How to Eat Healthy on a Cruise Ship

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I recently returned from a 7-day cruise to the Bahamas with 19 family members.

I survived.

<<drops mic, and walks off the stage>>

We had a great time, honestly we did. My persnickety man even said, “I would do that every year with my family”.

But guys, let’s talk about the food.

Abra Pappa Holistic Nutrition, How to eat healthy on a cruise ship

As the ship pulls out of NYC, we are both skeptical as to how this trip will go!

When I travel I am not someone that packs a suitcase full of healthy food, “just in case”. I trust in myself and my ability to find healthy food regardless of where I am in the world. I absolutely love soaking up the local culture through traditional foods and have learned so much about myself and my body through my relationship with food when I travel. 

And this is where my platitudes about healthy eating while traveling end.

The cruise was a little bit different than my typical cultural jaunt.

Cruise ships are known for their food, or rather, their abundance of food. I’m sure you’ve heard tales of the AMAZING food on cruise ships.

The food IS amazing if all you care about is quantity if you are interested in quality, though, well you are in for a different kind of experience.

Options are endless, that’s for sure. You will not go hungry. 

As I walked onto the ship and found my way to our room I couldn’t help but notice the scary proximity of the 24 hour Irish Pub, O’Sheehan’s, (which we quickly renamed Oh-Shenanigans which very soon turned into OhShitheads), only a few doors away, fried food being served ALL DAY EVERY DAY, right outside my door. Yippee!!

The family met there, naturally, as we all settled in. I ordered a drink (vacation has begun!) and looked at the menu. Uh oh, I thought, this may prove to be harder than I thought. 

I settled on a grilled chicken sandwich, the best option I could find and asked the waiter, “do you have any vegetables you can bring me as a side?”

“No.” he said.

“None, at all? You don’t have any vegetables?”, I said sweetly 😉

“No.” he said

Jordan’s mother exclaimed with utter terror “You have no vegetables on the ship?”

“We have vegetables on the ship,” he said, “At this restaurant we don’t have any except the chef salad.”

“Well, ok” I said, “I’ll just have the chicken sandwich then, and I see that you serve mushy peas with the fish and chips, can I just get a little side of mushy peas, please.?”

Something green, I screamed inside, PLEASE just bring me something green!

I ate the sandwich, without the bread, had the lettuce and tomato and onion that came with it and ate my mushy peas.

Relax I told myself, it’s only a week. You have a strong resilient body.

I ordered another drink.

The rest of the week was a lesson in creativity, resilience, and awareness. In all honestly I learned a lot about myself and how I see food.

If you are thinking about taking a cruise or have one planned and are worried about the “free for all” style of dining here are the best tips I can offer you.

How to Eat Healthy on a Cruise Ship

How to eat healthy on a cruise ship

Become a Veggie Hunter

Grab every opportunity you have to eat a vegetable. Seriously, every opportunity. This is where the cruise ship food options were the worst. It was a little bit shocking honestly. I started a new hashtag while on the boat #VeggieHunter. That was me, The Veggie Hunter.

There are veggies, of course, but you’ve got to really look for them. Most of the time they are hiding under some awful thick unrecognizable sauce. Or, oh I wish this part wasn’t true but IT IS, floating (yes, floating) on top of  a large amount of dressing/water, as was the case with my greek salad one night. (I literally tipped the salad bowl over into my empty soup bowl and nearly filled the soup bowl with “salad liquid” Eeeww!!!)

I was a trooper though and found veggies at every meal! Here were some of my tricks:

Omelet station – most mornings I didn’t feel like a big omelet, but I did ogle the spinach and mushrooms on the omelet station. I kindly asked the omelet station master if I could snag a spoonful of each for my plate. He obliged.

Salad Bar – Yes, there was a salad bar and you could find baby spinach there! and that’s where my amazing beets came from! (albeit beets coated in a lot of dressing) If you are dining at the “buffet” style restaurants hit up the salad bar, you will find some green there. Sadly you will most likely not find Kale. The only kale I found was in a turkey and kale lasagna.

BIG DISCOVERY! On my second to last day I found a juice bar. Wha! Wha! Ok, so they weren’t juicing kale but there were juicing carrots and apples and celery. It was not included in the food package, but the juice man made me a huge celery, carrot, lemon, ginger juice for $3 bucks. Totally worth it.

Dinner – When ordering entrees ask for an extra side of veggie or at the very least order a salad with dressing on the side. (note: when an entree states it comes with veggies you can expect ONE sad broccoli floret to arrive. ONE.)

how to eat healthy on a cruise ship

Watch Your Alcohol Intake

You could have watched mine very easily. There may or may not be a video of me doing cartwheels on the deck at 2 am.

I often coach my clients to have an alcohol bank account while on vacation, when you withdraw all of your “funds” (i.e drinks) you are done! Well, I didn’t follow my own advice here and wish I did. It’s too easy to drink too much, so set yourself up with a structure. (p.s. I blame my sister in law 100% for this. She knows it!)

Move Your Body

Move as much as you possibly can – There is a gym on every boat, and classes, and on excursion days there are opportunities to move. I have never felt so sick as I did the morning I decided to run on the treadmill (As it turns out, I get sea sick. Like really sea sick.) Lesson learned. If you too suffer from sea sickness, try something less streneous than the treadmill. At the very minimum take the stairs everywhere. The elevators are super slow anyway. Oh, and dancing and doing cartwheels till 2 am totally counts.

Don’t Eat It Just Because It’s There

If it doesn’t taste good, don’t eat it. Just because there is unlimited lemon cake you don’t have to eat it. The lemon cake sucked. I didn’t eat it. This is by and large THE issue with eating on a cruise ship, TOO MUCH FOOD! Be really cautious of eating just to eat. I was really shocked by the size of some of the plates passing by, breakfast was the biggest culprit, 8 pancakes 10-15 strips of bacon, several pastries, this is NOT an exaggeration. Let me tell you, it is really easy to knock out 10,000 calories a day on a cruise ship, you barely need to try.  Take your time, take deep breaths, be mindful and really taste your food. If it doesn’t taste good, don’t eat it. I left an entire steak one night for this very reason. If you know a buffet scenario is dangerous for you limit how often you dine at the buffet restaurant. I have a good buffet rule 3 options, that’s it (except at the salad bar, you can build a salad with as many veggies as you want!).

how to eat healthy on a cruise ship

Let it Go

You won’t be perfect so let it go, it’s vacation after all. Yes, a cruise is challenging on the food front, no doubt about that. Leave your perfectionism on land, board the boat with increased mindfulness and do your best. If you approach every meal with the “veggie first” philosophy and allow for some moments of grace you will do fine.

After all, if I can do it, YOU CAN DO IT!

Do you have a vacation coming up? Or recently returned from one? Share below in the comment section your BEST food tip for vacation!

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