My family and I recently went on a trip to St. Louis, Missouri. We enjoyed many adventurous outings around the city and had some fun eating out and trying new foods. Traveling can provide some new experiences with dining but can also cause some unique challenges to eating healthy. In this post I provide tips on eating healthy while traveling. I also share photos from our trip with you.
Highlights From our St Louis Trip
First I will share some fun photos from our vacation in St Louis. We had a lot of fun visiting the Gateway Arch and museum, the St. Louis zoo, the City Garden, the World Chess Hall of Fame and a children’s museum called the Magic House.
My favorite part was our spontaneous walk through City Garden. This brought us all the way to the Gateway Arch Museum. Seeing the Arch up close is pretty amazing and really helps you appreciate just how tall the monument is! The museum under the arch was really wonderful too. It provided a lot of learning about westward expansion by the pioneers. Did you know that the Gateway Arch represents the pioneers’ exploration moving west? You can read more about that here.
The City Garden has some fun fountain and water play areas. You will find a lot of kids playing barefoot in the park and running through the water to cool off. We were actually caught in a short downpour while walking through the gardens. We had to take shelter by one of the sky scrapers. It was a very urban experience and reminded me a lot of Millennium Park in Chicago.
The City Garden also has a lot of fun sculptures the kids can climb and explore.
The St Louis zoo is located in Forest Park and there is no admission fee to get in. We went on a weekend day that was pretty busy and also had a heat index in the 90’s. All the same, we had fun seeing elephants, giraffes, hippos, some cool insects and many other zoo animals.
The Magic House Children’s Museum is by far one of our top five favorite children’s museums!
One of the shorter outings that we did was explore the World Chess Hall of Fame. The current exhibits focus on how chess and music have been intertwined throughout history and how they relate to one another. We stopped at the gift shop and picked up a new chess set. Of course we picked a set with pink and purple game pieces!
Tips on Eating Healthy While Traveling
Okay, now for the tips on eating healthy while traveling. Below is a list of 6 ways to promote healthy eating and to continue a healthy lifestyle while traveling. I try to practice these things myself while traveling.
1. Prepare meals “at home”
Like always, being intentional about what you eat is going to help you stay on track with healthy eating. I find that it is a lot easier to stay on track if we prepare our own meals at home. This is true when traveling too. If you stay in a place that has a kitchen this enables you to meal plan and cook. We do usually end up eating out for several meals while on our trips. We all know that eating out is both more expensive and can make it more difficult to eat healthy. So we chose to eat at our Airbnb more often than not.
2. Plan a grocery shopping trip
Before we left for our trip I packed a bag of foods that we use often and that don’t need to be refrigerated. This included things like my favorite bread, some peanut butter, coffee, a bag of apples, pretzels and a couple of other snack foods my kids enjoy.
For all other foods we stopped at a grocery store the first night of our trip. We picked up things like milk, cheese, spinach, butter spread, lunch meat, fresh meats, etc. We wanted our fridge well stocked and ready for the meals we’d be eating at the Airbnb. I will admit that we were pretty tired by the time we made it to the grocery store. We ended up going back to the grocery store the next day too (that time with a meal plan and grocery list in hand).
I took photos of some of the meals we ate during our trip. I had planned on documenting this much better, but I ended up forgetting to photograph several of our meals.
For breakfast most mornings I had my usual spinach omelet with sprouted grain toast, a large glass of water and a coffee.
If we were out and back in time for lunch we made basic sandwiches with lunch meat and cheese and had some whole grain corn chips and baby carrots with it.
For dinner one night I made tostadas with ground beef that I seasoned with taco seasoning and served it with cheese, spinach and salsa. We had sliced cucumbers and strawberries on the side.
On another evening we put some frozen pizzas in the oven. For our last night I made BLT’s on whole grain bread and served it with some more strawberries.
3. Choose healthier meal options when eating at restaurants
After more than 5 hours of driving, our first meal in St Louis was dinner at a nearby restaurant. I did not get a photo of this meal, probably because we were past hungry. I had a gyro sandwich and opted for a Greek side salad in place of the french fries.
There are times when you definitely need to eat out and also opt for what is most affordable. We went to the City Museum one day and decided to eat lunch at one of their restaurants. This was easier than going out and coming back in. But museum food can be extra expensive. The most cost effective way to feed our family of 5 was to buy an XL pizza. While this was not the healthiest option available, I’m not complaining because it was pretty good and it got the job done!
Here are some quick tips on eating healthy while at restaurants:
- Choose foods that are baked, grilled or boiled instead of foods that are breaded and fried
- Replace starchy, fried sides with vegetables and salads
- Go easy on the sauces, dips and dressings- these add a lot of extra fat, sugar, sodium and calories
- Choose smaller portions, or plan on taking part of your meal home as leftovers if there are only large portions available. You can also opt to split and share a large meal.
- Plan ahead if you are going to a chain restaurant. There are often nutrition facts available on their website if you are trying to monitor certain nutrients like calories, carbohydrates, saturated fats, sodium, etc.
- Choose healthier drinks (see below for more on this)
4. Choose your beverages carefully
What we drink makes a big difference. Often times, we like to enjoy special drinks while on vacation. Keep in mind that drinks with calories are going to provide extra calories that are over and above what your meals and snacks provide. So whether its a mimosa, sweet tea, soda pop or a frozen coffee drink, these are all going to add extra calories.
By all means, enjoy a special drink here and there. Choosing water or other non calorie containing drinks most of the time will serve you better. Try to opt for water, sparkling water and unsweetened tea. For coffee, try to opt for the unsweetened drinks.
The photo above was taken when we went to Starbucks. This mama needed a little pick me up in the form of iced coffee with oat milk. This is my favorite coffee drink. We decided to let our children try the milk based frappuccinos for the first time (they have no caffeine in them). I’m not sure if I’m glad I did this or not…this might mean I will have requests from my kids for frappuccinos every time I want to order Starbucks for myself.
5. Enjoy dessert or a special treat
It won’t feel like vacation if you don’t enjoy a special dessert or two!
Part of eating healthy and enjoying a balanced diet is to also enjoy dessert. Dessert foods are not “bad.” It is good to be able to enjoy a sweet treat while not feeling guilty about eating it. While we don’t want to have dessert all of the time or at every meal, dessert is a special food to enjoy at special times.
For our 5 day trip to St Louis the kids enjoyed one treat every day. On the day we went to the zoo the kids shared a strawberry smoothie in a pineapple. Another evening we had ice cream at the Airbnb. For the last day I bought chocolate chip cookies from a nearby farmer’s market to enjoy on the drive home.
My favorite treat was the vegan cinnamon roll (see photo above) that I ordered from a unique coffee shop. This shop also had bookshelves full of used books you can read and also buy. When you combine two of my favorite things, coffee and books, and add in a delicious dessert, I may swoon just a little.
6. Include activities that get you moving
While planning vacation activities include some favorite activities that get your body moving. My favorite way to get activity in as a family is to go on walks and hikes, especially on nature paths. Many of the activities we do will naturally include more walking and more movement. Think about the number of steps you take while at a museum or other tourist attraction. I know we did a lot of walking while at the zoo, the children’s museum and on our walk to the Gateway Arch.
You can also go on bike rides if you pack your bikes for your trip. Many larger cities also have bike rentals available. Swimming is another fun way to be active while on trips, whether its at a beach or at an indoor swimming pool.
There was an interesting prospective study1 completed in 2016 about weight gain during a 1-3 week vacation. The researchers also looked at changes in physical activity. They found that there was a significant increase in activity, from 3,940 METS pre-vacation to 4,313 METS during vacation. Specifically, there was a significant increase in the amount of walking during vacation. All activity decreased again post vacation. For more information about physical activity, check out my other posts, Why is it Important to Exercise? and Exercise for Children.
We made it to Silver Lake Scout’s Nature Trail on our way back home and walked the trail there. It was a great way to end our vacation in nature.
We even caught a frog during our hike!
I hope this article gave you some additional ideas on how to continue pursuing a healthy lifestyle while traveling. If you have some tips of your own, feel free to leave them in the comment box below!
- Cooper, J. Tokar, T. 2016. A prospective study on vacation weight gain in adults. Physiology & Behavior. 156, 43-47.