By: Holly R. Layer – Contributing Writer
In honor of my recent trip to Europe, I want to address vacation eating. My husband and I have taken a few monthlong trips in recent years, and I came home heavier each time.
Can you blame me? It’s France we’re talking about. Need I say more than croissants, wine, cheese and crème brulee?
With summer and summer vacations – here, let’s talk strategy. Toward the end of some of our longer trips in past years, my pants start getting tighter and I get a heck of a lot crankier, which is no fun for anyone. Instead of letting our middles get soft, let’s approach our next trips with a game plan.
HOW NOT TO GAIN EXCESS WEIGHT
Do not eat all things
This one is tough, especially if you’re in an exotic locale or somewhere known for its food. First, try to keep your meal sizes smaller than what you’d normally eat at home, since you’re likely eating at a restaurant more than once a day. Consider sharing a few different dishes with your travel partners so you can sample more items, order small portions when available and don’t feel like you need to clean your plate. (That’s a bad habit even at home!) Also, chocolate is chocolate is chocolate – unless you’re in Belgium, in which case you should eat some and bring home a box, too.
Savor things that are worth it
Crème brulee in France? Worth it. Homemade pasta in Italy? Worth it. A day-old croissant at your hotel’s continental breakfast? Not worth it. Make sure most of your meals are made of real, wholesome food so that when you do have the opportunity to try something unique and delicious, you haven’t overindulged already.
I’ve never worked out on our big trips, but I always wish I had. You’re likely walking a lot, but in my experience, it’s not enough to make up for the extra calories from rich food, sweets and drinks throughout the day. This year, I changed all that. I even ran a half-marathon while we were in the Netherlands! Don’t panic if you’re not a runner; simply take advantage of your hotel’s fitness center (if available), or perhaps wake up a little early to get out on a power walk and do some calisthenics before breakfast. You’ll be glad you did.
For those of you choosing travel close to home this summer – or party outside on the weekends – here are some healthier alternatives to traditional barbecue/picnic/bonfire fare:
Instead of hamburgers and hot dogs, consider grilled chicken or fish: Marinated shrimp on skewers is always fun, and using foil to steam fish (en papillote is French for "in parchment") is both healthy and mess-less. For non-grill options, cold-meat sandwiches are also nice, portable options, as well as precooked chicken or steak strips.
Instead of bagged chips, grill veggies in a basket alongside meat: If you don’t have a grill basket, see the steaming method in foil above. Try cut-up sweet potatoes, scallions and fresh thyme!
Instead of mayonnaise-based salads – which pose a food safety hazard if left out too long – put out bowls of fruit salad and vegetable trays with hummus: Grain-based and bean salads are good choices for your vegetarian friends and won’t wilt in the heat.
Instead of beer – or at least in addition to – be sure to alternate alcoholic beverages with water throughout the day: Another refreshing option is to mix seltzer water with fruit juice and cut-up frozen fruit; adults can spike their drinks, too!
In fear of severe retribution for suggesting you replace your s’mores with healthier items, I’ll simply provide some fun, kid-friendly alternatives to the traditional graham-marshmallow-chocolate option:
Remove one length of the peel (forming a "boat") and remove banana. Fill with cut-up banana, other fruit, mini-marshmallows and mini-chocolate chips. Wrap in foil and place near fire to warm.
Thread cut-up fruit – pineapple, strawberries, melon and apples do especially well – onto the ends of long roasting sticks and hold over the fire to caramelize the sugars. Adding marshmallows to the skewers is optional.
Before heading to the fire, stock the freezer with chocolate-dipped bananas or apples on sticks. For even more fun, roll the chocolate-dipped fruit in graham cracker crumbs and mini-marshmallows before freezing. Enjoy the cold treats in front of the hot fire!
NO SUGAR-ADDED CHALLENGE
Before I go, I want to say a heartfelt thank you and congratulations to anyone who took part in the ‘No-Added-Sugar Challenge’ in April. It’s always been my hope that this column would be interactive, and I was so pleased with the readers who shared that they would be adopting a healthier eating plan. In all honesty, my motivation started petering out toward the end and I may have eaten a chocolate chip cookie on April 29. However, despite a couple travel-related transgressions and that cookie, I remained true to the challenge and felt I experienced a bit of a reset of sorts by decreasing my sugar intake. Challenges like this also help me stay accountable to my healthy eating goals, like no snacking in front of the TV at night or not keeping ice cream in the freezer. Going forward, I encourage everyone to continue limiting his or her added sugar intake and reading their nutrition labels!
Holly R. Layer is a registered dietitian and a freelance writer. She teaches fitness classes at the Southtowns Family Branch YMCA and lives in East Aurora with her husband, Andrew, a village native. She blogs at thehealthypineapple.com and her work appears regularly in the online version of Refresh. Send her nutrition-related questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.