Reviewed by Sharon Denny, MS, RD
After braving crowds, lines and turbulence, even the most health-conscious air travelers can find themselves searching for comfort in the fatty, salty and sugary foods available in airports. But according to Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics Spokesperson Angela Lemond, RD, CSP, LD, stressful times are exactly when your body most needs good food. "Fuel your body with the right nutrients," she says. "When you're flying, it's stressful. Your body utilizes more nutrients, so it's important to nourish yourself well and plan."
Foods That Will Clear Security
The healthiest eating in the airport starts at home with pre-assembled snacks. Packing healthy snacks is especially important while traveling, because healthy options can be limited and temptations are everywhere. "When you're exposed to these higher calorie foods," Lemond says, "if you're not too hungry, you're going to be more likely to make that healthy choice."
Lemond recommends crafting your own homemade trail mix, made with: whole-grain, high-fiber cereal; nuts, such as almonds or walnuts; and a sprinkling of dried fruit. Dole out ¾- to 1-cup servings of the mix in individual containers to reduce mindless eating. "You know if you have to go to another baggie, you're going to another portion," she says. Lemond also recommends snacks like fresh fruit and cheese sticks, which are satisfying, easy to pack and will make it through security.
If you aren't able to pack healthy snacks, Lemond says healthy options are available for purchase in the airport if you know what to look for. Choose high-fiber (at least 3 grams per serving) granola bars, pretzels, peanut butter crackers, packages of peanuts, low-fat yogurt or fruit. If you opt for chips, Lemond says to mind the saturated fat content. "You want to keep the saturated fat at 2 grams or less per serving," she says.
For meals, many airport restaurants have started offering healthier fare. Lemond says to find a menu that includes options including grilled chicken breast, side salads, baked potatoes and low-fat dairy.
One trick Lemond recommends is buying a meal, such as a salad or sandwich, and bringing it on the plane with you. "A lot of people forget that," she says. "You can find something healthy at the airport and bring it on the plane and eat it."
What to Drink
"Keeping hydrated is really important all the time, but it's important whenever you're traveling," Lemond says. Drinking liquids can give your body a feeling of satiety to help prevent overeating, fight feelings of fatigue and can keep your immune system running at its peak, she says.
One thing you don't want to do is rely on alcohol to cope with travel stress, Lemond says. "Instead, if you're stressed out, go take a walk in the airport," she says."Use exercise as a stress reducer."
Tips for Travelers with Dietary Restrictions
Finding healthy food in the airport can be a challenge for those with special dietary considerations. For example, for vegetarian or vegan travelers, Lemond recommends looking for places that serve ethnic cuisine — a Mexican restaurant serving bean burritos, a Chinese restaurant serving vegetable stir fry on rice, or a Middle Eastern restaurant serving hummus or falafel.
Or, research your options ahead of time. "Plan ahead and go onto the airport's website and find out exactly what the eating places are near your terminal," Lemond says. "Stake those out ahead of time so you're not just trying to fend for yourself."