If you live anywhere near a coast, chances are you’ll be visiting a beach this summer. I spent my childhood summers living at the beach on Long Beach Island, New Jersey. My first job was at a restaurant called the Salad Workshop, and I worked there as a prep cook for four summers. I learned how to mince garlic, make pies, wash lettuce, and put together all kinds of salads. Healthy food wasn’t a priority for me back then, but by beach standards, the food there was quite good.
At beaches up and down the coast, places like the Salad Workshop are the exception rather than the rule today. Beaches are known more typically for ice cream shops, fried clams, and other greasy fare. If you’re going on vacation to the beach, you’ll need to do more preparation than usual if you want to maintain your eating principles and enjoy real food at the beach.
I still visit LBI every summer, and I was excited to see Beach Haven listed as one of the top 10 family beaches in America by Independent Traveler. Unfortunately, New Jersey is rated number 46 on Strolling of the Heifers’ Locavore Index. For a place nicknamed the Garden State, this is not good. During a recent trip to LBI, I was disappointed to learn that there are only 6 farmers’ markets in all of Ocean County. Despite the lack of focus on local food, it’s still possible to sift through the greasy, sugar-laden options and find some real food on a Jersey Shore vacation.
Find Restaurants that Focus on Local Ingredients.
Even if you’re visiting a state at the bottom of the Locavore Index, there are bound to be a few restaurants that pride themselves on their use of fresh, local ingredients. On LBI, we’ve enjoyed good local food at Greenhouse Café, The Gables, and The Arlington. Check out Edible Communities magazines to find out if they have restaurant suggestions for the beach town you’ll be visiting.
Find Specialty Markets or Health Food Stores.
Many towns have specialty markets where you can grab a healthy lunch or stock up on some high-quality snacks. The Pearl Street Market in Beach Haven is known for its delicious prepared foods that are made from local ingredients. The price isn’t a bargain, but it’s worth splurging a few times on vacation.
Find Fresh Seafood.
If you’re at the beach, chances are you can get great seafood fresh off the boat. Call the fish markets and ask about the source and freshness of their seafood. If you don’t have a kitchen or grill on your vacation, keep an eye out for seafood specials at the restaurants.
Bring Homemade Snacks and Stock Up at the Store.
Pack snacks ahead of time and stock up at the grocery store at home or at your destination. The grocery store is usually the place where you’ll find the most affordable whole foods while you’re traveling. Check out my post about finding real food on the road for suggestions about homemade snacks that travel well.
Plan to Grill.
If you have access to a grill during your beach vacation, this can be your best friend. Put some fresh fish and veggies on the barbecue for a simple dinner. You probably don’t want to heat up the kitchen anyway.
Decide ahead of time how treats will be handled. You’ll be bombarded with even more options than at home, with ice cream and fudge shops everywhere you look. In the interest of full disclosure, I’ll tell you that we allow our children to eat ice cream every day while they’re on their beach vacation. “Ice Cream Every Day” is a highlight of their year, and their favorite treat is the one they can buy from the ice cream truck. It makes me shudder a bit, but they’re only young once and I do understand the allure of that truck and its catchy little song.
If you have other tips about making healthy food choices while on a beach vacation, share them in the comments!