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SACRIFICE DIET, HEALTH ON ALTAR OF SUMMER HEDONISM

Roll out those lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer - and summer vacation. Vacation time spells freedom from work, and the casual, care-free attitude may stretch into our diets as well. In this "What, me worry?" libertine atmosphere, caution and concern about health are sacrificed on the altar of the Great God Leisure.

"I work so hard the rest of the year," goes the thinking, "that I deserve to gratify my every wish for these few weeks. Besides, what harm can it do?"No harm at all - if you don't mind letting your health slide and your waistline spread. But don't expect us to take the killjoy role and warn you against breaking the rules. Au contraire: If you're determined to enjoy absolute freedom from sound nutrition during your vacation, here are some suggestions to help you get the job done right.

Forget regular meals. Who needs the hassle of planning and cooking? Encourage your family to eat on the run. Stock the refrigerator with cold cuts, snack foods and soft drinks. You'll never have to sit down together at a regular meal; you can all gobble up at different times. Try to eat out a lot, too, grabbing hot dogs, colas and ice cream at the ballpark or beach.

If you must cook, make it a thick, juicy steak or a grilled hamburger layered in cheese, rather than fish or chicken, which require somewhat more time to prepare.

Fresh vegetables abound in summer, which is way too much work on vacation. Even frozen vegetables take time to heat up, so don't bother. If the family screams for a side dish, pass a bowl of potato chips. And why serve fresh fruit for dessert when store-bought cookies are so much easier?

If you're taking a trip with your loved ones, stop as often as possible at fast-food eateries. You'll be able to eat your fill of fat, sugar and sodium-laden foods like fried chicken and fried clams, hamburgers slathered in ketchup and pickles, and thick shakes. There's nothing like a load of calories consumed at high speed to bring a family together.

And speaking of traveling with kids, one way to keep them quiet in the car is to fill their little mouths with sticky sweets and candies. This practice is a great money-saver, too, because if you stuff them enough they'll be too bloated to eat anything when you sit down at a restaurant.

Restaurants, by the way, are a great place for throwing nutritional rules out the window. Don't forget to eat all the bread and butter they provide, and order twice as much food as usual because, hey, it's your vacation, and you're supposed to be having fun, not worrying about little things like your heart or your weight.

But let's not confine ourselves to eating. Those hot summer days are the perfect time to drink up. It's true that low-fat milk and icy fruit or vegetable drinks are just as refreshing and more nutritious than soda, but who wants to play safe? Any old stick-in-the-mud can have low-calorie iced tea, coffee with skim milk, or plain or sparkling water with a twist. But a real bon vivant can guzzle down two or three gin and tonics or four or more cans of soda in the course of an afternoon.

At that high-calorie rate, you must be having fun, right? And you can double the thrill by eating nuts or chips hand-over-fist along with your drinks.

Now let's not forget one of the most important guidelines of all: relaxing. Vacation means rest, so don't even think about exercising. If any misguided friend suggests taking a bicycle trip, playing tennis or swimming laps, tell him or her to take a hike - without you. Make yourself comfy, lie back on your couch or hammock, and drift into never-never land. On your sacred vacation, walking to the refrigerator is all the physical labor you need.

On the other hand, maybe relaxing really isn't your style. If you're cut from more energetic cloth, our advice is just the opposite: Don't relax. Ever. And don't let your family relax, either. Drag them on a sightseeing trip and make sure you see everything, even if it means hustling. Night flights are nice, and put everyone in a good mood. Long car trips are great, too, especially if your children are small.

Whatever you do, make sure the pace never slackens, because why did you come all this way if you weren't going to get the most for your time and money? And no whining, please, this is your vacation.

What? None of the above sounds appealing? Then forget it all, and follow a more sensible path. Because rest assured, you can have a happy holiday without putting your health on hold and paying a price later.