11 Nutritionist-Approved Tips on What to Eat (and What to Avoid) at the Airport
Since airport terminals are not known for their clean cuisine, we got nutritionists to share their tips for staying healthy on your next airplane adventure.
Pack your own
Let’s start with the surest bet—your own food from home. It’s true that you can’t have liquid over the ounce count, but your culinary creations are welcomed by the TSA. Private practice dietitian Andy De Santis RD, MPH, always brings his own whole-grain sandwiches from home, ensuring he has a lunch that is not only nutritious, but is less expensive than pre-packaged airport food too. “The best way to have control over what you eat while traveling is to bring what you need to eat,” he says. “You don’t always know what you’re going to get when you get to the terminal or on the flight, so this is a great preventive measure.” These are the surprising foods you can and can’t bring on a plane.
Eat like you would at home
If on a Thursday morning, you probably wouldn’t eat a Pop Tart, why opt for these high-calorie, high-sugar dishes while traveling? While it’s easier to just buy something already prepared for you, De Santis says using an at-home outlook will serve your body better. “Almost all airport terminals will have a little shop selling cereal, nuts, Greek yogurt and fruit. Use your creativity here and combine these foods into complete and filling mini meals.” Get some inspiration from these 50 snack recipes you’ll want to munch on.
Pack a sleepy snack
Can’t figure out how to sleep on a plane? (Check out these tips and tricks from seasoned travelers). One way to get some shut-eye is to give your body a natural, wholesome food that makes it sleepy and fulfilled. Registered nutritionist Amy Gorin, MS, RDN, packs a baggie of dried Montmorency tart cherries when she travels for long flights. “Tart cherries contain melatonin, which helps regulate your internal clock and may help increase overall sleep efficiency—something that helps while traveling,” she explains.
Double up on protein
Even if you’re pumped about getting to a beach or finally checking off a bucket list destination in Europe, there’s a lot going on between security and landing, and if you don’t make sure you’re full, you’ll find yourself nomming on sweets. Nutritionist Ken Immer, CCHE says doubling up on protein will help you stay satisfied. “Combine a pack of beef/turkey jerky with some plain or roasted nuts. The double protein punch of the jerky and the nuts will keep hunger at bay for longer, and the fat from the nuts is quick to satisfy right away. Both snacks come in multiple flavors these days, and they’re super portable,” he suggests. Here’s how to eat more protein without even trying.
Try to find a Starbucks…
While you don’t have De Santis’ OK to get a Frappuccino, Starbucks has some good grab-and-go options. Because Starbucks is candid about their caloric and nutritional value, you don’t have to do the math in your head. “Starbucks has protein boxes, and you could have a latte with milk for added protein and calcium,” he suggests. Nutritionist Jennifer Bowers, PhD, RD, also adds that a spinach and feta wrap from Starbucks isn’t a bad idea, either, especially if you’re craving something warm before flying high in the air. Here’s what’s actually in your favorite Starbucks drinks.
…or a Chipotle
Bowers says that if you ditch the tortilla and make a salad instead, you save a lot of calories and get more in nutritional value. “On a bed of greens, pile on the fiber and protein-rich beans, as well as the healthy fat in the guacamole. You’ll feel full and satisfied longer. Remember to skip the sour cream, go easy on the cheese but heavy on the salsa if you want some spice. Remember to include a large cold bottle of water to wash it down,” she suggests. These are the secrets that Chipotle won’t tell you.
Load up on snacks for long flights
If you don’t have a chance to pack your own in your carry-on, Bowers says it’s worth the extra pennies to load up on healthy snacks to get you through your flight. “KIND or Zing bars, roasted nuts, fresh oranges, ice cold water, carrots, cucumbers and bell peppers with hummus.” Megan Faletra, a registered dietitian, MS, MPH, RDN, says if you’re vegetarian, consider trying to find a hard-boiled egg, chopped vegetables and hummus: “High in protein and low in sodium, this healthy combo will keep you feeling full and help you avoid unwanted airplane bloating,” she says. Check out these 100 snack recipes you’re not making yet.
Prepare for allergies
If you suffer from food intolerances, eating well while traveling is even more challenging. Faletra suffers from Celiac disease and has a dairy intolerance, so she’s developed a special skill set involving scouring airport terminals to find healthy foods that sit well with her stomach. “I always come prepared to pull together a healthy meal for myself mid-flight,” she says. “One of my favorite options is to bring an unsweetened gluten-free oatmeal packet with a single-serve packet of almond butter, and then ask for hot water and fruit on the plane. Within minutes I have a healthy delicious meal,” she suggests. Bonus if you can bring your own incredibly healthy blueberries.
Look for chip alternatives
The key to reading nutrition labels is to make sure sugar, corn or soy aren’t lurking under suspicious names, and that the main components of any packaged food are words you can pronounce. This is why Faletra suggests looking for crunchy veggies instead of oily chips. “If your salty snack craving hits, try to find healthier versions of chips or crackers. Snap Peas are available in many airports these days, and are loaded with protein, fiber and tend to be lower in sodium as well, which is ideal for flight approved snack,” she explains. If you can’t kick your chip cravings to the curb, take a look at the top 5 healthy chips you can buy.
Make smart swaps
Filling yourself up with this superstar fruit is one of Immer’s favorite tips. “Don’t just plan on eating it as a snack; instead use it as a ‘side’ when grabbing a quick meal,” he says. “Airport food court food is usually not ‘customizable,’ but you can ditch the fries as your side and supplement with the apple.” He recommends eating the apple before your entree to fill up a bit.
Choose appetizers over meals
You’ll save calories—and cash. “Try making a meal out of an appetizer and a side dish to avoid the calorie bombs that are surely on the menu. The appetizer portion of wings, or the burger sliders—and just ditch one bun—can give you the protein you need to keep hunger at bay, and a side salad or a portion of the steamed vegetables can round out a well-balanced meal,” he says. Here are some healthy fast food places for when you’re on the go.