Eating smart on vacation

Jun 09, 2016

Even for the most spontaneous, a few holiday decisions are usually made in advance. When should we go? Where should we go? What do we need to pack? A little planning helps ensure the trip goes smoothly.

While food is the fuel for the trip and an active life overall, it is often not given enough forethought. If not thought through in advance, it can result in depending too much on convenience food grabbed on the run, low energy and that lousy feeling that comes from too many poor choices.

Although treats are often a big part of the fun and memories from a vacation – for example, dining out at a theme restaurant, a little pack of cookies on the plane, ice cream on the pool deck or mini donuts at the amusement park – the whole trip doesn’t have to be a nutritional write off. Consider these ideas when traveling this summer.

Car Travel

A well-stocked cooler is the answer. Healthy foods are easy when packed in individual zip bags or plastic containers. Prewash and cut everything and pack in a portable enough way that it can be consumed in the car. Carrots, celery and cucumber sticks, red, yellow and green pepper strips all travel well. Oranges already peeled and broken into segments, watermelon with the rind removed cut into fingers, grapes, raisins, dried apricots and other dried fruit make good options. Prepare buns or sandwiches in advance. Perhaps turkey and cheddar or ham and Swiss on whole grain rolls? Large sandwiches, just like a deluxe fast food burger are messier to eat in the car. With the cooler, individual yogurts (and plastic spoons) can also be packed.

Make staying hydrated a focal point. Instead of pop, slurpies and artificial fruit drinks, pack along water bottles with lemon, lime or strawberry slices added. If bringing juice, pour it into bottles and dilute it with water. When possible, plan healthy food stops along the way. A cherry or apple orchard, a fruit stand or a farm for example. Stopping at a local grocery store, different from where you usually shop, can also be interesting and a place to find healthier snacks than at a convenience store.

Planned activity stops and stretch breaks at points of interest along the way make car trips healthier and more manageable.


Everything tastes better in the great outdoors and when cooked over a fire. If you’re car camping and have a large cooler, you can pack pretty much all of the usual healthy foods from home – eggs, chicken, milk, fresh vegetables and fruit for example.

Canned tuna or salmon, baked beans, pancake mix, whole grain cereals, pasta and sauce, popcorn kernels, squash, potatoes and bananas are healthy choices that don’t have to be in the cooler. If most of the food is healthy, go ahead and bring marshmallows and hot dogs for roasting over the fire.

Plan to bring an adequate water supply if fresh water will be questionable at the destination.

Air Travel

It’s tough to find healthy choices in airports. Even tougher once you’re on the plane! If you get delayed, especially if stuck waiting on a plane, you’ll be grateful for the lunch you packed along. As for car travel, sandwiches, washed and cut up vegetables and fruit make great options.

If packing apple slices, pack peeled orange slices in the same bag or container to minimize browning. Since you can’t bring water through security screening, buy enough water for the family before boarding the plane. Air travel is dehydrating and energy draining.

Additionally, the little pretzel packs or cookies given during flights are fun to eat, but are salty and sugary and can add to thirst. Pack along non-perishable snacks like homemade muffins or cookies, granola bars, dried fruit or trail mix.

Hotel Rooms

If possible, choose a hotel room with a fridge or mini-bar fridge that you can fill with some light breakfast options and snacks picked up from a local grocery store.

If a fridge is not available, purchase an inexpensive small cooler and use ice from the hotel as a place to keep healthy options.

If the mini-bar chips, chocolate bars, alcohol and juices are too tempting, call room service to remove these items as soon as you arrive.

Restaurants at your Destination

Choose restaurants that will be great while still offering at least some healthy choices.

If traveling with kids, unfortunately most of the foods on “Kids Menus” are pretty lousy. Chicken fingers, fries, unhealthy, salty versions of mac and cheese, pizza and spaghetti with no added vegetables. Since restaurant meals are usually too big, especially in the USA, plan to share a meal between 2 adults or 1 adult and 1 or 2 kids. Ask for side plates for the kids.

If having pop as a treat, order just one glass and divide into a couple smaller empty glasses.

Even if something unhealthy, but really fun is selected to eat, try to at least accompany it with veggies and dip as a starter.

Almost all restaurant food is salty. Plan to drink water.

Sharing is the key when it comes to desserts which often, are pretty large as well.

A Day Outdoors – at the Beach, Picnicking or Hiking

Food safety can be the main concern here. Plan to keep cold foods cold by bringing a cooler or even an ice pack in your backpack. Chips, sunflower seeds, ice cold pop, ice cream and popsicles are just some of the foods commonly eaten at the beach. As always, a little of any one of these is fine, but pack along the main foods for the day.

Sandwiches, already cooked homemade chicken fingers, firm tofu cubes, corn on the cob, a bean salad, vegetables and dip, watermelon and yogurt tubes that have been frozen make healthy options.

If bringing snack items like chips, look for new varieties such as rice crisps, potato crackers or chips with less salt and less fat.

Hydration is a big issue in the sun. Bring water and diluted healthy juices or drinks made of fruit purees and carbonated water for fizz. This will save needing to buy large pops or the wrong juices at the concession.

* With a little advanced planning, any type of trip can be made smoother. Plan to prevent the low energy and grouchiness that can come from not having the right foods and beverages handy when needed. If you value healthy eating at home, make the decision to maintain this when on the road. Plan to eat well at least 80% of the time and allow some room for the fun foods that are part of holiday memories.

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