How to Eat Healthy on Vacation

Three Methods:Preparing Before Your TripLimiting Your SplurgingMaking Good Nutrition Choices

Vacations are all about relaxation and fun, which can spell trouble for your healthy lifestyle, because it can be tempting to abandon your healthy eating while on vacation. Although you may strive for good, clean-eating, it's easy to sway from your goals and treat yourself more than you should. However, with proper planning and vigilance, you can stick to the wholesome and nutritious diet to which you’ve grown accustomed.

Method 1
Preparing Before Your Trip

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    Plan your dine-out meals beforehand. While it’s more beneficial to not dine out, the likelihood of you not visiting a restaurant on vacation is very slim. For this reason, plan your dining experiences before your trip. Decide what restaurant you will visit and check out the menu beforehand. This way, you can determine nutrition information ahead of time and look for healthier options.[1]
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    Schedule one cheat meal or cheat day. Every town is famous for a specific type of food, so plan one meal or one day when you allow yourself to indulge in the local fare. On all other days, you should plan to be more conscious about what you are eating, planning healthier dining choices and meal options.[2]
    • For example, if you’re in New York choose to splurge on New York style pizza. If you’re in Texas, indulge in BBQ. After your splurge, choose healthier options such as opting for baked fish instead of fried fish while visiting Miami Beach.
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    Bring your own snacks. Stock your mini-fridge in your hotel with healthy snacks that you can grab on the go such as veggies, yogurt, cheese sticks, hard-boiled eggs and water bottles. Not only does this keep you from heading to the hotel vending machine, but it also curbs your hunger when you’re out sightseeing.[3]
    • This option also helps during travel, such as on road trips or in the airport. When you have healthy snacks on hand you’re less likely to buy a convenience store hotdog or overpriced fast-food at the airport.[4]
    • You can also pack “brown bags” for longer day trips. Instead of having an unplanned meal at a restaurant, make a new memory by having a healthy picnic packed in brown bags or a small cooler.
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    Try eating “at home”. If your lodging has a full kitchen (such as at a rental home or extended-stay hotel) opt for eating all meals at home. You can then plan all your meals, shop for your own groceries, and know exactly what you are consuming each day. Not only does it save money, but it gives you much more control over what you’re eating.[5]
    • When stocking your fridge, try purchasing items like fresh greens, whole wheat pastas, canned tuna fish, eggs, and berries.[6]
    • AirBnB is a good source to help find rental properties that are often cheaper than a hotel stay. Plus, you can get amenities that hotels don’t offer such as a blender for fresh smoothies or a grill for cooking light.
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    Turn down the hotel extras. If your hotel offers a mini-bar with snacks such as sodas and candies, be sure to turn it down.[7] If snacks are not under lock and key, you can always ask the staff to remove them from your room. Also, if your lodging has complimentary breakfast, stick to healthier options such as oatmeal, fruit, and healthy cereals.

Method 2
Limiting Your Splurging

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    Consider everything in moderation. You shouldn’t want to deprive yourself, especially while on vacation. But make sure you are practicing self-control when splurging on a treat. Try limiting treats to one per day or employing the 80/20 rule: make 80% of your daily caloric intake healthy foods, and reserve 20% for your treats. [8]
    • For example, have a bite or two of your favorite cake at dessert but don’t eat the entire piece.
    • Think of your calories as an allowance. Save up your calories by making healthy choices so that you can spend more on the items you really want.
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    Balance out your meals. Your goal is to look at your nutrient intake over the course of the entire trip. If you have a bad meal, make the next one healthy. If you had cookies as a snack, eat veggies next time. This is known as the “never two in a row” rule. While on vacation you don’t have to stay 100% on track, but you don’t want to lose your momentum either (it will make it difficult to bounce back after vacation).[9]
    • Another way to balance out your meals is by eating less carbs if you plan on drinking alcoholic beverages. Alcoholic beverages such as beer and mixed drinks are loaded with carbs. If you plan on drinking, be diligent with your carb intake during your meals.
    • Make a conscious effort to eat lighter throughout the day so you have some wiggle room when it comes to your splurges.[10]
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    Choose your alcohol wisely. If you’re restricting calories or counting carbs, alcohol can waste a good portion of your allotted amount. Having just one frozen margarita can account for up to 700 calories. If you don’t want to cut out alcohol completely, just make better choices to limit your sugar intake.[11]
    • For example, instead of mixed cocktails that are high in sugar content, opt for low-calorie drinks such as a white-wine spritzer, light beer, flavored vodka with club soda, or tequila on the rocks with lime.
    • Avoid using soft drinks as mixers. These will increase your calorie and sugar intake.
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    Eat when you’re hungry and stop when you’re comfortable. While it sounds easy enough, being in the vacation mindset can often cause you to overeat by eating when you’re not hungry and stuffing yourself until you are miserable. Try using a rating scale (such as 0-5) to determine if you are indeed hungry.[12] Likewise, stop eating when you are satisfied, not stuffed.[13]
    • Your hunger scale should account for all levels of hunger and satiety. For example, 0 should be starving, 3 should be satisfied, and 5 should be stuffed, couldn’t eat another bite.[14]
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    Avoid buffets. Buffets can be damaging to diets because many times they offer all of the foods you love in a single place. It’s difficult to avoid splurging when everything is in front of you for the taking. If you’re unable to avoid a buffet, build your meal around vegetables and grilled meats, and avoid high-fat options.[15]
    • It’s okay to treat yourself to one of your favorites but remember that portion size and balance are very important.
    • Avoid going back for additional helpings at the buffet.

Method 3
Making Good Nutrition Choices

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    Choose healthier menu options. Whether dining at a fast-food joint or a dine-in restaurant, look for menu items that are on the lighter side. Opt for grilled meats over fried options, load up on veggies, avoid sugary drinks, and beware of heavy dressings and condiments.[16]
    • Wherever your vacation destination, there will always be both healthy and unhealthy menu options. If you’re visiting Italy, opt for grilled chicken and veggies instead of high-carb pasta. If vacationing in New Orleans, order grilled shrimp or fish instead of a fried platter.
    • Only order healthy options that appeal to you. Otherwise, you’ll feel like you’re depriving yourself and may overeat because of it.[17]
    • Customize your meal to fit your healthy lifestyle. Ask your server to prepare or dress your meal in a way that is different from what is listed on the menu. For example, order a bun-less burger if you are cutting carbs, or opt for a marinara sauce instead of an alfredo sauce if you're counting fat or calories.[18]
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    Look for key words that describe food preparation styles. Avoid fried-foods that are labeled as "tempura" or "battered", like tempura shrimp or beer-battered fish. Opt instead for grilled or broiled meats. Additionally, stay away from high-calorie sides that are listed as "loaded" or "cheesy" such as loaded baked potatoes or cheesy mashed potatoes. Instead, order steamed or sauteed veggies.[19]
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    Pay attention to portion sizes. American restaurants have doubled and even triple sized their portion sizes in the last 20 years.[20] Try ordering a “lunch” portion, sharing an entrée, ordering an appetizer as a meal, or asking to have half of the meal “doggy-bagged”.[21]
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    Drink plenty of water. Vacation can often deter your from drinking your recommended daily water intake. However, water is important to keep your body functioning properly, and it can have the added bonus of keeping you full and satisfied to avoid overeating. Keep water in your hotel room, in your car, or in your backpack or purse so you can stay hydrated.[22]
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    Take a health supplement. While on vacation, you may not be as diligent with your nutrition intake as usual. Now, more than ever, it’s important to get your five servings of fruits and veggies a day. Opt for a multivitamin that can fill in gaps in nutrition. This will make your meals seem more filling and will provide enough fiber to keep you regular.[23]


  • Get some exercise. Try the hotel gym or walk instead of driving. It will help burn calories and give you more wiggle room for treats.
  • Remember it’s okay to treat yourself once in a while. One ice cream cone or a slice of pizza isn't going to hurt--as long as you know when to stop.
  • Don’t be too hard on yourself. If you mess up, try to balance out your choice with a healthier choice. Avoid getting down on yourself and throwing away all of your hard work.


  • Don’t deprive yourself of all pleasures. Not only can it put a damper on your vacation, but it can also cause you to binge and overeat on unhealthy options.
  • Always remember that eating healthy is a way of life. Eating healthy during vacation will be more difficult if you haven’t already made it a part of your everyday lifestyle.

Sources and Citations

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Categories: Nutrition and Lifestyle Eating | Travel Health