How to Eat Healthy on A Cruise Ship: 21 Easy Tips

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Dining,Room,BuffetEating Aboard The Luxury Cruise Ship

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Set sail with excitement, but don’t abandon your health goals! Yes, cruises are famous for their sumptuous buffets and around-the-clock indulgences. With buffets full of pizza, burgers, sushi, and desserts, it isn’t easy to eat healthy on a cruise.

Don’t let the endless room service and captivating dessert displays steer you off course. While the vast quantities of food are tempting, maintaining a healthy diet amidst the oceanic feasts is doable. Dive into our guide to savor the cruise experience, ensuring you enjoy the cruise without going overboard (pun intended.)

Bon voyage, and even better eating! Here’s how to navigate the cruise cuisine without sinking your health ambitions.

1. Eat a Healthy Breakfast

Eggs Florentine from Diner & Dash on Scarlet Lady Cruise ShipPin
Eggs Florentine from Diner & Dash

Eating a healthy breakfast helps regulate your blood sugar and prevent cravings later in the day.

You probably don’t eat pancakes and bacon every day for breakfast when you’re at home. But on a cruise ship, it’s tempting to load your plate with pancakes, waffles, and pastries.

Start the day off right with a light, protein-filled breakfast.

That’s easy to do on sea days. But what about port days?

When I have an early morning shore excursion, I order breakfast room service the night before. By ordering breakfast room service, I know I’ll eat a healthy breakfast that prepares me for a day of exploring the port of call.

Editor Tip

If you’re looking for a healthy protein source to start your day, skip the scrambled eggs and get a made-to-order omelet. The scrambled eggs are made from powdered eggs, while the made-to-order omelets use fresh eggs.

2. Drink Plenty of Water

Hydration is essential when traveling in general. But it’s vital when cruising to warmer destinations, like the Bahamas or the Caribbean.

Drinking enough water helps you feel fuller, preventing cravings and leading to healthy food choices.

Getting enough water is also critical to prevent dehydration, headaches, and other issues from being in the sun. Hydration needs vary from person to person, but ensure you aren’t getting thirsty as a rule of thumb.

You can order bottles of water for your cabin. But we recommend bringing the reusable water bottle from our Amazon cruise essentials to save money and stay hydrated.

Editor Tip

You can fill your reusable water bottle at the water fountain in the buffet. You’re not supposed to use the fountain for filling water bottles, but you can use the cups to transfer the water to your bottle at your table.

3. Minimize Alcohol Intake

The drink Double Agent from the Sip Lounge on Scarlet LadyPin
The drink Double Agent from the Sip Lounge on Scarlet Lady

There is a reason why most diets don’t allow alcohol consumption: it’s terrible for your waistline. Not to mention that alcohol consumption leads to less-than-ideal choices.

Alcoholic beverages are full of sugar and calories that can completely wreck your healthy eating.

Don’t worry; we aren’t telling you not to drink.

You are on vacation, after all! 

A little alcohol is OK in moderation. Just make sure that you’re aware of how much you are drinking, and a glass of wine is better than a sugar-filled mixer.

It’s a good idea to skip the all-inclusive drink package and purchase the drinks individually. I find that when I have to pay for each drink, I don’t drink as much because I have to consider if it’s essential.

4. You Don’t Need to Order Every Course

Many of us don’t regularly eat four-course meals. If you don’t want every course, or if nothing on the menu is to your liking, don’t feel pressured to order more than you want to eat.

5. Ask for Smaller Portions

Filet Mignon from The Wake on Scarlet LadyPin

There are no restrictions on how much food you can order in the main dining room. If you see two entrees you like, you can order both.

What if you don’t want to be tempted by the full plate of food? 

If you only want a small portion but know you do not have the strength to stop yourself after a few bits, ask the waitstaff for a half-portion. And as we said earlier, you don’t need to order every course.

Editor Tip

Skip the temptation of the bread basket by asking the waitstaff to remove it from your table. When the bread basket is on the table, it’s easy to snack on bread while you wait for your appetizers to arrive. By asking the crew member to remove the bread basket, you’ll also remove that temptation.

6. Visit the Salad Bar

Melon Salad at Razzle DazzlePin
The Melon Salad from Virgin Voyages Razzle Dazzle on Scarlet Lady

Salad bars on cruise ships contain fresh lettuce, vegetables, and toppings. Take advantage of the salad bar at least once a day to ensure you get vital nutrients in your diet and reduce mid-day snacking.

Salads are full of low-calorie, nutrient-dense ingredients that keep you feeling full without adding to your waistline. And the fiber helps prevent traveler’s constipation.

Just take it easy on the dressings.

7. Skip the Sauces and Dressings

That healthy piece of salmon you ordered can become a nightmare for your waste line after you drench it in dressing. Even that salad you put together at the salad bar won’t be so healthy once you’ve added the caesar dressing, cheese, croutons, and dried fruit. 

But let’s face it: a plain salad is boring, and you are on vacation after all! If you can, scrape off some high-calorie toppings or ask for the dressing on the side to keep your calories in check.

You don’t need to eliminate the sauces and dressings, but reducing your consumption goes a long way!

And keep in mind that the food on a cruise ship is meant to be tasty, not necessarily healthy. So avoid foods flavored with heavy creams, cheeses, and sauce. Opt for dishes flavored with spices, as they usually have fewer calories.

8. Skip the Fried Foods

Cruise ships offer food from all over the world, including everyone’s favorite fried food. But fried food is high in fat, calories, and salt, making it unhealthy.

Avoid greasy fried foods and opt for grilled options instead. 

And if you want to go the extra mile, choose a side of salad or veggies instead of fries. You can take it further by asking for steamed vegetables instead of sauteed.

9. Pace Yourself at the buffet

The Galley on Virgin Voyages Scarlet Lady with Diner & Dash and Bento Baby in the backgroundPin
(Photo Credit: Virgin Voyages)

On your first visit to the buffet, it will be hard to contain your excitement. Pizza! Pasta! Burgers! Cookies! Cake! 

You will be tempted to try everything all at once, and how could you not? It all looks so good!

After you’ve finished with the buffet, you may feel a little uneasy about all of the food. And trust me, you don’t want to spend the week overeating.

To eat healthy on a cruise ship buffet, spend some time on your first day getting to know all the options available. When you’ve decided what to eat, prepare a portioned plate.

Only if you are still hungry once you’ve finished eating can you go back for more. Remember, there will be plenty of time to try all the food, and you don’t need to try everything on the first day.

Editor Tip

Grab a smaller plate. With endless choices at the buffet, it’s too easy to load your plate with all the tempting food options. Choosing a smaller plate limits the amount of food you can take. If you’re not feeling full, you can return for more, but smaller plates are proven to reduce overeating.

10. Avoid the Buffet

Quesedilas served at the windjammer cafePin

The buffet is a staple on cruise ships. While buffets are excellent for convenience and extensive culinary offerings, the sight and smell of foods trigger our appetites.

You may not be craving french fries, but the smell is enough to lead you to eat more than you want.

If you know that the all-you-can-eat buffet will tempt you into making bad choices, avoid the buffet.

You can visit the main dining room for breakfast and lunch. Newer cruise ships offer plenty of free and paid alternative restaurants where you can eat.

The smaller restaurants have fewer choices, but the controlled portion sizes help you make healthier eating choices on a cruise.

11. Look at the Dinner Menu in Advance

Reflections - the main dining room on Serenade of the SeasPin

Most cruise ships will post the dinner menu for passengers to view in advance. Knowing what you want to eat at dinner will help you make better daily decisions.

If you want to splurge on a 5-course, 2-dessert dinner, go light on lunch and breakfast. Planning your meals lets you dream about the beautiful food you will enjoy and makes the dish taste even better.

You’ll eat less because you’ll want to save room for dinner.

12. Snack on Fresh Fruit & Veggies

The fruit serving section of the Windjammer marketplacePin

Cruise ships almost always have a ton of fresh fruit and vegetables, especially if your cruise is going to a tropical location.

If you feel hungry in between meals, try snacking on some fresh fruit rather than an ice cream cone or slice of pizza. Not only will it satisfy your appetite, but also any sugar cravings you have during the day.

13. Tell Waitstaff About Your Dietary Preferences

It’s essential to let the cruise line know about your dietary needs beforehand. You can notify the cruise line when booking your vacation, but it’s also a good idea to remind the waitstaff on your first visit to the main dining room.

By disclosing your dietary preferences ahead of time, the waitstaff will be made aware of your preferences and make the necessary changes to your menu.

Common dietary preferences include dairy-free, gluten-free, vegan, and vegetarian selections.

Although most cruise lines will do their best to accommodate special dietary needs, some may be more accommodating than others.

If you are concerned about your cruise line adjusting your nutritional preferences, calling them before booking doesn’t hurt.

14. Learn The Menu Symbols

Most cruise lines offer “healthier” dining options. These choices typically contain less salt, fat, sugar, and cholesterol. 

By learning about the menu symbols, you can eat healthier by choosing the lower-calorie options.

15. Limit Your Snacking

A showcase of desserts from The Sweet Side on Brilliant LadyPin
The Sweet Side

With the constant flow of food on the cruise ship, it becomes easy to lose track of your meals. The breakfast buffet, mid-morning pastries, mid-day lunch, 2 p.m. ice cream, afternoon snacks, dinner, and late-night desserts can quickly add calories.

These quick snacks may seem small, but over the day, you will consume far more food than you remember. 

It’s also a good idea to limit snacking between meals. All too often, I find myself at the self-serve ice cream machines. But if you want to eat healthy, avoid snacking entirely and stick with breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

16. Don’t Get Seconds

When eating at a complimentary dining venue, it’s all too easy to ask for a second or third portion. I know I’m guilty of ordering two or three desserts in a single sitting.

The restaurant menu offers plenty of exciting choices.

But you don’t need to try them all in one night.

If you want to eat healthily on your cruise vacation, only order one serving per meal.

17. Choose Healthy Desserts

Eating healthy doesn’t mean you have to avoid eating dessert altogether. Desserts are fine in moderation. But try choosing deserts like sorbets or deserts without added sugar instead of cheesecakes and creme brule.

Many cruise ships offer sugar-free desserts, although if you are health conscious, you may need to ask what they use to sweeten their desserts.

18. Avoid Midnight Snaking

The dessert section of the windjammerPin

Every cruise ship has a midnight snack bar of some kind. As your willpower decreases throughout the day, it’s best to avoid late-night snacks entirely.

Late-night snacking adds extra calories to your diet. When your late-night snacks contain sugary foods, it spikes blood sugar, increasing your appetite the next day.

At night, when our willpower is lowest, we are more prone to making poor food choices, and that’s before considering the after-dinner cocktails.

19. Bring Healthy Snacks on the Ship

While there is usually abundant food on cruise ships, it might not fit within your healthy guidelines or snack preferences.

Many people don’t know you can bring food on a cruise ship.

I always take healthy, easily packable snacks, including beef jerky, dark chocolate, nuts, and seeds. This way, when I need a midday snack, I don’t feel as tempted by the pizza or cake in the buffet.

I also take pre-packaged snacks with me on shore excursions. Some shore excursions are up to 8 hours. And while there are opportunities to get food, I always bring healthy snacks to limit hunger.

20. Enjoy the Experience

You are on vacation, and making healthier food choices doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy some of the ship’s delicacies. Eating healthy on a cruise ship is about finding balance.

If you see something you want to eat, go for it. Just make sure that you eat in moderation and avoid overindulging.

And in the off-chance that you splurge, don’t be too hard on yourself. Remind yourself that you will get back to your routine soon. In the meantime, enjoy the new adventures and experiences.

So go out and have a good time on your cruise vacation!

Article by

Marcello De Lio

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