Question of the Week

July 2, 2008


Eating well while on vacation can be a challenge.

"Theme parks, museums and other leading holiday attractions are serving up child meals loaded with sugar, salt and fat, a survey has found. Local government group LACORS ran the largest ever survey of meals at 220 British leisure facilities. It said not one of the 397 meals tested fully met guidelines from the School Food Trust. But the association representing leisure parks, BALPPA, said healthy options were nearly always available. The survey tested 397 meals aimed at seven to 10 year olds from 220 attractions, including wildlife parks, leisure centres, heritage sites and farm parks. ... Most meals, they said, were served with fried potatoes of some kind or other, and often involved deep-fried meat. The worst meal they found contained more than 85 grams of fat - three times the maximum recommended by the School Food Trust. Other meals had six times the advised amount of saturated fat, 500% more protein, or more than three times the recommended level of salt. On average, the meals had 10% too much fat, and 44% more salt than recommended."

British tourist destinations are not the only ones with limited food choices that are both healthy and appeal to children, and those creating the menus argue that they are offering what will be eaten (supply and demand). Healthy options may not always be plentiful, or even available. When healthy options are offered, it is up to the consumer to choose them--it is up to the parents and the children to look for the healthier options and take advantage of them if they are there.

"While the report acknowledged that menus at tourist attractions tended to offer what children preferred to eat, and what adults wanted to buy, it called for the option of healthier food, the ready availability of drinking water instead of sugary fizzy drinks, and the removal of extra salt provided at the table. ... 'It's about the messages we send out to parents and children. It's not that difficult to have a few different options so that parents can choose.' ... A spokesman for Merlin Entertainments, which runs many of the UK's biggest attractions, including Thorpe Park, Chessington World of Adventures and Alton Towers theme parks, said healthy options were always available. She said: 'We include a free fruit salad with 100% of our children's meals - although often the parents leave it behind.'"

When given the option of a free fruit salad with a child's meal, many parents leave it behind. When faced with the choices offered at many tourist destinations, parents (and children) often feel that they are on vacation, and therefore don't have to follow a healthy diet--or following a healthy diet is too difficult while traveling.

While one recommendation for vacationers is to bring their own healthier options along, this is not always an option at certain attractions. Those who have special dietary needs (and can plan ahead), may be able to make arrangements for personalized menu items, but most others are limited to the options offered.

For those traveling to Disneyland, for example:

"Special dietary needs -- including vegetarian and medically restricted diets -- can often be accommodated at select table-service restaurants. Please request special meals at least 24 hours in advance... With the exception of food items for Guests with specific dietary restrictions, food or beverage items are not permitted into either of the Disneyland´┐Ż Resort theme parks."

Whether eating meals at tourist destinations, or just eating out while traveling to a different city, making healthy choices can be challenging. Remembering moderation (rather than deprivation) can help travelers enjoy the local foods while still eating healthy.

  • "Resist the Urge to Splurge ... There are probably three main factors that contribute to this overabundance of calories and fat coming from restaurant meals: We tend to splurge by choosing higher-fat and higher-calorie menu selections, restaurants are serving us large portions, and we are eating it -- all of it. ... Sometimes, it isn't what you are eating as much as how much you eat that gets you into nutritional trouble. ... 'Some Americans are now ordering half-sized portions, sharing entrees, taking home leftovers, and ordering appetizers as meals,' ...
  • Enjoy the Scenery and Enjoy the Food ... It doesn't make sense to deprive yourself of an enjoyable food; the trick is carrying 'moderation' in your back pocket. Sample these delectable foods, instead of feasting on them.
  • Walking Is Your Secret Weapon ... So go ahead and take that stroll after dinner, swim in that beautiful hotel pool, take your kids up on that early morning hike!
  • A Treat a Day ... Just try to keep your treats to one a day. After that, opt for a healthy choice instead. * Better Choices on the Menu: Make healthful choices that appeal to you at fast food and restaurants whenever possible. Why is it important to order more healthful choices only if they appeal to you? Because if they don't, you're going to feel like you are depriving yourself and resent it. ...
  • Water Is Your Friend: Keep all systems going by drinking your daily water requirement. Traveling can dehydrate you, and so can being out in the sun more than your body is used to. ...
  • Take "Five a Day" on Vacation with You: Now, more than ever, make an effort to get five servings of fruits and vegetables a day. It will make meals seem more filling and satisfying. ...
  • Eat When You're Hungry and Stop When You're Comfortable: It sounds simple, but many of us have gotten out of the habit of paying attention to whether we're truly, physically hungry. Eating opportunities and celebrations are all around us when we are vacationing, and we're in the 'I'm on VACATION!' mindset. That's when we will be the most vulnerable to eating even if we aren't hungry and not stopping when we are comfortable."

While the above guideline can be applied even when not on vacation, vacation does pose unique challenges and temptations when it comes to healthy eating.

  • "On the Plane: Most airlines have stopped offering meals on flights – unless you're flying for an extended period of time. The good news is that you can take control and bring healthy food with you. The best food choices are portable snacks (such as fresh fruit, granola bars, whole grain crackers). Raw nuts, healthy trail mixes, and seeds are also great for travel; however, watch the labels as many of the packaged nuts and mixes in the airport are loaded with unhealthy ingredients and trans-fat. Opt to purchase them at a grocery store or co-op before you get to the airport. According to Elson Haas, MD, founder and director of the Preventative Medical Center of Marin in San Rafael, Calif., it is vital to stay hydrated during your flight. Dr. Hass recommends avoiding excessively salty foods and alcohol, and making sure you drink at least one quart of water during your flight.
  • In the Car ... the American Society of Travel Agents recommends packing a variety of nutritious foods in a cooler filled with ice packs. Fruits and raw vegetables, sandwiches, crackers, yogurt and granola bars are quick and healthy solutions for the road. Stay away from sugary snacks, and pack plenty bottles of water so you don't become dehydrated and tired while driving. ... If you absolutely cannot avoid stopping at a fast food drive-thru, there are still some healthier choices you can make. For example, if you order a hamburger, skip the cheese and condiments. Whenever possible, choose grilled meats instead of fried, and eat salads with low-fat dressings.
  • In Your Hotel ... To avoid temptation, do not accept the mini bar key when you check into your hotel. If you decide to order room service, try to pick healthier options such as salads with low-fat dressing or grilled meats with vegetables. If your hotel offers a continental breakfast, try to stay away from the donuts and sweet rolls. Instead, you should choose fruits, whole-grain cereals and low-fat muffins. Eggs are a great source of protein, but skip the cheese and hash browns on the side. As with room service, if you are skeptical about what you are about to eat, ask the hotel manager for nutritional content information. If you find out ahead of time that your hotel has a microwave and refrigerator, the American Society of Travel Agents suggests bringing some of your own food (that way, you already know the nutritional content). ... If you bring food from home, it will reduce the number of meals you eat out or order from room service."

    Questions of the Week:
    What reasons might you have for wanting to eat as healthfully as possible while traveling? What are some of the temptations to eat in an unhealthy manner that are unique to travel? Before you leave on vacation, where can you look to know what healthier options will be available to you at your destination and en route? Depending on how you plan to get to your destination, what do you need to keep in mind to help you find healthy options along the way? How can you balance moderation and deprivation so that you can enjoy the food on your trip while not overindulging?

    Please email me with any ideas or suggestions.
    Note: Due to increasing amounts of SPAM sent to this account, please include "QOW" in the subject line when sending me email.

    I look forward to reading what you have to say.

    [email protected]
    Health Community Coordinator
    Access Excellence @ the National Health Museum

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