Chicago.
Hotels will usually label the low-fat, low-cholesterol, low-salt or low-calorie items on their menus.
In addition, Hyatt and other hotels have in-house convenience stores that offer a range of quick foods, including soups, salads and sandwiches, that allow guests to design their own menus.
"Hotels are waking up to the fact that business travelers don't necessarily want a cheese omelet with a side of hash browns every morning," Hyatt spokeswoman Carrie Reckert said. "Sometimes, as I do, they just want to grab a bagel and an apple and munch on them in the taxi on the way to a meeting."
Hilton Hotels now has a menu section that emphasizes fresh fruits, vegetables, whole-grain breads, salads and low-fat fish and chicken dishes, Hilton spokeswoman Kendra Walker said.
"Everybody's diet is different," Walker said. "We try to have a good balance."
Marriott facilities are also incorporating healthful changes. "There is a significant population of travelers who really do work hard to stay fit," spokesman Gordon Lambourne said. "It used to be when you traveled you were faced with a break in whatever physical exercise or dietary regimen you were on. . . . Now it's very clear the hotel menu is expected to have health-conscious alternatives."
Even hotel mini-bars are being affected. According to PKF Consultants in Los Angeles, their contents is shifting from the traditional emphasis on liquor and chocolate toward sparkling water, juice, power drinks, popcorn, and cheese and crackers.
Airlines have long offered vegetarian and other specialty meals, but there are more choices than there used to be. Offerings vary by airline, but most carriers will provide a low-salt, low-cholesterol or low-calorie meal if given at least 24 hours' notice.
Of course, airlines have also cut back on meal service, which means more passengers are having to fend for themselves. In response, airports have begun offering a wider range of restaurant options.
"More people do seem to be eating at airports," said Susan Black Olson, spokeswoman for Airports Council International North America in Washington. Many new concessions offer healthier alternatives, such as yogurt, salad and sandwiches, she said.
Indeed, Los Angeles International Airport, which has been remodeling to add new food vendors, has been singled out for offering some of the healthiest airport fare in the nation. According to a report last fall by the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, which reviewed menu items at restaurants in major U.S. airports, LAX ranked No. 1 in the availability of low-fat and vegetarian meals.
It's better to eat what you're used to when on the road than trying to alter your diet drastically, said Hyatt's Hanch. Otherwise, you're more likely to get hungry at odd times and fall under the spell of some high-fat or sugary treat.
Some general guidelines apply if you are working away from home, she said:
* Steer clear of heavy pasta or potato dishes at lunch, since they can make you sleepy for the first hour or so after eating.
* A late-afternoon snack of fruit or juice will help keep you going until dinner.
* Try to stick to your normal eating schedule as much as possible and especially try to avoid eating a big dinner late at night.
* If you do arrive at your hotel late, eat a light supper, such as soup and a sandwich.
Having all the choices in the world, however, doesn't do much good if you don't make the right one.
At meetings, Hyatt often puts out plates of granola bars, fruit and cookies for afternoon snacks, Hanch said. "And the cookies are always the first to go."