I’m back from my 3-week workcation in Hawaii! So much I could tell you about but, since I am a nutritionist and a huge foodie, we MUST discuss food first. There’s something about eating healthy food and being on vacation that clashes for many people. I used to be this way too. I would use my travels as an excuse to eat ALL the crappy food and drink all the alcohol. It seemed fun at the time, but then I realized that I also always felt terrible during and after my vacations. Why would I take the time and money to plan a great trip only to feel horrible while there?! Now, I have found a really great balance between eating the foods that I know make me feel really good, but also experiencing local cuisine which is one of my favorite things about traveling.
Even more confusing is how to eat keto while traveling or basically anytime you’re not in your own kitchen. Because it’s such a unique way of eating, it can seem scary to go out into the real world where you don’t have full control and attempt to eat a keto diet. Let me be the one to completely calm this fear for you. It doesn’t have to be hard and you absolutely can remain keto and travel at the same time! The cool thing about the keto lifestyle, especially when you have taken the time to find out what your version of this way of eating looks like for you, is that it is enjoyable! Most people love the foods they are eating on keto and, of course, the way they feel because of those foods. This makes it a no-brainer to continue on the path even while away. So, as long as you know what to do in the situation, you can confidently make this choice for yourself.
The challenge comes in when the foods that are a key piece to the local cuisine are not something you would normally eat. Do you take part or opt out? My answer: Find a balance where you are keeping your health a priority, but also feeding into your happiness level as well. If there is a food or meal that may not be the healthiest of choice, but would really make your experience that much better and leave you feeling fulfilled on your happiness spectrum, that would perhaps be a great time to include it even though it’s not something you would normally include. However, if it is a meal that is not contributing to your health, but also not really something that adds value to the experience – maybe it’s more so coming from an emotional place like “I’m on vacation, I deserve to let loose” or “Everybody else is eating/drinking it, so I should too” – you can take a second to tap into what’s truly important to you and reconnect with a better choice for that purpose. It doesn’t have to be an all-or-nothing thing.
When you approach it this way, a nice balance is formed where you can continue to feel really great and work towards your health goals while also fully experiencing and enjoying the special things in life.
And it doesn’t have to be perfect or look exactly like it does when you’re home. It can be a new, vacation-version of your way of eating. This 3-week trip was a really great example of this. I knew there would be some foods to experience that Hawaii does really right – fish tacos, coconut rice, poke bowls, fruit – for example. These are also foods that aren’t necessarily a normal part of my keto diet, but worth it to me to include while there in order to really feel like I had the best experience possible. I also know that, while these foods may have a slightly larger impact on my blood sugar than I try to maintain on a regular basis, they don’t make me feel bad or have any harmful consequences to my health. By the way, there are foods that do cause harm to my health with even a little consumption and those stay on my “never” list, even while traveling. Things like gluten, most dairy, refined sugars, and soy. It’s important for all of us to have a “never” list and know the foods that shouldn’t ever make an appearance.
So, I ate those foods! And enjoyed every bite! Were they “keto”? Nope. But, it was a conscious decision made based on the knowledge I have of myself, my body, my tolerances, and what makes me happy. This means most of the meals eaten out at restaurants included some foods that wouldn’t be deemed keto-friendly, mainly in the form of rice, cassava, and fruit – really great and nutrient-dense real foods! Almost every restaurant we went to had plenty of modification options to make dishes keto which I found very impressive. It would make staying 100% keto in Hawaii very easy.
The vast majority of our meals were cooked and eaten at our rental home. These meals were packed with the foods I know and love from my real life which meant they were naturally keto-friendly – lots of salads, roasted veggies, grilled meats, and breakfast bowls! This made for the perfect balance between eating foods that contribute to both my health and happiness levels.
My top tips for eating healthy in Hawaii
This tip goes for ANY travel you do: pack food to bring with you! Take out the extra pair of shoes that you probably won’t even wear and pack food that you will definitely eat! There are SO many great options for real food convenience foods these days that it will be easy to pack your favorites from home to have with you when away. The two things that I find to be the most important to have handy are properly-raised protein and anti-inflammatory fat sources. This way you’re covered on these high-quality foods that may be hard to find everywhere you go.
What I packed:
- Epic bars
- Thousand Hills 100% grass-fed beef jerky
- Primal Kitchen protein bars
- Purely Elizabeth grain-free granola bars
- Vital Protein collagen peptides packets
- Artisana nut butter and coconut butter packets
- Kasandrinos olive oil pouches
- Fatworks mini jars of tallow and lard
- 4th & Heart ghee pouches
- Tinstar ghee pouches
Not to mention, the hard-boiled eggs, avocado, and chilled roasted vegetables for the 14-hour travel day. The best thing ever!
HEAD TO COSTCO FOR THE BASICS
Prices for pretty much everything in Hawaii, especially groceries, are much higher than those on the mainland. I signed up for a Costco membership a few weeks before leaving hoping the prices would be more comparable. This was by far the best thing I did to prep for this trip. Between the 3 trips to Costco for food and the 2 stops to fill up on gas, the $60 membership fee easily paid for itself. There’s a Costco on four of the Hawaiian islands: Maui, Kauai, Oahu, and The Big Island. We made Costco our first stop after getting off the plane in Maui and Kauai. They are both located very close to the airport which also makes it great to fill your rental car with gas before returning it.
Because Costco sells products in massive quantities and there were just two of us, we only stocked up on the foods we knew we would eat a lot of during our stay. This meant produce…lots of produce.
- Organic veggies for salads – something we both like to eat daily – such as organic greens, peppers, tomatoes, beets, and carrots.
- Organic avocados
- Organic frozen vegetables – cauliflower rice and stir-fry mix
- Real food carbohydrates for active adventure days – organic apples and purple sweet potatoes
- Real food convenience foods for long days away from home – Simple Mills grain-free crackers and Autumn’s Gold grain-free granola bars.
- Organic chicken thighs, organic free-range ground turkey, and Teton Waters 100% grass-fed sausages.
HIT UP NATURAL FOODS MARKETS FOR SPECIALTY FINDS
After grabbing the basic necessities from Costco, we then sought out a natural food store in both Kauai and Maui for the special things we wanted to take our home-cooked meals up a notch. In Kauai, we found both Healthy Hut in Kilauea and Harvest Market in Hanalei. Both carried organic, local produce, 100% grass-fed, local beef (at a really great price), pasture-raised eggs, gluten-free and grain-free snacks, healthy fats and oils, local coffee and tea, and natural body care products.
We stocked up on:
- Bubbies sauerkraut
- Primal Kitchen mayo
- Inka plantain chips
- Local grass-fed beef
- Local kombucha
- Spindrift sparkling water
- Nutpods dairy-free coffee creamer
If you’re coming from the mainland, be prepared for sticker shock at these places! There prices for these items are easily 30-40% higher, sometimes even double the price as what you’re used to seeing.
In Maui, there’s a Whole Foods right by the airport! At first, I thought this was really exciting…a place where I knew exactly what to expect and what I could get. However, we were informed by the guy at the rental car pickup that there was an even better place to get these specialty food items at WAY better prices. And, he was right. Mana Foods in Paia carried all of the great brands I expect to find in Whole Foods at the prices that I was used to from back home in Boulder, CO. Most of the products there were priced pretty comparably to the mainland which was refreshing.
For the second leg of our journey, we picked up:
- Pasture-raised eggs
- Alter Eco Dark Blackout chocolate
- Aged Spanish chorizo
- Purely Elizabeth grain-free granola bars
SCOPE THE GROCERY STORES FOR GOOD DEALS
While we didn’t spend a lot of time (or money) in the box grocery stores like Foodland, we did scope them out and find that, while most of the prices are outrageous, they do have some really good sales. If you love finding a good bargain, you may want to pop into one of these stores and see what’s on sale for the week. You will have to give them your telephone number to sign up for their program in order to get the deals, but it really is worth it.
SEEK OUT FARMER’S MARKETS
There are plenty of Farmer’s Markets going on in all corners of the Hawaiian islands. They are the best spot to find local, organic produce, especially fruit, at good prices. There will be all the avocados, bananas, pineapples, guavas, mangos, and coconuts you could ever want and you’ll be supporting local farmers in the process. We walked through the Hanalei Farmer’s Market, which takes place every Saturday morning, but made it a quick stop because of the rain and mud. It was still a really cool thing to check out and I could have easily spent more time perusing if it were sunny.
TAKE ADVANTAGE OF YOUR RENTAL KITCHEN
First things first, stay at a place with a kitchen! It will immediately enhance your experience. Like I mentioned, eating out at a restaurant for every meal while trying to maintain a healthy lifestyle is going to get tricky (although not completely impossible). Instead, grab your groceries and get cooking! I know, I know, vacation is meant to be a break from all of that stuff. But, it will be a WAY better trip to cook some meals and stay feeling great instead of not cooking at all, eating questionable restaurant food and feeling crappy. These meals don’t need to be anything elaborate either!
While I love to cook at home, I didn’t want to spend my whole time in Hawaii in the kitchen, so I kept things simple. Lots of salad, roasted veggies, pan-grilled chicken thighs, ground beef, warmed up sausages, and scrambled egg bowls. No need to try whipping up a new recipe!
FIND THE BEST LOCAL CUISINE
If you’re anything like me, one of the best things ever is going out to eat! Especially if it’s a new restaurant with something really great on the menu. This excitement is even more amplified while traveling because there are always new things to try. This is where we get into the happy part of being healthy…finding the experiences that bring you so much joy that it lifts (you and your health) up. For me, and for many others, this involves food.
While in Hawaii, there were some meals I knew would bring me such joy. So, these meals became one of the priorities for how we decided which restaurants to go to. The other factors involved in this decision were: Do they have gluten-free options or menu? Do they source their food locally? Both of these traits are really important to me in the quest for a good restaurant.
Luckily, both Kauai and Maui had plenty of restaurants that met this criteria!
Cafe Turmeric at the Hanalei Street Eats food truck lot
This is a cute Indian-inspired food truck that’s in a parking lot with several other food trucks, all of which served very healthy food choices. I LOVE Indian food so had to go with the fish curry at Cafe Turmeric. It was absolutely delish with really fresh fish and an authentic curry sauce. Almost their entire menu is both gluten-free and dairy-free while also being really easy to customize for a keto lifestyle. Be prepared that you will be eating at communal picnic tables outside with all the chickens!
Sushi Girl in Kilauea
Sushi girl is a permanent food truck serving up poke, sushi burritos, and rolls. I knew without a doubt that I wanted to get my hands on all.the.poke. while I was in Hawaii. I had heard great things about Sushi Girl from friends and knew I needed to stop by this place for the best poke experience. It did not disappoint! The poke bowl, called the Action Bowl, is incredibly fresh and tender with great Asian flavor. They give you the option of ordering it on a bed of greens instead of rice or a combo of both, so very easy to make grain-free and keto. We also had the Sushi Beach roll that hit the sushi spot! Everything on their menu is gluten-free except the seaweed salad.
Tiki Tacos in Kapa’a
Another thing that made it on my must-have list was fish tacos. I love tacos but eat authentic ones very, very rarely since corn is not something I do well with in large doses. Good thing I love lettuce-wrapped tacos! Because this was such a special occasion, we thoroughly researched where to find the best tacos on Kauai. The best way to do this, in my opinion, is with online reviews from other people.
Tiki Tacos was a winner according to tons of reviews and I would have to agree! They take pride in their organic corn tortillas made in house daily and the local-sourcing of their vegetables, fish, and meat. I tried the fish, kalua pig, and lamb tacos on real, corn tortillas! Wow, they are incredible. Everything about these tacos was delish. They come with cabbage, homemade salsa, sour cream, and cheese. They were more than happy to make the tacos dairy-free for me and they are already gluten-free. If corn is not your friend, surely they would be more than happy to put the taco contents on to a bed of greens or cabbage. Just like that you have keto-friendly tacos! Note: these tacos are huge! Much, much bigger than the street tacos I’m used to. Three tacos is way more than a full meal, two would be plenty.
Bubba Burgers in Kapa’a
Bubba’s is a quick dining restaurant that serves 100% grass-fed Kauai beef! That is almost impossible to find on the mainland. For this reason, I was really excited to go, especially coming off a 6-mile hike through mud. However, because I don’t eat dairy or gluten, my burger was pretty lackluster. As in mustard, lettuce, and onion, no bun of course. But, if you can eat dairy, adding cheese and one of their sauces to this would really spice it up a bit and make it a great quick keto spot to stop.
Postcards Cafe in Hanalei
This restaurant blew me away! This was our one date night during our time in Kauai and we picked the perfect spot. I was a little hesitant as the menu is small, but now I know it’s just small because everything is so amazing, they don’t need very many options! I am not a huge fan of seafood, so it was important for me to experience a true seafood dish from a place that got their fish in the same day as is caught and cooked by a chef that knows what’s up. Turns out, when it’s this fresh and cooked correctly, I really, really love seafood.
We started out with some taro fritters and polenta cakes – definitely not something I would ever consider ordering at home, but was interested in experiencing on this trip. Our main courses were sesame crusted ahi and the mahi-mahi plate. Both were exquisite. The fish was perfectly cooked and tender, the sauces and side dishes were great compliments. All of these dishes were gluten-free and dairy-free. You could easily sub out the rice and sweet potato mash for extra veggies to keep it keto!
We left with very full bellies and smiles on our faces. That’s something I’m always worried about when I go to fancier restaurants – their portions are so small and this girl likes to eat! Not so with Postcards. On that note, they are a bit pricier than other restaurants, but worth it in my opinion.
Aloha Mixed Plate in Lahaina
We went to Aloha Mixed Plate tired and hungry after a long travel day without knowing much about the place. However, a glance at their menu to spot kalua pork and I was sold. This was yet another must-try Hawaii dish on my list. I attempt to make kalua pork at home pretty regularly and was interested to see how close mine gets to the original. Answer? Not very. Something about authentic kalua pork is untouchable. Including that at Aloha Mixed Plate.
While there weren’t a ton of dished on the menu that were gluten-free and dairy-free, they were very accommodating to make it possible. You can order a salad and get a side of kalua pork to put on top. An amazing combo! Or, you can do a kalua pig plate and sub out the mac salad for a green salad. We chose both of these options and were not disappointed. This was by far the most valuable meal we had the whole time in Hawaii. As in, the most amount of high-quality food for the best price. Plus, you’re outdoors, right on the beach with the waves crashing, and if you catch it at the right time like we did, you get to hear the music from the live luau place right next door! 2-for-1!
Choice Health Bar in Lahaina
We ended up going to Choice Health Bar twice during our week on Maui. While I wouldn’t normally choose a vegan restaurant as my hang out spot, I had heard really good things and was intrigued by their menu. I also really wanted to try an acai bowl. They have been all the rage for awhile now and I still had never had one. I’m not really a smoothie person and definitely not a-ton-of-sugar-in-a-bowl person, but nonetheless, I felt the need to see what these acai bowls were all about, especially ones in Hawaii where they have the best fruit.
Because I don’t eat soy, there’s normally not a ton of options at vegan restaurants, but at Choice, there are plenty of non-soy men items that are actually nut and seed-based. That’s what we focused on during both of our visits. Their caesar kale salad was one of the best salads I have ever had. I don’t know how they do it, but they make a nut-based, dairy-free dressing that is outstanding. The raw pizza and tacos were also very tasty and completely grain-free, soy-free, and naturally low-carb.
We also split the dessert sunrise acai bowl. It was delicious and not nearly as sweet as I thought it would be. However, neither one of us are used to THAT much sugar in one sitting and both felt terrible the rest of the day. Not worth it! We didn’t and never will make that mistake again. I don’t know how people eat an entire one of those and make it through the day.
Another note: Choice has great wifi and a good environment to get work done. Since this was a workcation, we did quite a bit of work and Choice was one of the only places with trusty wifi and chill vibe (aka not just a sea of crazy tourists).
Mama’s Fish House in Paia
This was our Maui date spot. When I asked for recommendations on Maui, this place came up over and over and over again. It is THE place to eat on Maui, no question, which is code for “get a reservation months in advance”. We only made a reservation 3 weeks in advance and had to eat at 2:45 in the afternoon on a Sunday.
Before even stepping foot into the restaurant, I already loved it because they put on their menu the name of the fisherman who caught the fish and where he caught it. You can’t get much more personal with your food than that! Of course, this means the fish they serve are caught that day which makes a huge difference in the taste and quality of the meat. Again, not a ton of items on the menu that were gluten-free and dairy-free, but enough to give us some options. And, they were more than happy to customize a plate of fish and some safe side dishes for us.
We started out with octopus. I was very leary because…octopus. But, really glad I let the server talk me into it. Incredibly tender with a really mild taste. As for main dish, the ahi curry won out for both of us and for good reason. This dish truly was an experience and one that I will never forget. Huge chunks of fish in a rich, creamy coconut-based broth with tons of veggies. Another meal that could very easily be made grain-free and keto-friendly be simply asking for no rice.
There you have it! My recap of everything I ate during my 3 weeks in Hawaii and how I balanced living the experience while continuing to feel my absolute best. No matter where your travels take you, I hope you too can find that balance for yourself and realize you truly can have them both! Now, it’s time for you to start planning your trip to Hawaii so you too can enjoy all of these amazing eats.