Getting good, nutritious meals while on vacation is not always easy – but not impossible. This summer, when travelling to the cottage, campsite or beach, or on a long road trip, remember that simple is always better. Here are some tips for healthy and safe eating away from home.
In the car
Car trips are a popular summer pastime for many Canadian families. But even though meals on the road may not be on schedule and may require more planning and ingenuity than home-cooked meals, you don't have to sacrifice your health.
To avoid falling into the fast-food trap, keep healthy drinks and snacks in the car. Kid-favourite treats that travel well include pretzels, bagels, apples, bananas, baby carrots, granola bars and trail mix with nuts and raisins (or any dried fruit). Keep a stocked cooler with lots of ice packs inside your car. You can haul out the cooler at a rest stop or park, which typically have picnic areas. It's an opportunity to stretch your legs – a good idea to prevent blood clots. If you're on a long trip, you may still have to stop at a restaurant for a full meal. The trick is to stick to salads and grilled (not fried) items. If burgers and hot dogs are the only items on the menu, avoid sauces and mayos that add extra calories. And ask for the salad dressing on the side.
Living on the road and mostly out of a cooler – even one stocked with healthy choices – doesn't mean you won't develop a sweet tooth. Go ahead and indulge but limit yourself to – at most – one junk food purchase a day, and steer clear of trans fats. Look at the label and make sure your choice has zero grams of trans fats.
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At the campsite
Campfire cooking can be lots of fun, but it can also pose a challenge to your health regimen, so preplanning is key. As soon as you arrive at the campsite, find a source of water that you can boil for drinking and cooking. Pack healthy alternatives to camping classics, such as turkey or veggie dogs, instead of filler-heavy beef hot dogs. Instead of prepackaged hamburgers, bring homemade burgers made with freshly ground chicken, turkey or extra-lean beef. Pack whole grain breads and sandwich staples such as peanut butter and jelly. Low-fat, whole grain muffins, whole grain cereal (for example, homemade granola) and fresh fruits make great breakfast items on a camping trip, and they are easy to prepare. Buy lots of fresh vegetables to have with your meals.
There's no need to skimp on flavour – pack your favourite spices from home in snack-size sandwich bags (this will keep them fresh and save on space). Spices, dried herbs and garlic powder can be added to basic dishes.
If dessert is a camping tradition in your family, you don't have to give it up. But try this healthier alternative to the rich s'mores favourite: Wrap a small piece of dark chocolate, half a banana and half a marshmallow in foil, roast the packet over the fire for a few minutes, grab a spoon and enjoy.
At the cottage
Whether you're at the cottage for the entire summer, or just a getaway weekend, keeping mealtimes simple and healthy will make your vacation that much more enjoyable.
Make a list of grocery items you'll need (to avoid overbuying) and pick them up in advance. It's one less thing to worry about once you've arrived. (You'll have to skip the ice cream or pick up the lower-fat variety somewhere nearby.) For fresh veggies and fruits, stop at a local farmer's market.
If you're renting the cottage, find out what appliances it has so you can plan your meals accordingly. If the cottage has a barbecue, you're in luck; you can make easy nutritious meals on the barbie. Choose lean meats such as chicken or turkey – or local fish – and grill them with summer vegetables such as peppers and zucchini.
Keep lunchtime simple with tortillas or sandwiches made with whole grain bread and filled with low-fat deli meats such as turkey. Egg and tuna salad are also good choices, as long as you use a limited amount of low-fat mayonnaise. An array of seasonal sliced fruit is also a great summer treat.
For snacks, keep items that the kids can fix themselves, such as cheese and crackers, prewashed and cut fruits and vegetables, and granola bars. These snacks can easily be packed in a knapsack before you go on a hike.
Page 2 of 3 – How to eat healthy at the beach on page 3!
At the beach
Nothing beats a lazy day at the beach in the summer. A portable picnic is the easiest way to enjoy a good meal while basking in the sun and sand. But pack it with care: use an insulated cooler and put in ice packs, which prevent drips and cross-contamination. (If you use loose ice, store it in sealed containers.)
Place perishable foods, such as luncheon meats, poultry and oil-based salads, in separate containers. Store raw meat products at the bottom of the cooler to prevent dripping on the ready-to-eat items. Keep the cooler out of the sun, either under an umbrella or a tree.
Have a selection of snacks such as nuts or trail mix on hand; the kids will be hungry after playing in the water and sand all day. Don't bring sugary candies and fruit snacks to the beach, though; they're not very healthy and bees love them.
For drinks, freeze bottles of water and 100 per cent fruit juice boxes the night before going to the beach. You can use them as ice packs in your cooler before drinking them (they should still be cold by the afternoon).
Don't plan to have leftovers: throw away whatever remains of the prepared food after your day at the beach. You can keep condiments like ketchup and mustard because of preservatives in them, but remember to refrigerate them when you get home.
If possible, bring picnic items that don't require dishes or utensils so you don't have to haul back dirty dishes (and you're not adding waste with disposable dishes and utensils). Be sure to bring some soap or hand sanitizer to wash your hands with before you eat.
You can't beat this thirst-quencher or its calorie content. To make it a little tastier, add some sliced lemons, limes or other fruits to the pitcher and stick in the fridge. The extra zing will make for a refreshing summer beverage.
Make your own iced tea from regular tea bags. Add some pieces of lemon and honey to sweeten it.
Smoothies are a great alternative to fruit juices. Combine fruits such as strawberries, raspberries and bananas in a blender along with some ice for a refreshing summer beverage the whole family can enjoy. Store smoothies in a vacuum bottle to bring along to the beach.
Mix club soda with fruit punch or orange juice. This pop alternative contains less sugar but is still refreshing.
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