While it can challenging to stick to a diet when traveling, here are my top 10 tips for how to eat healthy while on a cruise ship.

cruise ship mediterranean

While some people go on vacation to break all the rules and indulge completely, there many reasons that people want to eat healthy when traveling on a cruise ship. The most significant reason is to manage a chronic disease and maintain the healthy habits followed at home.

Other reasons for eating healthy on a cruise include keeping your immune system strong, not wanting to gain weight, wanting to maintain your weight, and wanting to feel energetic while traveling.

Sadly, though, cruise ship dining and health don’t necessarily go hand-in-hand. Be it with the 24-hour room service, the outrageously tempting dessert buffets, or simply the rich food, cruise ships have earned their reputation as potentially very unhealthy environments.

I have fallen into the trap of eating too much on a cruise and then suffering the consequences of feeling less healthy and fit when I get home.

cruise ship at dawn

I’m excited to report that after going on many cruises over the last two decades, I’ve came up with some strategies for how to eat healthy while cruising. I most certainly don’t eat perfectly while cruising (or any day for that matter), but I love coming home feeling good without feeling like I missed out on the culinary part of it. 

See all of my healthy travel posts.

Healthy Cruising Tips

1. Disclose your dietary preferences at the time of booking

It’s important to alert your cruise line ahead of time to your dietary needs. You need to do this at the time of booking. For me, that’s gluten- and dairy-free. I have had to pick and choose different operators depending on their willingness to accommodate special dietary needs, but it’s becoming more and more common these days.

The benefit of disclosing your dietary preference at the time of booking is that the catering manager will be notified of your needs and will make the appropriate orders.

2. Eat a big salad every day

Salad bars on cruise ships are usually absolutely beautiful and full of fresh veggies and toppings. Take advantage of the salad bars and be sure to have a fresh green salad at least once a day to get healthy fiber and vegetables.

A side benefit to making sure that you get enough vegetables on a daily basis is that you will likely avoid getting traveler’s constipation and your bowel habits should stay fairly normal.

healthy salad with cauliflower on white plate

3. Bring healthy snacks or staples with you

If you love a certain type of granola for breakfast or you have a strong preference for tea or something like that, bring it with you! I love adding a topping of granola to the gluten-free porridge I get at the breakfast bar to help add healthy fat, fiber, and crunch to the meal (see my list of the best gluten-free travel snacks).

While there is usually an abundance of food on cruise ships, it might not be food that fits within your healthy guidelines. That’s why I always try to take easily packable snacks with me, including:

  • organic, unsulfured dried fruit
  • organic nuts and seeds
  • beef jerky bars and
  • quality dark chocolate

healthy snacks and map

4. Ask for steamed vegetables instead of sautéed

While it’s important to eat healthy fats as part of a balanced, clean eating diet, most cruise ships and restaurants use a heavy hand of vegetables oils in their cooking. So, to decrease your exposure to unhealthy cooking oils, you can simply ask for your vegetables (or other sautéed foods for that matter) to be steamed instead of sautéed (see my list of healthy cooking oils).

Steamed vegetables will have fewer calories than sautéed vegetables. If you are ordering something like fried eggs, you can also avoid vegetable oils by asking that you eggs be cooked in butter.

salmon dinner with steamed vegetables and baked potato

5. Avoid tea time baked sweets

Afternoon tea on a cruise ship can be tricky with so many sweets available. A healthier snack option is fruit or something with protein like a hard-boiled egg or nuts. Or, if you find that you aren’t really hungry in the afternoon, then just skip tea time and go for a walk on-board instead.

This also brings up the issue of boredom and eating to fill the time. You may find yourself with a lot of free time while you’re cruising. I’ve been on cruises where we had two back-to-back sea days and I almost went crazy. To avoid eating out of boredom, try to be mindful of your hunger cues and only eat when you are truly hungry.

If you find that you’re just bored, try having a glass of sparkling water instead, or try to do something active to help pass the time.

healthy snack on cruise ship

6. Choose healthy (or healthy-ish) desserts

Eating healthy while traveling doesn’t mean you have to completely avoid dessert. Choose desserts like sorbets and gluten-free cookies as opposed to the richer cakes and ice creams. Most cruise ships now offer sugar-free treats as well, although you might need to ask them what they are using to sweeten their desserts. See my list of the best sugar substitutes.

healthy sorbets

7. Eat breakfast, preferably with protein

Having a high protein breakfast can help with weight loss and weight management. Getting a nice cooked breakfast on a cruise ship is no problem! Even if you plan to get off the ship early for an excursion, you can usually order room service even for an early morning breakfast in your room.

protein breakfast platte

8. Minimize alcohol intake

Alcohol can be a problem for many people while cruising. Often, beer and wine is included in the cost of your ticket. But, that doesn’t mean that you should be drinking. Alcohol in general is empty calories. Drinking can also cause you to make less ideal decisions.

If you don’t want to abstain completely from alcohol, allow yourself to have a sip or a very small glass of red wine with lunch or dinner. See this article with tips to cut back on alcohol if you are having trouble giving it up.

A glass of sparkling water with lemon or lime is a great alternative to an alcoholic beverage.

tea time with sparkling water

9. Drink enough water for you

Hydration is important when traveling in general. Getting enough water will ensure that you don’t get dehydrated and that your detox systems are working well. There isn’t a set amount of water that you need to drink, but just make sure you aren’t getting thirsty is a good rule of thumb.

beautiful flavored water

10. Enjoy the experience!!!

Making healthier choices doesn’t have to take away from the joys of traveling, especially if you’re easy on yourself and just do your best. Perfection is not the goal, but finding that balance between reasonable and indulgent is the challenge.

Find a way to splurge a little bit every day or at every meal. Most of all, enjoy the experience and the new adventures you are having. Remind yourself that you will get back to your routine in just a short amount of time, and that you are doing your best to stay healthy.

Have you cruised before? Do you have any tips I missed? Let me know in the comments!

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