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Eating Low-Carb at a Crappy Hotel Breakfast

Don’t let a lack of options derail your low-carb lifestyle. Here is a guide to finding the best options and keeping you on track at a carb-loaded continental breakfast.

Real Live Dad Crappy Hotel Breakfast
A pretty typical continental breakfast. Pretty sad.

Spring means the start of another soccer season. Soccer season means our family will be traveling and spending some weekends in hotels. Hotel stays mean that we will be waking up to continental breakfasts and trying to get a quick fuel-up prior to heading out for a day of games. However, if I’m going to eat carbohydrates, it better be worth it. Week-old banana nut muffins and dense hotel waffles with fake maple syrup, for me, are not worth it.

The free hotel breakfast has become synonymous with convenience foods that are loaded with sugar, and that simply does not fit with a ketogenic or low-carb lifestyle. But not all hope is necessarily lost, as there may be some options at even the stingiest of hotel breakfasts, though there is also a high potential for packing on hidden carbs. Below is a guide to help you avoid the hidden carb traps and find the obvious and the not-so-obvious keto-friendly foods during your next free hotel breakfast.

Beware the Carb Traps The sad reality of the Standard American Diet (SAD) is that foodstuffs touted as healthy options tend to be low in fat and high in carbs. Naturally, these options don’t fit into a ketogenic diet. Therein lies the first warning that can apply at a crummy hotel breakfast or anywhere you plan to eat: avoid listening to what the general public says about healthy foods. Accordingly, these ‘healthy’ options that you are likely to find at your next continental breakfast should be avoided:

Oatmeal – literally a bowl of carbs

Granola bars – literally bars of carbs

Yogurt – a bowl of cultured milk with added carbs

Melon – yup, most fruit is high in carbs

Apples - ditto

Oranges – ditto

Bananas – still ditto

Juice – I feel like this goes without saying, but no

For the more savvy low-carbers, there are still some sneakier breakfast food options you might find that contain more carbohydrates than you would expect. More items to avoid that you may have thought were in the safe zone include (but certainly aren’t limited to):

Coffee Creamer – don’t let the word ‘cream’ fool you. Flavored coffee creamer generally contains 3-5 grams of carbs per serving. The carb count in powdered coffee creamer can range from 0-9 grams, so check the labels as necessary to ensure you aren’t drinking your fill of carbohydrates.

Gravy – Biscuits and gravy are becoming a more common hot item at crappy hotel breakfasts, but the gravy, while high in fat, is unlikely to fit into the low-carb category. Flour and carb-laced thickeners keep gravy on the no-eat list for low-carbers.

Raspberries – Normally raspberries fall into the ‘eat in moderation’ category, but at a crummy hotel they are likely found as oatmeal or waffle toppings and are soaking in a sugary sauce. Fresh raspberries are great, but if the hotel has fresh raspberries then your breakfast probably isn’t all that crappy, and this article probably isn’t necessary for you to find reasonable options.

The Obvious Low-Carb Options

Sorry to start off with the things to avoid…it makes the task of finding good food choices seem much more daunting than it truly is. Rest assured that there are options, and some are pretty easy to find. The most obvious are probably already staples in your diet.

Eggs in almost any form are the go-to items one should look for at a continental breakfast. While eggs-from-a-bag may not be wonderfully appetizing, they are generally low in carbohydrates. The same goes for hard-boiled eggs and almost any other form of eggs likely to be found at a hotel breakfast. If it makes the more palatable, add a pack or two of cream cheese from the bagel area.

Meat in most any form is a go-to at a hotel breakfast. No guarantees on how appetizing it might look, but it’s a little harder (though still possible) for lots of carbs to be hidden inside.

The Not-So-Obvious Low-Carb Options When options are limited, it helps to be creative. When the obvious choices are unavailable, there may still be some safe fallbacks, but you may need to search a bit harder.

Waffle stations are the 2-star hotel rage, and the classier joints may even have nut toppings. Combining walnuts or pecans with a mashup of cream cheese and/or butter makes for a rich start to the morning. The same goes for fresh berries (in moderation) that may be found as oatmeal or waffle toppings.

Real Live Dad Cream Cheese and Pecan Hotel Breakfast
Nothing looks especially appetizing in a cheap styrofoam bowl, but cream cheese and nuts come together for a pretty good breakfast option.

Peanut butter packets are an option when you’re in a bind, and have enough fat and protein to get you started for the day. With 3 grams of net carbs per packet (10% of the caloric total), enjoy in moderation.

The Takeaway It’s unfortunate, but we can’t assume that a hotel breakfast is going to have choices that work with your lifestyle. We can, however, plan for the choices we make about the food we eat. Packing a small stash of nuts before you head on the road can ensure you have options when you wake up, or you can treat yourself to a heavy-cream latte to fill you up and start your morning assuming a coffee shop is nearby.

Living a low-carb lifestyle means making an occasional sacrifice in the name of your health. If that sacrifice means passing over some stale bread or settling for a breakfast of peanut butter instead of a granola bar, then I think it’s worth it.

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