Maybe you are among the millions of Americans who will hit the road this summer for a week or two of fun, adventure or simple relaxation. With a little planning, you can enjoy a healthy vacation diet that incorporates your own snacks and mini-meals. All you’ll need is a small cooler, a few ice packs and some foods from my suggested travel pantry.
What to pack
Let’s start with what you can purchase before you leave home: individual servings of bottled water, a loaf of whole wheat bread or a box of whole wheat crackers, a jar of natural peanut or almond butter, individual boxes of dry cereal, a one-pound bag of mixed dried fruit and a one-pound bag of walnuts (unsalted, found in the baking section of the grocery store), several pieces of your favorite fresh fruit, individual fruit cup servings packed in water and some disposable spoons and knives. Flat-bottomed canvas bags with a few pockets are sturdy carriers and can double as a shopping bag during the trip.
What to drink
A study at Cornell University showed that kids who drink more than 16 ounces of sweetened beverages a day consume 244 extra calories — an excess that may contribute to childhood obesity. Sweetened beverages include soda, fruit punch, bottled tea and drinks made from fruit-flavored powders. My travel pantry purposely excludes sweetened beverages and includes water as the only option. And yes, kids and even adults will drink water when they’re thirsty.
Take charge of the beverage order for your kids when eating in a restaurant by ordering milk. It costs a little bit more, but an eight-ounce serving of skim milk is a much better nutritional deal, with just 86 calories and 300 milligrams of calcium, compared to a 12-ounce soda at 150 calories and zero nutrient value.
What’s for breakfast?
I like to eat breakfast out when traveling so my plans for the day aren’t interrupted. Order a scrambled egg, whole-wheat toast and fruit. If leaving from home or the hotel, pack a single-serving box of whole grain cereal in your bag, add a handful of walnuts and dried fruit, top with yogurt from your cooler and eat it on the road. By starting the day with a real meal, you may prevent overeating later in the day.
We all need to break up time on the road, so why not combine those pit stops with a roadside lunch? Most highways now offer rest areas with picnic tables and room to throw a Frisbee. This is the time for a peanut butter or almond butter sandwich on whole wheat, a piece of fresh fruit, a bottle of water and a few minutes of family playtime. It might even make you look forward to the drive!
Enjoying dinner out
If you have chosen wisely at breakfast, lunch and and snack time, you can indulge a little now – and that is an important part of enjoying your vacation. I like to use the 10 percent rule: if you need 2,000 calories a day, 200 calories, or 10 percent, can come from anything you want. For example, one scoop of chocolate ice cream in a sugar cone has 200 calories. Just remember to stick to a healthy eating plan for the remaining 90 percent.
Learn to steer clear of high-fat menu items – descriptive words like “batter-fried,” “creamed,” and “scalloped” signal trouble, as do butter-based sauces such as Hollandaise and Bearnaise. Choose foods that are braised, broiled, roasted, grilled, steamed or poached. When eating Italian food, select pasta with tomato-based red sauce instead of cream-based white sauce.
Buffets are my personal pet peeve. You pay more for the cheapest foods and are setting yourself up to overeat. Even salad bars are a problem if your salad is drenched in dressing or heavy in mayonnaise-laden pasta or potato salad. Order just what you want, and steer clear of meal deals that include a large order of fries and a soft drink. A sandwich with a garden salad, dressing on the side, and a glass of skim milk makes for a satisfying lmeal.
One of the memorable experiences my family had on our last trip was a detour that included a stop at a u-pick-it farm. We ate berries fresh off the bush, reconnected with nature and got a much-needed stretch break.
Here’s to a healthy and fun-filled vacation! See you on the road.
Marcia Kyle is a registered dietitian and certified diabetes educator at the Pen Bay Healthcare Diabetes and Nutrition Care Center in Rockland. For more information, please visit pbmc.org/diabetes.