When you have to say goodbye to bread, sugar, alcohol, and dairy for 30 days, it can put a serious damper (insert sad Emoji face here) on your vacation plans, but with some planning, you can stick to the Whole30 diet while chilling poolside or jetting off to an international getaway.
To help you stay on track and adhere to the eating plan, we tapped Melissa Hartwig, co-creator and co-author of The Whole30: The 30-Day Guide to Total Health and Food Freedom, Brigitte Zeitlin, MPH, RD, owner of BZ Nutrition, and Stacie Hassing, RDN, LD, and Jessica Beacom, RDN, founders of The Real Food Dietitians for their pro tips.
“I do most of my planning before I even hit the road,” says Hartwig, co-creator of Whole30, “because researching is way easier from the comfort of your own home with a full belly. I know my destination and hotel, so I’ll search for a local health food store or supermarket, and call the hotel ahead of time to make sure there is a fridge in my room.”
“Compliant protein is the hardest thing to find on the road, but it’s the most satisfying of all the macronutrients,” says Hartwig, “so if you really want to tide yourself over until your next full meal, protein is king. Pack some Whole30-approved jerky, meat sticks, or snack sticks; hard boil some eggs; pre-cook some chicken sausage, or throw some deli turkey or roasted chicken in your cooler bag.
Add On to Protein
Supplement your pre-packed protein with the packs of nuts, seeds, and fruit that you can always find at airport kiosks or at gas stations, says Hartwig. If you’re lucky you may also be able to find veggies to complement your protein-heavy plan of attack, but they’re usually limited to grocery stores, so stock up there whenever you can.
“Always pack your own snacks to bring on the trip with you,” says Brigitte Zeitlin, MPH, RD, owner of BZ Nutrition. “Some of my favorites are individual packets of almond butter, plain almonds, and approved protein bars.” Check out this a list of all Whole30 approved groceries for your meal plan.
Seek Out Veggies and Protein
“The most important part of the plan is to remember to stick to a lot of veggies and lean proteins,” says Zeitlin. “If you focus on this, you’ll likely be able to create a meal from any menu based on looking for a solid protein and sauce-free, dressing-free, butter-free vegetables.”
Research Options in the Area
If you didn’t have time to plan out compliant places near where you are staying, take a walk when you arrive at your hotel to get the lay of the Whole30 land. “Whether you’re staying in an apartment or hotel, do a little recon of the grocery stores around you,” says Zeitlin. “Buy water, fruits, and veggies for in-room snacking and on the go snacks.”
Load Up on Extras
“I pack a few single-serving-sized salad dressings from Tessemae’s, coconut aminos from Coconut Secret, almond butter from Georgia Grinders, and packets of ghee from Tin Star Foods,” says Hartwig. “They’ll make it through security, and they’re lifesavers when you just need a little extra seasoning in your meal or snack.”
“Understand that doing Whole30 on the road gets way easier with practice,” says Hartwig, “so don’t be discouraged if this first trip requires extra planning and preparation. In no time, ordering Whole30 meals and packing your carry-on with compliant snacks will feel like second nature.”
Pre-Plan for Road Trips
“Spend some before your tip to pre-cut plenty of fruits and vegetables for snacking and adding to meals on the road,” says Jessica Beacom, RDN, co-founder of The Real Food Dietitians. “Fill clean plastic water bottles with fresh drinking water and freeze them to use as ice packs—and later for drinking water when they’ve thawed.”
Quick and easy Whole30-friendly snacks that don’t require refrigeration are compliant jerky or meat sticks [such as Chomps, The New Primal Beef Thins, and Epic Bar], whole fruits, individually packaged olives, and portioned out nuts and seeds,” says Hassing. “Compliant bars—like RxBars and Thunderbird Bars—are to be saved for an emergency option when there’s nothing else.”
Take Stock of Eating Habits
The Whole30 approach is too restrictive to use as a year-round eating plan, so use your vacation as a way to figure out how to take the good parts of the diet that are easy for you and mix them with real life as well, says Zeitlin. That includes developing smart strategies for adding back in grains, legumes, dessert, and alcohol.
Stick with Better Beverages
“Sparkling water, such as La Croix, is a great alternative to plain water and can be found at most convenient stops,” says Stacie Hassing, RDN, LD, co-founder of The Real Food Dietitians. “Otherwise, if you’re looking for a cup of joe, grab yourself a black coffee. If you need the cream, pack a compliant creamer (such as nutpods) in your cooler and you’re good to go!”
Sign Up for Delivery
“If you’re staying in one location for a while, you can also have True Fare, Whole30-approved frozen meals, delivered right to your hotel,” says Hartwig. “They deliver nationwide, and all you need is a microwave. Finally, see if there is a meal delivery service or restaurant near you that complies with the Whole30 dietary restrictions. Homemade meals on the road may be as easy as ordering from a local partner.”
Don’t Be Defeated
If you accidentally eat something you weren’t supposed to on vacation but then adopt a “forget this” mentality and binge on everything you’ve been missing, you are setting yourself up for failure, says Zeitlin. “Keep in mind that changing your habits are hard, and changing your habits out of your comfort zone (i.e. while traveling) are even harder,” she says. “So take a deep breath, remind yourself that it’s not that big of a deal and the next meal or snack is an opportunity to eat more veggies.”
Keep it Simple
If all of the compliant food choices are overwhelming, stick to these five food choices for simplicity, says Hassing. Pack or seek out: hard-boiled eggs, whole fruits, raw nuts, salads (with compliant ingredients even if you have to pick off some of them), and raw veggies.
Make sure to start the day right by never skipping breakfast, says Zeitlin. “Either eat it in the hotel or at a nearby café. Look for eggs with veggies, so that you know you’re getting what you need and that the day is off to a good start.”
Go for Freeze-Dried Foods
Meals made for backpacking or camping are easy to cook since most just need hot water, so they are perfect for quick meals in hotel rooms with only a microwave or hot plate. “Elements just rolled out Whole30 Approved freeze-dried camping meals that work perfectly for a hotel room dinner or breakfast,” says Hartwig. “Believe me, these meals are hearty and delicious!”
Download the Whole30 Cookbook
If you do book a hotel or Airbnb with kitchen facilities, make sure to get The Whole30 Cookbook before you head out, says Zeitlin. Some great options include an egg and vegetable scramble or omelet for breakfast or a vegetable stir-fry, which you can both be made with a hot plate. For a quick snack out of a microwave, try baked sweet potatoes with sliced avocado.
Don’t Be Afraid to Fail
It can be tough to adhere strictly to the plan while on vacation, but try to focus on eating vegetables, lean proteins, vegetables, and fruit. “Take the basis of the plan and make it work for you, for the most part, while you’re traveling and then go back to the Whole30 when you’re back home,” says Zeitlin. Just continue to avoid dairy, grains, legumes, added sugars, and secret sugars to the best of your ability.
Lean on Lunch
Don’t make lunch a meal that you have on the fly, plan out local options that offer a good selection of approved foods. “Aim to stop at a real restaurant that has whole food options on the menu, not a street-cart type meal,” says Zeitlin. And don’t be afraid to ask for what you want, like the sauce or dressing on the side.
Stay Away from Fast Food
“Though Zoe’s Kitchen offers Whole30-approved Mediterranean dishes like kebabs, salads, bowls and more, your better bet would be looking for a fast-casual restaurant that prepares meals to order so you can ask for substitutions,” says Beacom.
Make Dinner Reservations
Use Google or Yelp to find suitable spots for dinner—Hartwig suggests searching for terms like “grass-fed burger” or “gluten-free.” “Always pre-plan out where dinner will be, so that you can check out the menus in advance and have a game plan ahead of time,” says Zeitlin. Be sure to look at the side dish section where you can frequently find some great veggie options.
Eat Out Healthy
“Choose restaurants that offer grilled proteins like chicken, fish or steak then add a couple vegetable or salad sides,” says Beacom. “Bring your own dressings and sauces in small containers to dress up your meal as you’ll likely need to ask that they leave off the dressings and sauces in addition to buns, pasta, rice, etc.”
Head Off Cravings
“Prepare for cravings, even if you’ve been relatively craving-free,” says Hartwig. “The stress of travel, lack of sleep and jetlag, and traveling alone—no one will ever know what you ate—can spell major temptation, so have a plan in place when cravings hit. If I get cravings while at the airport, I’ll eat one of my stashed snacks or find a healthy meal at a restaurant away from the Cinnabon.”
BYO for the Airport
Airports have notoriously horrible (and expensive) options for people trying to stick to a healthy eating plan, so the only way around the airport is to BYO (bring your own) food. “Make your own sandwich wrapped in lettuce leaves with some fruit,” says Zietlin.
Airports are tough to manage when looking for healthy options, but try to find sandwiches in the grab-and-go coolers that you can deconstruct for the protein and lettuce and veggie fillers, says Zeitlin. Even though they are pricey, buy two so that you’re getting enough protein and veggies.
If you’re in a jam and can’t find much Whole30-approved food, search out Paleo-friendly options. But be aware that they aren’t the same, says Hassing. “Whole30 is 100 percent paleo-friendly, however, Paleo isn’t always Whole30-compliant as it can include natural sugars such as honey and maple syrup and even dairy. A paleo option on a menu is definitely a good place to start but always be sure to ask questions like: How was it prepared? Were there any sweeteners added? What oils were used? How about butter?
When in the act of traveling, whether in a plane or in a car or bus, be sure to stay hydrated as it can lead to food craving, says Zeitlin. “Always buy the largest water you can find to stay well hydrated. Hydration is key, so definitely makes sure you’re drinking enough water or unsweetened tea.”
Call Before Dining
Sometimes the online menus of restaurants aren’t up-to-date, so pick up the phone and give them a ring, says Hassing. “Call the restaurant ahead of time during a non-busy hour and ask questions about the menu offerings—you never know the may be familiar about the Whole30.” Don’t be shy, ask them if they have an ingredient list if they aren’t hip to the program.