Healthy Eating on Vacation

Golden memories from family vacations are wonderful reminders of the special connection between family members. Each new place opens our horizons and provides a shared experience that keeps families close. Nothing can make you feel closer than spending 24hrs a day together in a small space such as a vehicle or hotel room, but it all seems worthwhile for a new adventure. Images from the movie, National Lampoon’s Vacation, remind us how exciting it is to finally reach our place of interest. The glorious run of Clark Griswold and his son, Russ, from the parking lot to the opening gates of the amusement park exhibits the rise of emotion upon reaching our destination during our travels.

While these new and magical places provide us with fun and excitement, sometimes being away from home can interfere with our daily routines and nutrition. Eating on the road can leave us feeling slow, tired, and irritable. We can avoid some of the discomfort of being away from home by planning ahead so we are able to sit back and enjoy the ride. Here are some nutrition tips to make travel more comfortable:

Plan Ahead

  • Bring snacks/meals along for the ride: If possible pack a cooler for more options.
  • Some great snacks that won’t leave you feeling bloated and weighed down like those fast food or convenience store items include:
    • Fresh fruit- grapes, cherries, pre-sliced apples and oranges, bananas and berries in individual baggies hold up well.
    • Sliced veggies- carrots, celery, radishes, broccoli, cauliflower, snow peas and cherry tomatoes are easy and crunchy snacks. Take along some hummus or low-fat ranch for dipping.
    • Trail mix- buy prepackaged or make your own with dried fruit, nuts and seeds.
    • Granola bars- there are so many varieties; choose one with fiber and/or protein
    • Peanut butter sandwiches or crackers – graham crackers or baked snack crackers can provide fiber. Peanut butter provides protein and healthy fats to keep you feeling full.
    • If you have a cooler- try low fat yogurt, string cheese, sandwiches with lean meats and bagels and low-fat cream cheese
  • Bring along lots of water!! Try sugar free flavor pouches for variation without the calories of soft drinks.

Eat out With Care

  • Part of the fun of being on vacation is trying local cuisine that is unavailable in your area. Choose these local foods as part of your shared experience.
  • Research what is available in the area; there may be a healthier option than fast food if you know where to go. Ask around or plan out options before you leave.
  • Choose meals wisely. Restaurants tend to give us larger portions that we need, and if you’re eating out 3 meals per day that can really add up. Try sharing meals or desserts, take advantage of the snacks you brought, and the continental breakfast at the hotel. Choose items from each food group and eat only until full rather than cleaning your plate.
  • If eating fast food, choose fruit and milk as sides versus fries and soda.
  • At restaurants- ask about how the item is prepared and ask for substitutions. For example, ask for salad dressing on the side, steamed veggies versus fries and hold the mayo.
  • Find local supermarkets at your destination to get some items for your hotel room and become a real local.

Keep Up Activity

While most of us don’t go to the gym while we are on vacation, there are many other ways to keep ourselves moving and have fun. Many amusement parks and nature parks that we encounter on our travels require walking. We can add extra movement by picking up the pace every once awhile, which allows us to see even more in less time. We can also build in more activity by parking farther out, walking to nearby sites when possible or renting bikes for the family. If you bring along the DVD player or video games, try and keep your kids active by allowing them to only be used when on the road. Some destinations naturally provide more activity such as camping and hiking. Others may require a more deliberate approach such as choosing a hotel with a swimming pool or stopping for a stroll on the drive.

From Marisa VanSchuyver, clinical dietician at Dayton Children’s.

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