Seven Ways to Avoid Overeating on Vacation

French toast with berries and eggs over-hard at La Bicyclette, Carmel, CA

My husband Anthony and I just returned from a totally delightful trip to Carmel and Monterey, California to celebrate our ninth anniversary. It was quite possibly the best vacation we’ve ever taken–with no kids for three days, we stayed at an adorable inn,

The Candlelight Inn

slept in until 9:00, rode bikes around Monterey Bay, toured a historic lighthouse,

Pt. Pinos lighthouse, which had a female keeper from 1893-1914 (how cool!)

took in the gorgeous views on 17-Mile Drive, and even attended mass at one of the oldest missions on the West Coast.

San Carlos Borromeo de Carmelo Mission

And we ate. Ohhhh, we ate.

Fact: Grown-ups on vacation are allowed to eat Ghirardelli sundaes for lunch.

For me, food can be the highlight of a vacation. As much as I love to cook, it’s exciting and inspiring to eat restaurant food created by real chefs (not to mention the fact that I don’t have to do dishes afterward). Restaurant dining gives me the opportunity to try cuisines I wouldn’t normally have the guts or experience to try at home. Unfortunately, though, day after day of eating out can also leave me wishing I had packed my Fat Pants. I always struggle with finding the balance between savoring the indulgence of restaurant meals and not returning home with a little excess baggage (not the kind you can check at the gate).

On this particular trip, however, I felt I was able to strike that balance better than I have in the past. (Ignore the photo above with the giant brownie sundae.) I’ve given quite a bit of thought to what made the difference this time and have come up with some tips on making it to the end of your vacation without needing the seatbelt extender on the flight home. (And lest you think I’m just some schmoe trying to tell you how to live your life, I am pursuing a dietetics degree….so I’m supposed to know about this stuff!)

Seven ways to counteract overeating/poor eating on vacation:

1. Purchase healthy snacks at a grocery store. When I’m eating meals at restaurants don’t have a pantry or fridge available in my hotel, I tend to get into a panic mode where I think, “I don’t know when I’ll get to eat again! Must stuff myself now!” (Come to think of it, that was pretty much my entire four years of college…probably why I was 30 pounds heavier back then.) Buying healthy snacks to keep in your car or hotel room gives you a buffer. If you know you can snack between meals, you’re less likely to overeat at the meals themselves.

2. Split meals. Yes, I am going to beat this dietary dead horse. Especially if you don’t have a fridge where you’re staying, you won’t be able to take leftovers home anyway, so split ’em up, baby. Split. ‘Em. Up.

3. Don’t feel like you have to order an entree every time you go out. When I go to a nice restaurant where the waiter takes ten minutes to tell about the entree specials, I almost feel this weird obligation to order a full entree. Like they’re going to know I’m a classless brute if I don’t eat their 16-ounce Porterhouse. But you know what? Who cares? There’s no law against soup and salad.

4. At a breakfast buffet, look at your plate and ask yourself, “What would my plate look like if I were eating breakfast at home?” Ah, breakfast buffets–the Achilles heel of every hotel guest. Scrambled eggs in a metal pan you could bathe a toddler in, syrupy fruit cocktail, and the ubiquitous do-it-yourself waffle iron. Would you eat this stuff for breakfast at home? If you’re generally a bowl-of-cereal or two-pieces-of-toast breakfaster, a heaping pile of pancakes and bacon slathered in syrup is not going to hold up to this question.

5. Write down your day’s eating goals. For example, “I will only eat one dessert today” or “I will make sure to eat a fruit or vegetable at every meal today.” Studies have repeatedly shown that this very small act can have a major positive impact on your day’s eating. Take it a step further and keep a food journal of the vacation. You’ll end up with a nice little souvenir to remember your trip by, and you’ll probably be a lot more mindful about what goes in your mouth.

6. Prevent post-full nibbling. At a restaurant, when I begin to feel full (but still have all that time with food in front of me while the waiter gets the check, we pay, etc.) I have a special trick to avert continued nibbling. I put my dirty napkin on my plate as a signal to myself to stop. It grosses me out just enough that I won’t eat off the plate anymore.

7. Drink plenty of water. When we’re away from our normal environment, any of our normally healthy habits can go haywire. You may be accustomed to drinking plenty of water throughout your day, but on a plane, in the car, or all day at Disneyland, you naturally have to be much more cognizant about your fluid intake. Water not only keeps you hydrated for your day’s activities, but can head off food cravings. The body easily mistakes thirst for hunger.

How about you? Do you struggle with eating poorly on vacation? What have you done that helps?

Banana-Chocolate Olive Oil Muffins



A couple of weeks ago my husband bought a really nice new camera–a mirrorless DSLR, the Sony Nex-5–and I frankly know very little about it (not a great sign for a food blogger, right?) but I am eager to learn. The funny thing is that I’ve been experimenting using it to take pictures not of our three beautiful children, but of food, like these delicious muffins (possibly a good sign for a food blogger?) The truth is, muffins don’t squirm and don’t cry, they don’t have to all smile at the same time, and I can easily move them around to where I want them.

My kids, not so much.

These banana-chocolate olive oil muffins are great for plenty of other reasons besides being photogenic, though. With their use of olive oil, all whole wheat flour, and no refined sugar, they are a healthier alternative to a heckuva lot of other muffins recipes out there (I’m looking at you, streusel topping). And in my opinion, they’re some of the best muffins I’ve ever made–really moist, not too overpoweringly banana-y, with a little kick of chocolate inside.

These never seem to last long in our house, though, because they are such a hit with my (also photogenic, if not easily movable) kids. Here’s one of them:

Banana-Chocolate Olive Oil Muffins
(Adapted from Healthy and Fit)

Ingredients:

1 3/4 c. whole wheat flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1/3 c. olive oil
1/2 c. honey
2 eggs
2 mashed bananas
1/4 c. hot water
1 c. chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease 12-cup muffin tin.

In a small bowl, combine flour, baking soda, and salt. Set aside. In a large bowl, mix olive oil and honey. Add eggs and mix, then bananas. Stir the dry ingredients into the wet, alternating with the hot water. Fold in chocolate chips.

Bake 17-20 minutes. Yields 12 muffins.

10 Unexpected Uses for Greek Yogurt


“Aaaaaahh!” (Do you hear the angels singing?)

If there is any kind of ranking system for trendy foods, Greek yogurt has to somewhere near the top–up there with quinoa and craft beer. I don’t think I had even heard of it before about three years ago. And while I don’t tend to be a fan of the trendy, whether in food, fashion, or philosophy, I am totally, wholeheartedly on the Greek yogurt bandwagon. Yeehaw!

You’ve probably heard all about its health benefits–its surprisingly high protein content for a dairy product, its drastically reduced sugar (and therefore carbohydrate) content as compared to regular yogurt, and even its lower sodium. (Though you do have to read labels and be careful about saturated fat.) All of these pros give it a nutritional edge–definitely worth incorporating into your diet frequently.

….but how? I mean, you’re not a fan of sitting down with a heaping bowl of plain yogurt? Me neither, actually. But in our family’s reduced-meat eating habits, I do try to make use of this delightful Mediterranean protein powerhouse in a variety of unusual ways. Here’s a few. (And when I say “unusual,” I don’t meant like changing your oil with it or sleeping in a vat of it or anything, so don’t worry.)

1. In Salad Dressing. Mix 1/3 c. each Greek yogurt and mayonnaise, then add 1/4 tsp. salt, pepper, garlic powder, onion powder, dried thyme, and dried parsley for a creamy ranch-style dipping sauce. Tasty with veggies, chips, crackers, etc. (Dilute with milk to thin, if desired for salad.)

2. In Baked Goods. This is one of my favorite uses for GY. There are so many great muffin and bread recipes out there that call for yogurt, giving them a wonderfully moist texture, so why not make it Greek?

3. As a buttermilk substitute. Does anyone ever really buy an entire carton of buttermilk? Unless you’re the flackjap flipper at your local 300-person pancake breakfast fundraiser, I can’t imagine why you would, especially when you can make a cup of your own buttermilk by mixing 3/4 c. Greek yogurt with 1/4 c. milk.

4. In place of sour cream in Mexican dishes, soups, and on baked potatoes. Most likely you’re familiar with this one, though you may not go so far as my admirable friend Renee, who brings her own secret stash of Greek yogurt when she goes to Chipotle to avoid the high fat content in their sour cream. Top that…literally.

5. On Salmon. Mix 2 parts mayo with 1 part Greek yogurt and 1 part grated Parmesan cheese for a super simple creamy salmon topping. Bake at 450 for 15 minutes. Top with chives as garnish.

6. In Faux Cheesecake. As I recently posted for the 4th of July, this is a great way to cut calories in a tasty cheesecake treat.

7. As a topping on waffles or pancakes (instead of butter). Better yet, add fresh or frozen fruit on top!

8. Give it a squeeze. Shake Greek yogurt and a bit of honey together in a plastic squeeze bottle, then drizzle on fruit, cinnamon buns, etc. for a fancy, aesthetically pleasing touch! (A drizzle always looks nicer than a glop.)

9. In healthier mashed potatoes. Yeah, I get it that most people don’t immediately think yogurt + garlic + herbs = delicious, but check out these healthy herbed yogurt mashed potatoes.

10. In chicken nuggets. Nope, not as a dipping sauce. Dredge chicken pieces in Greek yogurt before breading with seasoned Panko bread crumbs. Bake at 375 for 30 minutes or so. Boom!

Baked Falafel and Tzatziki Sauce (with a side of Phineas and Ferb)

If you’re a parent of young children, you are familiar with that incredible window of productivity known as your child’s nap time. Since my 2-year-old blessedly still takes an afternoon nap, I try to get as much done as possible during those couple of quiet(er) hours of the day. My 6 and 4-year-olds are still very much awake at that time, but Legos are a beautiful thing for keeping them entertained…well, Legos and pummeling each other to the ground in what they call “Wrestle Fight.” (Did I mention they’re girls?…haha, just kidding.)

When my 2-year-old was younger and wouldn’t sit through a TV show while I made dinner, I relied on nap time to get prep work done on dinner, easing the pain of her standing at the baby gate screaming her guts out while I chopped vegetables…really not fun for either of us. Since then, the routine of doing dinner prep in the afternoons has become second nature, especially if I want to make a meal that takes longer than a Phineas and Ferb episode. When I meal plan, I typically gravitate toward recipes that I can chop/grate/mix/layer ahead of time.

This is one such recipe. You can mash the chickpeas, chop and process the onions, parsley, and garlic, mix it all up with some egg, spices, and bread crumbs, and mold the result into patties in maybe 20 minutes:


Finished patties before cooking

Stash in the fridge until dinner time and it’s ready to bake. Same goes for the tzatziki…without the baking, obviously. This leaves your 24 minutes of Phineas and Ferb for things like checking Facebook and enjoying a glass of wine.

Baked Falafel and Tzatziki Sauce
(Adapted from Allrecipes.com)

Ingredients:

3/4 c. Greek yogurt
1/2 cucumber–peeled, seeded, and finely chopped
1 tsp. dried dill weed
1 1/2 tsp. lemon juice
1/2 tsp. garlic powder
salt and pepper to taste

1 15-oz. can garbanzo beans, drained
1 small onion, chopped
2 1/2 Tbsp. dried parsley
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 egg
2 tsp. ground cumin
1/2 tsp. dried cilantro
1 tsp. salt
1 dash pepper
1 pinch cayenne pepper
1 tsp. lemon juice
1 tsp. baking powder
1 Tbsp. olive oil
3/4-1 c. dry bread crumbs

In a small bowl, mix the Greek yogurt, cucumber, dill weed, lemon juice, garlic powder, salt, and pepper. Chill for at least 30 minutes.

In a large bowl, mash chickpeas until thick and pasty. In a blender, process onion, parsley and garlic until smooth. Stir into mashed chickpeas.

In a small bowl combine egg, cumin, coriander, salt, pepper, cayenne, lemon juice and baking powder. Stir into chickpea mixture along with olive oil. Slowly add bread crumbs until mixture is not sticky but will hold together; add more or less bread crumbs, as needed. Form balls and then flatten into patties. (I got 13 smallish patties.)

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Line a baking sheet with foil. Spray foil with high-quality vegetable oil cooking spray, then place falafel on foil and spray them as well. Bake for 10 minutes, then flip and spray falafel again. Bake another 10 minutes. Finally, broil 1.5-2 minutes on each side.

Serve with tzatziki sauce (and other fixin’s as desired, such as pita, tomato, spinach, etc.)

Lemon-Thyme Granita

I always used to be skeptical of granita. Typically containing only three ingredients–fruit juice, water, and sugar–it kinda sounds like some Weight Watchers trick to make you think juice is dessert. (Nice try, Weight Watchers.) But then I started making it, starting with this fancy-schmancy lime recipe, and I’ve been hooked ever since. It still doesn’t exactly fit the bill for a “real” dessert in my book (I think my definition for real dessert is “must contain fat”) but it is a lovely, light, refreshing after-dinner palate cleanser. Any fruit juice will do to make it. I’ve tried grapefruit, watermelon, lime, and lemon, and I’m especially curious to try this sangria version.

This time around, I happened to have a couple of lemons hanging around waiting to be put to some culinary use, so Dear Old Uncle Google willingly obliged an appropriate recipe. I love the unique twist the thyme infusion gives the flavor here–a subtle depth that balances the lemony sweetness nicely. Excellent for a little something different!

Lemon-Thyme Granita
From Taste of Home

Ingredients:

1 c. water
2/3 c. sugar
2/3 c. fresh lemon juice
2 fresh thyme sprigs

In a small saucepan, bring water and sugar to a boil. Cook and stir until sugar is dissolved. Remove from the heat; stir in lemon juice and thyme. Transfer to an 8-in. square dish; cool to room temperature.

Remove thyme sprigs. Freeze for 1 hour; stir with a fork. Freeze 2-3 hours longer or until completely frozen, stirring every 30 minutes.

Stir granita with a fork just before serving; spoon into dessert dishes. Yield: 2 cups.