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19 Healthy Tips for Travel Foods: How to Maintain Weight and Health on Vacation

by Jill Weisenberger, M.S., R.D., C.D.E.

nutrition-sum07Relaxation, escape, letting go … and eating tons of junk food! That’s what vacations are all about, right?

And then of course there’s the sugar crash, that yucky feeling from too much grease, the all-around bad mood …

OK, admit it: When you eat healthier, you feel better—and not just in the long run but minute by minute. Plus, nourishing your body can give you the sustained energy you need to enjoy all that fun stuff you have planned—and the unexpected stuff that will inevitably come your way. So really, eating healthfully actually makes your vacation more fun! Right? Right.

Of course, a little sugary or greasy treat here and there won’t hurt. The key is what you eat overall. And when you come back from vacation not having gained a pound (or even having lost weight), you can feel good all over again.


Healthy Choices for


1. Beat boredom with entertainment.
First rule to healthful snacking: Boredom isn’t a reason to eat. When taking a road trip, keep yourself entertained with audio books, iPods, CDs, travel bingo, word games and conversation.

2. Pack healthy food.
When hunger does strike, resist the urge to chow down on a chocolate bar when you stop to fill the tank. Rather, reach into your pre-packed cooler of goodies for something nourishing.

3. Portion into snack packs.
And avoid overeating by portioning your snacks into small baggies or plastic containers. Never eat from a bag or box. The bottom is all too easy to reach.

Healthy Choices At

burger4. Skip the value meal.
The few pennies you save aren’t worth the calories, fat and sodium you gain. The same goes for upsizing.

5. Pass on the sugary drinks—even sweetened tea.
A 20-ounce cola has 227 calories. The same size sweet tea has 214. And while sugar may pump you up for a little while, you have to deal with that crash soon enough. Many fast-food establishments now have low-fat milk and bottled water. Tap water is also a good choice. And unsweetened or artificially sweetened tea gives you flavor without extra calories.

6. Have a burger if you want it.
Just order a kid-size version. Supplement it with a side salad, some fruit or something from your cooler.

7. Watch the salad extras.
Be light-handed with salad dressings and other high-calorie toppings like bacon bits and crispy Asian noodles. Some fast-food dressings are as much as 200 calories per pack. Order the light dressing or be skimpy with the regular.

Healthy Choices at

8. Go skinless and grilled.
A grilled chicken sandwich can save you about 140 calories compared to the fried version. Or you can dump nearly 200 calories right where it belongs—in the trash—when you peel the skin from your fried chicken breast.

9. Eat your vegetables.
Round out your meal straight from the garden. Corn, green beans and mashed potatoes without gravy won’t load you down with fat the way mayonnaise in potato salad, pasta salad and coleslaw will.

Healthy Choices at


10. Order tacos with soft tortillas instead of the crispy, fried ones.
Forget the fried tortilla bowl to save about half the calories and fat.

11. Go light on the dairy.
If reduced-fat versions of cheese and sour cream are available, order them. And rather than extra cheese and sour cream, flavor your food with extra salsa.

12. Order beans minus the fat.
Swap out your refried beans for black or pinto beans.

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13. Pick whole grain.
If whole-grain bread is available, take advantage of the extra fiber and nutrients it offers.

14. Choose lean meat.
Select lean meats like turkey, ham, chicken breast and roast beef. Skip the tuna and seafood salads and others made with mayonnaise. (At Subway, a 6-inch tuna sandwich packs 530 calories, but the same size turkey sandwich serves up only 280.)

15. Go crazy with the vegetables.
Ask for extra lettuce, tomato, cucumbers, bell peppers and other veggie toppings.

16. Flavor bread with healthy choices.
Omit the mayonnaise on the bread and opt for mustard for about a 100-calories savings.

newsletter-graphicMORE HEALTHY TIPS

17. Even at the greasiest spoon, you can skip the cheese, mayo and fries, ask for extra lettuce and tomato and go easy on the salad dressing to make your meal one or two steps closer to your feel-good preference.

18. If you’re watching your sodium intake, finding a suitable meal will be especially challenging. Order small servings, and add some fruits and vegetables from your cooler to keep hunger at bay.

19. Once you’ve reached your destination, look for restaurants with lots of choices—salads, fresh fruits and veggies, grilled options and more, suggests registered dietitian Anne Fletcher, author of the Thin for Life books. “And pay attention to the fatty extras that restaurants sneak into foods: salad dressings, mayo, sauces, butter.” Ask for them on the side, so you can control the amounts, she says.

is a registered dietitian with National Clinical Research-Norfolk, in Virginia, and a consultant to the food industry with Jill Weisenberger Health Communications LLC.

Last updated and/or approved: April 2010. Original article appeared in summer 2007 former print magazine. This article is not meant as individual advice. Please see our disclaimer.


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