Broccoli is your friend.
You know it, your mother has long known it, the breast cancer risk reduction research people know it. And because you try to do all you can to (hopefully) keep that evil breast cancer away or from returning, you eat broccoli.
You serve broccoli for dinner at home, pack it for lunch at the office, and pile it high as a party appetizer, snuggled alongside the red pepper hummus. You even try to remember to order it as a side when you eat out.
But if you’re honest? You’d rather have potato chips. Or French fries. Or beer-battered onion rings.
With a Chardonnay chaser.
What does broccoli have to do with a girls’ getaway weekend, you ask? Everything.
Eating in your own kitchen limits opportunities to eat those “other” foods on a regular basis; it’s too much trouble to whip out your “FryDaddy”®, and if you don’t buy the potato chips, you can’t dig into them.
But just when you’re feeling pretty good about this healthy habits thing, your calendar reminds you of the girls’ weekend you planned months ago; a weekend filled with tantalizing restaurant menus to order from without dishes to do afterward, and no kids, carpool, homework, husband/significant other, meetings, deadlines, pets, commitments or responsibilities to answer to – outside of having a great time.
And just like that? The broccoli vanishes, faster than you can say “antioxidants.”
Change Your Environment, Change Your Habits
I’ve written previously about changing your environment to support healthy habits, and the same holds true to support UNHEALTHY habits.
Anytime you leave your normal routine behind to hit the road and travel anywhere, for any reason, opportunities to blow up your healthy habits await you at every turn.
Fresh from a long girls’ weekend in Des Moines (yes, Iowa!), I thought I’d share some of my tips and a few of our experiences to help you navigate the siren song of the endless Chardonnay pour and late night hotel room pizza delivery. If you return from a weekend of friendship and fun feeling restored and revived vs hungover and depleted, you know you served your body (and mind!) well. Which would you rather have?
Bite Back (Nutrition aka Feed Yourself)
- Pack food for the road and the room –
- Whether you drive or fly to your destination, bring food! I brought a cooler packed with almond milk, my favorite plant-based coffee creamer, fresh blueberries, apples, and fresh cherries. I packed separately dried figs (calcium-rich, sweet-tooth-satisfying snack) and homemade peanut butter.
- For a high fiber, quality breakfast to keep you full for hours, add a side of fresh fruit to a homemade mix of ⅓ cup quick cooking oatmeal, 1 scoop protein powder, 1 tablespoon chia seeds, and 2 tablespoons ground flaxseed. Transport an oatmeal mix for each morning you’ll be there in individual portable containers or ziplock bags, to which you’ll add plant-based (or cow’s) milk and honey (snagged from the breakfast bar) and heat in the microwave. We stayed in a room with a kitchenette and access to cereal bowls; normally I pack a heavy ceramic mug (I know – but it works!!) in the event bowls are nowhere to be found.
- We smeared peanut butter on apples to hold us over until a late(r) dinner reservation, and help us order from the menu sanely vs. hangrily. Stir peanut butter into your morning oatmeal to add healthy fat and more protein; a good trick to satisfy and save you in the event lunch is delayed by heavy-duty sightseeing or shopping.
- Choose restaurants with your health goals in mind –
- Traveling is about trying local foods and cuisine – I get it and wholeheartedly agree, but you don’t have to abandon all of your healthy habits to do so. Research restaurants and menus online before you arrive, noting spots that offer veggie side dishes, whole grains, and plant-based options so you can mix up your meal to include both more and less healthy options. For example, choose a side of grilled broccoli(!) vs French fries with your burger one night, and fried onion rings plus a side salad with your grilled chicken the next.
- I eat a vegan diet, my friend doesn’t. While I thought vegan options might be challenging to find in Des Moines, I was happily proven wrong! Every restaurant we visited offered vegan and vegetarian options – even the seafood restaurant where we dined our first night.
However, the plant-based options sometimes need a little protein bump, so here’s my trick. I request the addition of items I see elsewhere on the menu. For example, my pasta dish was described on the menu with only vegetables, but edamame was used in the salmon dish my friend ordered; I asked the chef to add some to my dish, a request he graciously honored.
- Be prepared for healthy-habit fails, because even the best intentions for eating well sometimes fall flat. We were excited to try Magnolia Wine Kitchen and its “superfood” salad of kale, shaved Brussels sprouts, almonds, avocado, and chia seeds with a blueberry vinaigrette. Our waiter declared the salad “huge”, so we split it three ways, although we agreed that even combining the three portions wouldn’t have resulted in a “huge” salad. But then, we’re salad freaks. Unfortunately, with its “bagged” flavor, look and feel, dry, unappealing vegetables, avocado an unnatural shade of yellowish green with a rubbery, inedible texture, and MIA chia seeds – back to the kitchen the superfood salad went. My black bean burger and lentil soup entree were good, and the roasted veggie sandwiches ordered by my partners in crime were declared very good, but I was disappointed I didn’t get that veggie boost I aim for every day. Should you have the same experience, eat a double veggie serving at your next meal, and pat yourself on the back for a solid attempt.
- 3. Use restaurant menu options to test-drive new dishes –
- Many people tell me they want to eat more plant-based meals, but aren’t always sure what to prepare. A restaurant offers a great opportunity to try dishes you can recreate at home, like this tofu gnocchi dish, on the menu at Centro. Paired with a side of broccolini (yes, you’ll likely pay extra for the veggie sides, but the nutrition is WORTH it), this was a satisfying dish I’ve never seen on a menu. Way to go Centro Des Moines!
Move Back (Fitness aka Move Yourself)
- Locate first the fire exits, second the fitness room –
- My strategy at any hotel; a quick visit to the fitness center to learn where it is, what equipment’s available, and the hours of operation.
- Go there. First thing. In the morning. If you start your day without a visit to the fitness center, odds are it won’t happen. I know you’re thinking, “But we’ll walk EVERYWHERE! That’s my workout.” No, that’s activity. When you walk as you window shop or head to dinner, you’re strolling or meandering. Do some strength training or stationary cycling – use your muscles differently and get your heartrate up, stretch a little. Maintaining your fitness routine when traveling helps you not abandon it when you return home because you’ve “missed a few days.”
- Walk EVERYWHERE –
- I love walkable cities, and Des Moines didn’t disappoint. We parked our cars on Thursday, didn’t move them until we left on Sunday, and put miles and miles on our walking shoes (which COMPLEMENTED the a.m.workout.) The concierge/front desk staff can always provide a good map and directions – or do as we did and wander with no agenda to see what spontaneous fun you can find.
- Run If You Can –
- Just outside our hotel was the “Neal Smith Trail”, a bicycle and running/walking path that meanders along the Des Moines river. Make a point to find off-the-beaten spots for a little solitude and exercise; sustenance for your mind and body.
Strike Back (Lifestyle aka Take Care of Yourself)
- Take in the outdoors –
- Meredith Corporation’s Des Moines-based “Better Homes and Gardens” opens their test garden to the public on Friday’s, noon-2:00, May-September. With its rich mix of colors and textures, bubbly fountain, and interesting hardscapes, this lushly planted oasis is a feast for all your senses, as well as a treasure trove of plant tidbits and info courtesy of uber-knowledgeable test garden manager, Sandra Gerdes. Nature feeds your soul and reduces stress – seek it out when you travel.
- Cater to your arts and culture side –
- The John and Mary Pappajohn Sculpture Park (it takes A LOT of pizza), live party band The Punching Pandas at the Des Moines Farmer’s Market, and “Java Joe’s Coffee House 4th Street Theatre Kitten Bomb Improv Comedy” were polar opposite experiences, but each one intrigued, challenged our thinking, and made us laugh – catharsis at its finest. Cultural experiences, the arts, and simply stepping outside our regular routine triggers creativity and a deep appreciation for how glorious and unique this world really is.