The more I travel, the more I talk to people who travel, I realize there is often a craziness around food and vacations. It seems like every winter, ’round about January people who are taking a spring break trip start working hard to lose weight before vacation. Suddenly, everyone is focused on eating well and exercising. And, I’ll admit, it works. Something about having a looming date with a swimsuit and shorts (especially for those of us in the north) makes it easier to say no to decadent desserts and yes to sub-par winter produce.
But then we go on vacation and our hard work goes out the window as we eat everything we’ve ever dreamed of because, well because… well, we’re on vacation darn it! And then, more often than not, we’re not only back where we started when we return home, we’ve probably packed on a few extra pounds to boot.
Now we’re closer to summer and swimsuit season and we need to lose just a few pounds… and the cycle continues.
A while back I realized that this didn’t make sense to me anymore. If I was going to put myself through the agony of losing the weight to begin with, there was nothing in the world worth putting it all back on. This idea, however, meant we’d have to change the way we eat on vacation. I mean face it, most of the time it is mom who sets the eating standards for the family, right? Or is that just my family?
Here are the tips I came up with for eating well while traveling:
1. If you have to rely on restaurants for most of your meals, try eating one or two bigger meals during the day. We usually choose breakfast and dinner or just lunch, depending on the day’s activities. Sometimes we can rely on a hotel’s free breakfast (just be careful to moderate your family around the high fat donuts, pancakes and waffles) to fill everyone up in the morning. I also always have apples, oranges, high protein bars and similar items with me that don’t require refrigeration for in between meals to help us focus on eating well. If I don’t have it with me, we don’t eat it. When we have a big lunch, we plan on sandwiches from a local deli or a meat, cheese and veggie tray for dinner. Because we only eat select meals at restaurants, we work very hard to make sure they are extra special in some way.
2. Cut back on starches.Unless we’re being quite active, I’ve found that the easiest thing to cut out of our diets is starch. I don’t mean easy in terms of family harmony, I mean easy in terms of not hard to avoid. Most restaurant meals will provide my family with all the starch their hearts desire, so I just don’t buy any for the other meals we eat on the fly. We’ve found that when we travel, we’re often less active and the extra starch slows us down and makes us tired.
3. Pay attention to your sugar. So on vacation, you’re probably going to want to splurge on a dessert or a really yummy looking donut or roll. That’s fine, but then watch your sugar the rest of the day so you can compensate for the huge load all at once. The taste of sugar begets more sugar, so this can be a roller coaster if you’re not careful. If you are having a huge amount of sugar with something, try splitting it or having some protein with it to absorb some of the hit. I’ve found that if we have sugar in the morning, we fight a battle all day with energy and sugar cravings. That’s not to say I outlaw it, but I try to encourage eggs to go with it, or to entice the kids with a “better” treat later in the day.
4. Drink A LOT of Water!!!!! I can’t say this enough. Just about every other drink either has sugar or fake sugar in it. Especially kid’s drinks. Juice is a treat. Sports drinks (unless we’re outside running marathons, which we’ve never done once), soda, chocolate milk, and even vitamin water are all things we personally stay away from. They all add things to our bodies that we don’t really need. It is amazing how thirst quenching an apple or orange can be. Water also tends to fill you up. A treat for us is sparkling water with fruit floating it. This works better when we’re traveling in our trailer, but I have noticed that more and more hotels are providing fruit infused water in their lobbies.
5. When possible, cook in your room. Okay, so there are compromises to this one. When we stay at our timeshare, we do a lot of “cooking” in the room. But that doesn’t mean I’m in the room all day. Here we rely on healthy convenience-y foods that we normally don’t get a home. A really well pre-made lasagna. Big salads. High quality hot dogs (yes, these are made), organic bean burritos. It’s all about finding the local grocery store and seeing what the options are. I don’t do this for one or two day stays, but if we’re somewhere for a week or more you can bet I’m finding a Trader Joe’s or Whole Foods. The food required for eating well is more expensive than regular grocery store food, but still less expensive than eating at restaurants while traveling!
6. Try out locals’ favorite restaurants rather than touristy traps or chains. I know that sometimes the convenience of the restaurant in the hotel or the familiarity of a national chain is going to win out in your meal time decisions. But if you can occasionally seek out local, hole-in-the-wall favorites, you’re almost sure to get fresher food with less processed ingredients. One of our favorite resources for this is Roadfood. We use both the book and the website to find new and fun places to try.
7. Go to local farmer’s markets when possible. This is by far my favorite tip. Shop where the locals shop and you can rarely go wrong. Not only will you get the freshest ingredients possible, you’ll also have the opportunity to buy things the are truly local and to try new things. Farmer’s Markets are usually much cheaper than retail and often sell things other than food. In Hawaii we went to the Maui Swap Meet (a farmer’s market) where we were able to buy most of our souvenirs for a fraction of what they cost elsewhere. AND we feasted on pineapple and mango better than anything we’d ever tasted before. If you ask at your hotel or do an internet search, you’re likely to come up with good options no matter where you travel. In Minneapolis, for example, there is a huge farmer’s market held right in the middle of the city on the sidewalks every Thursday during the summer months.
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