The reason? "Many of us eat by routine,and one of the biggest challenges of traveling is the change in that routine," notes Connie Diekman, R.D., director of university nutrition at Washington University in St. Louis.
Planning is the name of the game when you're trying to eat right on the road. To keep from gorging on fries or polishing off your stunningly large room-service order, Diekman suggests sticking with your regular eating schedule and seeking out small servings of healthy food as often as possible.
The idea isn't to shun every indulgence. But if you stay on track most of the time, the occasional drive-through meal or poolside margarita becomes a conscious treat, rather than standard vacation fare. Whether you're road-tripping, flying to a theme park, or heading off on a cruise, don't leave home without our expert advice for a healthy summer holiday.
If you're traveling by train or plane, take time to plan what you'll eat en route. To steer clear of fast-food temptations at the terminal, pack snacks that balance protein and carbs and offer a bit of healthy fat. "Carbohydrates give you energy that you can use quickly, while protein provides longer-lasting energy," says Diekman. "When you keep your body fueled with both types, it will be easier to make healthier food choices when you finally sit down to a meal later on."
Whole-foods-based energy bars, whole-grain crackers smothered with peanut butter, and do-it-yourself trail mix all make for healthy travel snacks. "Most commercial trail mixes are too high in sugar and calories," notes Nikki Goldbeck, coauthor of "Healthy Highways: The Traveler's Guide to Healthy Eating." So instead of grabbing a ready-made mix at the terminal, hit up your local natural-foods store's bulk bins before you go. Pick up some nuts, seeds, whole-grain cereal, and dried fruit to toss together.
If you want to make a meal of your travel menu, create a "flying picnic" with a homemade sandwich (such as peanut butter and banana), fruit, and yogurt (purchased at the airport terminal), suggests dietitian and "Diet Simple" author Katherine Tallmadge, R.D. When the drink cart comes around, skip the soda, alcohol, and sugary juices in favor of H2O.
When you're road-tripping, bring along a cooler filled with healthy foods you can enjoy on the go. Start out with fresh fruit and chopped-up veggies, hummus, cottage cheese, and yogurt, and pack a separate bag with nonperishable eats such as nuts and seeds, whole-grain bread and crackers, fruit spread or jam, and peanut butter.
As you're traveling, stop in at grocery stores to restock the supply or grab a take-out meal from the salad bar. But when fast-food joints are the only options, you can still keep your diet on track, says Diekman. Stick with veggie burgers or grilled chicken sandwiches whenever possible, or order off the children's menu for smaller portions. Salads usually make a smart choice, Diekman adds, but watch out for high-fat dressings and an excess of add-ons such as cheese and bacon bits.
Ringing for room service may be one of your hotel stay's sweetest extravagances, but "it's very easy to overdo it," says Diekman. Since hotels often offer hefty portions, consider pairing soup or an appetizer with a salad for your meal. If you do go for an entree, ask about substituting veggies or brown rice for fries or other calorie-rich, nutrient-poor sides.
Stocking your room with healthy snacks can keep you from overindulging at mealtime, so Tallmadge recommends requesting a room that has a refrigerator in it. Before checking in, phone the hotel restaurant and ask to have a fruit or vegetable plate waiting for you when you arrive. And to keep from surrendering to a junk-food jones, make the minibar (with its selection of chips and cookies) completely off-limits. "There is nothing healthy in there," insists Tallmadge. "I cover the minibar up with a towel so I won't have to look at it all the time."
When your dining adventures take you beyond the hotel, be sure to stay mindful of portion sizes, suggests Goldbeck. "When you're eating out every day, there's a constant temptation because you want to try new things," she points out. Rather than repress your foodie urges, share dishes with your fellow travelers and bring leftovers back to the hotel to enjoy for lunch the next day.
Not sure which local restaurants to try? Ask the hotel staff to recommend nearby spots that specialize in ethnic cuisine. Because many cultures feature more vegetables in their dishes than you'd find in standard American fare, choosing Japanese, Indian, and Middle Eastern eateries can lead you to healthier options, says Goldbeck.
Stick to Your Schedule
If you're spending summer vacation at sea, it's especially essential to stick with your regular eating schedule instead of chowing down whenever your fellow cruisegoers head for the buffet. When it's time to eat, grab a salad plate, load two-thirds with fruits, veggies, and whole grains, and leave the remaining third for lean protein. "It's best to fill up on foods high in fiber and water so that you don't end up eating too many high-calorie items," explains Diekman. For an equally health-smart approach to tackling the buffet, fill your plate entirely with fruits and veggies at first, and save the more calorie-dense foods for your second trip. No matter what your strategy, take it slow. "The more time you can build into your eating, the less you're likely to eat," Diekman says.
Going easy on those fruity, frothy cocktails while onboard can also help slash your cruise calorie intake and stave off alcohol-spurred food cravings, explains Diekman. To stop from sipping too many strawberry daiquiris or pina coladas, choose nonalcoholic alternatives such as club soda or sparkling water with a splash of fruit juice as often as possible.
Text by Elizabeth Barker