Vacation Dining 101

Maui sunset, September 2013

Eating healthy can be challenging.  This is especially true when traveling and on vacation.  But it doesn’t have to be.  I promise.  Want to know what the two most important skills are for healthier and delicious eating while away from home?

1. Communication

2. Planning ahead

Yep.  Using your words and a bit of forethought.  Sure, you need to have some knowledge as far as what you should and shouldn’t be eating, which isn’t rocket science.  Everybody knows fries are bad; vegetables are good.  And if you pay any attention to my regular ramblings through Facebook or my website with over 70 healthy recipes, you should have an even greater understanding than that (and know that dairy is not fit for humans, avoiding oils is necessary, and limiting animal foods is required for optimal health).

I just got back from a family trip and I want to give you some tips that helped me eat better while on vacation.  And trust me people – it works.  I’ve heard people complain about gaining 5-7 pounds on a weeklong vacation.  I weigh the same as when I left, give or take a few ounces, and I never felt deprived.  Oh, by the way, I gain weight looking at bad food so don’t be thinking it’s my great metabolism because it isn’t!  And I know what some of you may be saying –  “Did she have any fun?”  If by “fun” you mean did I partake in any alcoholic beverages, and eat things I wouldn’t normally eat, then the answer is ABSOLUTELY!!  I’m a health advocate, not dead.  I even drank coffee every day, which I don’t do at home.   What a rebel, huh?  I also exercised an average of 1 hour each day plus a nice walk after dinner each night, which helps significantly.

Make Your Own

If you are staying where there is a kitchen, make a list ahead of time, plan a few meals, and stop at the store before arriving at your hotel, condo, rental, etc.   I realize to many of you this may sound like the worst idea you’ve ever heard.  “I’m on VACATION! Why the heck would I want to cook?”  Well, because it’s a lot less expensive, and healthier, that’s why! I’m not saying cook every meal, and they don’t have to be gourmet, but it’s really helpful when you can be in complete control of some of your meals.  We just spent a week on Maui.  I know – how lucky am I?  We stayed in a place with a small, sparsely stocked (equipment), but workable kitchen.   Before our trip I decided what I’d cook, made a grocery list, and brought items from home I knew I wouldn’t want to purchase, such as spices.  We prepared simple meals 3/7 nights, and a few lunches, not to mention snacks.  For breakfast we did the buffet since it was included as part of our stay.

A word about breakfast buffets:  they can be dangerous as there is so much from which to choose.  However, they almost all offer whole grain hot or cold cereals, fruits, toast, etc.  If you don’t see something you need, for example, soymilk for your cereal or coffee, use your words and ASK.  If oatmeal is what you want but it’s not part of the buffet, order some.  They will often accommodate you at little to no charge.  Our hotel had a few vegan entrees on the menu (pictures below) but the only pancakes and French toast at the buffet were not plant-based.  We simply asked if we could get the vegan version instead of what was being offered at the buffet, and our wish was granted, no extra charge.  Communication.  Really important. 

Vegan french toast and pancakes. Yum.

Oatmeal and fruit

If you don’t have a kitchen, you can request a mini-fridge if your room doesn’t have one, and store basics like hummus, baby carrots and cut-up veggies, fruit, bread, peanut butter, rice cakes, etc.  Saves money on snacks at the hotel and forces you to make healthier choices when you get the munchies.

Choose Healthy

Let’s face it folks.  This is your vacation and you deserve to have fun, but you’re not on death row.  Treating yourself is great, but I look around at other vacationers and am convinced they believe they are eating their last meal (sadly enough by the looks of some of these people, it very well could be).

One of the easiest ways to pack on the pounds, not to mention risking poor health, while on vacation is by eating too much oil (much of it without your knowledge).  Since all your meals are being prepared for you in restaurants, it’s impossible to avoid since chefs unnecessarily use so much of it.  Unless, of course, you communicate.  It’s easy.  You simply tell the server “no oil, please and thank you.”  For example: I ordered a noodle and veggie stir fry that way and it was delicious.  I could tell they used a small amount (I’m amazed how many chefs think you just can’t cook without it), but most likely a fraction of what they would have had I not made the request.

Part of the joy in saving more of the splurge meals as occasional is they are so much more special and a true treat.  If you put effort into a super healthy breakfast and lunch, you won’t feel so bad, physically or emotionally, when you splurge at dinner.  Eating horribly makes you feel horrible, and who wants that, especially on vacation?

Research and Development

This one encompasses both skills: communication AND planning ahead.   It’s quite simple really.

  • Using hotel concierge, the internet on your smart phone, laptop or hotel computer, figure out where you are going to eat your meal.  You most likely have to do this anyway to make reservations.
  • Check out their menu online.  If they don’t have a website, call and ask them to email or fax it to you.  Many restaurants don’t have much to offer in the way of plant-based fare.  If you want to eat there but don’t see much for you, follow the next bullet point.
  • Call the restaurant and ask to speak to the manager.  Tell him/her you have plans to dine at their establishment but have a special diet and are hoping the chef will be able to prepare something for you (in our case we asked for vegan/low to no oil).   We’ve yet to be refused.
  • Risotto is an example of a meal often offered that can be veganized, but requires planning ahead.  It’s usually prepared with cream, which I find ridiculous as it’s creamy enough without.  Two of the places at which we dined offered risotto that we normally couldn’t eat due to the dairy, but we called ahead (communication) and asked if they could prepare a vegan batch, and throw in some veggies for us. Risotto takes a while to cook which is why planning ahead in this case is best.  If you simply arrived at your table and asked them to make you a vegan version, you’d most likely be turned down.

As you’ll see by some of the pictures below, most chefs bend over backwards to accommodate you, especially in nicer restaurants.  It’s as if they get bored with the regular menu and are excited to create something to wow you.   We went to Ka’ana Kitchen at the brand new Hyatt Andaz Maui and were practically treated like royalty.  The chef, Isaac Bancaco and his team were absolutely amazing, and the food was some of the best I’ve ever had.  Isaac is not a vegan chef, but was totally up to and excited about the challenge.  He really outdid himself, creating an amazing five course feast!  The restaurant, the staff, the setting were fabulous – I highly recommend it if you find yourself on Maui.  Check out the pics of each awesome course:

Ginger and celery sorbet with tofu

Kombu consomme and chickpea dumplings w/mushrooms, snap peas and fiddlehead fern

Papaya salad

Al’i mushrooms (‘Royal Trumpet’) w/asparagus, olive mashed potatoes and edamame puree

Tropical fruit salad with opal basil granite and Maui honey. The dark glob looks weird, but was amazing.

I know treating ourselves to foods we wouldn’t normally consume is fun and part of vacation.  All I’m saying is that it doesn’t have to be every meal, and as I listed above, there are ways to get around the food traps we often find ourselves in while away from home.

Plantiful Peace….

Cheats & Treats: When Being “Bad” is Good (or at least acceptable)

This past week I was lucky enough to be on vacation with my family in Hawaii.  On the way there I spent time writing what I was planning on posting as my Vacation Edition Blog.  I wrote about how horrified I was at the way those around me on the plane were eating, before even having arrived at their vacation destination (I kept thinking, “Why would you waste the calories and fat on airplane food?!?!”); I listed all the healthy foods I brought along knowing there would be little for us to eat on the 5.5 hour flight (PB&J, carrots, bananas, dried fruit, Lara bars, healthy whole-gran, homemade muffins); and I wrote that I would be documenting everything I ate while away to prove the point that eating right while on vacation could be done.

The documentation didn’t happen.  I started it, honestly I did.  But after day 3, I just didn’t feel like it anymore.  And ya know what?  I “cheated” more times than I was willing to admit and still call it healthy.  I went into the trip with the plan to eat super healthy, knowing I’d treat myself here and there, no big deal.  Ok, so I treated myself probably more than here and there, and I did feel some guilt about it.  But then I realized, my bad is better than a lot of people’s best, not to toot my own horn.  My good: oatmeal with fruit every morning; veggie burger or wrap for lunch; fruit for snack; lots of water; plenty of veggies and a salad each day.  My bad: I had an average of 2 cocktails a day (one at the pool, one with dinner – as I watched fellow vacationers drinking from sunup to sundown!); I had coffee every morning; I ate way more fruit and juice than I should have (fruit is healthy but a lot can be too many calories); I had a few onion rings and some French fries; I ate some Maui onion potato chips (God, I love those); I had single meals made with more oil than I’d consume in a week (since I normally consume very little oil, if at all, and only while dining out.  Mind you I asked for no/light oil each meal but apparently most of the chefs didn’t get the memo); I had several servings of sugary sorbet; and I worked out more than half the time but not as often/hard as I normally would.

Know what else I realized?  So what!  I was on vacation.  Granted, that shouldn’t give anyone the excuse to be gluttonous.  However, in my mind, some “treating & cheating” is warranted, as long as there is an understanding between you and your plate that it’s temporary, and that a balance is still necessary, even while on vacation. Many people have difficulty finding this balance, on vacation or day-to-day, I get that.  It takes awareness – in order to avoid mindless eating; willingness – to stay away from things you ‘feel’ like for the greater good (i.e. health), and consistency – sticking with it the majority of the time.  What matters the most, and I can’t stress this enough, is the every day habits.  Day-to-day, the foods we consume need to be nourishing to our bodies, leaving little to no room at the table for the bad. I ate plenty of really healthy food while on vacation, but I included some bad.  That’s one of the defining differences between vacation and everyday life…that and being served by cabana boys, no chores or work, and somebody making your bed and straightening up your house every day.

Take home point: Do your best most of the time – the payoff is huge and totally worth the effort.  The rest of the time, enjoy the little treats here and there.  As an added bonus, you may realize they don’t taste as good as you once thought, or that it takes a very small amount to “hit the spot”.  Be good to yourself, your body, and others each and every day.  Mahalo and Aloha!  Smile