Back to articles

Making Good Food Choices on Vacation

Lorraine Burke, MS, RD Nutrition

One of the best aspects of a summer vacation is the opportunity to break from the routine, to have fun—to live a little! That’s a good thing, and you should enjoy every minute of it. In the process, however, it’s important to avoid the pitfalls that could have a negative effect on your nutritional well-being.

Fast food, buffets and high-fat, high-calorie treats (think fried “everything” at the fair) seem to pop up more during a summertime trip, even if you’ve been really great about healthy eating the rest of the year.  However, with a little planning and determination, you can continue to eat healthfully while experiencing all the fun and adventure a vacation offers.

Road trips

It seems like there’s a fast food place every block or so these days, and that number multiplies on the major roads and highways travelers use. This is where a little preparation goes a long way. Before you leave home, pack a cooler with fresh fruits and yogurt, as well as a bag with some healthy trail mix and other healthy snacks your family enjoys.

If you find that fast food is your only option when it comes time for a meal stop, have a hamburger instead of a cheeseburger and fries, then supplement your meal with some of the healthy foods you’ve brought along. If there’s a grocery store nearby, skip the fast food joint entirely and buy some produce and other nutritionally sound food.

At some point, you may find yourself staring down the aisle of a convenience store or gas station market as your only choice for something to eat. If you’re out of the healthy food you brought along, choose a Clif bar or other similar bar with balanced nutrition and not too much protein. This quick snack should hold you over till you have a chance to find a more complete and healthy meal.

Other options are fresh fruit, if it’s available, or a small package of peanuts or other nuts. If yogurt is available, that is fine—but check the expiration date. Whatever you do, avoid the hot dogs and other items on the roller grill, and stay away from the sugary drinks that line the refrigerator cases of convenience stores.


For a lot of people, cruise=buffet. On many cruises, you can eat nonstop all day and all night, and a lot of people go in with the mindset “I’ve paid for this cruise, so I’m going to eat everything I possibly can.” Of course, we all know the result of that approach.

But you can enjoy yourself while not going overboard (pun intended). Stick to three meals a day, and don’t skip meals, which can lead to overindulging when you do eat. If you can, order at least one of your meals off of a menu instead of going to the buffet. For instance, starting out with a sensible breakfast of oatmeal, fresh fruit and yogurt is healthy and will help you feel less hungry later on.

When you visit the buffet, make it a point to fill half of your plate with vegetables and fruits, ¼ with protein and ¼ with starch (such as rice or potato). Using a small plate will further help you to control your portions. After you’ve eaten, wait 15 to 20 minutes before going back to the buffet. Chances are, you’ll find you really don’t need that second helping.

This is also a great time to practice mindful eating, a technique you can use all of the time, not just on vacation. Concentrate on eating, not on multitasking (such as watching TV or checking your Facebook page). Put your fork down after each bite. Have a drink of water. Talk with the others at the table. As a mindful eater, you’ll be more in touch with the natural cues your body will give you when it’s time to stop eating.

When you’re thinking about your food intake, remember this: It’s not an all-or-nothing proposition. Every food can fit into a healthy eating plan. Some foods are “every day” foods; others are for special occasions only and, even then, in moderation. And if you blow it, don’t beat yourself up. Just get back on track and continue with your healthy lifestyle.

Lorraine Burke is an outpatient dietitian with Simi Valley Hospital’s new outpatient nutrition counseling program.