Healthy eating at the airport

Travelers grab a bite to eat while waiting for a flight.

Travelers grab a bite to eat while waiting for a flight.  (iStock)

Whether you are taking to the skies for business or vacation, airports can pose a challenge to healthy eating. Vacations are an understandable time to let loose when it comes to food, but if you’re a frequent flyer unhealthy eating in airports can really add up. Read on for some tips for nutritious options for air travel that are easy on your waistline and your wallet.

Yogurt: Airports have been making an effort to stock more nutritious options, so keep an eye out for yogurts at the food kiosks and small markets. A good source of protein and calcium, yogurt is a great grab-and-go choice that you can enjoy at your gate or eat on the plane without offending your seatmates. Since some yogurts are high in sugar, if you have the choice, go for Greek yogurt – it’s naturally higher in protein and lower in sugar than regular yogurt. Unlike other healthy snack foods that are smart to pack in advance, don’t bring your yogurt from home since any liquid over 3 ounces will get confiscated at security.

Grapes: Don’t get stuck paying a huge markup for a piece of fruit at the airport and bring something from home instead. Grapes are a portable, nutritious, and hydrating snack that’s perfect for air travel. Whether you prefer green, red, or black – all three colors of grapes are a natural source of beneficial antioxidants and other polyphenols, vitamin K, and heart-healthy compounds. Use a paper towel to wrap your grapes for a little cushion and quick cleanup on the run.

Fast Casual Salads: You might feel like you’re too short on time to stop at a restaurant and grab a bite, but many airport restaurants have added to-go options for busy travelers. The variety of to-go salad options now available at airports are more sophisticated than your standard fast food salad consisting of iceberg lettuce, a couple of cherry tomatoes, and some carrot shavings. Look for options with dark leafy greens, a variety of color vegetables, a hearty portion of lean protein, and light dressing options. 

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Pistachios: For some filling calories that won’t fill up your bag, bring along some pistachios to snack on for your trip. Wonderful Pistachios 100-calorie packs are portable, convenient, and satisfying. Plus, the combination of plant-based protein, fiber and good-for-you unsaturated fats may help keep you fuller longer than other empty calorie options. Even better, if you find yourself empty-handed on your travels, 100-calorie pistachio packs are available at many airports across America where it can be hard to find healthy snacks.

Oatmeal Packets: If you’re a fan of hot breakfasts but are generally too groggy to get it together before an early trip to the airport, throw a packet or two of instant oats in your carryon. When you’re on the plane, ask for some hot water and an extra paper cup and cook up your hot meal right after takeoff. For one less step, look for oats already packaged in a small disposable tub that are perfect for air travel, as well as the hotel.

Protein Bars: Although many protein bars have the same nutritional value as candy, there are some healthy options on the market. Look for bars made with whole ingredients that are sweetened with things like dried fruit instead of added sugar. For a lower sugar bar with whole food ingredients, KIND Nuts & Spices bars have 5g of sugar or less, which is 50% less sugar per bar than the average nutrition bar, and provide 5 grams of protien for staying power. While most airports are going to have some bars in stock, check out your local grocery store for a better selection at better prices. Throw a few in your bag for unexpected flight delays, long cab rides, and time changes that throw off your meal schedule. 

Disclosure: Patricia Bannan, MS, RDN works with Wonderful Pistachios and KIND Snacks to help people make healthy snack choices.

Patricia Bannan is a Los Angeles-based registered dietitian specializing in nutrition and health communications.  She is the author of "Eat Right When Time Is Tight: 150 Slim-Down Strategies and No-Cook Food Fixes." Follow her on Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, and LinkedIn.