9 Ways to Help Your Family Eat (Mostly) Healthy on Vacation

Famliy eating healthfully while traveling

The last thing you want to do after you’ve turned on your out-of-office reply is stress about anything, including food. This means finding a happy medium between trying to help your family eat exactly like you do at home (unrealistic) and totally going off the rails (a recipe for sluggishness) during your trip.

“I always say you can control about 75 percent of what you eat while traveling,” says Stephanie Middleberg, R.D., founder of Middleberg Nutrition in New York City, author of The Big Book of Organic Baby Food, and a mother of two. To find out how—and make the most of the other 25 percent—read on for nine trip-specific tips.

IF YOU’LL BE…ON THE ROAD

Stop at a grocery store. When you’re forced to eat breakfast on the go, pop into a supermarket instead of stopping for fast-food breakfast sandwiches and hash browns. Middleberg recommends buying individual containers of plain, low-fat Greek yogurt, nuts, and a banana for a belly-filling combination of protein, fat, and fiber. While you’re at it, grab a bag of apples and mozzarella cheese sticks for later, says Tracy Morris, Fitbit’s in-house dietitian and mom of three.

Have a picnic. At roadside stops, unfurl a blanket and sit down to a meal. You can dip cut-up veggies in hummus or guacamole and top whole-grain bread or crackers with pouches of salmon or tuna. “Pre-blended smoothies can also be nice for road trips if your kids don’t go for the fresh veggies,” says Morris. “Make and freeze them ahead, so they’ll thaw just enough in your cooler to enjoy.”

IF YOU’LL BE…IN THE AIR

Pack snacks. Willow Jarosh, R.D.N., who cofounded C&J Nutrition in New York City with fellow mom and registered dietitian Stephanie Clarke, likes peanut butter and banana sandwiches cut into quarters; thinly sliced fruit and nut butter rolled up in whole-wheat tortillas; homemade energy bites; baggies of carrots, celery, cucumber slices; and frozen edamame, which keeps the other veggies cold as it defrosts. Middleberg’s go-to snacks include roasted chickpeas, nuts, and packets of nut butter paired with fruit. “All of these are high in protein,” says Middleberg, “which helps keep blood sugar stable during long travel days.”

Order Mexican. If you have a layover or want to grab a meal before takeoff, opt for a burrito bowl. “That way you get a good, balanced meal of rice; chicken, ground meat, or beans; and lettuce, tomato, and sautéed veggies,” says Jarosh.

Hunt for eggs. “I like those snack packs with a hardboiled-egg, cheese, fruit, and whole-grain crackers you can find at airport coffee kiosks,” says Morris. “Pre-made sandwiches can be a good option, too—look for egg salad, or chicken and avocado on whole-wheat bread.”

IF YOU’LL BE…ON A CRUISE

Make a plate. But only one: “Do a lap or two around the buffet to scope out everything first,” suggests Jarosh. This is an especially great strategy for kids, who tend to eat with their eyes rather than their stomach. “Remind them—and yourself—that the buffet will be out every day, so you can choose something different at your next meal.” When you do fill your plate, load half of it with veggies, then add a smartphone-size portion of fish, chicken, or beef, and a fist-size serving of whole-wheat bread, pasta, or grains.

Splurge intentionally. When you eat out, your entrée isn’t usually the problem. “It’s the extras before and after your main meal that quickly add up,” warns Middleberg. She recommends choosing only one or two—max—of the following three extras: wine, beer, or a cocktail; bread from the basket; and dessert.

IF YOU’LL BE… IN A HOTEL

Stock the “kitchen.” Call the hotel a few days ahead of time and ask the staff if they’ll clear out the mini fridge to eliminate temptation and make room for your own groceries,” advises Middleberg. Use a grocery-delivery service or go shopping at a local market after you land. Things to buy: a box of healthy low-sugar cereal, a carton of low-fat milk, a couple of different fruits, a bag of baby carrots, whole-wheat crackers, and a tin or two of tuna (just make sure it doesn’t require a can opener). Low-sugar granola bars and individual bags of popcorn are great grab-and-go snack options kids love. If the hotel has a microwave, use it to cook scrambled eggs in a mug with baby spinach and shredded cheese, suggests Jarosh. Then top the whole thing with salsa.

Embrace oatmeal. No fridge? No problem. “If the hotel doesn’t have a refrigerator or a microwave, pack individual baggies of instant oats mixed with cinnamon, nuts, seeds, freeze-dried berries, and powdered milk or powdered peanut butter for extra protein and creaminess,” says Jarosh. “Then just pour the mix into a mug or paper cup and add hot water from the in-room coffee maker for a satisfying breakfast.”

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