The Medical Minute: Don’t let healthful eating go on vacation this summer

The kids are out of school, the weather’s getting warmer, and for many of us that means: Road trip!

Unfortunately, when we’re traveling, it’s easy to fall into the habit of sending our healthy eating habits on vacation, too.

Jacklyn Van Arsdale, registered dietitian at Penn State Milton S. Hershey Medical Center, offers some tips to healthy eating while away from home.

Don't get too hungry

“People let themselves get really hungry,” she said. “Then you’re not necessarily going to choose based on health.”

Don’t run on empty or get to the point that you’ll eat just about anything.

Make good choices

Van Arsdale said no matter where you dine, you should be able to find good options or at least options better than others.

If your only choice is fast food, consider sub sandwiches with turkey or roast beef and low-fat mayo. At a burger place, try a cheeseburger with apples or a side salad and milk to create a more balanced meal that shouldn’t upset a traveling stomach. Don’t rule out convenience stores due to their bad reputations. Some of the bigger chains are on a health kick.

“I think they’re getting the biggest pressure to have the healthy options and they’re responding to that pressure,” Van Arsdale said.

Healthy options added at many convenience stores include fresh fruit, cheese, and yogurt.

Snack smart

Use snacks to fill in the gaps.

When on vacation, you’re likely to eat out and less likely to eat as much fruit, vegetables or dairy as needed. Choose snacks that focus on those food groups.

Pack a stash

Think low maintenance foods that are easy to handle and require little clean up. Pack fresh fruit and vegetables with low fat or nonfat salad dressing or dip.

Van Arsdale suggests homemade trail mix (with low fat cereal, nuts, dried fruit, chocolate chips, or raisins), string cheese, lunch meat rolls, beef jerky, and nuts along with baked whole grain crackers, pretzels, and protein bars with 10 grams protein per 100 calories.

Consider low or no calorie beverages like water (you can add your own flavor), low fat milk, or no sugar/low calorie drink mixes to limit sugary drinks.

Balance out your day

Van Arsdale advocates mindful eating. When you have a high calorie meal, adjust the rest of your meals for the day to include more vegetables and foods that make you feel full without the extra calories.

“Pay attention to everything going on in your body and your mouth as you eat,” she said. “Keep it balanced.”

Enjoy

“Good food is something that we’re supposed to enjoy,” Van Arsdale said. “While you’re having that meal, don’t let yourself feel guilty.”

She suggests you savor the flavors and not overeat.

Plan for Exercise

When driving, utilize rest stops where you can walk or play a game. Get creative and plan a stop for a hike along the way.

Plan to take advantage of whatever your destination offers for physical activity, including swimming pools, walking trails, and bike rentals.

The Medical Minute is a weekly health news feature brought to you by Penn State Milton S. Hershey Medical Center. Articles feature the expertise of Penn State Hershey faculty physicians and staff, and are designed to offer timely, relevant health information of interest to a broad audience.

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Last Updated June 17, 2013