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Eating Healthy on Vacation: Don’t Go Overboard!

By: Erin Coleman, B.S. - Nutritional Science, R.D., L.D.,

Writer, The Fit Father Project & Fit Mother Project

eating healthy on vacation

If you struggle with eating healthy on vacation, you're not alone. It's often difficult to maintain healthy habits while traveling!

However, eating right while vacationing is simple with the proper tools and knowledge in place.

Learn how to stay on track with nutrition and fitness goals before, during, and after your trip to ensure you're eating healthy on vacation!

If you're mixing alcohol and weight loss, here's what (and how much) you should drink!

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Foods and Drinks to Pack on Trips

If you're road-tripping, packing healthy drinks, meals, and snacks can save you money and make eating healthy on vacation easier.

Packing foods and drinks is more difficult when you're flying, but you can still bring non-perishable items with you if you check a suitcase.

Healthy foods and drinks to consider bringing with you (some require a cooler) for eating healthy on vacation include:

Snacks

  • Greek yogurt
  • Fresh fruit
  • Dehydrated fruit
  • Fruit packed in 100% fruit juice
  • Low-sugar protein bars
  • Peanut butter
  • String cheese
  • Hummus
  • Fresh veggies
  • Dehydrated veggies
  • Whole-grain crackers
  • Plain popcorn
  • Nuts
  • Seeds
  • Turkey jerky
  • Chicken jerky
  • Airtight flavored tuna
  • Airtight or canned chicken

Meals

  • Tuna sandwiches on whole-grain bread
  • Peanut butter and low-sugar jelly sandwiches on whole-grain bread
  • Nutritious pre-prepped meals
  • Hummus (or sliced cheese) and veggies wrapped in whole-grain tortillas
  • Nutritious canned soups

Drinks

  • Shelf-stable plant milk
  • Low-sugar, ready-to-drink protein shakes
  • Protein powder (to mix with water or milk)
  • 100% fruit juice
  • Bottled water
  • Carbonated water

Pack a variety of foods and drinks that match your family's preferences, and bring a cooler if you're driving and need one.

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Choose Wisely in Airports

Despite what you may think, not all airport food is unhealthy.

You can still find nutritious items, as long as you know what to look for, at airport restaurants and shops.

Examples include hummus with pretzels, nuts and seeds (with no added sugar), string cheese, and Greek yogurt.

Look for milk, unsweetened plant milk, l0w-sugar protein shakes, black coffee, unsweetened tea, or 100% juice.

Choose water or nutrient-dense drinks over diet soda, regular soda, sugar-sweetened coffee drinks, sweet tea, sugar-sweetened sports drinks, regular chocolate milk (look for reduced-sugar chocolate milk if available), and other sugar-sweetened beverages.

Eating Healthy on Vacation When Dining Out

To accomplish eating healthy while on vacation and while dining in restaurants, follow the few tips below to avoid dreaded vacation weight gain.

Choose Lots of Veggies and Proteins

By focusing on vegetables, particularly non-starchy veggies, and protein foods when eating in restaurants, you can usually steer clear of vacation weight gain.

Consider the following foods when eating healthy on vacation is your goal.

Protein Foods

Choose nutritious protein foods and fill one-fourth of each plate with them.

Pick grilled chicken, very lean cuts of steak, eggs, fish, shrimp, other types of seafood, or meatless plant protein foods.

Avoid highly processed meats (hot dogs, ham, cured bacon, deli meats, sausage, etc.), breaded meats, and fried meats.

Skip the ketchup, barbeque sauce, gravy, honey mustard, and other sugar-sweetened sauces.

Non-Starchy Vegetables

To accomplish eating healthy on vacation, order nutritious non-starchy veggies while dining out.

Examples include leafy greens, green beans, broccoli, cauliflower, tomatoes, cucumbers, mushrooms, onions, zucchini, asparagus, and bell peppers.

Strive to fill half of each plate of food with non-starchy veggies!

Starchy Vegetables

Starchy vegetables like peas, pinto beans, black beans, corn, sweet potatoes, lentils, or other legumes, should fill about one-fourth of each plate of food.

You can also pick whole grains instead of starchy veggies.

Examples of nutritious grains include wild rice, brown rice, oatmeal, quinoa, and whole-grain pasta.

Order Sauces On the Side

Ordering dressings and sauces on the side is one of the best ways to control your intake of added sugar, sodium, and total calories.

Limit gravies, other white sauces, and sugar-sweetened condiments.

If you consume dressings while dining out, choose oil-based dressings that don't taste sweet.

Drink Smart

To tackle eating healthy on vacation and while dining out, choose drinks wisely in addition to consuming nutritious foods.

Order water whenever possible or choose unsweetened coffee, unsweetened tea, milk, unsweetened plant milk (if available), or 100% fruit juice.

Steer clear of alcohol, or at least limit it as much as you can and avoid sugary mixers.

Pass on Refined Grains

Refined grains, or highly process grains, are often lower in fiber, protein, vitamins, and minerals than refined grains.

And, it's easy to pick whole grains instead as they taste almost identical.

When dining out on vacation, steer clear of regular hot dog or hamburger buns, white bagels, white bread, white rice, regular pasta, and white tortillas.

Steer clear of biscuits and other baked goods too if possible.

But don't worry if you splurge every now and then on refined grains, especially when on vacation, as having a cheat day now and then isn't the end of the world.

Other Foods to Avoid

Knowing which food to avoid is just as important as knowing which foods to choose when eating healthy on vacation.

In addition to avoiding breaded meats, processed meats (ham, pepperoni, hot dogs, regular bacon, etc.), refined grains, and fried meats, say no to other fried foods, pizza, and mac and cheese.

Also on the list of foods to avoid when eating in restaurants are Alfredo sauce, spaghetti sauce, cheese sauce, and sugar-sweetened condiments.

Top salads with oil and vinegar or dressings containing little to no added sugar.

Pick broth-based soups over cream-based soups when possible.

While it's okay to drink alcohol in moderation while on vacation, limit or avoid it as much as you can.

If you do drink, limit yourself to one and avoid sugary mixers like soda and lemonade.

However, don't feel guilty about drinking on vacation.

Simply use good judgment as alcohol is a high-calorie drink that provides few or no beneficial nutrients.

Find out if drinking alcohol and losing weight can be done at the same time!

 

Shopping Lists for Vacationing

To tackle eating healthy on vacation, look for the same nutritious foods and drinks you purchase when following a healthy eating plan at home.

Consider keeping some of the following nutritious foods on hand while vacationing:

Healthy Whole Foods

Choose whole foods as often as you can when eating healthy on vacation.

Consider fresh vegetables, fruits, legumes, dairy foods, plant milk, whole grains, heart-healthy fats, and nutritious protein foods (chicken, turkey, uncured turkey bacon, eggs, very lean red meat, fish, seafood, seitan, veggie burgers, and other meatless plant proteins).

Choose olive oil or other plant oils, seeds, nuts, and nut butters like cashew butter, almond butter, and peanut butter.

Nutritious Snacks

Nutritious snacks to consider when grocery shopping on vacation include Greek yogurt, cottage cheese, string cheese, and fresh or dried fruit (without added sugar).

You might also choose canned fruits packed in 100% fruit juice.

Nuts, seeds, and low-sugar protein bars are good snack options too, as well as hummus with veggies and apple slices with nut butter.

Pack or shop for protein powder to mix with water, milk, or plant milk and enjoy nutritious protein-rich shakes when eating healthy on vacation!

Healthy Drinks

Nutritious drinks to keep on hand at your vacation destination include water, tea, coffee, 100% juice, milk, plant milk, or plain kefir.

Flavor water with a little bit of fruit juice, fruit chunks, mint leaves, or cucumber slices if you'd like!

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Ways to Exercise While Vacationing

If you're worried about lack of exercise on vacation, don't be!

Vacationing is the perfect time to continue on with, or even start, regular workouts.

There are many ways to stay active away from home, and doing so goes hand in hand with eating healthy on vacation.

Examples of workouts to consider include:

Gym Exercises

Whether you're staying in a hotel, rental house, or cabin, chances are you can find a gym nearby.

Don't feel obligated to hit the gym but if you have access to one, squeeze in quick gym workouts when you can.

Bodyweight Workouts

The best thing about bodyweight exercises is you can complete them anywhere, even if in a hotel room or bedroom in a rental home.

You can head outdoors to complete bodyweight exercises too.

Examples include pushups, squats, lunges, planks, triceps dips, crunches, sit-ups, and more.

Switch up plank exercises to include side planks, traditional planks, shoulder-touch planks, plank jacks, and mountain climbers.

This 6-minute HIIT workout is a great way to burn fat and build muscle!

 

Outdoor Cardio Workouts

You can always exercise outdoors when the weather cooperates, regardless of where you're staying.

Consider jogging, walking, or biking outside when you can.

Alternate between longer sweat sessions and high-intensity interval training, and recruit friends or family members to join you!

Dumbbell Exercises

If you have access to dumbbells while on vacation or you bring them with you, add resistance-training workouts to your routine.

Consider squats, lunges, biceps curls, standing shoulder press, triceps extensions, front raises, lateral raises, and more using dumbbells.

Resistance Band Exercises

Resistance bands are easy to pack with you when traveling.

Use the bands to complete biceps curls, triceps extensions, triceps kickbacks, squats, leg raises, chest flys, lateral raises, front raises, or other resistance-band exercises.

This resistance band workout can be done in under 30 minutes!

 

Stair Climbing Exercises

It's usually easy to find a set of stairs indoors or outdoors to complete stair climbing exercises.

If your gym or hotel has a stair climber machine, use that instead if you prefer!

Swimming Workouts

If you're staying near a pool, lake, or ocean, bring goggles with you and swim laps to stay active and burn extra calories in addition to eating healthy on vacation.

Swimming is one of the highest calorie-burning exercises you can choose!

Rope Jumping

Like resistance bands, jump ropes are lightweight and don't take up much space in your suitcase.

Rope jumping is a high-calorie-burning workout, as you can expend burn more than 400 calories in 30 minutes if you weigh 155 pounds.

Outdoor Water Activities

Many vacation destinations offer calorie-burning water activities like wakeboarding, water skiing, kayaking, snorkeling, paddle boarding, or scuba diving.

These fun activities help you stay in shape and can even take the place of many traditional workouts.

Get Back on Track After Traveling

Don't worry if eating healthy on vacation didn't go exactly as you had planned.

Simply get back on track when you return home by doing the following:

Shop Healthy

Make a list of nutritious foods and head to the grocery store when you get back from vacation.

Stock up on healthy foods, ingredients, and drinks for your family.

Stick to your list to reduce the chance of buying junk foods.

Follow a Routine

Vacationing can make sticking with a routine difficult, but returning home is the perfect time to get back on track.

Establish a routine for you and your family that includes regular bedtimes and meal schedules, and plenty of time for workouts and kids activities.

Stay on track with your schedule as much as possible.

Plan Meals, Workouts, and Relaxation

After vacationing, plan out your meals and workouts for the week.

Set aside at least 30 minutes daily for exercise and at least 45 minutes for active chores and other activities of daily living.

Encourage family members, as well as yourself, to get at least 7 hours of uninterrupted sleep each night.

Try Fit Mother Project workouts or develop your own exercise routine by combining strength training with aerobic exercises.

Change up your workouts often to maximize fat-burning and muscle-sculpting results.

Make sure to make time to unwind and de-stress after each vacation, as vacations are sometimes stressful and exhausting!

Join a Healthy Living Program for Women

Consider trying a healthy living program designed just for busy moms like you.

You can sign up for the Fit Mother Project plan at no cost by picking a free meal plan and fat-burning workout.

If you're already a Fit Mother Project member, get back on track with your program after returning from vacation.

The Fit Mother Project offers personalized workouts, custom meal plans, motivational support from medical experts and fit mom community members, successful weight loss programs, recipes, weekly newsletters, and much more!

You also receive extra tips for tackling eating healthy on vacation.

Taking a break from the real world doesn't have to equal weight gain and being sedentary.

Trust the Fit Mother Project with your success by letting the expert health team guide you!

Erin Coleman

Writer, The Fit Father Project & Fit Mother Project

Erin Coleman is a registered and licensed dietitian with over 15 years of freelance writing experience.

She graduated with her Bachelor of Science degree in nutritional science from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and completed her dietetic internship at Viterbo University in La Crosse, Wisconsin.

Prior to beginning her career in medical content writing, Erin worked as Health Educator for the University of Wisconsin-Madison Department of Internal Medicine.

Her published work appears on hundreds of health and fitness websites, and she’s currently working on publishing her first book! Erin is a wife, and a Mom to two beautiful children.

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*Please know that weight loss results & health changes/improvements vary from individual to individual; you may not achieve similar results. Always consult with your doctor before making health decisions. This is not medical advice – simply very well-researched info on eating healthy on vacation.

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Our Fit Mother Project Team’s deepest commitment is to helping you live healthier for both yourself and your family. And when it comes to online content, integrity and trust is everything. That’s why our Fit Mother Project staff-writers are all trained professionals in the field of health and wellness (registered dieticians, licensed personal trainers, and licensed physicians) – see the full team here. We rigorously run all of our articles through a rigorous editorial process to ensure the accuracy, simplicity, and utility of the information. And we aren’t just a team of “academics” sitting in an ivory tower. We are real people – with jobs, responsibilities, and families – working hard in the trenches and testing our tips & methods out to make sure you can stay healthy for family.

Here is what you can expect from us on our Fit Mother Blog and YouTube channel:

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Thanks for checking out the blog. We can’t wait to support you toward greater health, energy, and vitality.

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