Summer is a great time to explore the countryside that surrounds Beijing and experience the simple life. Typical road-trip fare in China, however, often involves fast food, bags of chips, and lots and lots of sodas. These foods are full of unhealthy fats, which means loads of calories and little valuable nutrition. Just a couple days on a diet like this could leave you and your family fatigued, crabby and prone to stomachaches or headaches. However, with a little planning and willpower, you can navigate your way around the junk food and maintain a healthy diet even on a long road trip.
Don’t Forget Breakfast
If you’re staying in a hotel, there’s a very good chance that your only option will be a Chinese breakfast buffet. For many expats, breakfast is the hardest meal to drag across the cultural divide. Most people, especially kids, like to stick to their comfort foods in the morning. But instead of shunning the Chinese breakfast, take a closer look. Start with fresh fruit and a piece of toast (available at even the most rural Chinese hotels). Add yogurt (suannai) or an egg for protein to kick-start your metabolism and maintain your blood sugar for the day’s adventures.
It can be seductive to stick with chips and soda on the road because they are convenient to carry and the packaging is easy to decode. However, nothing’s preventing you from loading up on fresh-cut vegetables and fruits; throw them in the cooler along with a few bottles of frozen water. (Bonus: A water spill won’t stain the upholstery.)
Cheese is a good source of protein and calcium. Tortilla chips are good alternatives to oily fried versions. Throw in a few bags of nuts or dried fruits, and you are good to go! Local road snacks include tea eggs (chayedan), steamed buns (baozi) and various stuffed and pan-fried breads (shaobing). Juice contains a considerable amount of sugar. Instead, go with plain water or try sugar-free (wutang) bottled tea drinks.
Lunch and dinner on the road often means dining at a restaurant. Avoid the familiar fast-food joints in favor of more local fare. The general rule of thumb is to order one dish per person at the table. If you get halfway through the meal and feel it’s not enough, you can always order more food. Order a soup (tang) to start with; it’ll help fill you up so that you eat less of the more calorie-dense part of the meal.
To dramatically improve overall nutrition, make sure that half the dishes you order have vegetables. To reduce the calorie load, choose plain rice over fried noodles or fried rice. Words like "roast" (kao), "steamed" (zheng) and "lightly stir-fried" (qingchao) are useful. Avoid deep-fried desserts and ask for a fresh fruit plate (guopan) instead.