How to eat healthy while traveling, enjoy your favorite foods, and avoid vacation weight

I truly believe that food can make or break your vacation, in a few ways. For one, having a bad meal (or several, if you’ve ever done the Mexico all-inclusive route) can really put a damper on things. Another way food can break your vacation? Over-indulging and taking home extra weight—and I don’t mean your suitcase.

My husband and I usually take a few vacations per year with family, friends and an anniversary trip. Last year we visited Park City, Utah with friends, traveled to Israel, and for our 5th anniversary we explored the Pacific Northwest and Canada. As I write, I am preparing for our family trip to Disney World. As much as I love vacations, eating healthy while traveling (an avoiding vacation weight) can be a major challenge.

This can be especially difficult if you follow a special diet, like me: plant-based, gluten free, Plant Paradox, etc. That’s why I decided to come up with my own tips for eating healthy while traveling. You’ll be able to enjoy your vacation without the stress of worrying about what you’re going to eat. Moreover, you’ll stay committed to eating healthy, and won’t gain the dreaded vacation weight!

Tips for eating healthy while traveling

1. Plan indulgences

Yes, I’m recommending you indulge on vacation! I genuinely enjoy eating healthy, but part of going on vacation is trying fun new foods you wouldn’t normally eat, some of which are usually not the most figure-friendly. In this way, it’s easy to go overboard with treats on vacation and gain weight.

This can be avoided simply by planning when and what you’re going to eat for your indulgences. Maybe it’s having a cocktail with dinner (or breakfast!), a rich dessert, or some amazing pizza. While it doesn’t really matter what you indulge in, it does matter when. Indulgences are just that—they’re meant to be enjoyed occasionally. So, do your best limit treats to one or two per day. That way you still feel like you’re treating yourself, but you won’t go overboard. You’ll save calories and the regret later on.

On the other hand, if you are thinking that only one or two treats per day isn’t going to cut it, then simply eat what you want, but limit consumption to a few bites or a small portion. This way, you won’t feel cheated but again will avoid overeating.   

2. Plan out meals

I usually plan out where and what I’m going to eat on vacation, making restaurant reservations or deciding what to cook if our lodging has the amenities. For starters, think through which meals you’ll eat out, which ones you’ll prepare at your hotel/house/condo, and those you’ll eat while traveling on the road, by plane, etc.

Dining Out

It can be challenging to eat healthy while traveling if you plan on dining out. If you have the option, select restaurants that accommodate your eating plan. If not, check out the menus in advance to see what’s offered. When I don’t see anything on the menu that accommodates my eating plan, I will ask them to modify something on the menu (within reason). For example, I might ask for a salad with avocado and extra fruit or veggies instead of cheese meat and croutons. Or, I’ll ask to substitute sides, like swapping fries for veggies. Once you know what’s on the menu, you can plan out what you’re going to eat—healthy or indulgence.

If you’re on the road, this can often be tricky. When possible, I try to stop in larger cities with better restaurant options. But, if you’ve ever traveled through Kansas, you know the struggle of trying to find healthy fast food options. This is where Point 3, packing snacks, will save you.

On the other hand, if you did not bring snacks, you can always stop at a convenience store and grab a protein bar or some mixed nuts (these bars are made with clean ingredients and are available at most convenient stores). A better option with more healthy choices would be a grocery store. I often stop at grocery stores an grab a green juice, some hummus or guacamole with crackers, fresh fruit, a pre-made salad, etc.

Dining In

Dining in provides more control over food choices, which can be an advantage when trying to maintain healthy eating while traveling. Plan out your grocery list to include healthy meals and snacks, plus whatever treats you’re going to indulge in. Grab healthy snacks and sides that can be easily prepared, so you won’t have to work harder to eat healthy—because when you’re hungry it’s way easier to open a bag of chips then to steam broccoli.

For quick meals, I like to grab easy-to-make sides. I use frozen items like veggies, sweet potatoes, cauliflower rice & veggie burgers; microwaveable quinoa, rice, millet, etc; organic salad kits, spiralized veggie noodles, or pre-cut veggies. I usually like to use fresh meat (for everyone who’s not plant-based) and proteins to go along with these, but you could always do that frozen, too. As far as easy/healthy snacks go, keep reading…  

3. Pack snacks

We’ve all had those moments on vacation where you’re out sightseeing, or on the beach, or in the middle of nowhere in the car and hunger strikes. So what do you do? You stop and grab the most convenient snack you can find. You’re starving and anything will do, so you’re probably not concerned about its health value. So you end up eating a lackluster bag of chips or some greasy fast food. See where I’m going here?

The remedy: pack snacks! This way, you will be able to stave off cravings, control the health value of your food, and also save money while traveling, since airport food and other convenient options can be expensive. I pack so many snacks on trips that TSA always seizes my bag and examines my snacks (side note: don’t try to take almond butter through security—it’s not a solid or a liquid, so it’s not approved, to my frustration. But that’s another story).

On the same note, it’s a good idea to pack snacks that will travel well and not melt, get smashed, etc. Some of my favorite portable snacks include mixed nuts, grain-free crackers, protein bars (these and these are bars that I and my husband like), energy bites, plantain chips, and dried fruit.

If you’re driving and know that healthy options will be limited (or if you just want to save money), you can prep meals to take in a portable cooler bag. I like to do this because it saves me from getting stranded without healthy options and from getting hangry. While this does take more prep work, it will keep you from impulsively stopping at McDonald’s!

4. Hydrate

This seems obvious, but oftentimes people are dehydrated on vacation. First of all, flying dehydrates you. Or, if you’re driving, you’re trying not to drink too much water to avoid frequent bathroom stops. Then, once you get to your destination, you’re either sightseeing or you’re relaxing by the pool/ocean drinking cocktails—both of which dehydrate you. See my point? It’s easy to become dehydrated.

Not only will this cause digestive discomfort, but you might also confuse thirst for hunger. Thankfully, dehydration can be avoided by simply packing a refillable water bottle to take with you throughout the day. Furthermore, for every ounce you drink of alcohol, soda, coffee, etc., consume an equal amount of water in order to stay hydrated.     

5. Time Restricted Eating

TRE is a type of intermittent fasting that involves eating within a time restricted window, usually lasting 8 hours. So, you can eat between 11 AM and 7 PM (or any 8-hour window), then fast 16 hours and repeat. This promotes weight management, healthy metabolism, and you won’t pack on the pounds, even if when you indulge occasionally. This is a great option for when you are traveling, because you can still enjoy your favorite foods but within a short eating window, which reduces overall calorie consumption.

Furthermore, TRE can reduce oxidative stress and inflammation, which prevents illness—which is great because, if you’re like me, you always get sick after a vacation. I practice TRE daily, and I have experienced numerous health benefits from it. You can read more about the benefits (and there are many!) of time-restricted eating here

6. Don’t overthink it!

You’re on vacation—enjoy yourself! Do the work ahead of time so you can relax and recharge. Follow these 6 tips for eating healthy while traveling and you’ll be able to have a great time without regrets. Want more healthy eating tips? Check out my post on how to start eating healthy and stick to it

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