This week my family and I went on a very rare vacation. My husband, whom I love dearly, is a bonafide workaholic, and so this is the first real multi-day getaway we’ve had since the birth of our oldest, which was nine years ago.
On the Ketogenic Success Facebook group we get a lot of questions about how to go on vacation at various locations and remain keto-compliant. It’s true that some places will be easier than others to find keto-friendly options, and sometimes you may have to bring your own food. This week, we went to what is probably the hardest place on earth to try and eat keto: a theme park resort.
Our not-so-exotic location was relatively close to home, but far enough that several days on site felt like we were genuinely AWAY.
The resort is actually very good about helping you to customize your meals around individual dietary needs. The catch? You must contact the culinary department at least fourteen days prior to arrival to make special arrangements.
Seeing as our vacation was planned at the last minute, I didn’t have enough notice to be able to get the special meal treatment, so I had to make-do with what was readily available at the parks and the hotel resort. The following is a chronicle of how, with the help of their handy app and some careful surveying of the land, I managed to stay keto-compliant and, hopefully, will serve as inspiration for you to remain keto on vacation, too. After all, if I can do it at theme parks famous for burgers, fries, popcorn, ice cream, and breading everything, you can make it work just about anywhere.
First up: Prep.
There are snack stands everywhere at the theme park, and I can tell you from the experience of at least yearly visits that most choices at the stands are decidedly NOT keto-friendly. In recent years they’ve added what I’m sure they consider “healthy” choices, but most of those consist of yogurt and fruit with dip. You may, upon occasion, come across some carrots and celery with dip, but it’s very hard to find.
Since I’m a planner by nature, I planned for the worst-case scenario and brought some things along to make sure I didn’t dive into the popcorn and soda.
On Monday morning we arrived at our hotel, dropped our stuff in the room, and headed out to our first stop. We had a light breakfast at home, and mine consisted of a fatty coffee and 2 pieces of bacon. So we were all pretty hungry by around 1 pm. We headed to one of the food joints nearby, and I found a southwest grilled chicken salad (Meal 1) on their menu. After asking them to hold the black bean relish and sugary dressing, I ended up with a decent sized bowl of salad mix topped with half a grilled chicken breast and a good-sized scoop of chopped avocado. I topped it off with salt, pepper, and a packet of blue cheese dressing.
It was very tasty and filling.
My second vacation meal was dinner that night. After walking almost ten miles at the park, the hotel, and spending the late afternoon swimming in the pool, we did dinner at the hotel restaurant before heading back to the park to ride a few things one last time. Dinner (Meal 2) consisted of pot roast with carrots and mushrooms (I asked them to go light on my carrots and they did a very good job of it), and a side salad that I again topped with salt, pepper, and blue cheese dressing.
Day one down. Two more to go.
The next morning we hit up the hotel dining area around 7 am for a large breakfast before going out for our second day. They had gigantic breakfast bowls (Meal 3) as part of their offerings, so that’s what I got. I asked for a southwest bowl with no potatoes, and received a heaping plate of eggs, chopped ham, onion, green peppers, and melted cheese. I also got a side of bacon and had a fatty coffee that I made in my blender bottle with powdered coconut oil, liquid stevia, and half n half. I added some salt, pepper, and butter to my breakfast bowl and was very full. So full, in fact, that we did not eat again until 4 pm.
For our early dinner (Meal 4) we found a burger joint, where I had a bacon and cheese (shredded, not the gross, carb-laden “cheese” sauce) hot dog. I grabbed some green beans with salt and pepper as my side, and sidled up to their topping bar where I smothered my dog with mayo, mustard, onions, and pickles. Dinner was great, and I wasn’t hungry again until much later in the evening (around 9 pm) when the kids and hubby stopped for ice cream. I walked down two shops to the coffee joint and got a plain iced coffee blended with ice, heavy cream, and some sugar free caramel flavor. I accompanied this treat with one packet of my almond butter and was good to go. I sat with my family while they were enjoying their sweet treat and didn’t feel deprived in the least.
Day two gone, one more to go.
On the morning of our last day we hit the hotel cantina again for another round of breakfast bowls and bacon (Meal 5), which I had with fatty coffee. Afterwards we headed out for our final day. After riding a few things and checking out some of the tours, we found a place for a late lunch/early dinner at around 4 pm. This was the only sit-down, table service place we patronized on the entire trip and it was worth it. The menu didn’t seem to have a lot to offer the carb-conscious, but after explaining briefly to my server that I avoid carbs and sugar, I settled on the Kobe beef burger, bunless, and the server offered to replace the side of fries or rice with a bowl of stir fried veggies. My plate arrived (Meal 6) and looked gorgeous! The veggie bowl consisted of onions, peppers, mushrooms, snow peas, baby bok choy, and some carrot sticks which I mostly ate around. After stirring in a smidgen of the offered soy sauce and Sriracha, I must say I was greatly pleased with this side. The chef also garnished my plate with a small sample of cucumber salad, which was delicious. The burger was as thick and round as a steak and was probably the best restaurant bunless burger I’ve ever had. It was served with a sesame-soy sauce mayonnaise as a condiment which really complimented the burger well. This was probably my favorite meal of the trip and it was well worth the price and effort of sorting through the menu.
Overall, I’m declaring this vacation a great success! Not only did we have a wonderful time at the parks riding all the rides and enjoying the shows, I did not feel at all deprived or put upon food-wise, and not even once did I go hungry. All but one of our meals, including those at the hotel, were counter-service only establishments and I was able to find something filling and tasty for each meal. After this experience here are my recommendations for eating on vacation:
- Call Ahead
- Do Your Research
- Be Prepared
If you know where you’re going far enough in advance, you can contact your resort or vacation destination and explain your dietary needs with an employee. The vast majority of destinations, including ours, are opening up their menus to try and make them more friendly to those with food allergies and special dietary needs. While keto/low carb aren’t always on those special menus, the fact that they have special menus at all shows that vacation spots recognize that there are a lot of different dietary needs and are willing to help people who can’t or won’t eat the standard fare.
The park we visited has an app you can download on your phone that allows you to reserve a table at any table service restaurant on their property ahead of time. The app also lists the daily breakfast, lunch, and dinner offerings at every single food establishment on site. There really is no excuse for settling for the popcorn or french fries when you can easily find a place with compliant options if you’re willing to look and tweak a bit. A lot of other theme parks are either offering similar apps or putting their information online for those who need to research their options ahead of time. If your destination is the beach or a famous city, check out what’s in the area online, or call your hotel to get an idea.
Bring snacks that store easily. If your location will have refrigeration available, your take-along options are even greater.
So long as you’re willing to do a bit of minimal leg work, you can absolutely go on vacation and remain keto-compliant. The pay-off comes when everyone else is feeling gross and bloated and gets home to find they’ve gained weight, you will be satiated and avoid the bloat and weight gain that usually follows indulging while on vacation.
I spent three days having a blast with my family at the theme parks, and I didn’t starve, didn’t feel deprived in the least, and didn’t suffer any of the consequences of a vacation carb-fest. I kept up with my kids all day and had plenty of energy.
I call that a win.