Dr. Larry's Guide to Eating Healthy on Vacation
For many of us, it’s a challenge to live a healthy lifestyle, eat well and stay active on vacation. Think about it. You’ve got a lot going on: you’re in the airport, traveling, staying in hotels, and you’ve got kids that are crazy and hungry. It’s easy just to feed them whatever you can find to keep them full.
I just took a five-day vacation with my 5-year-old daughter, my sister and her kids, and my dad. We went to San Diego. It was a great trip, lots of fun — and lots of sugar. Too much sugar.
It was definitely a learning experience for the whole family: how do you find time to still work out and eat healthy on the go? How do you make sure that when you take your daughter to the amusement park, she doesn’t get too much sugar and melt down later in the day? How do you survive the airport without going to McDonald’s every time? How can you travel, eat well, and still be active?
In this video series, I answer these questions and more to help you live a happier, healthier lifestyle — even on vacation.
How Can You Eat Healthy at the Airport?
It’s a trick question — you can’t.
I’m kidding, but it’s pretty challenging. You have limited options; it’s not like you’re going to the grocery store with a smorgasbord of wonderful produce and lean protein to choose from. You’ve got McDonald’s, Burger King, pizza… basically a lot of really unhealthy options. So what do you do?
I’ve traveled with my daughter a lot. Parents know that when you’re traveling with young children, you’ve got to be prepared, especially in the airport. Here are some things I’ve done to avoid temptation and keep myself and my daughter healthy in the airport terminal:
- Bring food with you. What are you going to get on the airplane? Peanuts, pretzels — high-salt, high-carb foods that are just not an ideal part of your daily diet. Typically, I like to bring a piece of fruit with me instead: an apple, an orange, maybe a banana. Almonds are also good, or maybe a little yogurt. These little snacks can often get you through until you reach your destination and have healthier meal options.
- Make the best of your options. Sometimes, especially if you have a connection, you have no choice but to eat at the airport. Like life, your diet’s not going to be perfect, but you can make the best of what you’ve got. If you have three different muffins to choose from and not a lot else on the menu, take the bran one instead of the one that’s topped off with sugar and blueberries. If you have restaurant options, seek out a salad or chicken sandwich instead of a burger and fries.
- Enjoy your vacation. Do the best that you can, but don’t get too hung up on your less-than-idea airport meal options. You’re on vacation, after all!
How Can You Go to Disneyland and Actually Eat Healthy?
In San Diego, we went to Belmont Park, an amusement park at Mission Beach that has roller coasters, rides, and lots of junk food. We were surrounded by junk food. Pretzels were probably the healthiest thing there, and those are loaded with salt and cheese.
You get into this environment, and you’re almost forced to say, “Oh, forget it. We’re just going to eat junk today.” But what can you do instead of doing that?
- Eat before you go. Try to eat a good meal and fill up before heading to the amusement park, ball game, or any other local attraction that offers limited healthy options. You might even plan to spend just half a day at the park so you can plan meals before and after rather than eating while you’re there.
- Plan ahead. Just like at the airport, it’s always a good idea to have some healthy snacks on hand. Fruit, nuts or yogurt can help curb your appetite so you don’t rely on the amusement park and fill up on junk.
- Give yourself a break. I’m going to be honest — I didn’t plan very well. I didn’t eat beforehand, I brought nothing with me, and I got hungry in the middle of our time at the park. So I ate a pretzel and got a Slurpee. But I still made good choices: I shared my pretzel instead of eating the whole thing myself, and I ordered a small Slurpee instead of the jumbo size. I was able to get my fill and get a little sugar rush without totally going off the deep end. Throughout the week, you can definitely work in some times to just enjoy the stuff that you like. Know that you’re not going to come back at the end of the vacation and be three or four pounds heavier because you drank one small Slurpee.
Remember, one cheat day at the amusement park is probably not a big deal. But if you’re going to Disneyland for five days, and you’re just going to rely on the theme park to provide your nutrition, you’re probably going to be eating too much junk — which is going to take away from your energy, and ultimately, the quality time that you have there. Eating well can actually enhance your vacation and make it more enjoyable, so do your best to make healthy choices whenever possible.
What Can You Do When the People You’re With Don’t Eat the Same Way You Do?
When my sister is on vacation with her kids, they kind of get to eat whatever they want. For them, it’s a vacation from eating well. There’s a lot of sugar, a lot of chips, and a lot of pizza.
And then there’s grandpa, who, I swear, is sticking sugar in my daughter’s mouth every time I turn around.
At first, I let it go…and what happened? My daughter had a total meltdown on our first day in San Diego. Sure, we had had a long day, and we were in a different place, but I know a huge part of it was that she was overloaded on sugar. She’d had the sugar high, and when it left her system, she just crashed, felt miserable and melted down. Vacation isn’t as enjoyable when you’re dealing with a meltdown every night — an hour of tears isn’t fun for anybody.
Finally, I had to say something. I told my sister, “I’m sorry, but we cannot do this much sugar. I respect what you’re doing with your children. You’re a great mother, and this is your vacation, so have at it. But we have to do it differently.”
My sister was great and respected that. I told my daughter we would have one treat per day, but we can’t have sugar with every meal. As a result, she did better, and I think she had a better vacation overall.
Compromise is good, but don’t be afraid to set limits about what you will and won’t eat on vacation. Navigating a healthy lifestyle can be challenging in a social setting, but this is your trip and your body. If you do your best to eat well, even when those around you choose to do it differently, you will thank yourself later.
Now I want to hear from you. What are your ideas? How do you stick to your healthy lifestyle in the airport, on vacation, and in those social situations?