Healthy Eating 101: Eating on Vacation

Stay on track with healthy eating, even when you’re on vacation.


By Aimée Suen, NTP


Vacations are a great time to unwind, relax, and try new things. It can also be a time when healthy eating and health and fitness goals can get put to the wayside, which can lead to regret and frustration after the vacation is over. Rather than put your healthy eating and goals on hold for the vacation, you can try some new approaches to enjoy your vacation while eating (and even cooking) healthy food.

Cook on Vacation

Cooking your own food helps you know exactly what goes in your food, your portions, and most of the time is cheaper than going out. Adding this to your vacation can lend some balance to what could be an over-indulgent trip. Making some healthy eating choices and cooking healthy meals is better than eating meal after meal of less healthful foods. This will also save a little bit of money that you can use on other parts of your trip. Maybe with the money saved you splurge on one really nice dinner or fun activity.

Where You're Staying: If you want to be able to cook or prepare any meals, consider a vacation rental or hotel that has in-room kitchens as a place to stay rather than a regular hotel room. This will give you the space you need to prepare and not feel like you’re “roughing it” with only a microwave and a coffee maker.

Having access to a fridge and microwave also means you can bring home any leftovers you get while eating out, and that you can choose a larger variety of foods to snack on and enjoy while on vacation.

Whichever place you end up booking, try and get as much information as you can about the setup so you can make the most informed choice. Ask what equipment (stove, oven, microwave, fridge) is there, as well as what tableware and cookware is provided. Based on what you’ll need for what you’re preparing, this can help you find the best place for you.

Make a Meal Plan: A week before you leave for your trip, look over your itinerary and decide how many meals you’re going to cook and which meals you want to go out to eat. Some meals you’ll cook yourself at your hotel or rental and other times you’ll be out and discovering new flavors, dishes and places as well.

Once you’ve determined the amount of meals you will be cooking, choose some recipes and make a shopping list. Making the list before you leave will be one less thing you’ll need to think about when you’re on the vacation.

Cooking can also become part of a larger, fun vacation activity. Find a farmers market in the area and plan an outing to explore the foods from that area. Then you can bring those foods back to where you’re staying and make a great meal from local food you discovered.

Choosing Recipes

When you’re figuring out meals and recipes to make, there are a few things to consider that you don’t have to think about when you choose recipes at home.

Keep it Simple with Equipment: Because you won’t be in your kitchen with your equipment, think about recipes you can prepare and cook with few pots, pans or very specific equipment (food processor, blender...). If you know for sure the place you’re staying has the equipment you need, make the recipe, but if you’re unsure, pick something you could make anywhere.

Keep it Simple with Ingredients: Choose recipes to make that overall have similar or common oils or seasonings. A vacation rental may have some spices, cooking oils or other ingredients available, but it may not. If they’re truly essential for your meals and they’re not available, buy smaller sizes, but if you want to just make it easier on yourself, avoid ingredients you’d have to buy just for a few teaspoons or tablespoons.

Recipe size: Choose recipes you know you can finish. Depending on how long you’re on vacation, making a large casserole or a recipe that yields several days of food may not be appropriate and possibly wasteful. Really look at how much a recipe yields and if you’re going to eat any leftovers the recipe provides.

Don’t Forget about Snacks

If you’re a regular snacker or will be more active on this trip (hiking, biking, walking a city most of the day) than in your regular day-to-day life, add some snack options to your meal plan and shopping list. Planning these snacks will help with keep your healthy eating on track without worrying in a hungry moment what to eat. Depending on what you’re doing each day, you may need more snacks or none at all.

Assuming you’ll be out and about, choose snack options that are non-perishable and easy to carry with you. Dried fruit, nuts, nutrition bars, apples, bananas, and oranges are all great options. If you’re buying a bag of trail mix or dried fruit and portioning it out, remember to buy or bring bags or containers to store these in. Don’t forget to keep drinking water as well.

Grocery Shopping on Vacation

Before you leave on your trip, find the grocery stores in your area. For the most successful trip, see if you can find the stores you frequent at home in this city. When you’re on vacation, grab the list you made before you left and get ready to shop.

If you’re staying at vacation rental, especially one that people normally live in, look through the pantry for spices, cooking oils and condiments before you go shopping during the trip. This can cut down on what you have to buy. Also check if other things you may use while cooking or storing leftovers in, or cleaning like foil, plastic wrap or dish soap are available for you to use.

Only buy what you need in the sizes you need them. Though the smaller size could be more expensive, if you’re not going to use it, skip it. You won’t get to use the most of that ingredient because you’re not keeping it for weeks and weeks like when you’re at home.

Try and cut down on any impulse ingredient/food shopping as well. Unless you know you are going to incorporate that food into a meal you’ve planned, the food could go to waste.

If You’re Driving

If you’re driving to your vacation, you have a little more flexibility. You can bring any knives, cookware or appliances you want to cook with, as well as pantry staples your hotel or rental won’t have (including things like dish soap and aluminum foil).

If you really want to maximize your vacation, you can cook certain meals or snacks ahead of time and bring them down with you in an insulated bag or cooler. This can help if you have long days planned with lots of activities.

Eating Out

Before your trip, do some research on restaurants in the area. To keep a healthy balance, try and choose a mix of restaurants with healthy options and some restaurants that are just for fun. Check restaurants’ menus ahead of time to see what food options are available.

Have Fun

Traveling and doing new things is fun. Healthy eating is important, especially if you have health and fitness goals, but don’t feel restricted by the meals you’re making, the snacks you’re packing or the healthier restaurants you make be trying. You can balance the healthy eating with things that are a little more indulgent that you don’t get to try or enjoy very often.

Healthy Eating 101 returns with simple ways to cut down on your meat consumption.

Aimée Suen is a Nutritional Therapy Practitioner who shares nourishing, gluten-free recipes and nutrition wisdom at Small Eats. She is driven to help others enjoy whole foods and empower them to find their own healthy in all aspects of life, one small step at a time. When she’s not in the kitchen, she’s practicing yoga, in the gym, or learning something new. You can find Aimée on InstagramTwitter and Pinterest.

Second Photo Credit:  Yeko Photo Studio; Third Photo Credit: Death to Stock; Fourth Photo Credit: Death to Stock; Fifth Photo Credit: Sean Pavone/; Sixth Photo Credit: Death to Stock; Seventh Photo Credit: In Green/; Eighth Photo Credit: Death to Stock