Summer vacations are the best, but it can be tough to keep healthy eating on track. Here are some tips for eight ways to eat healthy at the cabin this summer (cottage, lake house... wherever you are!)
I look forward to my time back at the family homestead each summer more than anything else. It's just not a summer to me if I haven't been there.
I look forward to relaxing, going out in the boat, chilling on the beach, and of course, the food.
For many people, a week (or four) at the cabin (cottage, lake house, what have you) is a time of incredible indulgence. And frankly, it should be. You’re on vacation, after all, and if you can’t enjoy doughnuts for breakfast when you’re on vacation then when can you?
But, often a week or so of cabin eating can leave us feeling sluggish, bloated, and uncomfortable. So while I always encourage people to enjoy some planned indulgences, I thought I’d also share some strategies to eat healthy at the cabin this summer, even just a little bit.
1. Eat (healthy) in season
We’re in the peak of the best produce season of the year, so take advantage of it! Whether you’re hitting the local farmer’s market, your own garden, or the produce stand, fresh fruit and veggies are in abundance right now.
I bought some fresh local corn while I was in BC, and damned if it wasn’t sweet like candy. Same for peas, carrots, and tomatoes. And then there were the blueberries, raspberries, and blackberries that we were picking warm from the vines and stuffing straight into our mouths. So much goodness! If that doesn't make it tempting to eat healthy I'm not sure what does!
2. Shorten your eating window
It can be a challenge to eat healthy at the cabin for sure, and sometimes rather than trying to stay away from treats it's more successful to simply shorten your eating window. This is usually a key strategy for me.
I figure since I'm probably going to have an indulgent day (let's be real) and would be getting more than enough food, I’ll reduce the number of hours I spend eating each day. Maybe this means no snacking after 8pm, or maybe it means having a healthy brunch instead of an early breakfast AND lunch.
My routine is to get up and have two large mugs of milky black tea and a small handful of almonds. Then I’d go out for an hour walk and when I got back I’d get at my cabin brunch (bagels… so, so, so many proper Montreal-style bagels were harmed in the making of this vacation).
Typically this was around 12 or 1pm, and I really didn’t feel like I needed anything substantial earlier than that most days. Moreover, since the evenings were more indulgent with big dinners and desserts, I felt like my body needed a bit of a break from food getting crammed in before we started the whole shebang again.
Digestion uses up a lot of resources in our bodies, after all. This is just what felt good for my body – be sure to listen to yours.
3. Mind the grazing
Why the people gotta bring so much dang snack mix? Why they make it so hard to eat healthy at the cabin? I tell ya, the snack mix (and chips, and crackers, and cheese) were everywhere!
When there’s lots of tasty finger foods that are easy to grab as you move through your space, you tend to eat more than you realize. Often during summer vacation I find myself eating all day long, but never really eating a proper meal.
Sound familiar? If dinner rolls around and you find you’re not really hungry, perhaps you’ve been grazing all day long without really thinking about it. Which leads me to…
4. Snack smart
Looking back to point number one, there is lots of awesome produce in season right now. So chop up some carrots, slice some cucumbers, and make yourself a veggie platter. Make some hummus for that protein + produce combo I’m harping on about all the time.
Or make a fruit salad. Or just wash some grapes and put them on a plate where people can access them. If the healthy choices are on hand they’re easier to choose, ya know? It's not so hard to eat healthy at the cabin after all!
Also, plate your snacks! Rather than eating chips from a bag or cheese slices straight from the fridge, make yourself a nice snack platter. Studies have shown that people who eat food cut up into small pieces find themselves to be more satisfied than those who ate the same amount of food in large servings.
Eating small pieces gives your brain time to recognize that you’re full, AND it’s more fun.
5. Move your body
It can be so tempting to spend your vacation doing nothing but lying around and reading books.
*Sigh* I remember those days.
But make an effort each day to do something. Go for a hike. Go for a swim. Join in your mom's daily walking group. Paddle boarding. Kayaking. Whatever you've got access to. Your body will thank you!
6. Consider happy hour
Usually a week at the cabin involves a whole lotta booze. Here’s the thing about alcohol; it contains 7 calories per gram. Consider that fat contains 9 calories per gram, while protein and carbohydrates each contain 4 calories per gram, and you can see that your afternoon frosé packs a major punch in the calorie department.
And, because alcohol is alcohol, your body has to process those calories before it does anything else, otherwise we’d be drunk all the time. So drinking not only packs in empty calories, but it also presses a metabolic pause button on processing the other stuff you’ve been indulging in. Recipe for disaster, right?
Well, let’s just remember that we’re on vacation and vacations don’t last forever. I probably had at least one drink most days, and several drinks on some days. So relax and enjoy your vacation.
At the same time, be mindful to stay hydrated with plenty of water. If it’s hot outside and you’re drinking for refreshment, choose lower alcohol options such as light beer, white wine spritzers, shandys, radlers, etc. Also be mindful that you’ve eaten before you start drinking, and of what you’re eating while you’re drinking. And pace yourself! Nobody wants to ruin their vacation with a nasty hangover.
7. Make a dinner roster
For the last couple of years when my family has come together in the summer, we've put a calendar up on the fridge so that people can sign up for dinner nights. This not only means that one person (hi mom!) doesn’t get stuck doing all the cooking, but it also means that the person who is responsible for organizing dinner on a particular night is going in fresh.
Often on vacation we’re spending all day at the beach, on the boat, or doing other activities, and by the time dinner rolls around everyone is hungry but also tired. So we tend to reach for easy fixes and pre-made foods that aren’t necessarily the healthiest options.
Creating a vacation meal plan, or a dinner roster, increases the chances that you'll eat healthy at the cabin by a long shot.
8. Indulge already!
Lastly, FFS, you are on vacation! Enjoy! Relax! Enjoy! You'll be back to regular life soon enough.
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Originally published August 2017. Edited, updated, and republished July 2018.