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Summer vacation season has officially arrived. One of the most common questions I get from parents in my practice is: How do I get my family to eat healthy meals on vacation?
Short answer: It’s not easy, and it requires some planning.
What to Expect When Eating on the Road with Kids
First, I want to say that vacation is vacation, and to expect to eat 100% farm-fresh organic home-cooked meals is just not realistic for most families. So lets all take a deep breath and give ourselves some grace to expect that things will not be perfect.
My priority for families on vacation is this: 1) to avoid artificial colorings and flavorings, 2) to avoid lots of sugary junk food, 3) to plan for at least one healthy, nourishing, protein-rich and colorful meal per day.
There are the obvious reasons for avoiding artificial colorings/flavorings – the fact that they are cancer-causing chemicals, neurotoxins, affect gut flora, etc., though once a year this is pretty unlikely. But really the reason I make this priority for parents on vacation is because I don’t want their vacation ruined. Many kids who eat pretty healthy meals at home end up extremely sensitive to artificial colorings and flavorings. These are the kids who either act like zombies or bounce off the walls when you introduce these chemicals. Vacations can be quickly ruined by a child with a day-long tummy ache, headache or disastrous behavioral problem.
So the solution is to plan ahead.
Tips for Eating Healthy While Traveling
1. Make sure you have plenty of food for the first day of vacation commuting – whether it be a plane ride or car trip. This will avoid the unnecessary trips to fast food restaurants or convenience stores when the whole family is famished. Try to make a trip to the grocery store on the second day of your vacation, or when you first arrive. Stock up on healthy snack foods and breakfast items (if necessary).
Bring snacks in reusable bags that you can use over and over on the trip like this sandwich bag from Lunchskins. Offer each child the option of choosing a reusable bag to use on the trip and personalize it.
2. Set clear boundaries and guidelines for treats on vacation. It may help to say something like “since we’re on vacation you get a treat every single day.” Then tell your kids when to expect the treat – it may involve a special trip for ice cream, a dessert at dinner, or a trip to the candy store. This way your children won’t expect to get a treat when they pass every single ice-cream truck or candy stand. Try to bring as many of the treats with you as possible. Fresh fruit that can travel well, like apples, firm bananas and oranges are great to have on hand for a sweet treat. Shellable peas are a fun veggie to have at the park or beach. Lettuce wraps with cheese, deli meat and humus are great snacks that a relatively shelf-stable and don’t require an ice cooler. (No mayo for those hot days!)
3. Plan for at least one healthy meal per day. Scope out all the restaurants or eating options ahead of time. Try to pick restaurants that have options for side dishes that include veggies, side salads or fruit rather than chips or french fries. Encourage your kids to continue to “eat the rainbow” even on vacation.
I hope this helps! Good luck on vacation, and most of all – enjoy yourself!