We just got back from our first family cruise, and it turned out to be a wonderful vacation! Our children absolutely LOVED every minute of it (the trip totally exceeded their expectations), and they are already begging to go back again next year! I used to go on cruises with my family as a teen – I have not been on one in 25 years, and boy, things have changed a lot! But I do remember how much I loved the sense of freedom walking around the ship with my newfound friends. So I was not at all surprised this was a new favorite for our tween/teen girls.
This time around though, prior to boarding the ship, I definitely had concerns about “cruise food.” I had no idea what to expect looking at it through my real food lens that I did not have as a teen. And just to preface this whole post, it’s not that I HAVE to eat real food all the time – I honestly just want to! :) It makes me feel better all around, which is pretty good motivation to try to stick to it as best I can.
So, today I’m going to share what I learned while on one of the larger Royal Caribbean cruise ships earlier this month. Hopefully, most of these healthy eating tips will be helpful no matter what cruise line and boat you choose!
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How to Eat Healthy on a Cruise
- Choose the main dining room
There are many different dining options come meal time in the various cafes, but I learned whether it’s breakfast, lunch, or dinner the dining room by far had the best (i.e. most resemblance to “real”) food options. I wish it didn’t take me until the last day to figure this out! We had breakfast and dinner in the dining room almost every day, but I didn’t realize I should’ve been making lunch in the dining room a priority as well (on the days at sea). It closed earlier than other lunch options, but it was totally worth it to get down there before 12:30 for a good, tasty meal.
- Be creative at the buffets
Even if you’re eating in the dining room, I found you have to be creative with the buffet offerings by putting things together that aren’t necessarily presented together. For example, I discovered the breakfast potatoes had some yummy bell pepper pieces mixed in so I picked some of those out and put them with my eggs, sometimes along with a piece of cheese over top. It was a pretty good combo that I started looking for each morning. And, as you can see from the pic, I followed my golden rule that I always tell my girls when out and about: “Eat a lot of what you know is good for you and a little of what you know is not good for you (or you aren’t sure about).” I enjoyed that little croissant on the side there! :)
I also found that mixing things up at the lunch buffet helped a lot with eating healthy as well. For example, we crafted everything from taco salad (by combining things from the salad bar and taco station) to “Asian carrots” as my daughter called them (by combining rice, cooked carrots and soy sauce) to creative salads that reminded us of the ones we eat and enjoy at home (by “stealing” parmesan cheese from the pasta bar and sliced almonds from another station along with a quick homemade dressing – more on this below).
- Don’t be scared to have a special request
One thing is for certain on a cruise, they aim to please – so don’t be scared to ask for something special! We were sure to load up on the fresh fruit whenever we could to balance out our meals, but the same ol’ melon mix and grapes started to get pretty old by day 4. So at breakfast one day I asked if I could get some strawberries, and voila, a big bowl of freshly sliced strawberries appeared. It was such a nice change; we all scarfed them down. Someone at another table even asked where we got them because they wanted some too!
- Bring a little of your own food
I always travel with some of my own food, and I wasn’t sure if I should when going on a cruise where there is so much food (that’s included, i.e. paid for). But I brought a small bag of my homemade granola just in case (like I always do on trips!) as well as some good-for-you snack bars. Since the best real food option on the breakfast buffet was eggs (pancakes and such are always made with white flour in places like this), I ended up being really glad to have my granola, which I ate on two of the seven mornings just to break things up. I like eggs, but they’re not my favorite for every day of the week. Also, we found the snack bars were handy to have on port days when going off to explore or go on an excursion.
- Avoid the salad dressings
Especially on the lunch buffets, I quickly discovered the salad dressings are not made in-house (no surprise there, they come packaged/bottled and are highly processed). So it would be a shame to go through the effort of trying to put together a healthy salad then top it with something like that. Again though, they are not scared of special requests, so either look for or ask for olive oil and either a lemon wedge or balsamic vinegar to mix together a quick and easy homemade dressing. I found some of the buffets even had a station with these healthy options ready to go for people like me!
- Be careful with the drink offerings
Boy, did the piña coladas look GOOD, but unfortunately (as with the dressings) they were made with a highly processed bottled mix and not from scratch. It’s such a shame because piña coladas are super easy and simple to make (simply blend pineapple and coconut milk with ice and rum), but I understand they are cranking those things out in very high quantities with 6,000 passengers on board. So, I’m not about to claim I skipped the tropical frozen beverages altogether (too hard to resist especially when first boarding the ship and starting our vacation – see below!), but I just didn’t go too crazy knowing how it’s made. I had one or two and didn’t even end up finishing them all the way, but then I discovered a nice cold glass of prosecco was a great poolside beverage as well!
- You’re on vacation, indulge a little!
At home, we have about one big treat a week, but on the ship, it was honestly more like one treat a day. But when I say “one a day” that’s actually limiting yourself a good bit because they, of course, offer dessert at basically every meal and even in-between (including an unlimited ice cream machine by the pool, watch out!). So I was totally fine with all of us freely indulging more than normal but within reason. Luckily the portion sizes in the dining room are totally reasonable, so we rarely felt like we went overboard (no pun intended!).
- Be active
To balance out all the extra food you might not indulge in at home, be as active as possible! And, especially if you’re on one of the huge ships, it’s honestly not hard to do. Simply choose the stairs over the elevator (which can save time anyway), do some swimming in the ocean when stopping at the ports, and even get yourself on the disco dance floor late at night. Most ships also have a workout facility and a full track for running/walking, so you can take advantage of those as well. Ours even had a juice/smoothie bar that was included in the drink plan. I will fully admit though that I brought my workout clothes with very good intentions, but unexpectedly ended up taking the week off. Waking up early to get to the pool deck to reserve lounge chairs (before they were all claimed), among other things got in the way – what can I say, LOL. But I was so active taking the stairs and swimming my body didn’t at all feel like it was just a week of sitting around doing nothing but eating!
All in all, we weren’t sure how much we’d like this trip, but it turned out to be a fabulous week, and we were so sad when it was over. My husband and I even surprised ourselves by saying we’d definitely do another family cruise vacation together again! We went into it thinking it would just be a one-time thing, but we didn’t realize just how much our kids would LOVE the experience. And be so mad at us if we didn’t go back, haha.
What are your thoughts on cruise food and the healthy choices you can make? I’d love to hear your experience in the comments below! :)