Healthy Dining on the Road

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Here are some healthy dining tips for your next big family vacation.

You can eat healthy while you are on the road. 

By Cecilia Yu

I have a confession.  I am a neurotic health freak.  My family and friends know it.  They love me when I provide health advice.  They loathe me when I am the “uncool” person demanding healthy, unadulterated food while they dine on the more exciting and tasty ends of the food chain. Don’t misunderstand me; I love my chocolates and cakes and prefer them with a hot coco laced with whip cream. Organic and preservatives free of course.  Just kidding.

With my confession out of the way; hopefully after shedding some light about myself, you can empathize with what follows.

If you are a parent like me, you might be equally annoyed by the kids’ menu choices in restaurants?  Even more annoyed by the plethora of health choices on the menu for the adults yet zero options for children? Well, I am. Especially when my family and I are on vacation. The thought of a week long vacation plus a hyperactive child with lowered immunity lowers MY own immunity AND sanity. Frankly, I cringe at the thought of feeding my child any of the following commonly found on kids’ menus.

Menu Items

*My Translations
Chicken tenders Processed, white bread crumbs deep fried in palm oil.  Meat so little and tough it will resemble beef jerky.
Ham & cheese sandwich Sodium nitrate, the preservatives in cured meat is an invitation for cancer and diabetes related problems.
Pizza We are not in Italy. The tomato sauce is from some tin cans with 2 years extended shelf life thanks to a laundry list of preservatives.
Fruit juice Sure, it is 100% fruits and then there is the other 80% of junk ingredients like sugar and food coloring.
Vegetable fried rice What a coincidence that I can literally count the number of peas and diced carrots that fits into my preschooler small palm… every time. About 10 pieces only.
Stir fried noodles Bleached or processed flour noodles stripped of all nutrients saturated in fish sauce and soy sauce loaded with preservatives. Be sure to prepare lots and lots of water for a child now thirsty from that sodium overload.
Soup noodles No chance this is your homemade poultry broth slow cooked for hours for that intense flavor. MSG does wonders for flavors.
Stir fried vegetables What is the point of cleansing the body with vegetables if soaked in GMO corn starch gravy flavored with preservatives filled soy sauce and fish sauce?

* Verified with restaurant staff often

Reality is, my fellow neurotic parents, we have to feed our kids.  In terms of parenting agony, hungry and cranky kid ranks up there with hyperactive, lowered immunity kid.  So when on vacations, I have had to compromise and customize.  Yes, customize.

Here is my coping strategy:

  1. To appease your mini meat loving carnivore, opt for the roasted herb hen, duck, pork loin, or steak instead. Grilled or roast is still better than deep fried chicken tenders.
  2. Got a sandwich loving kid like mine? Share your roasted or grilled meat dish. Slice them and put them between two slices of multigrain bread (ok, bear with it that it may be processed, refined wheat).  Don’t settle for calorie filler, nutrient empty white bread. If multigrain bread is out of the question, ask for romaine lettuce or use the ones in your salad to wrap the meat in there. Voila, a solution that sneaks in some greens.
  3. Carbohydrates enthusiast?  For the original soup noodles, opt out the MSG laden soup. Instead, request the stir fry version specifically with NO OIL.  I say NO OIL because chances are the chef will still pour in some. NO OIL translates to little oil.  LITTLE OIL translates to lots of oil for many restaurant chefs here in Thailand, based on my experience (think heavily glazed plate once emptied.)
  4. If you are lucky enough like me with a veggie loving child, please, please, please, do not taint their nutritional threshold with stir fried vegetables in the restaurants here. Ask specifically for steamed vegetables that are not over cooked. In my experience, despite the restaurant’s well intention to provide wholesome veggies, they are often over cooked and depleted of all nutrients. Season with the salt and pepper on your table.
  5. Don’t assume the fruit juice is that much better than soda. It might have the same amount or more sugar than a soda. Confirm whether the juice is freshly squeezed at the time of order. Not this morning, not this afternoon, not 1 hour ago – all nutrients are lost. Fresh juice should be enjoyed within 15 minutes of being squeezed. Otherwise, all nutrients are lost. If nutrient dense fresh fruit juice is unavailable, then opt for the fresh coconut juice straight out of a freshly opened coconut. Guarantee no added sugar or preservatives.

A vacation is often not one of a healthy journey but you can still minimize the amount of junk your child eats by being a little creative with your dining requests. Hopefully, your wait staff and chef will be accommodating, chances are they will be.  After all, this is the Land of Smiles and on this land, children are adored and catered to with many smiles.

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