Tips for healthy vacation eating

  • Audra Wilson, a bariatric dietitian at the Northwestern Medicine Metabolic Health and Surgical Weight Loss Center at Delnor Hospital, demonstrates healthy recipes.

    Audra Wilson, a bariatric dietitian at the Northwestern Medicine Metabolic Health and Surgical Weight Loss Center at Delnor Hospital, demonstrates healthy recipes. Courtesy of Northwestern Medicine

Posted8/7/2018 11:49 AM

Whether it's a week in the Bahamas or a cruise to Alaska, food is an important component of any vacation. Each region, each city, each neighborhood has its own unique cuisine for your enjoyment.

But what is the best option? Sticking to a plan that includes healthy basics, as well as a few fun indulgences, can be the ticket to a healthy vacation. Audra Wilson, a bariatric dietitian at the Northwestern Medicine Metabolic Health and Surgical Weight Loss Center at Delnor Hospital, offers these tips for vacation dining:


• Limit fried foods. No matter what it started out as, as soon as a food is fried it gains hundreds of calories by being covered in batter and dunked in hot oil. Opt for other types of preparations such as grilled, baked, braised, or roasted. The only fried option that is on the healthier side would be stir-fried. If fried foods are a must, share with your companions. Cutting portions in half also cuts calories in half.

• One dessert daily. And split it! It is very tempting to "treat yourself" to pancakes at breakfast, followed by ice cream after lunch and then a slice of pie with dinner -- but try to resist. Limit desserts to one per day, and split it, if possible, to cut the calories in half. This way you are still enjoying a sweet treat, but limiting the impact on your day. This strategy also forces you to choose something special as your "one" for the day. Try a local specialty or something that is unique to the region, like New York cheesecake or Hawaiian shaved ice.

• Step away from the vending machine. Vending machine foods are typically heavy on the calories and light on the nutrition. Stop by a local grocery and stock up on healthy snack options so you are prepared for those times when eating out is not possible. Grab some fruits, graham crackers, low-fat cheese sticks, hard-boiled eggs, and a few protein shakes if you have a refrigerator in your room. Not only will stocking up on these items at a local store save you calories, it will also save you money.

• Make half of your plate vegetables -- as always. This is a really easy way to relegate only half of your plate to the less-than-healthy options while allowing you to fill up on high-volume, low-calorie vegetables. Try some new options. Check out the salad bar for new preparations or combinations, or vegetables that you have never tried before. Feast on some daikon or jicama, or maybe those roasted Brussels sprouts everyone's been talking about.

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• Broaden your palate. Take this opportunity to sample local fare. Eating from fast food restaurants or ordering a pizza are things that you can do at home. If you visit a new place, try a new food adventure as well. Use one meal per day to try a local restaurant offering regional specialties. If you like something, ask the chef what spices are used in the preparation or ask to tour the kitchen. The staff may also have recommendations on healthier options, or even options not on the written menu. The more you learn about the food you eat and foods from around the country and the world, the more you can step outside of the food rut we all get stuck in.

• Opt for water. Sugary drinks like soda and juice can easily add hundreds of calories to your day without giving you much enjoyment. Also, those frosty margaritas can weigh in at up to 600 calories per serving. Save the calories for the amazing food you will be enjoying. If you do choose a mixed drink or other specialty drink with sugar (sometimes listed as simple syrup), count that as your one dessert for the day and really enjoy it. Otherwise, try water or stock up on zero calorie drinks when you are out shopping for snacks. If you are in a place where water may or may not be potable, pick up some bottled water from a brand you trust and make sure the that the seal on the cap is not broken.

• Walk the city. It's not all about avoidance -- it should be about enjoying the experience of being in a new and different place. Take this opportunity to explore your location on foot. Not only is this the way to really see the sights, it also helps to offset some of those extra calories you will likely be taking in. Walking can open you up to new parts of the town, hidden parks and attractions, and give you the perspective of a true local. You may even find a new restaurant to check out.

It can seem insurmountable to avoid weight gain on a vacation. However, a little planning can help. This year you can end up back home at the same weight as when you left, but with a ton of new experiences and recipes to share.

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