You’re about to get on a flight and your stomach is growling. After dragging your luggage around the entire airport terminal in search of something satisfying and nutritious, all you have to show for your efforts is an over-priced burger and fries.
Eating healthy at the airport is no easy feat, especially if you’re cranky, jet-lagged, lost, or rushing to the gate to make your flight (or all of the above).
Ideally, you’d pack your own snacks for every flight, but let’s be honest — it’s a struggle to pack your luggage, much less healthy snacks. So, how do you eat healthy at the airport when you can’t stuff your carry-on with homemade trail mix and chopped veggies?
You learn how to make smart choices and modify what you can. Read on for easy, practical tips about how to eat healthy at the airport — without resorting to a $14 fruit cup.
5 Strategies for Eating Healthy While Traveling
1. Skip the jerky and energy bars
It’s tempting to assemble a makeshift meal out of a chocolate chip granola bar, salted trail mix studded with yogurt-covered raisins, and pretzels from the newsstand, but resist the urge to load up on salt and sugar. Jennifer Glockner, R.D. and creator of Smartee Plate says the added sugar from processed foods can lead to blood sugar spikes and crashes, meaning you’ll be jittery one minute and lethargic the next.
Glockner also says too much salt increases your body’s water retention, which can exacerbate the swelling that happens in your feet when you sit for long periods of time.
2. Keep snacks small
Snacks have the power to make or break your travel experience. The ideal snack should include a lean protein and a whole grain, fruit, or vegetable. “Remember that a snack should not be a full meal, and should contain no more than about 200 calories,” says Glockner. Steer clear of processed food such as chips, baked goods, and candy, and opt instead for items packed with fiber and protein to energize you and help keep you full.
Glockner recommends whole fruits, unsweetened dried fruit, plain Greek yogurt, string cheese, sliced veggies, air-popped popcorn with no added salt or butter, unsweetened whole grain dry cereal with low-fat milk, or unsalted nuts.
“Nuts contain heart-healthy fats, protein, and fiber, but they are high in calories so watch the portion size,” says Glockner. A standard serving size for nuts is one ounce, which is about 24 almonds, 35 peanuts, 14 walnut halves, and 18 cashews.
If you can’t find these options in airport convenience stores, look for them in delis, cafes, or coffee chains like Starbucks.
3. Stick with low-sugar, non-alcoholic beverages
Staying hydrated during travel is key. Water is the best choice, but if you want something with more pizzazz, unsweetened decaf coffee and tea, or 100-percent fruit juice with no added sugar are also good options.
And we all know that flying anxiety and long travel times can make you want to down a cocktail (or two or three), but it’s best to avoid alcohol — it can dehydrate you and disrupt your appetite signals, causing you to reach for food when you’re not hungry.
4. Scan menus for lean proteins and veggies
If you find a restaurant in your terminal, be smart when you order. Avoid anything greasy, fried, or fatty, since these foods are, harder to digest and could lead to GI discomfort, especially with prolonged sitting, says Glockner.
Instead, look for proteins like grilled chicken and fish, salads with vinaigrettes instead of creamy dressings, or whole-grain pasta with red sauce. Other good options are turkey sandwiches loaded with veggies, and scrambled, or hard-boiled eggs, with whole-grain toast.
If you have a long flight, consider ordering a second meal for the plane. You can take it to-go and break it out when the flight attendants start serving tiny portions of mystery meat and bland lasagna.
5. Skip the plane snacks
Ever notice that your food doesn’t quite hit the spot when you fly? Some research has shown that flying could affect the taste of certain foods and drinks. Psychological factors, such as adjusting to a new environment and dealing with the loud white noise of the plane, could be factors in suppressing taste.
According to research published in the journal Flavour, umami — or incredibly savory — is one of the only basic tastes that’s relatively unaffected by the loud background noise. This could explain why you’re more inclined to snack on salty, zesty foods to satisfy a craving while in flight.
Be wary of eating everything offered to you on a plane, especially if you’re not actually hungry. When the flight attendants pass out a second bag of snack mix, ask yourself whether you need fuel or just want a little kick for your tastebuds. If it’s the latter, drink a cup of tea, chew gum, or suck on a mint instead.
Healthy Snack Ideas
But if you’re the type of person who has their bags packed a week before you depart, then you can put together a bunch of healthy snacks that you can take with you in almost no time:
5 Simple, No-Cook Snacks: Your snack pack doesn’t have to be elaborate or require any extra-special ingredients. These snacks can satisfy any particular cravings that might hit while you’re in the security line, like the Give Me Protein Snack Box with eggs, deli turkey, cheese, celery, and peanut butter) or the Chips and Dip Snack Box with tortilla chips, guacamole, pico de gallo, bell pepper, and pineapple. (Bonus? They’re all Portion Fix-approved!)
Snack Boxes for Busy People: These snack boxes are perfect for people on the go — whether you’re in a plane, train, or automobile. Try the vegan West Coast Snack Box — kale chips, almonds, grapes, a clementine, and roasted chickpeas. Or go withe Mediterranean Snack Box with hummus, cherry tomatoes, olives, grapes, and mini-pitas. Who needs the Golden Arches when you have all this tasty, delicious flavor in a box??
Daily Sunshine: This delicious smoothie is super easy to make (water + shake = done), and comes in Chocolate and Strawberry Banana flavors. This new Beachbody smoothie was formulated with kids in mind, but it’s a perfect adult snack as well, made with a fruit and vegetable blend, plant-based protein, and healthy fats.
The Bottom Line
Eating while traveling doesn’t have to be a grim, greasy affair. With a couple of containers and a quick trip to the grocery store, you can put together flavorful, satisfying, and healthy snacks that will keep you satisfied while you’re racking up those frequent flier miles.