By Dr. Neil Sweigart
Eating well when traveling or on vacation can be a challenge, but food and travel don’t have to add up to diet disasters.
Many people use vacations as an excuse to live it up by eating rich foods they don’t normally eat or eating supersized restaurant portions all day long.
Coming from a large family that loved to travel, I remember well eating at roadside tables with a lunch packed by my mom: sandwiches, fruit and raw veggies. We also camped a lot and cooked regular meals on a Coleman stove. While that’s probably not the norm today, it certainly worked for us.
According to Elaine Magee, MPH, RD, there are three reasons why eating in restaurants, as we tend to do most of the time while traveling, is so dangerous for your diet:
- Restaurants often serve large portions, and we tend to eat more when more food is in front of us.
- Restaurant menu items are often high in calories, fat, saturated fat, cholesterol, and sodium and low in fiber.
- At restaurants, you usually have no idea how many calories or grams of saturated fat are in the dishes you order.
Here are her tips for eating healthy while traveling.
Vacation Diet Tip No. 1: Eat in Once a Day
To save both calories and money during your trip, try “eating in” for one meal a day. Pack some tried-and-true breakfast options in your luggage, like lower-sugar instant oatmeal, whole-grain breakfast cereal, and a lot of fresh fruit.
Vacation Diet Tip No. 2: Go for Zero-Calorie Beverages
You don’t need hundreds and hundreds of calories from beverages on top of the extra calories you’ll consume from food. The good news is there are usually plenty of no-calorie drink options at most restaurants. Ask for lemon or lime for your glass of ice water or order unsweetened hot or cold tea, coffee, sparkling water, club soda, or diet soda. Remember, each alcoholic drink can tack on about 150 to 450 calories.
Vacation Diet Tip No. 3: Downsize Your Portions
It doesn’t make sense to deprive yourself of enjoyable foods while you’re on vacation. Instead, downsize portions by ordering from the kids’ menu or an appetizer instead of an entree. You could also split an entree with your dining partner or save half for another meal and stash it in the hotel refrigerator.
Vacation Diet Tip No. 4: Order Fruits and Veggies Every Chance You Get
Look for opportunities to order dishes that include high-nutrient, high-fiber fruits and vegetables. Entree salads or side salads made with spinach or romaine lettuce are a fun way to get your vegetables. If you’re ordering something like a shrimp or chicken quesadilla, you can ask the restaurant to add some grilled vegetables.
Vacation Diet Tip No. 5: Be Careful With Condiments
Consider this: Half of the fat grams in Arby’s Southwest Chicken Wrap or Ultimate BLT Wrap come from the ranch sauce or mayonnaise. Some condiments are super high in calories and fat, especially creamy sauces and spread like mayonnaise. Opt for dressings that contribute less than 25 calories per serving, like catsup, marinara, mustard, or BBQ sauce.
Vacation Diet Tip No. 6: Go Fishing in Restaurants
Make it a point to enjoy seafood when you eat out. It’s a great way to get your weekly dose of fish and their heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids. But there is a catch — avoid battered and fried fish dishes. Instead, look for grilled (and non-buttered) selections. If the fish dish comes with a sauce, just order it on the side.
Vacation Diet Tip No. 7: Have Dessert, but Share
Part of being on vacation is enjoying life, and part of enjoying life is ordering dessert when you want to. If your meal has left you satisfied, you can take your dessert with you and enjoy it later when you are hungry again. You can also share your dessert with one or more dining partners, either at the table or later on.
Finally, enjoy your vacation, but be reasonable. We often eat just two meals a day and if staying in a place where we can prepare meals, we never eat out more than once a day.
Paul Prudhomme says, “You don’t need a silver spoon to eat good food,” and Doug Larson adds, “life expectancy would grow by leaps and bounds if vegetables smelled as good as bacon.”