How To Eat Healthy on Vacation & at Restaurants

Dec 14, 2022 | Nutrition

Group of people dining out smiling and laughing, Friends sitting at the dinner table practicing healthy eating habits while on vacation
Nights out on the town and vacations are TOUGH because they break your routine. And when you break your routine you tend to opt for what looks good and what’s convenient, which often negates the work you put in at the gym. But you don’t need to avoid fun to stay on top of your fitness goals. Just follow these mindful nutrition tips & strategies instead.

Ryan Tomanocy is a CSCS, certified CrossFit Level 1 trainer, and USA Weightlifting sports performance coach. Romanian deadlifts have been a staple of his training since his collegiate rowing career at Ithaca College. In this guide, he shares best practices for eating at restaurants and on vacation so you can enjoy yourself AND continue making progress.

Ryan Tomanocy
Ryan Tomanocy

Change the Way You Train

Treat Yo’self (Mindfully, Of Course)

Look. We ALL love treating ourselves to a meal out with fam and friends, or taking a well-deserved vacation chock full of treats and social media-led food excursions to try purple banana coffee doughnuts with Fruity Pebble sprinkles. And there’s nothing wrong with that.

When you have health, fitness, and performance goals though, this is often when things go off the rails. You go from a week of feeling good, sticking to your training sessions, and eating healthy to a wild Saturday night out, an extra three cookies, drunk pizza, and a ride home with your pants unbuttoned.

But worry not, because there ARE strategies that ensure you’re not compromising progress while still enjoying time spent at restaurants or on vacation.

The following strategies help you navigate the delicious and dangerous options at your restaurant of choice the next time you’re out on the town or when you escape for adventure on that well-deserved getaway.

When Eating At Restaurants

1. Plan Ahead of Time
Check the menu before you go, especially if it’s somewhere new.

Make it easy on yourself and pick a place that has simple whole food options, like BBQ or Mediterranean.

2. Stay Hydrated
Drink a glass of water before getting to the restaurant. Having a bit of liquid in your stomach curbs gnarly hunger cravings and aids in digestion. No more food babies!

3. Don’t Show Up Ravenously Hungry
Try having a small healthy snack beforehand: a handful of nuts, carrots or berries. If you show up starving, you’re going to overeat.

4. Limit Alcohol to Special Occasions
Drinking has a STRONG correlation to choosing unhealthy foods. If you have to, pick one or the other: One or two drinks OR the cowboy hamburger and fries.

5. Request a To-Go Container When You Order
Before you start eating, pack away 1/4 of what’s on the plate and save it. (You can always eat some later if you’re still hungry and saved too much.)

6. Craft a Healthy Plate
Keep it simple. Lean protein, a hearty portion of veggies or fruit, some carbs, and a healthy source of fat is all you need for a nutritionally satisfying meal.

7. Walk & Move!
Take a walk before and/or after eating, park farther away, stay on your feet while you wait for a table, or stand and eat if that’s an option! Try adding in some activity if you know you’re going to eat a big meal.

8. Avoid the “All-or-Nothing” Mentality
Treat yourself here and there to foods and indulgences you REALLY look forward to and pass on those that aren’t your absolute faves.

For example, if you really want that flourless chocolate cake for dessert, order an appetizer and a salad for your main instead of the 16oz ribeye with marshmallow sweet potato casserole. Balance is the key.

Tips for Ordering Meals & Dessert

Check How a Dish is Prepared
Is it fried, grilled, baked, or poached? Eggs are a classic example. Try to opt for poached, boiled, or baked over fried eggs doused in fat. Dishes that are described as fried, crispy, crunchy, or sautéed are likely to contain more calories.

Ask for Dressings/Sauces on the Side
This allows you to control the amount you want. Since many dressings are high in calories and fat, ask for olive oil and balsamic vinegar instead (or even opt for no dressing/sauce at all).

See if Vegetables Can be Ordered Without Butter, Dressing, etc.
Ask to have melted butter or olive oil on the side so you know how much you’re adding.

Consider Ordering Two Apps Instead of One App & One Main
Tons of appetizer combinations make a more portion-controlled choice.

If you’re still hungry after eating, you can always order more. It’s much easier to remain on track by adding more to your meal than ordering too much, stuffing yourself, and trying to clean your plate.

Share Your Meal with Someone Else!
My wife and I often order a salad, an appetizer, and a main to split! Most times this ends up being WAY less than 2 mains and an appetizer.

Avoid Creamy Sauces
Opt for a tomato sauce or another lower-calorie option.

Opt for Espresso, Fresh Fruit & Whip Instead of Dessert
Oftentimes we’re full from the actual meal and know we don’t really need a dessert, which will come laden with sugar and high in calories. If you do want to join in on dessert, look for a sorbet, fruit-based or lighter option.

You Can’t Go Wrong with Protein & Veggies
Protein helps you feel full, and vegetables are nutrient-dense and fewer in calories than most other side options.

Reminder: Vegan, vegetarian, and organic don’t always mean healthier. Consider the dish as a whole: does it contain a balance of protein, carbs, and healthy fats? Many vegan dishes are made up of nut substitutes, which are often higher in calories.

Easy (But Difference-Making) Food Swaps

French Fries: Swap these out for an extra portion of veggies or for potatoes that are steamed, baked, or boiled.

Fatty Meats: Try a leaner cut like sirloin or opt for poultry or fish.

Creamy Sauces: Look for a tomato or vegetable-based sauce.

Soda: I love sparkling water with lemon or lime. Ask if the bartender can make you a lower-calorie version of a drink you want.

Alcohol: Ask your bartender for soda water with bitters. Bitters are great for your digestion and give that herbal, alcohol-like flavor.

Fried Foods: Ask for baked, boiled, or steamed alternatives.

When Spending Time on Trips & Vacations

1. Bring the Essentials:
Water/water bottler
Protein powder
Healthy snack options: nuts, jerky, hard-boiled eggs, veggies, fruit, sugar-free lunch meat, RX bars, etc.

2. Stay Hydrated
Make sure you’re well hydrated. Many times, hunger can disguise itself as thirst.

3. Limit Alcohol to Special Occasions:
You might not need to grab a beer every time you stop at the gas station or go to visit your neighbor’s house.

4. Eat Breakfast
Include a serving of lean protein and veggies if possible.

5. Make Sleep a Priority!

6. Get Your Fam & Friends on the Same Page
Tell those with you that you’re trying to be mindful of your nutrition and want to make good decisions during vacation. They love you and support you!

7. Sneak in Some Exercise When You Can
Twenty minutes of movement makes a HUGE difference. Squeeze in twenty air squats and a MAX plank hold before you shower, 20 pushups and 20 situps when you wake up, etc.

How to Eat with Intention

1. Take 2 More Chews for Each Bite
Eating slower, chewing for longer, and pulverizing your food thoroughly aids in digestion and helps your body to better recognize cues that you’re full.

2. Set Your Utensil Down Between Bites
Similar to the above, by giving your body time to recognize fullness and send signals upstairs to the brain, you’re much less likely to overeat.

3.Alternate Between Food & Drink
Take one or two bite of food and then a small sip of water. This helps slow you down and draw out the meal.

4.Enjoy Your Company!
Typically we eat out to enjoy time with people. There’s no need to rush! Make the most of your time together by having conversations, taking your time, and savoring the meal.

5. Pass On the Bread Basket
Unless it’s special bread (of course), these are often just empty calories that add up quickly.

6. Take Breaks Here & There to See if You’re Full
This is definitely easier said than done. Every three to four minutes, try taking a brief pause, setting your fork down, and silently asking yourself, “Am I still hungry?”

More often than not, people tend to eat unconsciously and try to finish everything on their plates. Listen to your body and try to stop eating when you need to. Get the rest of your plate to go! Boom, tomorrow’s lunch!

By following these tips, you won’t compromise your progress in the gym by spending much-needed time with friends and fam.

Remember that connection to others is an important aspect of overall health, so don’t isolate yourself when it comes to vacations and/or meals out! The only thing more unhealthy than binging on unhealthy foods is refusing to spend time with loved ones because you’re scared to fall out of routine.

Bookmark this page for the next time you’re dining out or planning a trip and want to stay on top of your fitness goals!

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