We just returned from a 2-week Viking Ocean Cruise, visiting 7 countries and 10 cities in Scandinavia and on the Baltic Sea. It was a trip of a lifetime and before we left we heard the same thing from friends who are serious cruisers….”the food is fabulous, with loads of options and endless buffets.” All that is true, and it made us pledge to enjoy the food but set the intention to not gain weight.
In Food & Fitness After 50 we advise four principles of a healthy diet for older adults:
- Include all the energy-containing (calorie) nutrients of carbohydrate, protein, and fat
- Choose nutrient-rich foods (foods packed with vitamins, minerals, and healthy plant-compounds)
- Consider your risk for chronic disease when choosing foods
- Enjoy food and mealtime
On a cruise it is easy to focus solely on the enjoyment of food and mealtime. I’m not about to tell anyone to wear blinders when choosing their meal, but with these tips you can enjoy it all and still fit into your clothes when disembarking the ship.
Before you decide where or what to eat (ships have many options from intimate small dining to endless buffets to white table cloth fine dining, as well as specialty restaurants) check them all out. At the buffets, do a walk through before filling your plate, focusing on the regional cuisine and vow to sample one food that is new to you every day. Since Viking is a Norwegian cruise line the seafood options were endless; salmon, crab, lobster, shrimp, halibut, and cod were our staple proteins. In a previous post I wrote about smoked salmon and lox. I tried another variation….gravlax, a Nordic dish of salmon cured in salt, sugar, and dill. It has a sweeter taste than the lox or smoked salmon than we eat in the U.S. My husband had kippers one morning for breakfast; a whole herring, butterflied and hot-smoked. The taste (and smell) was too strong for me!
Ask for smaller portions; yes, it is possible! Ask for a one-egg omelet instead of 3 eggs and load it up with spinach, peppers, and onions (a good definition of a nutrient-rich meal) and request entrée portions be scaled back. I often opted for a “sampler platter,” trying a small portion of many foods on one plate. Yes, it sometimes made for odd combinations, but it was fun to try so many foods without feeling stuffed at the end of the meal.
Fill up on foods with a low-energy density; that means foods lower in calories but with high volume to keep you full. Soup is a great way to start a meal and I often found that the soups were so delicious that one bowl of soup was all I needed to eat for lunch. Fruit is also low-energy density and the fruit options were plentiful and tasty.
And, back to smaller portions, what about dessert? The pastry chef turned out beautiful, decadent desserts and many were right-sized but there is opportunity to go overboard at the gelato station! Ask for one scoop of gelato to enjoy the sweet taste without blowing your food budget. I always tell folks that the second half of the dessert tastes just like the first half; so, no need to eat a big piece of cake, pie, or a cookie the size of a man hole cover!
Talk to the chef and take a galley tour. These tours are not advertised but ask guest services if you can get a look behind the scenes. I was impressed with how organized, efficient, and clean everything was in the kitchen. I enjoyed talking to the Chef de Cuisine, Ivan Paineman, about how he delivers high quality, delicious food for the many restaurants on board, as well as room service. We also took part in a special “Chef’s Table” meal one evening, featuring a regional cuisine 5-course meal with wine pairing and got to talk to the chef about how he decides which cuisines to feature.
Don’t abandon your exercise routine; no need to do so with a world-class gym on board and indoor and outdoor swimming pools. (My favorite was the infinity pool at the back of the ship….feels like you could go over the ship and right into the ocean.) We spend some time in the gym, but we got most of our exercise on walking tours of the cities. Guided walking tours were included in most cities and we got lots of steps in while seeing the sights of Stockholm, Copenhagen, Berlin, Aalborg, Tallinn, and Bergen. It doesn’t feel like exercise when listening to a knowledgeable, engaging guide showing off his or her favorite city. Most days, we got over 15,000 steps.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t bring up alcohol as it pours freely at lunch and dinner on-board. No need for a drink package on Viking unless you want to add breakfast drinking! Alcohol adds extra calories and loosens your resolve to eat healthy. We certainly enjoyed the wine with meals but breakfast, mid-morning, mid-afternoon, and late-night imbibing is something that no one needs! But, when in Germany, I couldn’t resist a local beer! For more on alcohol and health, click here.
Thanks to Viking for delicious food, charming cities, luxurious accommodations, and attentive staff. We met our goal of not gaining weight, but it was hard to transition to land lubber status and making my own meals and cleaning my house!
Copyright © 2019 [Christine Rosenbloom]. All Rights Reserved.