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Staying healthy on holiday

It’s easy to eat ‘til we’re more than full and then groan under the weight of our excess — especially on holidays. But it doesn’t have to be that way…

Staying healthy on holiday, doesn’t have to be difficult, nor a huge compromise.

In fact, the best kind of holiday is the kind where, when it’s over, our body doesn’t long for another holiday just to recover from the first one!

These three HFG readers give an honest account of how they navigated healthy eating while on their holidays, and, from their experiences, we highlight some small but effective healthy holiday eating strategies that we can all put into practice.

The Sutcliffe family’s road trip to Rotorua

“Every couple of years we take our boys, Flynn (10) and Riley (six) on a family adventure. This year, we decided to go to Rotorua. We chose to stay at Rydges Rotorua.

From previous experience, we knew the biggest challenge we would face during our five days away would be to find a reasonably priced evening meal out for the family that wasn’t nuggets, fish’n’ chips, pizza or a burger. Also, we had to be careful as Riley has a nut allergy.

We arrived determined we wouldn’t get trapped in the fast-food cycle. I felt pleased with myself as we took along our toasted sandwich maker with canned mushrooms, creamed corn, spaghetti, baked beans, a tray of eggs, cheese and packets of ham and salad. There are, however, only so many toasted sandwiches anyone can take.

But buffet breakfast every day was a godsend — we all loaded up at the start of the day.

And although we had packed enough food to feed a small nation, we were on holiday, so we bought a little something from each place we visited.

Rainbow Springs was fantastic as an attraction and the food options were good: amazing fruit salad, jelly in cups and yummy-looking sandwiches and rolls (pictured above).

The restaurant Fat Dog was great. The nachos we ordered for the four of us came with raw beetroot ribbons presented to look like a bird’s nest. That caught the boys’ interest. There also seemed to be other vegetables hidden in the mince which tasted fantastic — we loved this restaurant’s ploy to get some extra veges in.

Exploring Rotorua meant a lot of walking. We did an iPod–guided tour of the Buried Village museum, and a 15 to 20-minute walk to the waterfall and back — the stairs left me huffing and puffing and the kids scrambling. We rewarded ourselves with a cold drink and onsite homemade treats (a Devonshire tea for us adults).

On our last night we went to Triple 1 Five. Here, there were gluten-free dishes as well as a good selection of children’s meals that weren’t fried. In fact, the blackboard menu outside the restaurant mentioned none of their food is fried — which was a huge drawcard. Both boys chose spaghetti with fresh tomato sauce from the children’s menu (so nice not to see just the usual chicken nuggets, fish’n’chips, beef burgers). Hubby opted for steak, I had pork and we all ordered vegetables. This restaurant comes highly recommended as one the whole family enjoyed.”

— as told by mum Kerry

Holiday eating strategies

  • For an alternative kids’ takeaway option try sushi rolls (without soy sauce): ideal as a low-sodium meal that’s easy for small hands to hold. If you or your child wants some hot chips, choose wedges or thick-cut chips if they are available.
  • Good strategies at a buffet include choosing a small plate to start. Scan the buffet before you line up and serve up to plan what you are going to eat without filling your plate with foods you are not so keen on. And get your plate proportions right: fill at least half your plate with vegetables and salad before you move on to other items.
  • When eating out, keep in mind — or ask — how the menu item is prepared. Watch out for crumbed (deep-fried), battered and creamed options. And there are often (hidden) added extras in mashed potato (often made with butter and cream), creamy soups, scrambled eggs and omelettes, creamed spinach and rich meat or tomato sauces. Note that a 50ml dash of cream adds an extra five teaspoons of fat.
  • Restaurant meals can be light on vegetables so, like Kerry, order extra vegetables or salad to balance out your plate.

Kerry’s top tip

Taking the toasted sandwich maker was great for tiding us over, making our own lunches, having control of what we were eating, and fantastic for our budget.

Zona and Diane’s girls’ weekend away at a bach (Whangamata)

“Woo-hoo! Nothing like leaving work and Auckland for a girlie weekend! On the two-hour drive south, we got the car snack munchies and settled on a (shared) Time Out chocolate bar! Whoops. I’m quite conscious of what I eat, generally, but thought in this instance ‘I’m on holiday!’

Before we arrived at the bach we stocked up at the local supermarket. Being on holiday meant a freer rein when it came to food choices. We selected fish, fruit and vegetables, stuffed olives and wine. For an afternoon snack I had a banana, and come 5pm it was wine and olives time.

For dinner we pan-fried bought terakihi, baked our field mushrooms, pan-fried asparagus and enjoyed shop-bought tabouli (something my friend Diane rarely eats due to her fussy eaters at home). It was a gorgeous, satisfying meal which I enjoyed with a glass of red, Diane, a Radler.

Dessert? We had bought 70 per cent Green & Black’s dark chocolate: it’s light and easy to eat, clearly, as we finished the whole bar between us. Previous holidaymakers had left a packet of Toffee Pops in the fridge. We managed to resist these… and had a green tea for a night cap.

Brekkie the next day at Café Rossini was a good choice. The menu there was extensive and my big vege breakfast was so big that I asked for a doggy bag. After, we took in a beautiful walk and stopped at Olivers deli Bakery to grab something small to take back to eat at the house (to actively try to avoid those Toffee Pops). We bought a salmon and cream cheese breadstick and a chicken salad roll.

At 4.30pm, however, the Toffee Pops were calling and I had two. Damn it. I had these with a green tea, a mandarin and grapes.

We decided to have dinner out and went to the Whangamata Ocean Sports Club. We both ordered a chicken and cashew stir-fry which was served up with heaps of veges.

After our long beach walk first thing Sunday morning we cooked up all our food leftovers (from Saturday’s breakfast out and our supermarket-bought food). We enjoyed asparagus spinach wraps and I’m proud to say some Toffee Pops remain at the bach, sitting in the cupboard to tempt the next holidaymakers…”

— as told by Zona

Holiday eating strategies

  1. Get off to a healthy start by keeping a food ‘kit’ in your car as a back-up plan for those ‘emergencies’. Keep a supply of eating utensils (cups, plates, cutlery) at hand, too. Pack a few high-fibre muesli bars, tuna-lite snack packs, homemade trail mixes such as mixed seeds and fruit (eg. pumpkin and sunflower seed mixes, dried cranberries, a few raisins) and tubs of fruits. And remember: pull over to eat your food if you are driving.
  2. An indulgence or treat isn’t a daily event, even with the disclaimer, ‘but we’re on holiday’. So if you know your weakness (chocolate, in Zona’s case), choose snacks with strong intense flavours as a small amount will satisfy (for example, a couple of squares of quality dark chocolate).
  3. Energy slumps mid-morning or during the day can often lead to a baked sweet treat, biscuit or chocolate pick-me-up. To curb that biscuit binge, try eating a piece of fruit between biscuits — this should slow you down. Having fruit and fruit cups at hand can be helpful. And don’t forget to drink water.

Zona’s top tip

If you are headed to a bach in a holiday town, stock up on food available locally, keeping in mind to buy only what you need. You can always buy as you go and patronise local eateries to make up for any shortfall.

The Fraser family’s holiday at the parents’ home in Tairua (Coromandel)

There are five of us when we travel — me, hubby, kids Ben (13), Hollie (five) and Pepper — our travelling cat. Our holidays are mostly spent staying at my parents’ place. They have retired in beautiful Tairua, a two-hour drive from Auckland. We often tent on their lawn if the extended family has decided to join.

A holiday like this comes with the challenge of keeping the kids entertained, and also keeping healthy and well by steering away from the convenience of takeaways! We are mostly successful because our Tairua holidays are spent being active with lots of beach/park walks, and food is mostly fresh from the land and sea, healthy and often free.

The beach and estuary keep the kids entertained for hours. And walking up Mt Paku with the kids is always an adventure. As is eating the fresh fish caught the same day, straight out of the water and into the pan. Yum!

Preparing food and meals is an activity we all share and enjoy. We are lucky to have heaps of fresh crayfish at our disposal, and my dad is also a whitebaiter so he catches the whitebait and Mum whips up the crispy fritters — a family favourite. It’s always a ‘snatch and grab’ for the last few.

A typical dinner will be half a crayfish, grilled on the barbie for the adults, and the kids enjoy sausages from the local butcher (we often bring back the sausages to Auckland). We all have salad and roasted potato and baby kumara (skin on). I am biased but my parents have the best vege garden I know. We can dig into rocket, lettuce, fennel, spring onions, sprouting broccoli, broad beans and beetroot. We are very lucky that every meal has a fresh and healthy side to it.

We do venture out to eat at our favourite local eateries. Lunch at these places can be anything from a Spanish omelette or mushrooms on ciabatta at the Manaia café or a breakfast out at The Old Mill, right by the estuary.

— as told by mum Aimee

Holiday eating strategies

  • Frying fresh fish and seafood in a lightly oil-sprayed pan is simple. If you’re lucky enough to have an abundance of fish and seafood like Aimee, fish parcels on the barbie are an easy option: wrap fish fillets in tinfoil with fresh herbs, lemon slices and a dash of olive oil. Place on the hot plate for 15-20 minutes.
  • The simplest tastiest dressings can be just a squeeze of lemon or a drizzle of balsamic vinegar rather than an oily dressing. Tossed through fresh leaves and herbs, you won’t even notice there’s no oil.

Aimee’s top tip

Make the most of opportunities to indulge in fresh catch or fresh produce: whether it be from a fishing trip, or your host’s backyard, or a farmers’ market visit.

Date modified: October 4 2017
First published: Jan 2013

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