Sharon's new book California Vegan is available for pre-order now!

17 Dietitian Tips for Eating Well on Your Vacation

Sharon Palmer

It’s time to jet off on your summer vacation. And no matter where you go, eating local, delicious foods should be something you look forward to as part of your summer holiday. Whether you’re in the Caribbean feasting on beans and rice or in Greece enjoying salads and fava with olive oil (a photo from a Greek restaurant is featured above), one of the best parts of traveling is diving into the local food culture. However, you don’t want to sacrifice your best goals for living a healthy lifestyle, and you want to be able to button up your shorts by the end of your holiday, right? Surviving vacation with your health goals intact—while still enjoying your time in the sun—is a top concern for many people. So, I asked some of my favorite dietitians to weigh in on their best nutrition advice. Check out these great tips and dive into your summer holiday with confidence.

Plant-based restaurant in Athens, Greece.

17 Dietitian Tips for Eating Well on Your Vacation

1. Start your day off right. “Make sure to start the day with a healthy protein and fiber packed breakfast. Bringing key items with you will save money and calories: little baggies of your favorite whole grain cereal, nuts, seeds like flax, chia or hemp or powdered peanut butter or your favorite protein powder to add to yogurt or oatmeal. Try to ensure fruits and veggies are part of each meal and block out time every day for some physical activity. Share dessert with someone, the first 3 bites are the best anyway,” says Lauren Harris-Pincus, MS, RDN, author of The Protein-Packed Breakfast Club and owner of Nutrition Starring YOU.

2. Plan ahead. “It’s good to take a break from your daily routine, but if you stray too far, you may be sorry when you get home. Decide before your vacation where you will indulge, so that you make conscious choices. Eat or drink only what you love, and is special to where you’re visiting. Enjoy small portions. Above all, keep moving or move even more than you normally do. It may not counteract all the extra calories you’re eating, but it will certainly help,” says Elizabeth Ward, author of Better is the New Perfect.

I checked out this farmers market in Crete, Greece on my vacation.

3. Shop local. “My favorite thing to do on vacation is to visit local farmers markets! Not only will you get the flavor of the place and talk to local people (they can give you some great tips for restaurants) you can also get some fabulous fruits and even some vegetables (my daughter loves to snack on snow peas), and more — often times the prepared food is pretty good too. It’s easy to search them out on-line,” says Diane Welland, RDN, Dfoodie.

4. Stick to your usual eating habits. “I make sure to plan ahead and pack healthy snacks or meals for the road trip or flight there. I also try to include a fruit or vegetable with each meal and not stray too far away from my normal habits,” says Jenna Gorham, RD, LN, Jenna Gorham Nutrition. 

I stopped at this local street side produce stand in Puerto Rico to buy fruit.

5. Kitchens are your vacay BFF. “Look for places to stay that offer a full or mini kitchen! You can buy local food and have a great place to store it and cook it. Many hotels are now offering table-top stoves with cookware, just ask the front desk to ‘check it out’ and take back to your room and use. This is a great way to experience local food, while still having control over which ingredients are added (awesome option for food allergies or intolerances!),” says Rochelle Davies, RDN, Love Nurture Nourish .

6. Lighten up your beverages. “I watch the super sugary cocktails and go for lighter versions of my favorites like wine spritzers, light beer and ‘skinny’ pina coladas with coconut water, splash of pineapple juice and lime juice or drinks over ice and not frozen concoctions where the calories can add up fast,” says Vicki Shanta Retelny, RDN, Simple Cravings. Real Food.

7. BYOB. “Bring your own healthy breakfast that you can keep in your hotel room (cereal, instant oatmeal, homemade muffins, fruit, yogurt, etc work great). You’ll feel good starting the day with a healthy meal that will hold you over until lunch, and as a bonus it’ll save you money on eating out, too!” says Kate Lee, MPH, RDN, Home Cooked Healthy.

While in London, I stopped by a grocery store to pick up some fruit.

8. Utilize grocery stores. “Take advantage of super markets and wait to buy fresh food there. This is the perfect time for pre-packaged and portioned nuts, vegetables and dip, fruit slices, and freeze-dried fruit. You can also pre-make muffins to take for an easy breakfast or snack to take with. When you go out to eat share 2-3 meals with the family and ask for additional steamed vegetables. Take a walk after each meal to sight-see and for digestion after your meals,” says Emily Abegglen, RD, CD.

9. Daily activity is key. “Find fun ways to move so ALL your vacation activities don’t revolve around food. Play volleyball on the beach. Go for a run through town. Take a bike tour. Try paddle boarding. Go for a hike. Walk through a museum. Play a round of golf. Whatever piques your interest!” says Tina Gowin Carlucci, RD, Gowin Nutrition.

My healthy breakfast at a hotel in Vienna: whole grains, fruit with muesli, veggies, and nuts.

10. Vacays are not the green light for over-indulgence. “Try to get off the splurge mentality when you go away. Take your healthy lifestyle with you meaning enjoy the food without overindulging. Try not to have desserts everyday–keep it more meaningful with 1-2 x or split with family members. Also hydrate throughout the day with water & other unsweetened beverages,” says Janet Brancato, MS, RDN, My Nutopia.

11. Stay active. “Use vacation as a reason to get moving! When you are exploring a new city, there is so much to see and do. Try to refrain from being a couch potato on vacation and experience new things. Plan ahead to see if you can rent bikes to travel around the town or check out a walking tour. They are wonderful ways to see the sites while staying active. Summer is always filled with outdoor yoga and fitness classes, fun runs, or biking winery tours, with some being free of charge. Check on social media to see if there are any of these offered during your stay. Vacation is also about trying the local cuisine. Don’t stress about your meal plan, instead, sample the local varieties of fruits and veggies or try a local staple. Order a few things and share with your family. This way you can sample a variety of items without over indulging,” says Stefanie Dove, RDN, School Nutrition Marketing Coordinator, Loudoun County Public Schools.

12. Treat yourself. “Each day of vacation, plan one treat or special food/beverage that you are interested in enjoying. By doing this, you can maintain the boundaries of your usual healthy eating pattern while still enjoying fun and exciting new food experiences!” says Jennifer Hunt, RDN, LD, Healthy Inspiration.

While in Sweden, I couldn’t get enough of these local, fresh strawberries.

13. Appreciate cultural foods while maintaining healthy habits. “Enjoy vacation, but don’t use it as a reason to take a break from the healthy habits you’ve established. Allow yourself to experience the local culture, especially local produce, and aim to fill half your plate with non-starchy veggies at lunch and dinner. Also, when we truly slow down and eat with all of our senses, we often find extreme satisfaction after only a few bites of more indulgent foods. Lastly, drink plenty of water and try to avoid getting to the point of being ravenous,” says Basheerah Enahora, MBA, MS, RDN, LDN, Nutrition Be.

14. Locals know best. “I have a ‘when in Rome’ mentality when I’m on vacation, so I often seek out what the locals eat, and that means seeking out what’s also grown and produced locally. I shop at local farmers’ markets for fresh produce when possible, and I do a lot of walking or biking as a way to check out the local sights and squeeze in some exercise,” says Liz Weiss, MS, RDN, Liz’s Healthy Table.

While in Peru, I enjoyed lots of seasonal, local produce in the region.

15. Master stress management. “While vacations often offer much needed rest and relaxation, it doesn’t mean they’re stress-free. Stress can creep in during that extra-long plane ride, when we get lost, or when we are crammed in the car for several hours with extra tired children. So it’s always a good idea to keep a few good stress management techniques on hand since stress can sometimes derail our best health intentions. Deep breathing, quiet time, a brisk walk, or an attitude of gratitude can all be helpful tools to manage stress, maintain our health, and enjoy our vacation to the fullest,” says Michelle Loy, MPH, MS, RDN, Go Wellness.

16. Foot transportation is best. “Walk more, stress less: If you’re vacationing in a city, slow down and explore it on foot. Walk everywhere, and take public transportation if you can! You’ll get exercise and get to know the city better. I’ve found lots of quaint shops, charming coffee shops, and tasty eateries this way. Also, don’t overbook your vacation to-do list. Map out 3-5 places each day, but set your expectations to complete just two. This leaves room for some spontaneity and adventure,” says Trinh Le, MPH, RD, Fearless Food RD.

17. Don’t make excuses for exercise. “Exercise first thing in the morning or it will never happen. Do something you enjoy and make it a priority. Evan a 20 minute brisk walk can do wonders for your energy level!” says Cindy Dallow, PhD, RDN.

When in France, you must enjoy wine, bread, and local produce, as I did in Bordeaux.

Check out my healthy, plant-based travel tips in other cities and countries here:

Plant-Powered Eating in Toronto
Plant-Powered Eating in the Big Island, Hawaii
Plant-Powered Guide to Morocco

Images by Sharon Palmer, MSFS, RDN
Main Image: Farmers Market in Thailand

One thought on “17 Dietitian Tips for Eating Well on Your Vacation

  1. I appreciate the tip about lighting up when you are choosing drinks on your vacation. Choosing light beer sounds like a good way to cut down on calories. I’ve been thinking about seeing a nutritionist so that I can improve my overall health. Maybe I should go ahead and do so before I go on my next vacation.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *