Best Ways for You to Eat Healthier in an Airport

Tips to navigate many unhealthy options

Businesswoman sitting in airport lounge with coffee, overhead view

By: Laura Jeffers, MEd, RD, LD

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Take it from someone who knows. It is possible to eat healthy while you travel and wait in airports. But you do have to work at it. You have to be ready because unhealthy food is everywhere in an airport.

The key is to know how to make the best choices with the options you are provided.

Plan ahead to win

To eat well in an airport, it makes sense to plan ahead. If you don’t plan, you’ll be sidetracked by many unhealthy, easily accessible options.

I spend extra time making sure that I have looked at all of my restaurant options before I make a decision about where to eat.  Sometimes when I am passing time during a layover, I will look up the airport that I am traveling to and see what food options they have. Whatever you do, have a plan.

Build your own healthy meal

One trick I’ve learned in airports is to focus on foods that you can put together yourself – like a make-to-order sandwich with lean protein, vegetables, no mayo or extra sauce, on wheat bread – or you can do something similar with a salad.

When you’re assembling a snack or meal, look for healthy protein to go with your carbohydrate. Yes, it will be a challenge, but if you are looking for it, you can usually find something that will work.

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For instance, instead of getting fruit and a pastry, go with the Greek yogurt parfait. The yogurt, which is high in protein, will keep you full and the small amount of granola gives you a touch of sweetness but has far fewer calories than any pastry, Danish, dessert or bread.

Another overall tip: Avoid fried foods — and they are everywhere in the airport. Steer clear of desserts, doughnuts and giant cinnamon rolls. Generally, the servings are huge in the airport too. So you have to manage your portions.

Tips for specific airport areas

Here are some tips I offer that are specific to where you are in the airport – or on an airplane:

  • At restaurants, go for fresh entrees – nothing fried. Also, watch out for foods that sound healthy, like a “soup and salad” when there are creamy soups and salads with high-fat toppings, such as bacon, heavy dressing and croutons.
  • In gift shops, reach for single serving foods like yogurt, hummus or a protein bar.
  • At a bagel shop – go with the skinny bagel option with low-fat cream cheese, choose side of fruit instead of a pastry when at a coffee shop.
  • If you get fast food, choose the healthy options – salads with grilled chicken, plain baked potato, sandwiches with no extra sauce, 1 patty (not double or triple) and order a small fry if you have to have fries.

How to eat well on an airplane

If you eat on the airplane, then don’t eat in the airport. You don’t need to eat twice.  Here are some other do’s and don’ts if you are eating on the airplane itself:

Don’t overpack food and have it in your lap the entire time. I recommend bringing a serving of nut/dried fruit mix (not 5 servings) or a single serving of pretzels and some string cheese.

Do try hummus and pita chips (small enough that the calories are within a healthy range).

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Don’t purchase the candy options or even the nut mix/trail mix because they are in such large servings and you will end up eating more than you should.

Do keep any extra food in the overhead out of sight and out of mind.  I only keep with me what I have planned to eat. I know ahead of time if I will be purchasing food on the plane and then I stay clear of food in the airport.

Whether in the airport or on an airplane, there will be people eating around you and the food will look good, so find something else to keep your mind occupied. I suggest occupying your mind with reading, work on the computer, or talking with friends.

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