How to Eat Healthy at the Airport

We asked nutritionists how they make healthy choices while traveling.

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You Can Find Healthy Food at the Airport

If you think it’s impossible to eat healthy when flying, think again! While the hustle and bustle of air travel (like getting through security) can cause healthy eating habits fall by the wayside, there are still ways to make healthier choices while flying. Here are 10 simple ways to make the most of your airport experience no matter how limited your options are.

Start Before Leaving the House

Think back to the last time you headed to the airport. With the craziness of packing and remembering where you put your identification documents, eating is often the last thing on your mind. That is exactly why it's important to make time to eat a healthy snack or meal before leaving the house. “A lot can go awry at the airport so I eat something healthy and filling before I leave like a smoothie, egg sandwich or a bar,” says Jenna Braddock, RD, CPT dietitian, personal trainer and owner of MakeHealthyEasy.com and OffSeasonAthlete.com.

Plan Ahead

Although you may have a tough time getting yogurt, jars of peanut butter and beverages through security, you can pack a peanut butter and jelly sandwich on whole wheat bread, which will last through security and long flights. For a snack, pack whole fruit like apples, pears and clementines or a homemade trail mix that don’t need any refrigeration. Other security-friendly snacks include hard-boiled eggs, jerky, homemade muffins, air-popped popcorn and whole grain pasta salad.

Check Menus Ahead of Time

You can also plan ahead by checking the food that will be available at the airport and on your flight. Larger airports tend to have more choices compared to small ones, but you’ll still find healthy choices at both. Smaller airports (for national travelers) tend to have fresh or dried fruit, yogurt and some whole grains (like popcorn) at many grab-and-go kiosks. Airlines also list their menu items for flights online. This is a great way to determine what your choices will be, so you can plan around them.

Pack Food for Your Flight

Integrative and culinary dietitian Marisa Moore, MBA, RDN, LD takes food with her all the time. “I like to keep fruit and nuts in my bag for snacking. For longer flights, my favorite is nut butter on sprouted grain bread paired with fruit.” Not only does this perfectly portable plane food travel well, but it also provides plenty of healthy fats and fiber, plus some protein which helps keep you satisfied throughout longer flights. “This gives me time to get settled at my destination and have a meal when I land,” Moore explains.

Opt for Shelf-Stable Foods

“When traveling internationally, look for shelf-stable healthy snacks that can go the distance without having to be refrigerated,” says Dr. Joan Salge Blake, EdD, RDN, LDN, FAND, nutrition professor, Boston University and the host of the hit health and wellness podcast, SpotOn!. “The last thing that you want to pack on a long, international trip is food poisoning.” Blake recommends to pack protein-rich foods such as nuts and roasted chickpea snacks, whole fruit (apples, bananas, citrus), dried fruit (dried apricots, raisins), a can of veggie juice (think Bloody Mary mix without the booze) and a large bottle of water, which you can buy after you go through security. This vegetarian snack-fest will keep you satisfied until you land at your destination. Keep in mind: During international travel, your fresh fruit can’t come with you, so eat it before you land!

Look for a Starbucks

If you need to grab something at the airport and nothing else is around, see if the airport has a Starbucks (many do!). A few go-to items you can pick up depending on the availability include oatmeal, a spinach, feta and egg white breakfast wrap, the chicken and quinoa protein bowl with black beans and greens, a tomato and mozzarella sandwich or an egg and cheese protein box. Some also carry fresh fruit, which is always easy to stuff in your carry-on for later on. All the nutrition info can be found online or via the Starbucks app so you can easily plan ahead to make a smart choice.

Stay Hydrated

“When I travel overseas, I focus mainly on staying well-hydrated since dehydration can worsen jet lag and increase fatigue,” says Malina Malkani, MS, RDN, CDN, media spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and creator of the Wholitarian Lifestyle. Malkani explains that air travel is particularly dehydrating due to fluid loss through the skin, low-humidity and recirculating air in a pressurized cabin, so it’s important to drink even if you’re not feeling thirsty. Carry an empty re-useable water bottle in you carry-on and fill it once you’ve cleared security. “A good guideline is to drink a cup or so of water before the flight, one for every hour in the air and another post-flight,” says Malkani. When offered in-flight beverage, stick with water, club soda or tomato juice and limit alcohol which promotes dehydration.

Look for Meals Piled With Fruits and Veggies

Sometimes it’s tough to get your hands on fruit and vegetables when running through airports and traveling many hours on planes — especially when traveling internationally. Jonathan Valdez, owner of Genki Nutrition and New York City and Long Island Media Spokesperson for the New York State Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics always looks for meals where at least half the plate is fruits and/or vegetables. You can also find to-go fresh items that are typically in baskets (by the grab-and-go kiosks that are found throughout airports). Depending on where you are going you may be able to swap out the high-fat/starch foods with healthier options. “If you pinch pennies like me, I wait to be on the flight to eat my snacks or meals and opt-out on the free and undesirable tasting wine,” says Valdez.

Use a "Just Add Water" Strategy

Hot water is available within airports and on airplanes. If you want to pack healthy fare from home, think about oatmeal packets, tea bags and other “just add boiling water” cups like Keen One Quinoa Cups or Lotus Foods rice ramen soup cups.

Make Energy Bites

Dana Angelo White, MS RD ATC, Food Network contributor and cookbook author reaches for a few handfuls of long-lasting fuel made from oats, dried fruit, nuts, honey, chia seeds and nut butter. “I make a homemade batch of energy bites or granola to stash in my bag for a busy day of travel. Neither requires refrigeration, they can be made to be sweet or savory and they keep me feeling full and energized for hours.”