The adrenaline rush while descending the first drop of a roller coaster hill and defying gravity as the coaster moves through each loop-De-loop, food is usually the last thing on your mind. But after a full day of thrill rides at the amusement park and walking all day, you’ll eventually work up an appetite. Once the sights, sounds and incredible smells of the “good eats” the park has to offer start to taunt you, you’re at their mercy. But let’s face it, you’re on vacation, right? No limitations are going to get in your way, anything goes. Cotton candy, ice cream, pizza, hamburgers, hot dogs and french fries are easy to eat and quickly satisfy a hearty appetite. Sorry to be a downer, but these foods are often high in saturated fat, high in added sugar and low in healthy nutrients. For the average healthy person, in moderation they are okay. But for someone watching their weight, or has diabetes or heart disease, following their registered dietitian’s advice, can be a nightmare.
Visiting an amusement park for a day may not be problem, but if you’re staying in a hotel for a few days at one of the larger theme parks, the same menu options day-after-day can start to become extremely limited. After all, the parks are not in the business of serving food, they are in business to entertain, and amaze. They want to fuel up adults and children with a large amount of calories as fast as possible, in order to quickly get them back on the rides and attractions.
Planning ahead of time is key. If you and your family are going to be staying at a theme park resort for some time, check out the park’s website beforehand. Usually the site will post their restaurant locations and sometimes include their menus. Theme parks are starting to become sensitive to special diet needs and food allergies. Their websites are starting to include more allergen information with regards to the food they serve along with ways for guests to request special menu items before arriving at the park. But if you want specific advice or a menu plan, a registered dietitian can help you plan your meals before you leave for vacation. They are extremely helpful in providing menus for diabetes, heart disease, kidney disease, Celiac disease and Crohn’s disease to name a few. They can also help make sense of the ingredients in food and help you decipher food labels. This way you can spend less time worrying about what you eat and more time enjoying your vacation.
When my husband and I stayed at a famous theme park, we planned a strategy. During our time there, the hotel restaurant did provide healthy options cafeteria style made-for-you-hot-food like omelets, sandwich wraps and grab and go items. There was refrigerated fresh fruit, fresh raw vegetables, salad plate options, yogurt and ready-made cereal. We picked food that was healthy yet mobile, like a banana, an apple, a single-serving container of OJ, or low-fat milk along with the ready-to-eat, low sugar, whole grain cereal. We brought these items back to our hotel room and stored them in the mini fridge. This also helped us save money on meals, which allowed us to splurge on a delicious dinner and try foods we wouldn’t normally eat at home. By cutting back on heavy breakfasts and lunches and eating smaller meals and snacks throughout the day instead, we were able to balance our overall caloric intake without feeling hungry.
At night when your stomach starts to growl and the restaurants are all closed, add low-fat milk to single-serving containers of ready-to-eat cereals. Cereals made with whole-grain with no added sugars are lower in calories than junk food and are packed with nutrients. This is a quick healthy way to curb the hunger late at night or first thing in the morning instead of sweet/salty low nutrient foods that are high in calories. For breakfast, add a banana or orange juice for a more balanced meal. Single servings of Greek yogurt topped with granola is a good way to add additional protein without saturated fat to help you stay full longer.
At the restaurant, always look for ways to add fruit or veggies to a meal. Try a side salad instead of fries, add veggies to an omelet, and add lettuce, tomato, cucumber, thinly sliced carrots or other veggies to sandwiches. Extra veggies provide healthy fiber which can help you feel full longer.
Don’t forget about beverages. Cut back on regular soda, especially the larger serving sizes and avoid the free refills. Think about the hidden calories from all the added sugar. Just one 20 oz bottle of soda has about 250 calories. Three refills can equate to 750 calories or more in addition to your meal! Consider a refillable water bottle instead. You’ll save money and greatly reduce your caloric intake.
Hydration is extremely important especially in hot and humid environments, especially when you are active. Remember to drink water every hour or so to stay hydrated. Dehydration can zap energy and increase the desire for energy dense foods. Drinking a lot caffeinated sugar sweetened beverages can cause an energy crash later in the day. Caffeine is a diuretic, in large amounts can cause the kidneys to release more water, which can increase dehydration.
Planning ahead before going on vacation can help you to plan more balanced meals. Above all, have fun and try not to be too hard on yourself if you feel you’ve eaten more than you should. Try to balance some of the unhealthy options with healthy ones. Become conscious of your food choices at every meal. Is this meal just to fuel up for the next excursion or do you really want to sit down and enjoy it? If you’re planning the next ride on a colossal hill twist and turn roller coaster you might want to save that heavy meal for another time.