Staying Healthy and Happy on Holiday in Florida
I’ve just come back from a two week trip to Florida which was amazing. We got to travel around a bit so I got to see Orlando, Fort Lauderdale, Miami, Naples, Marco Island and Fort Myers Beach. It was my first time in Florida but it definitely won’t be my last!
Naturally enough two weeks of travelling around meant more eating out, eating on the go and on the road and navigating menu’s and supermarkets. If you are trying to lose weight or have a restrictive diet due to intolerances or illness like me, this can prove tricky. But I’ve come up with a few tips that helped me and may prove useful to you.
Before I go anywhere I decide on what my non-negotiables are, basically the foods that under no circumstances can I have. For me this is always gluten and dairy along with nightshades like chillies and tomatoes as well as certain FODMAP foods that I know I’ll have a strong reaction to like onions (especially raw). I know that if I have these foods, I’m not going to feel healthy or happy and if I’m on holidays I want to feel good!
Then I decide on what I can have a little more flexibility about. These are usually foods that I know that I could probably have once in a while and not have a bad reaction to but not something I’d have all the time. For me this could be grains like rice, gluten free bread, peanut butter, alcohol, FODMAP foods that I tend not to react badly to like mangoes etc. While they’re not something I’d ideally have, I know that if there are no other options available to me and if I’m in a bind, I could have them without too much trouble as long as I didn’t have them too much.
When we were booking accommodation, we were looking for places that ideally had a kitchen but at a minimum a refrigerator. We were lucky in that three of the six places we stayed had a full working kitchen. It meant that we were able to have at least our breakfast (if not another meal too) there. The other three places had fridges which were great for storing salads, fruits, leftovers from dinners etc.
Before travelling I did some research on what was available with regards restaurants and supermarkets in the areas I was going to stay in. I asked people for suggestions on social media (always good to get a locals recommendations), I looked up google maps to see what was around our hotels and I also googled ‘green juice’, ‘green smoothies’, ‘salads’, ‘healthy eating’ for the areas I was staying to see what would come up. Usually places serving green juice would have other healthy options on their menus too. I also found out what supermarkets were around so I knew where I’d be able to buy fruits and veg etc.
A little pet peeve of mine is that when you book flights you seem to only get one option for meals (i.e. gluten free or vegetarian or dairy free etc). While my travel agent did put down that I was both gluten and dairy free, the airline (Virgin Atlantic) only had a gluten free meal available for me! The only thing that was suitable was a teeny tiny salad of leaves and they offered me a packet of potato crisps (chips). For an eight/nine hour flight!!! Luckily I’ve learnt from previous long haul flights to bring food with me so I had a packed lunch of grilled chicken and steamed vegetables, a tin of mackerel in olive oil (only opened in emergencies due to the strong smell) and lots of healthy snacks (bananas, grapes, nuts, coconut bars etc) so I was fine. The airline rectified my meal for my journey back which was much better (but I still brought a packed meal, snacks and tinned sardines with me just in case J).
A must for the flight is water. It’s really important to stay hydrated. I also brought ginger chews, peppermint tea and peppermint oil tablets to beat the bloat on the flight itself. This all worked a treat.
The two supermarkets we used while in Florida were Publix and Whole Foods Market. We stocked up on fruit like melons and strawberries, eggs, bacon, green tea and other breakfast items mainly. We also bought freshly made sushi and seaweed salads a few times which we were impressed with. While I couldn’t find coconut (dairy free) yogurt in Publix, I picked it up in Whole Foods. The brand was So Delicious which I didn’t find that delicious (it had the texture of wall paper paste). I also was astonished to count that it had 16 ingredients compared to the three ingredients in the Coyo brand I get at home. I did however pick up the So Delicious coconut (dairy free) ice cream in Publix and that was pretty delicious! So thumbs up for the ice-cream and thumbs down for the yogurt!
I was delighted that it was easy to get kombucha in both supermarkets which I had most days when I was chilling out in our hotel before going out for dinner. Not only do I love the taste but it’s a good way to get some beneficial probiotics.
I was really impressed with the range of supplements, natural body care products and healthy snacks available in Whole Foods and picked up a lot of stuff that I find hard to source here in Ireland. I was obsessed with plantain chips and basically wanted to bring a whole suitcase full home with me!
To keep my system working well and to keep things ticking along (if you get my drift) I brought some magnesium citrate (with B6) tablets with me which I took the first few days. I also took my probiotics every day. I bought some DGL (liquorice root) which I took before meals. It’s good for lining the gut. Along with starting every day with warm lemon water and drinking water throughout the day, I feel this all helped my system stay well while away.
While ideally we would have eaten in places that I had researched before going over, this didn’t happen too often. I know what type of restaurants tend to be easier to eat in with intolerances so I usually avoid Mexican, Thai, Indian and Chinese restaurants that serve spicy foods (chillies, paprika, curry etc) and we tended to go with steak houses, Italian, Japanese or bistro-type places.
I’d usually have a look over the menu and see if there any gluten and dairy free options (getting gluten free is much easier than getting both gluten and dairy free) and if there was anything I could work with like salads, vegetables, grilled fish or chicken, steak etc. Once there are options somewhere on the menu I know that something could be rustled up for me. It was very rare that I could have anything straight from the menu but everywhere was pretty accommodating to my needs. It may have meant picking something from the starters with a couple of sides or it could have been a main with some substitutions.
Once I had a look over the menu and had a general idea of what I wanted, I’d make sure to say to the waiter that I had both gluten and dairy intolerances (amongst other things) and would ask them if they could recommend the dishes that could work for me. In one or two places, the chef came out to talk to me about what they could do for me. So together we worked out a meal of salad or steamed vegetables with plain meat and I always specified that I wanted any dressings on the side or just asked for olive oil and lemon on the side.
There were only one or two places that the food came out a little boring. Usually there was enough variety in the vegetables, herbs, olives, added fruit or nuts etc to make the dish interesting. And the portion sizes were always HUGE so I never left anywhere hungry, that’s for sure.
Over the two weeks I had a variety of fish, chicken, turkey and beef dishes and I never felt like I was eating the same thing every day.
On the odd occasion we went out for breakfast. I usually went for fruit with a side of bacon or I’d track down a place for an acai bowl and in one place I had peanut butter on gluten free toast.
As I was on holidays I wasn’t going to worry too much about having a few treats. My treats of choice mentioned before were plantain chips and coconut ice-cream as well as sorbets. In Tommy Bahama’s in Naples I got the biggest most out of this world plate of plantain chips which I’m going to try replicating at home. I loved that Pinkberry is now doing a dairy free option – a yummy mango soft serve (made of mango and ice – that’s it). I also indulged in sorbet any chance I got and when I was in Universal in Orlando, I asked the guys in Ben & Jerry’s to top my berry sorbet with banana which they did no problem!
Here are some of my recommendations for Florida:
Maggiano’s Little Italy – Italian restaurants can be hit or miss (lots of pizza and pastas etc) but I got a huge grilled salmon salad here. It was easy to get substitutions and make up my own salad. The restaurant has a great atmosphere too and was packed as it’s a popular place.
Outback Steak House – I know that this is a chain but these guys get a mention as they were so accommodating to my dietary needs and reassured me how everything was going to be cooked etc. I got a really tasty grilled salmon with crunchy steamed vegetables. Really impressed.
Greens & Grille – This place is a build your own salad bar beside Mall at Millenia. Great selection of vegetables and proteins etc. so a good option if you are at the mall.
Myapapaya – I got the most amazing acai bowl here and I wish I had discovered the place sooner as I pretty much wanted everything on their menu – green juices, green smoothies, gluten and dairy free snacks, salads etc. Next time!
Casablanca Café – I got a yummy kale salad with grapes, prosciutto and pine nuts and freshly grilled sardines plus the setting and atmosphere was fabulous. I’ve made the salad since coming home and think it’ll be one I’ll make again and again. The restaurant itself is in a great location, is always busy so has a buzzy atmosphere and has also been voted the most romantic restaurant in Fort Lauderdale and I can see why! Would thoroughly recommend it.
I loved the Coconut Grove area of Miami. It was such a contrast to the craziness of South Beach. It definitely had a more relaxed vibe. We had a lovely lazy lunch in Green Street Cafe where they made me up a lovely grilled salmon salad. I was totally stuffed afterwards. If I was going back to Miami I’d love to explore Coconut Grove more.
Marco Island is beautiful. The white sandy beaches and turquoise sea blew me away. We went for lunch in the marina at Mangos Dockside Bistro and had a table outside overlooking the boats. I got a really fresh spinach salad with juicy strawberries and grilled chicken. Delicious!
Mercato was a great place for restaurants and bars with a bit of a buzzy atmosphere. We actually ate here every night because of the atmosphere and proximity to our hotel. We tried Italian, steak and burgers here but there’s also Japanese, Mexican, bistro’s and pubs. A good selection of places. There’s also a Whole Foods here too which was handy.
Tommy Bahamas. We went here one lunch time and I was so impressed. As I wasn’t that hungry I went for two sides – roasted broccoli and plantain chips. I was blown away by the plantain chips. Seriously good. As I couldn’t finish them I got them boxed up and enjoyed them as a snack later.
InnerG – All menu items here are gluten free, dairy free and vegan. I opted for an acai bowl here one of the mornings. The acai smoothie itself isn’t made fresh, it’s made by The Bowl and is frozen but it’s topped with fresh fruit, nuts, coconuts etc and is really good. It comes in different flavours. I went for the Key West Bowl. So good!
Do you have any other tips on staying healthy and happy on vacation?