To keep summer travel fare healthy, prepare

Make a healthful diet part of your vacation plans with a little preparation, says a UAB dietitian.

red coolerHitting the road for summer vacation is exciting until the hunger pangs start and there’s no healthful food to be found. One University of Alabama at Birmingham expert suggests you pave the way for a nutritious time away with preparation.

Although a week of poor eating may not hurt overall health, “a healthy person who totally abandons their usual eating habits may feel bloated and sluggish and enjoy the vacation less,” said Laura Newton, M.A.Ed., R.D., an assistant professor in the Department of Nutrition Sciences.

Her advice? Be prepared.

“Plan ahead. Choose foods to take in the car, eat before arriving at the airport, and consider the options available upon arrival at the destination,” Newton said.

When traveling by car, Newton suggests packing a cooler with ice and the following healthful treats:

  • Sandwiches on whole grain bread
  • Fruit, such as apples and pears
  • Cut-up vegetables
  • Yogurt
  • Water

“Stop the car to eat so you pay more attention to the food and feel more satisfied,” Newton said.

Roadside fare

If it’s not possible to bring food, Newton says there are healthful choices to be made in convenience stores and fast-food joints.

“You should definitely indulge, but in moderation, maybe one small treat a day or one splurge day during the week. Ask for a small portion of the regional favorite or order from the appetizer menu and start the meal with a salad or vegetables; this will help fill you so you don’t eat more of a higher-calorie item. Ask for extra vegetables or substitute another vegetable in place of a starch.”
“Most stores have fruit of some type — fresh or individual fruit cups; many also have yogurt, and nuts are good in moderation,” Newton said. “At the drive-thru, often the most simply prepared items are the healthiest choices — plain hamburger with lettuce and tomatoes or grilled chicken sandwich with lettuce and tomatoes.”

Hold the dressings such as mayo or special sauce, and choose the junior or kid-size portions, Newton says.

If there’s a refrigerator in the hotel or vacation house, Newton suggests you take advantage of it. Check before leaving town to see if a grocery store is located nearby.

“It can be easier to eat healthful meals when cooking yourself. So head to the store and buy some foods when you get there,” Newton said. “If you’re staying in a hotel that doesn’t have a refrigerator in the room, ask if one’s available.”

Moderation rules

First, try not to miss meals. It often causes overeating at the next one, Newton says.

“Pack a cooler for the beach and take water, fruit, maybe some nuts and string cheese,” Newton said.  “This type of mini-meal is easily portable and can help tide people over until they can have a regular meal.”

Second, indulge a little. Don’t feel you must completely skip favorite vacation foods.

“You should definitely indulge, but in moderation, maybe one small treat a day or one splurge day during the week,” Newton said. “Ask for a small portion of the regional favorite or order from the appetizer menu and start the meal with a salad or vegetables; this will help fill you so you don’t eat more of a higher-calorie item. Ask for extra vegetables or substitute another vegetable in place of a starch.”

Look online for restaurants in the area and review the menu in advance when possible so you can decide what to eat before you go. And always drink lots of water because people often mistake dehydration for hunger, Newton said.

Finally, stay active.

“This doesn’t need to be strenuous exercise, such as running or lifting weights; but do go sightseeing on foot or take a hike, swim in the pool or at the beach, things like that,” Newton said.

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