My kids and I just got back from an amazing ski trip to Austria with my parents. I knew the food well as my family vacationed in Schruns, Austria, numerous times growing up. Had a Canadian wedding in the alps, and I also lived there teaching skiing for a winter after university.
Austria doesn’t “do” dairy free and gluten free. They do dumplings and knödels and spätzle – gluten, gluten and gluten – smothered in sauces with butter, cream and the smelliest of all smelly mountain cheese, followed by cheese plates and more white buns for desert. Lots of meat – venison, beef, bacon, veal, etc.. (and don’t forget schnapps and beer). Don’t get me wrong, this is not fast food – it’s all quality and well prepared and where we stayed, they had their own organic beef and lamb farm; however, still, a different day to day diet then we were used to. It doesn’t matter what country you are in, it’s hard to eat restaurant food for all three meals, day after day, for 8 days straight.
“It’s hard to eat healthy here.” (Jemima, 5)
Life is about balance so I was prepared to let go of diet restrictions (partially due to food sensitivities) for me and my kids; however, when your body doesn’t feel good after eating dairy and gluten, I knew there had to be a balance, somehow. You can’t go hog-wild, nor did we want to. I had to get creative and think how this would work so that we all felt our best while experiencing Austrian fare. My aunt in England was texting me prior asking if we were going to have eating issues on our trip, not just because she knows my diet but because she too, finds it difficult.
How could we eat healthy but also
enjoy the food Austria had to offer?
It’s humorous to listen to people who think I deprive myself &/or my kids of certain foods we don’t eat. I know I can speak for my kids when I say this, as we talk about it – that we simply don’t crave foods that don’t make us feel good, nor do we want to eat foods that make you feel sluggish, crampy or bloated. When you fuel your body with all the right things, it’s an addictive feeling to feel full of energy and ailment free.
One day on our trip, my cousin laughed when I told my Mom that I had finally ordered Käse Spätzle, that I had “forced myself” to order it. (Käse Spätzle is a glorified version of our mac and cheese. They use Voralberg käse – unbelievably smelly and tasty mountain cheese, and chubby little, white flour, homemade noodles called spätzle, topped with caramelized onions.) This was my favourite dish when I lived in Schruns, before I cut dairy and wheat out of my diet (I had chronic headaches and sinus infections during cold and virus seasons that stopped immediately when I eliminated these foods). So my heart wanted to eat it again but anytime I sat down to eat I couldn’t bring myself to order it, until one of the last lunches. My cousin laughed and said ‘Oh, yeah, sure, you forced yourself.” But in all honestly, I was not so excited about it, knowing how eating such a heavy meal full of gluten and dairy would make me feel (plus my diet had been off all week.) I’m happy to report that after sticking to #4 & #5 below, I did not feel disgusting after and enjoyed it, and was happy I had ordered it.
Follow some of these simple tips to help you feel on top of your eating game while on vacation:
- Take food with you – For the flights (plane food is horrible, blah) as well as for your stay. I took some snack food to help balance out all of the gluten and dairy I knew we’d be eating at meal time. I packed a few of our favourite gluten free crackers and protein cookies, apple chips, rice cakes (great for plane ride home when we weren’t feeling great), seed and nut granola bars, dried fruit snacks, etc… Hummus (for flight) and nut butters also a great option. (I would also pack sandwiches for the flight next time. I had forgotten how awful plane food is. Not fun having your stomach upset before you even arrive in your new country, and my kids hardly ate the plane food.)
- Keep fresh fruit, seeds and nuts in your hotel room – Our hotel always had apples at the front desk. Every time I passed by I grabbed a few to take to our room. As well, I bought other fruit and nut mixes at the grocery store so we had healthy snacks when we needed them. This lessens your urge to binge on whatever is placed in front of you at meal time or standard junk food snacks often ordered in large groups.
- Ask for no sauce – Don’t be afraid to ask for dishes without the sauce (even if you get snarled at), as it’s often the sauce that contains the dairy or the additional fat that you don’t want. All of a sudden your fish and veggies is quite a healthy meal.
- Don’t eat the entire ‘groß’ (german for large) serving – My god, sometimes the servings were monstrous. The Käse Spätzle – I only ate half of the dish. I stopped before I got to the unbutton-your-pants, ‘Oh my god, ugh’ feeling. Exercise a little self control, you will thank yourself when you’re sitting down for the next meal.
- Ask for the child portion – In Austria, at least, they have “kinder” portions for most meals. We found it hard to finish a lot of the adult portions and often chose the child portions instead. The Käse Spätzle dish in the photo is a kinder portion, and I only ate half. Guaranteed, had I ate the entire portion, I would not have felt good. (Putting your fork down in between bites helps slow it down.)
- Eat heavier meals at lunch – If you are dying to try a specialty, like the Käse Spätzle, do so at lunch. Gives you more time to digest the meal and it won’t affect your sleep (upset digestion is a major cause of sleep disturbances, leading to dragging-your-ass syndrome the next day, which leads to poor eating choices).
- Attack the salad bar – We were lucky enough to have a salad bar on 5 out of the 7 nights at our hotel. We loaded up the beans and pumpkin seeds, as well as veggies, before dinner was served. Everyone, young and old, missed having it on the last two nights (one night was a 7 course meal and the other, it was replaced with a desert buffet!)
What I would do differently on future trips…
- Breakfasts – I met a family (Mom, Dad and 30-something daughter) who used to stay in our hotel but were renting an apartment down the road. They come to the hotel for dinner and eat on the mountain in restaurants for lunch; other than it being cheaper, they love it because it allows them to make their own breakfasts in their apartment. I imagine some would want to be served all three meals when on holiday, but for me, I think this is the way to go next time. I will bring my granola and buy fresh fruit and maybe a few other options (i.e. almond butter). I struggled with breakfast as the buffet was meats, cheese, nutella, white buns and bread, sausages, bacon and scrambled eggs. I did the eggs for the first three mornings but then felt egg-logged (eggs can make me feel sluggish) so I stuck to fruit and seeded bread but it wasn’t enough to get me through the mornings.
What I found most challenging was not necessarily the type of food that the Austrians serve, but more having limited options at the all-inclusive breakfasts and dinners in the hotel (usually had a choice between 2 mains). Lunches at restaurants on the hill were fine, I could choose healthier options from a bigger menu. Definitely staying in a house or apartment or a hotel room with a kitchenette would suit me fine. And I would stick to eating in restaurants vs in a hotel where your food is inclusive, so you are not limited to 2 options for meals, as we were. Again, the odd time that’s fine but 8 days in a row, eating healthy becomes a real challenge.
I said to my 5 year old one morning, “We have to go to breakfast now, are you hungry?” and she nodded her head yes and said, “but it’s haaard…I like the food better at home.” Even my cousin commented about eating meat every morning and how smelly their room was (TMI?) and how he didn’t even like himself in those moments (ha).
It’s not easy going off your regular eating routine for long periods of time for many people. Hopefully, some of the above suggestions and a little self control can help your body feel good and thrive wherever you may travel. At the end of the day the experience far outweighs any food issues and trying new foods is definitely part of the experience so just remember balance, portion and self control and have fun!