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How to Eat Healthy on a Cruise

Hi friends! As you know, Matt and I had the pleasure of going on a cruise over New Year’s as part of my partnership with Carnival. I’ll be sharing two health-focused recaps from our cruising adventures. First up is this post about how to eat healthy on a cruise. On Thursday, I’ll share how we stayed active while cruising!

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With the exception of a smoothie and an afternoon iced latte, we ate all of our meals/snacks on board the cruise ship. Cruises are often known for decadence when it comes to food – it’s available all day, every day, in unlimited portions, and it’s certainly not all healthy. That said, it is possible to eat healthy while on a cruise ship – while still enjoying yourself, too! Here’s how I did it.

Breakfast

Breakfast is not usually a time when I am in the mood to indulge, so I take advantage by keeping breakfast on the healthier side. This doesn’t mean restricting calories or portions – doing that would set you up to fail later on in the day – just that I aim for a good balance of whole grains, protein, and “good fat,” with a focus on real food vs. the more processed or greasy options.

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Going with intuitive eating, I mixed things up based on what I was in the mood for each morning.

MY OTHER RECIPES
 

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In general, though, my breakfasts involved a mix of:

  • Eggs (scrambled with tomato or hard boiled) or in veggie omelette form
  • Oatmeal (with nuts/fruit and/or cottage cheese) or toast
  • Fruit (the grapefruit was especially delicious – I don’t eat grapefruit much at home because I’m too lazy to slice it, so I took advantage)
  • I also had bacon on the first day for good measure ;)

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In the second half of the trip, I discovered this awesome “Norlander” European-style bread. I must try to make this at home – I loved it. I had it with peanut butter a fair amount.

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On the days I didn’t have the bread for breakfast, I packed it to have as a late morning or afternoon snack with peanut butter and sometimes banana too.

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The inside bag of a cereal box ended up being the perfect size for storing it for later!

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Lunch

I kept lunches healthy-ish for the most part as well, again going by what I was in the mood for though. If I was craving something that wasn’t so healthy, I didn’t deny myself. That always backfires later on!

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Carnival had a really nice, big salad bar every day for lunch with a lot of healthy options so all my lunches involved either a big salad as my main dish or a salad as a side to whatever I was more in the mood for.

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One day I had a salad with a bean/chicken/veggie burrito:

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Another day I was craving a German-style sausage with sauerkraut, so I had that with a big salad:

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I also enjoyed pizza once for lunch – they had a really awesome freshly made to order Italian-style (thin crust, super light on the cheese) pizza bar that was open 24/7. I loved their mushroom variety topped with fresh arugula!

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Snacks

Not gonna lie – I definitely enjoyed pizza twice for afternoon snacks! It was so delicious – and again, there’s no need to eat perfectly all the time, especially when you’re on vacation. I ate veggies when I craved them, and pizza when I craved it too.

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I also had bread and peanut butter and fresh fruit leftover from breakfast for some snacks, as well as some nuts and dried fruit I brought from home.

One of the keys for intuitive eating is to indulge when it’s worth it – not just because it’s there. For me, afternoon fruity cocktails are totally not worth it – I usually have a few sips before the sweetness starts to make me feel sick. And I don’t love drinking in the afternoon when I’m in the hot sun, either – it doesn’t leave me feeling so great. That said, I did enjoy some Prosecco/wine for happy hour before dinner a few nights once the sun had gone down! It was vacation after all. :)

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Dinner

Dinner was the time when I indulged the most – although I still made sure to focus on eating slowly and mindfully, and enjoying what I was having. I also didn’t get dessert every single night just because I could – only when I was really in the mood for it (I think I got it 3 or 4 out of the 7 nights – on the other nights, I had some herbal tea instead). Our favorite was the chocolate melting cake – delicious!

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Another key with dinner was staying mindful enough to stop when I was comfortably full, not stuffed. This usually meant not finishing all of my appetizer/meals/dessert. I always prefer to have a lot of tastes of things, so this worked out well while still leaving me satisfied vs. stuffed.

Most of the nights on the ship we dined in the dining room with our good friends Melli and Mortiz. When I was in Switzerland this summer with Melli (my German friend who I met when we were roommates when I was teaching English in Prague, and have stayed in good touch with since), I discovered that she had just booked a cruise with her husband right at the same time that we were looking. I was so excited that we were able to get on the same cruise! Getting to spend time with them was so much fun and such a sweet bonus.

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We had a really fun waiter named Rolie from the Philippines who took very good care of us. We were sad to say goodbye to him on the last night! (And yes, my face is bright red – my rosacea does not love the sun like I do.)

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One nice thing about the dining room menus was that they had “healthy options” noted with a heart symbol next to them. I ordered a few of those options on nights I was in the mood for something lighter!

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The only thing I didn’t love was that the “healthy” dessert options were made with artificial sweeteners – yuck. Real dessert or no dessert, thank you!

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My favorite meal in the dining room was the broiled lobster and shrimp they had one night – soooo good.

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Although this lamb was a close second:

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We also went to the steakhouse (which requires a special booking and an extra fee) for dinner one night, just the two of us – the food was PHENOMENAL. Seriously among the best dinners I’ve had. Fancy and fun atmosphere, too! I had the tuna tartare and the surf and turf – so good. No dessert, just tea for both of us – we were more than satisfied after all this good food!

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So – there you have it! I always believe that being healthy means not ALWAYS being healthy, so this post about eating healthy of course needed to include some indulgence, too. I’ll close with a few main takeaways that are applicable not only when on a cruise ship, but in normal life, too:

  • Indulge when it’s worth it and you are really in the mood to, not just because you can/it’s there
  • Enjoy what you are eating/drinking – savor it and eat/drink slowly
  • Pay attention to fullness cues, stopping when you are satisfied, not stuffed
  • Load up on veggies when you can
  • Don’t feel guilty for indulging if you’ve decided it’s worth it

Have you ever been on a cruise? How did you eat healthy while on the high seas?

This post was created as part of my collaboration with Carnival. As always, all of the opinions, thoughts, and ideas in this post are my own.

Comments

  1. 1

    Great article Anne! I start missing the food already when I look at you pictures. And thanks again for introducing me to the awesomeness of oatmeal with cottage cheese! Soooo good :-)
    Can’t wait for your second article. Have you checked out mine already? http://living-in-stuttgart.com/2015/01/11/life-on-board-the-beautiful-carnival-splendor/ I didn’t even try to “compete” with you when it comes to describing what we ate and simply refered to your blog :-)
    PS: And yes, the grapefruit was definitely one of the best I ever had! :-)

  2. 3

    I have only been on one cruise and I think I ate fairly well. It was a long time ago so I don’t completely remember. I really enjoy the fresh fruit and salads. I think I indulged a little too much in the ice cream they always had available. If I did it now I would probaby choose dessert at dinner or the ice cream! Every day for both was kind of a lot. :-) Looks like you had a wonderful time on your cruise!

  3. 4

    I’ve never been on a cruise. I don’t think I’m the cruise type (I hate crowds!), but there is something to be said for that type of travel. I can imagine it’s easy for most people to overindulge with the variety of foods available whenever you want, especially when people are in a vacation state of mind.
    When we travel I actually tend to lose weight because we go, go, go all day long and then when we do sit down to eat I’m overly hungry so that I’m no longer hungry. I know, not the healthiest way to be. We try to always have snacks with us (portable fruit, nut butters, protein bars) and lots of water and sometimes the snacks become our meals. That being said, because we go all day, I also feel like I have liberty to indulge when the opportunities arise.
    I love what you said about indulging because you want to, not because it’s there. I think that’s incredibly important advice in all situations. I find I’m often one of the few people not drinking when others are because, honestly, it’s just not worth it. Unless it’s dinner time or later, it leaves me feeling gross and drowsy.

  4. 5

    Yes, my husband and I were on a Carnival Cruise for our honeymoon the week of hurricane Sandy. We spent the cruise running away from the hurricane. There was no sun but we had yummy food and didn’t die.

  5. 7

    Love that the healthy options are “real” food and not just salads…it’s hard to convince myself that I want a salad when everyone around me is having steak or something! And agreed about desserts…artificial sweeteners don’t satisfy me. I’d rather have a small scoop of regular ice cream than a large scoop of sugar-free, especially since my diet doesn’t require it.

  6. 8

    Fun coincidence! I just went on a 3 day Carnival cruise right AFTER New Years to Ensenada for a bachelorette party. It’s funny, they had a lot of the same menu items (like lobster, yum!). I totally want to recreate that Carnival Melting Cake – I think I had it for dessert every night!

  7. 10

    I haven’t been on a cruise since 2008. It was Royal Caribbean and the food was terrible! I didn’t eat much and I’m really not that picky of an eater =) Hopefully they’re food has improved since.

  8. 11

    I’ve never been on a cruise, but I think these tips apply really well for any sort of vacation. I try to choose my indulgences by whatever the specialties are in the area. There would be no way to visit Italy without gelato, the south without sweet tea, etc. My favorite tip (and the one I need to practice) is eating slowly and really enjoying what you’re eating. A few bites of something indulgent is usually just enough!

  9. 12

    I love your tips and honesty! Moderation is always a good way to go, but indulging on vacation is a treat! :)

  10. 13

    Great write up, I haven’t been on a cruise since I was a kid, but I remember it was a pretty big all you can eat experience. Even at the plated dinners I remember requesting multiple dinners sometime. Fortunately, at that point I was a 3 sport athlete who still had a foot to grow.

    These are great tips for vacation though, it’s easy to get carried away.

  11. 14

    I’ve actually never been on a cruise, although your post definitely made me want to go :) Especially since the food seemed good, I have bad experience with all inclusives for vacation and I prefer to eat like the locals, but it looks like you really enjoyed the food and it all looked so fresh!! I agree with indulging when you want it not because its there! Glad you had a great trip

    • 15

      I had never been on a cruise before 2012. I had it in my head that cruising was still like on The Love Boat. Boy was I wrong! I am hooked on Carnival Cruises! They really are fun and there’s so much to do on the ships and in each port! The food is really good. I indulged too much last time on the 24 hour ice cream and pizza because let’s face it–you can’t get that anywhere else. I gained 4 lbs. I’m going on another Carnival cruise soon and I am going to moderate my eating habits a little more.

  12. 16

    Oh man that food is making me so hungry! I havent been on a cruise, but for our honeymoon in the Maldives there were meal buffets every day and it was easy to overindulge. I always made sure to fill up my plate with healthy options first and then there would be no room for the heavier ones. That doesnt mean that I didn’t jump on some desserts though!

  13. 17

    Your meals look awesome! I have been on a cruise and found it definitely takes a lot of self discipline to eat healthy when free food is right around every corner (#alltheicecream). Amen for intuitive eating and recognizing food is fuel for your body rather than just yummy-ness on the taste buds :). Great post, Anne!

  14. 18

    Really appreciate your mindful, relaxed and totally sustainable approach to eating!

  15. 19

    I went on a Carnival cruise last year for my honeymoon, and shockingly lost a couple pounds from all of the healthy options and from walking around the different cities for 6+ hours a day. The omelette bar with tons of veggies and grilled salmon at dinner were my faves! :)

    It looks like you guys had an amazing time!

  16. 21

    looks like SO much fun! i want to go on a cruise now :). but not really. i could eat anything on a cruise — healthy or unhealthy — because there’d be no way i’d be able to actually hold it down. #seasick

  17. 22

    Your vacation eating style looks a lot like mine! I usually stick to fruit/yogurt/granola for breakfast, salads and lighter things for lunch, then whatever I feel like for dinner. I can’t eat heavy stuff during the day when I know I’ll be in the heat and sun all day.

  18. 23

    Thanks for sharing your advice Anne! I haven’t been on a cruise, but I would love to! But I guess it’s easy to fall into some of those not so great habits any time you are on a vacation and out of your routine. I’m trying to use your takeaways every day. I’ve still got some of those bad habits to break, but I’ll get there :)

  19. 24

    We cruise several times a year and have gone from pure gluttony (when we were younger) to healthy eating, doing a lot of the same things you do. We always have breakfast brought to our stateroom which consists of oatmeal,fruit, and coffee or tea. For lunch we have a healthy salad. Ships are having more healthy choices than they used to. I do like my cappuccino on board, and I indulge once or twice a day. We also exercise every day. Usually a treadmill jog/run or around the deck. Dinner is where we may splurge, with some wine, too. We may have a vegetarian meal and have a dessert for a little splurge. Heading out for a river cruise in April.I love your blog!

  20. 25

    Tuna tartare might be my weakness. Love it and that one looks really good! All of the food does! I am a horrible person on vacation. I love to try new things and most of trips are usually planned AROUND food… but these are really good tips. I definitely agree about not skimping on breakfast! You just leave yourself starving and more ravenous later!

  21. 26
    Roadrunner says:

    Wonderful post, wonderful tips! Looks like great fun — and moderation, once again…

  22. 27

    Fun post, Anne! The food looks AMAZING and my mouth was watering after just a few paragraphs. Glad you had a fun trip!

  23. 28

    I love that you included desserts and pizza and still can call your meals healthy! I was worried you were going to advise readers to miss out on all the amazing cruise food. Great tips!

  24. 30

    I must say I’ve been able to eat healthy on a cruise too! A few years ago I was doing weight watchers and was so close to my goal at cruise time. I took the steps every day on the cruise and let me tell you I love food…especially free vacation food! So taking the steps was worth the sacrifice because I did NOT deprive myself. When I returned from the cruise not only had I lost two pounds but I met my lifetime goal weight for weigh watchers! Here I am nine years later within six pounds of that goal weight!

  25. 32

    i love your blog!! When my mom passed away at the age of 54, I finally talked my Dad into cruising and traveling while he was still fairly young and able. This will be his 4th cruise and my 5th in February! Always with Carnival. We have taken the same stance with food options as well. All in moderation, eat when you want not because you have to, stay lighter for breakfast and lunch but enough to sustain you for a while and indulge when you feel like it! Deprivation doesn’t solve anything! I also am not fond of artificial sugar, and I’m diabetic. But I feel I would rather have a couple bites of the real stuff then to eat something I could proby find at home….just take extra medication.
    On a foot note, I always like to tell people….many people compare being on a cruise ship to being on a fishing boat where you bounce around a lot. TOTALLY different. Many times you don’t realize you are even floating. My suggestion is…take a 3 day cruise first to see if it bothers you or just to get the gist of it. This way you will have the experience but won’t get stuck out for a week. If you hold up good…start planning your next one. If not, then you at least know you tried and won’t do it again. Cruises are so worth it and not as hard as you would think!!

    • 33

      Wonderful – enjoy cruising in February! And you’re right – most of the time we didn’t feel the boat much! There was only one day really that was rougher.

  26. 34

    As a heart attack survivor needing to eat healthy I just cringe watching people eat on cruises and what they are doing to their bodies. Your article is right on as there are so many healthy options and yes I do indulge a little myself in some unhealthy foods I normally wouldn’t eat. I did notice your article didn’t include the Mongolian Wok as a healthy alternative for lunch which is 1 of my favorites.

  27. 36

    We usually go on a Carnival cruise once a year, however, in 2014 we went on 4 Carnival cruises. Eating healthy is very hard when everyone you’re traveling with is eating everything in sight. But with all the walking and swimming we do get a lot of exercise. Each cruise I vow to hit the gym every morning, but actually only make it once or twice.
    Even though I end up going all out because I’m on vacation, there are so many healthy options on Carnival cruises and their menu from start to finish is second to none … as is their staff.

  28. 37

    I couldn’t agree more with your eating tactics! A healthy diet doesn’t involve deprivation.

  29. 38

    What a wonderful article! This is almost the exact approach I take on cruises. I have successfully lost over 125 lbs. (on Weight Watchers) and have kept cruising in my life as my vacation and have usually come back 2-3 lbs. lighter but didn’t not enjoy the food! I kept active by walking the stairs and never using the elevators and walking in the mornings and evenings after dinner and hitting the gym onboard as well.

  30. 40

    Came here after your posted was recommended by Elisabeth Almekinder of thediabetescouncil. Thank you for sharing these pics.

  31. 42

    Hey Anne,

    So I and my wife planned to go on a cruise after checking your post. I think diabetes wouldn’t e an issue. I see they have gotten some amazing options. Plan is Canada – Carib… :) and here is the article by Elisabeth I was talking about http://www.thediabetescouncil.com/managing-your-diabetes-on-a-cruise/

    I have had bad experience on a cruise so that is why I am sort of reluctant to try it again but lets see how it goes this time around.

    Thank you again,
    Peter

  32. 44
    DonnaNScott says:

    17 Carnival cruises for us. We don’t worry about dining too much. We avoid the Lido buffett at all times due to selection as well as hygiene issues. Lots of other great choices…we dislike the thin puzza and like the deli and the sushi. We drink all day on vacation but I prefer real cocktails and avoid fruity mixtures. We always take a fruit and cheese platter plated in the MDR back to our room for a snack and since we are both platinum, we get 2 trays of strawberries (we ask for them on separate days).

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