Even when I'm not traveling, staying active is a big part of my life. So is paying attention to a balanced, reasonably healthy diet. For me, that sometimes means adhering to a Paleo-inspired plan that has me eating mostly lean proteins, organic veggies and fruit. (Of course, I give myself wiggle room on vacation.)
But when I'm on a cruise ship, that's a little harder to do. If you think cruising is all about gluttony, midnight buffets, over-the-top desserts and fatty, salty dishes, well, you're only partly right.
Surprise! You actually can eat a mostly Paleo diet on a cruise ship.
1. Be prepared to be flexible. Unless you're sailing a really high-end line, chances are slim "free-range" and "organic" anything will be be readily available. Understand that you'll probably have to give a little on that. Of course, if you're Paleo, you're already used to reading menu descriptions carefully, so this is nothing new, right?
2. Breakfast is a breeze. Your best bet will be the buffet, where you have plenty of protein options. Start at the made-to-order egg station, and you can get any kind of eggs you're craving. If you don't do butter, make sure to specify that you want your eggs prepared with olive oil. Throw in some fresh veggies, and you'll have a great omelet or scramble. The egg bar is a much better option than the chafing dishes filled with eggs, which might be made from processed powdered or liquid eggs. Not a fan of eggs? Meat generally abounds on buffets. You probably won't find bacon that is free of nitrates/nitrites, but you'll definitely find bacon. Also, keep an eye out for the muesli; you'll probably find the healthy seeds and nuts you crave nearby this Paleo no-no. Load up on fresh fruit, too, which is available on buffets all day long.
3. Alternative restaurants are your friends. Cruise ships call them "alternative dining venues." For the most part, you should read that as "additional charge restaurants." Nearly every cruise ship has some kind of upcharge restaurant, and most run between $15 per person and $50 per person. Trust me: The food at most of these is excellent. I try to eat at one of these spots at least once a cruise. Here's why: The quality of ingredients is just better, and waiters and chefs here are more open to special requests. My favorites are the steakhouses (try Crown Grill on Princess Cruises, Chops on Royal Caribbean or Cagney's on Norwegian Cruise Line), where cuts of beef are varied, and menu descriptions include words like "grass-fed" and "prime Angus." Seafood restaurants are also plentiful on the high seas, and while I'm not a fan of fish, these are a favorite of Mrs. In The Loop.
4. Make your wishes known. Most of your waiters probably won't know what the heck "Paleo" means, so any time you order, make sure you ask what is used in the preparation of any food. You're probably a pro at this by now, but it's totally fine to skip sauces and sides. Most dishes come with a heavy side of starchy carbs. Save the waste and tell your waiter to skip the rice, the pasta or the bread basket. Ask about Paleo-friendly starches like sweet potatoes, beets and squash. These items might not show up on the menu, but they might very well be in the galley (that's cruise ship lingo for "kitchen"). Another tactic? Ahead of your cruise, print off a list of foods that are Paleo approved, as well as those that are no-nos. Bring your list onboard and go over it with the maitre d. He can help you with menu choices and might even work with the chef to make special dishes for you.
5. Forgive yourself. Trust me. I get it. You're dedicated. Like, really dedicated. But, hopefully, you can make great choices about when to cut loose and treat yourself -- guilt-free. It's your vacation, after all, and it's OK to give into the occasional temptation -- without totally abandoning your nutrition plan. And your cruise ship's state-of-the-art fitness center can help ease your conscience.
Check out the photo gallery below for a variety of dishes I found in dining rooms and on the buffet on Norwegian Gem. I never felt deprived, and the variety made making good Paleo choices easy.
Thanks for reading, and happy eating!