The holiday season is just around the corner. Even though its point is to relax and have fun, for some it could be a frustrating time when it comes to finding food in a foreign country, especially when they follow a particular diet or just try to eat healthy as much as possible. Going to restaurants and cafés may mean that you have to give up on a healthy diet because even the most innocent dishes like a side of veg are laden with butter, oil and salt, not to say about main dishes that are full of saturated fats, dairy and god knows what else. So here’s a little guide for you on how to enjoy your holiday without stressing about food.
First things first, I’m not an advocate for restrictions, and especially not when you are on holidays, as you want to enjoy it to the fullest. However, food is only a part of the experience and it shouldn’t be the centre of your preoccupation. Excess preoccupation with food is linked with many eating disorders, and back in the days when I was studying nutrition, a lot of emphasis was placed on how food should not be our main focus. Having said that, we should be mindful of what we eat and of course we should choose healthier options when they are available, but it is not the end of the world if they are not.
First of all, food is just food. It’s as simple as that.
Back to the question, though. How can you make sure that your diet is well balanced when you are traveling/on holidays?
Here are some things to consider.
1. No food is off limit
This is important to understand if you want to enjoy your holiday eat-outs without any guilt. Unless you follow a particular diet out of medical or ethical reasons, there’s no real reason why you should not treat yourself to something delicious.
No foods are innately good or bad. Except for heavily processed foods, most of the food has both properties. It all comes down to a balance. But a good diet shouldn’t be a result of restriction. It should be a genuine desire to nourish your body as much as you can, while also allowing yourself some flexibility. See, one ‘bad’ choice does not really hurt your body that much. It hurts your body if the bad choices outweigh the good. So as long as you are naturally and genuinely looking to nourish yourself with good food, anything less than good shouldn’t be off limit. Look at it this way – one food nourishes your body, another nourishes your mind and soul. Both are self-care. Balance them out and you’re good to go.
2. Research in advance
This is especially handy when you do have medical reasons to follow a particular diet. Internet has all the tools you need. You can check on TripAdvisor what restaurants are ranking best in your area, you can visit their web pages and look at the menus provided. If in doubt, email the restaurant or give them a call to inquire about specialised diets and let them know in advance that you are planning to visit.
3. Look for buffets and markets
Markets provide with lots of fresh fruit, fruit pots, nuts, dried fruit and smoothies, which can make a good snack or even a meal. If it’s a summer holiday, consider going half-raw and fill up on raw veg salads and fruits throughout the day and then go for a nice cooked meal for dinner. If you don’t want to go raw, that’s fine. Everybody is different, but I found it to work beautifully for me in summer. I’ve never had a clearer skin or flatter tummy than on a ‘raw till 4’ eating pattern.
Buffets are another excellent option as they provide a wide range of different foods. You could choose from fruits, nuts and yogurts to pre-made vegetable salads and ‘make your own’ salads to cooked mains, sides, etc. One thing to keep in mind: some buffets give you a free meal but you have to buy a drink. As a rule, drinks are extremely expensive in such places. Food quality may also suffer if it’s a place aimed exclusively at tourists. We once had fallen in such a trap in Barcelona – worst food and drinks (squash instead of juice!) at a price of a meal.
4. Make fresh fruit, veg and water your staple
If we go for a full restaurant meal 3 times a day, we can easily consume about 3000 kcal a day. I do not like counting calories, unless for educational purposes or to figure out whether you hit your daily goal. It’s definitely not practical and makes little sense to count them all the time to stay on track – it creates unnecessary stress. But it’s still worth to be mindful of what type of foods we eat and how much. Restaurant meals and take-aways are laden with unhealthy fats and add a lot of calories to your daily intake. I am not saying that you shouldn’t go to restaurants, just plan your meals accordingly. Make foods lower in calories, such as fruit and veg, your staples – this way you will get your micronutrients and balance out the bad stuff. Drink pure water whenever possible, especially if holidaying in a hot climate.
5. Don’t forget about protein
I don’t like to emphasize protein too much. It’s obviously important, but has become way over-hyped. But since I’ve talked so much about non-protein food choices, it’s worth to mention that you should include some protein too. If you eat meats, there’s always a choice of deli in the shops, but I would hardly call it healthy or balanced. It still doesn’t mean it should be completely off-limits, just be sensible.
There’s plenty of easy vegetarian sources of protein that don’t require cooking. It could be a plain greek yogurt, cottage cheese and of course no-cook vegan options would include all sorts of nuts and seeds, nut and seed butters and canned beans. I love adding canned chickpeas to my fresh veg salads. They go especially well with avocadoes, cucumbers and tomatoes. You could also throw nuts in your soya yogurt with fresh fruit and get a tasty snack or small meal.
6. Pack healthy snacks for travel
Finding the right food on a plane or a train could be a problem, especially where specialised diets are involved. Pack a BPA-free plastic lunch box in your carry-on luggage, fill it with cut up fruit, veg, some hummus or guacamole dip, whole grain crackers, trail mixes, wraps or sandwiches, etc. If you come prepared, you won’t need to spend as much money on so-so meals, which can be quite expensive in airports and on-board.
If you’re traveling by car, it makes even more sense to pack some light snacks as well as some sandwiches or wraps – it will help you to avoid unnecessary stops. Don’t forget to bring water if traveling by car, but you would probably need to buy water in the airport after the security check as you can’t bring it with you.
7. Make use of the mini-bar
If the hotel you’re staying at provides a mini-bar, you can buy some fresh ingredients for easy to make foods, like salads, yogurts with fresh fruits and nuts, etc. and put them in the mini-bar/fridge. Take a small kitchen knife with you if it’s possible, or get one there in a local store. That way you won’t have to go out for a meal each and every time. It also gives you an opportunity to take a packed lunch or snacks with you when you’re sightseeing – this is especially handy when you travel with children.
8. Focus on the fun part
Enjoying your food is a must, but enjoying your holiday is even more important. There’s little joy if you have to stress out about your meals. Use some or all of the tips if they suit you, and if it so happens that you don’t have much control over your diet don’t stress and focus on the fun part instead. Just go with the flow. You are there to relax and have fun. Whatever diet you have, it does you more good if it makes you happy.
(Erm, I meant Enjoy Yourself!)