Collegiette Eats: Eating Healthy While Traveling

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Sick of eating cereal and Ramen for lunch and dinner? Want to spend less money eating out and finally start cooking for yourself? Put down that frozen pizza, because HC’s Health Editor, Sammie Levin, is here to share her daily eats so you can get ideas for healthy, satisfying meals that are easy enough for any time-strapped collegiette to make. After you read Collegiette Eats, your taste buds, wallet and waistline will thank you.

Hello from Thailand! I’m here with my family traveling for a week and a half, and it is awesome. So far we’ve rode elephants, toured a million temples (I’ve seen more Buddhas in two days than I have before in my life) and got Thai massages.

Me feeding an elephant a healthy snack of dirt-covered twigs #eatclean

Every time I go on vacation, I convince myself before leaving that I’m going to eat so healthy, work out, get tan and basically come back home looking really, really ridiculously good looking. All in a week’s time. Then I get to the destination and eat everything in sight, choose to sleep in instead of hitting the treadmill and get burnt on day one.

My first two days in Thailand were just like that (except the burnt part—it’s a lot warmer than Michigan, but not tan-level sun), so I realized I need to adjust my expectations and have a better game plan for sticking to a healthy diet. I reflected for a bit to think of some strategies I could use to eat healthily for the rest of the trip. I hope they help you too when you’re traveling, whether on a week-long vacation or a semester abroad.

1. Write down what you eat 

A piña colada or two here, a few squares of chocolate left on your pillow there—all the little noshes on vacation can add up. Keeping a food journal is a widely recommended diet tip because it keeps you mindful and accountable. Jotting down what you eat on vacation, either in a little notebook or on your phone, can help you keep track of how much you’re actually eating. Plus, knowing that you'll write down that extra piece of bread may just keep you from grabbing for it.

2. Start the day off right

At a hotel breakfast, it can be tempting to go for the pastries, muffins, and other baked goods. But starting the day off on a sugary note won’t fill you up, and it will only make it harder to get back on track for the rest of the day. Instead, opt for a breakfast high in protein and/or fiber to keep you satiated. Good options include eggs any style, toast with peanut butter and fruit or oatmeal.

A veggie omelet I ate the other morning at the hotel breakfast buffet  

3. Think before you dig in 

When I’m at a really good restaurant on vacation, or any restaurant really, I get so excited to dig in that I end up inhaling the food as if it’s my last day on Earth. Several pieces of bread dipped in olive oil, an appetizer, a big entrée and a dessert later, my jeans are unbuttoned and I need to be forklifted out of the restaurant.

Instead of jumping into vacation meals with this go-big-or-go-home mentality, I’ve found that it helps if I take a minute when I sit down, before I order or any food comes, to remind myself of my health goals. Like a mini-meditation sesh. Some things I tell myself: make choices that are satisfying but still nutritious, eat slowly, stop before you’re too full and don’t clean your plate just because the food is there. 

4. Split restaurant portions

Often vacation means eating out for every meal, which usually means big portions. So make like a banana and split! At restaurants with especially big servings, my mom and I like to split an appetizer and an entrée. Instead of ordering the gnocchi or ravioli as your main dish, see if others at the table would want to split it as an appetizer. And definitely split desserts. The law of diminishing returns applies to desserts—the more you consume, the less satisfaction you get from the next unit of consumption. The first few bites of a dessert are undeniably the best, but then as you get less and less satisfaction from the dessert, the additional bites are not worth the additional calories.

So, try to split desserts instead of getting your own so you get the advantage of those best few bites without overdoing it. Because even if you tell yourself you won’t finish the whole chocolate soufflé, that can be trickier than you think when its chocolatey goodness is right in front of you staring you down. By splitting, you don’t have to wear out your willpower as much. The real struggle becomes getting everyone to agree on what to split! 

5. Bring healthy travel snacks

Having a few healthy snacks on hand when you’re traveling can help you avoid resorting to whatever junk you can find in the airport, your hotel, or nearby convenience stores. It can also help tide you over in between meals so that you don't feel like you have to eat yourself into a food coma at lunch to last you until dinner. 

For this trip, my mom and I brought 100-calorie almond packets and dried prunes (digestive health, yo). All kinds of nuts and dried fruits are good options because they’re easy to pack and snack on, but try to keep it to one handful per snack session. Bars, like Luna bars, LARABARs and Quest bars, also make for very easy packing and portion control. If you're feeling especially health-nutty, you can bring nut butter travel packets, which are sold at Whole Foods. Spread a pack onto an apple or banana for a protein-packed snack. Whole Foods also sells travel packets of flaxseed for if you want some omega-3’s on the go. You could sprinkle it into soup, smoothies, yogurt or even ice cream.

We also brought packets of Splenda and Stevia for coffee, since not all restaurants (or countries, for that matter) have them. That actually sounds really high maintenance and reminds me of Lydia from Breaking Bad, but hey, sometimes you gotta just do you.

6. Don’t deprive yourself! Everything in moderation

At the end of the day, you only go on vacation every so often. Let yourself indulge, especially if your trip is really short or you’re traveling in a country with a different cuisine. You don't want to hold yourself back from trying the local foods that you won’t get to have at home.

A good way to find a healthy balance so that you won’t feel deprived or go overboard with treats is to make tradeoffs. For example, if you have an afternoon ice cream, pass on dessert after dinner. Or, if you order an appetizer, nix the bread from the breadbasket. Or, if you have bread with tonight’s dinner, don’t have it tomorrow night. Have the waffles with chocolate and whipped cream for breakfast, but then go for something like a salad or grilled fish or chicken for your later meals. The bottom line: make good choices whenever you can, but don’t restrict yourself too much!

That’s all for now. Happy New Year's Eve! Since I’m sure a lot of us are about to commit to a year’s worth of eating perfectly healthy and daily gym sessions only to give up a week later, check back on Thursday for a post on making New Year’s Resolutions that you can actually stick to.

About The Author

Sammie is a student at the University of Michigan where she is pursuing a BBA. A foodie since birth, she enjoys cooking, eating, smelling, looking at, photographing, reading about, and playing with any and all types of food. Her idolization of culinary delights is complemented by her active spirit- she enjoys running, swimming, barre classes, and even spontaneous bursts of interpretative dance if the mood strikes her. She has completed two triathlons and a half-marathon and plans to tackle more races in the future. She also dreams of traveling the globe, saving the world, and marrying James and/or Dave Franco. 

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