How to Select Healthy Airline and Airport Food

Fly out Sunday, fly back in Thursday; lather, rinse, repeat. A healthcare IT consultant is often on the road – or in the air – twice a week while he or she is on a job, and all of that hard work means travel mealtimes may be infrequent, unhealthy or incomplete. You know how to stay HIT fit during travel assignments and eat healthier in your hotel room, but what about when you’re up in the air or stuck in an airport with a layover? Read below for tips on how to select healthy airline and airport food:

Travel on healthier airlines. Traditionally lauded as cardboard-like and frozen-tasting, airline food has come a long way in the past 20 years, and some airlines offer healthier options than others. Blogger Charles Platkin (The Diet Detective) publishes an annual guide to in-flight food that ranks the top airlines based on healthy food choices. According to his 2012 survey, Virgin America and Alaska Airlines are two of the recommended U.S. airlines offering the healthiest and most innovative food, with United Airlines behind them. Here’s what to order on each:

On Virgin America, snack on PopChips, nuts and the 100-calorie caramel popcorn, and choose the oatmeal, Protein Meal (with hummus, whole-wheat pita and sliced turkey), Holiday Turkey Sandwich (when available) or the Roasted Pear and Arugula Salad for your meal.

On Alaska Airlines, go for the Mediterranean Tapas Picnic Pack, which has olives, hummus, almonds, apricots, apples and a dark chocolate bar, or the Kids’ Choice Picnic Pack, with Pirate’s Booty White Cheddar Puffs, a turkey snack stick, applesauce, yogurt and fruit chews.  For your meal, select the Fruit and Cheese platter, Chicken Cacciatore Skillet or Angus burger, but save the chips that come with it for another time.

On United Airlines, order the Yogurt Parfait, Ham and Cheddar Rustic Ciabatta Sandwich, Grilled Chicken Spinach Salad or Asian Noodle Salad for low-calorie meals. For other airlines, see the complete list on Charles’ site.

Eat one of these healthy options in the airport before you fly. Fast-food chain restaurants found at most major airports are offering reduced-fat, -calorie and -sodium dishes, such as the mixed vegetables and string bean chicken breast from Panda Express; grilled chicken sandwich with barbecue sauce or a small hamburger from McDonald’s; a six-inch oven-roasted chicken breast sandwich with fresh vegetables on whole wheat bread from Subway; the Guiltless Salmon from Chili’s; or two Fresco Ranchero chicken soft tacos from Taco Bell, according to

For breakfast, opt for a fruit and yogurt parfait from Starbucks or a Jamba light smoothie from Jamba Juice. If you have a sweet tooth, go for a half-cup serving of low-fat Cherry Garcia frozen yogurt from Ben & Jerry’s.

Healthier snack options available in the sundry shops or refrigerated cases in terminals include: fresh fruit, low-fat yogurt, dry-roasted nuts, hummus (check the label for what constitutes a portion size, as containers can run large), half of a bran muffin or breakfast sandwiches made with egg whites, says a USA Today article on healthy snacks you can buy at the airport.

Make healthier choices on any airline. Most airlines offer some form of a turkey sandwich, so order that, remove the cheese slice and put mustard on it instead of mayo. Save up to 100 calories and make it an open-face sandwich by removing the top piece of bread. Alternatively, order any airline’s cheese and fruit tray and only eat half – save the other half for breakfast the next day. As a snack, order plain or lightly salted nuts, but keep your portion size to only what will fit in the palm of one hand, which equals about a quarter-cup serving.

Need a cocktail to soothe your in-flight jitters? A Bloody Mary is always a safe choice calorie-wise, though you’ll want to down an extra glass of water to flush out all that sodium. Or, drink a serving of flavor-infused vodka cut with diet lemon-lime soda or club soda with a splash of cranberry juice for flavor, advises