Vacations are meant for fun, not for strict dieting or for going insane counting calories while eating out at new restaurants. On the other end of the spectrum, falling off your car so badly during your vacation that it takes weeks to get over the gas and button your jeans is also not the way to go.
That being said, there are plenty of ways to stay on track nutritionally while enjoying new foods and indulging for fun. Here, Ashley Craft, author of the USA TODAY best-selling The Unofficial Disney Parks Cookbook, shares her top tips on eating clean while traveling.
Pack clean snacks
Having clean snacks on hand (especially when traveling) strengthens your line of defense against binge eating due to an unpredictable schedule. "Some clean snack ideas would be nuts or dried fruit since they're super packable, or some small beef sticks are great too," says Craft. If you can't or don't want to pack your own snacks, you might be surprised to find that certain vacation destinations like Disney offer many clean eating options at many of their booths and food establishments. "Most stands that sell ice cream or popcorn also sell whole pieces of fruit, so keep that in mind when you're on vacation," she adds. When it comes to hydration, many destinations offer complimentary cups of water in case you left your bottle at the hotel.
Check out the restaurant's menu online before you dine out
Eating out at new restaurants is exciting and should be stress-free when it comes to enjoying new foods. Simply checking the restaurant's menu before you arrive will help you determine which dishes you'd like to enjoy and which you might want to avoid. Most menus include nutritional information as well as allergy warnings.
For example, if you're ordering food at a Disney Park, a great resource is to pull up the menu on your phone and scroll all the way to the bottom." Most menus list "allergy-friendly" options and often include clean foods like roasted carrots, Fruit salad or brown rice,” says Craft. You can choose these items as a side instead of the typical fries or mashed potatoes. If you eat at a counter the choice may be more limited, but almost always there is a salad instead of fries or something. The aim is to reduce last-minute stress by possibly making quick order decisions when choosing a meal.
Enjoy desserts but use portion control
When it comes to including something sweet at mealtime, it can be difficult to find clean or light desserts just about anywhere, in which case "your best bet is portion control," says Craft. This allows you to enjoy rich dining on your getaway without going overboard or feeling deprived.
Sharing a dessert with a family member or friend is a great way to taste delicious desserts without experiencing a sugar hangover. (Or regret).
Try these clean and delicious recipes at home (or when visiting Disney)
Some of Craft's favorite clean dishes from her book, The Unofficial Disney Parks EPCOT Cookbook, are packed with flavor and health.
Grilled baby vegetables (serves 4)
(From the Flavor Full Kitchen, EPCOT International Flower & Garden Festival)
A delicious vegan appetizer made from tasty vegetables. The combination of hummus and red pepper coulis creates a parade of new flavors in your mouth.
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 medium red bell pepper, seeded and sliced
- 1⁄2 medium yellow onion, peeled and chopped
- 1⁄2 cup vegan white cooking wine
- 1⁄2 cup vegetable broth
- 1 tablespoon vegetable oil 1 medium zucchini, cut lengthwise into 4 pieces 1 medium yellow squash, halved and cut lengthwise into 4 pieces
- 4 medium cherry tomatoes
- 1 large carrot, peeled and cut diagonally into 4 pieces
- 1 teaspoon salt 1⁄2 teaspoon ground black pepper 4 tablespoons hummus
- Heat olive oil in a large non-stick pan over medium-high heat. Add peppers and onion. Stir and cook until tender and lightly charred, 3–5 minutes. Remove from the heat and carefully pour the mixture into a blender. Add wine and vegetable stock and stir until smooth. Pour into a container, cover and refrigerate for 2 hours.
- Rub vegetables with oil and sprinkle with salt and black pepper. Grill over medium-high heat until tender and lightly charred, 5-7 minutes. (If you don't have a grill, heat vegetable oil in a clean, large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add zucchini, squash, cherry tomatoes, and carrots. Sprinkle with salt and black pepper. Stir and cook, until vegetables are tender, 5–7 minutes is soft and easily charred.)
- Scoop 1 tablespoon of hummus and pepper coulis onto each of four medium plates. Add 1 piece of each vegetable. Serve immediately.
Power Greens Salad (serves 4)
(From Regal Eagle Smokehouse, The American Adventure Pavilion)
This quick service restaurant is known for its tender smoked meats served in a variety of styles from the United States. Sometimes to break up a meaty meal, a nice refreshing salad is in order. This one hits the spot with a tangy dressing and a range of salads with fun toppings. The citrus adds a hint of bright flavor meant to balance out the heavy meat.
- 3⁄4 cup olive oil
- 1⁄4 cup apple cider vinegar
- 3 tablespoons lemon juice
- 3 tablespoons pulp-free orange juice
- 4 tablespoons granulated sugar Zest of ⁄2 medium lemon
- 1 teaspoon salt 1⁄2 teaspoon ground black pepper
- 8 cups mixed leaf lettuce 4 tablespoons toasted, salted sunflower seeds
- 4 tablespoons dried cranberries 1 medium orange, peeled and diced 2 medium radishes, thinly sliced
- In a small bowl or 8-ounce mason jar, add olive oil, apple cider vinegar, lemon and orange juice, sugar, lemon zest, salt, and pepper.
- Mix or shake well until combined. The dressing will keep in a sealed jar in the fridge for up to 1 week.
- For each serving, place 2 cups of mixed leaf lettuce in a large bowl and dice with 1 tablespoon sunflower seeds, 1 tablespoon cranberries, and 1 quarter
- Orange and 1⁄2 sliced radish.
- Drizzle with citrus dressing and mix.
Excerpted from The Unofficial Disney Parks EPCOT Cookbook by Ashley Craft. Copyright © 2022 by Ashley Craft. Photos by Harper Point Photography. Used with permission of the publisher. All rights reserved