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Making a U-Turn on the Road to Vacation Overeating


As millions of Americans prepare to hit the road this month, they face one of the year's greatest eating challenges: The landscape of summer travel is a nutritional minefield of interstate food courts, boardwalk fries, funnel cakes, picnic tables groaning with tempting food, ice cream stands, barbecue. All can blow up a year's worth of prudent eating.

But who wants to obsess about calories on a vacation? Below are some strategies for coping with the challenges of vacation eating.

* Breakfast like a champion. Breakfast often gets short shrift on holidays--and yet it's the one meal that can most help keep a hectic day of travel or sightseeing from becoming a dietary disaster. For example, if you arrive at the airport not feeling famished, you're less likely to be tempted by the food courts or other opportunities for dietary disaster.

Plus, if you're well-fed at breakfast, your resolve is likely to be stronger by lunchtime. Aim for a mixed morning meal of whole grains (bread, cereal, low-fat muffins or low-fat bagels) plus some fruit and protein, such as low-fat dairy products and even a little healthful fat (a few nuts, perhaps, or some smoked salmon). Beware the calories of oversize, full-fat muffins and, yes, even bagels: Split one and add a serving of fruit instead of eating the whole thing.

* Jump for joy. Pack a jump rope in the car for rest stops--it's easy, compact and even little kids know what to do with it. Plus, seeing a parent jump rope can pry a smile from the crankiest child or the crankiest teen. Toss a Frisbee in the trunk, too; it's another portable--and fun--activity generator, calorie burner and steam releaser. It's particularly useful in city parks after, or in the midst of, a day of sightseeing.

* Make a snack pack. Think apples, pears, bananas, pretzels, dried fruit and nuts (packed in individual bags to limit portion sizes), whole-wheat crackers and cereal. For a protein-rich choice, consider turkey jerky or the traditional beef jerky. "A typical 1-ounce pouch contains 80 calories, 14 grams of protein and just 1 gram of fat," says Suzanne Schlossberg, author of "The Ultimate Workout Guide for the Road" (Houghton Mifflin; $14). "Plus, chewing it is hard work so the calories take a while to add up. And the jerky is a nice way to balance high-carb snacks."

* Step away from the picnic table. The seat in front of the bowl of potato chips may be the most dangerous place you'll be during your vacation. Scan the food choices before filling your plate, load up with fresh veggies and fruit or whatever the most healthful fare available is before taking the calorie-rich treats, and then find a nice shady spot away from the table to eat. Distance also forces you to get up and walk for seconds, giving you time to reconsider additional calories.

* Driving less than two hours? Go foodless. Long car trips can easily become long snack sessions. "Boredom eating is a problem for many of us," says Joan Carter, a spokeswoman for the America Dietetic Assn. "If a car trip is under two hours, really think seriously about whether you need to put any food in the car besides water."

* Drink alcohol only with food. Doing so slows absorption of alcohol. Sure, it's OK to celebrate a little, but stick with the U.S. Dietary Guidelines for alcohol. That's one drink daily for women; two for men. By the way, a drink is a 12-ounce beer, a 5-ounce glass of wine or 1.5 ounces of distilled spirits.

* Get a refrigerator. Better yet, get a kitchenette. And no, you don't need to spend your free time chained to the stove making gourmet meals on your holiday. A refrigerator simply gives you options. You can keep milk, juice, yogurt, fruit, prepackaged salad fixings and cold cuts--the basics for a healthful breakfast or lunch. (Call ahead; many hotels and motels will provide a small refrigerator at minimal or no charge.) Making some meals can save money and calories, leaving you room to enjoy a few higher-calorie foods when you do eat out, says Carter.

* Experiment. Remember, variety is key to a healthy diet, and you can use your trip to extend your range. "Use your vacation to try some new cuisines," says David Heber, director of the Center for Human Nutrition at UCLA and author of "What Color Is Your Diet?" (Regan; $25). "If you're in a new city, try some new types of restaurants."

* Carry an ice chest in the car. Use it to hold bottles of water on short trips and to accommodate a few healthful snacks on longer trips. Good choices: string cheese, grapes, hummus, baby carrots, grapes, bean dip or salsa. Keep the ice fresh and the chest can double as a refrigerator if you can't snag one for your room.

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