Eating Healthy In Your Hotel

room-service-297071_640I spend a lot of nights in hotels. Between travel for work, family visits and my son’s hockey tournaments, I can be in the nicest five star resort or the budget inn.   At any of these fine establishments you can load your morning plate with pancakes and syrup, biscuits and gravy, pastries and tons of bacon and sausages. Need to be healthier? The other route is to pay more attention to the area where yogurts, fresh fruit, cereal and oatmeal sit. Also, even if you don’t see it in the buffets, you can easily get the staff to scramble up an egg or egg white to order.

This seems pretty basic. The challenge comes in when there isn’t a buffet or you are having lunch and dinner. My downfall is typically this time of day whether I’m getting in from a late flight and need to order room service because I’m starving.  The other time is when at events held in hotel conference centers or conference venues attached to hotels where they pile on the heaviest, cheapest, and calorie rich meals. Even the salads and grilled vegetables served are loaded with dressing and oil.

This chubby girl needs a new strategy.

Along with the renovations to lobbies, common areas and rooms, hotels are recognizing that food is part of the experience. Regardless if there is a chef in house or behind the scenes creating the menus, nutrition and health eating is becoming an option if you know how to look. It isn’t always obvious. After all the time I spend in these places, I had to do a little digging to research my options and be prepared when I head out for my next trip. Even then, it didn’t dig up that much.

First, tracking sites are trying to accommodate the challenges of eating at hotels.  MyFitnessPal has at least a few items for Hilton, Marriott and Sheraton. The challenge is that the menus change and keeping up on these changes is almost impossible. Recipe of Health seemed to be a good site to get a selection of all but Sheraton’s menu items.

Here is what I found for some of the prevalent hotel chains many business travelers stay at as well as some things I’ve done in the past when focusing on a healthy lifestyle.

Hilton: The menus across Hilton hotel brands changes city to city and brand to brand. The constant across the locations is that menu items that are considered healthy are marked on the menu and provide the nutritional information.  In the NYC Hilton there was a bistro for quick meals and coffee where you could easily grab a healthy sandwich, soup, or salad. Healthy snacks such as granola, nuts and fresh fruit also help get you through the day. Some locations have digital versions of their menus but finding them means doing a little searching or calling ahead.

Holiday Inn: The question here is, “Which Holiday Inn will I be staying in?” The older locations that haven’t gone through their renovations continue to serve mostly unhealthy options at the breakfast buffet and if they have it, their dinners. Most of the time in these locations you have to step out of the hotel to get your meals. Those locations catering to business travelers and have gone through renovations feel much like the Aloft. The breakfasts have more options, even serving a turkey sausage next to bacon, and if there is dinner service, there is usually at least a couple items outside of salads to choose from. The mini-market areas typically have a lean cuisine meal as well. The best way to offset eating when staying at a Hilton is still to take advantage of their fitness area and pool (although if there are a bunch of hockey/baseball/etc. kids staying at the same time, don’t go in the pool – yuck!)

Marriott: Marriott makes it easy to stay on track. They recognized the changing lifestyles of their travelers and are accommodating with healthier menu choices, transparency of nutritional information, and grocery services for their Residence Inn guests.  For 3 months I stayed at a Residence in in Menlo Park and took advantage of grocery services to stock the mini-kitchen with items that were quick to cook and healthier to eat. It didn’t hurt that there was also a Trader Joe’s a couple blocks away. Not all locations have caught up. Staying in the Midwest is a bit trickier in selection as I found  recently in Cedar Rapids.  Staying at the JW Marriott I am never disappointed and find this is the easiest place to get my fork into some healthy amazingly good food. The Ritz, interestingly enough, tends to stick with the heavier options unless they have a Spa experience with their location. Avoid the appetizers and bites in the Elite lounges. While there can be vegetables and cheese, in general the selections can easily take care of a dinner and lunch combines. Watch for the menu indicators for health and vegetarian too.

Sheraton: I can’t complain about the food at the Sheraton hotels. It’s usually pretty good. The issue is that the healthy choices aren’t necessarily as available. If you want pizza, quesadillas, steak and a full on breakfast buffet, this is your place. Aloft is a bit different. They have a nice bar menu even if the healthy options are lacking. But, what the bar menu lacks, the mini-market area makes up for. I’ve been able to get my fresh fruit, yogurts, oatmeal and lean cuisine frozen meals there (or at least the one in San Jose). I don’t like eating meals from cardboard and plastic, but if I need to trade off healthy and diet buster on my the 10 o’clock pm arrival, I at least have an option. Now that Sheraton (SPG) and Marriott have merged, I’m hoping the health options increase.