Guide To Eating Healthy At The Airport

Between traveling to visit clients and my husband’s crazy baseball schedule, I feel like I am constantly at the airport. I’m actually typing this blog on an airplane as we speak. That being said- take it from someone who travels several times a month-it IS possible to eat healthy while flying! This blog is going to cover everything from what you can and can’t bring through security, the best snacks (and meals) to pack with you, and the healthiest options to purchase at the airport.

What is & isn’t allowed through security:

TSA lets you bring any solid food through security! However, they will not allow you to bring any sort of liquid (such as salad dressing, peanut butter, yogurt, cottage cheese, etc.) that is more than 3 oz. You can bring ice packs, but they must be frozen when walking through security. Try to avoid packing your food with foil, as it may go off when scanning through security – instead, use Ziploc baggies, Tupperware containers, or parchment paper. Empty water bottles are also allowed through security! So pack your own water bottle on your carry-on, then fill it up as soon as you get through security. 

Plan ahead (and save $$$) by packing these foods ahead of time:

Price Comparison: A box of 5 Lara bars is $5 from Target ($1/bar). A Lara bar at the airport is on average $2.99! You’ll be paying double if not triple the price on these types of snack foods if you wait to buy them at the airport. Planning ahead will not only keep your healthy lifestyle on track, it'll save you so much money. Here are some healthy options to pack in your carry-on:

- Individual packets of hummus or peanut/almond butter (less than 3 oz!)

Fresh fruit and veggies of any kind (apples, bananas, clementines, strawberries, grapes, jicama, carrots, cucumbers, celery)

Whole wheat crackers, air-popped popcorn, nuts, homemade trail mix, homemade granola

- Hard-boiled eggs

- Energy bars (homemade, Larabar, Kind, or Kize)

Dehydrated fruits such as apple chips

- Sandwiches - it doesn't have to be anything fancy. It can be as simple as a PB&J! Plus, not having meat and cheese means refrigeration won't be as much of a concern. PB&Js are great to throw in your bag and eat later once you've boarded your flight.

- Wraps - one of my favorites to make is an Ezekiel whole wheat tortilla, 3 slices of turkey breast, 2 Tbsp hummus, thinly sliced cucumbers, tomatoes, and leafy greens (I alternate between bok choy, kale, and spinach) 

- Pre-made salads - my favorite salad to make beforehand and pack with me is my Grapefruit Avocado Salad.

- Make sure if you pack any meat or cheese that you bring a mini frozen ice pack to keep it cold, or eat it pretty quickly after arriving at the airport.

- Always pack a few extra snacks in case your flight gets delayed or cancelled!!

Hard-boiled eggs, homemade fruit & nut bars, fresh fruits & veggies, energy bars, and homemade granola all make great snack options while traveling.

Hard-boiled eggs, homemade fruit & nut bars, fresh fruits & veggies, energy bars, and homemade granola all make great snack options while traveling.

What to buy at the airport: 

So maybe you scheduled the flight last minute – and you didn’t have time to pack food ahead of time. No problem! There are plenty of healthy options at the airport. Check your options ahead of time. Once you know what airline you’re traveling on, it may be a good idea to see what kind of restaurants they have available around your terminal. Look at the menus online to see if there are any healthy options. 

Breakfast: Look for coffee shops, such as Starbucks, Au Bon Pain, or Caribou coffee that offer plain oatmeal with fruit and nuts. Avoid fatty foods such as bagels with cream cheese or sausage, egg, and cheese biscuits. 

Snacks: You can buy the same types of snacks I just recommended above (although you’ll be paying a slightly higher price for them!) or you can buy Greek yogurt and make your own parfait. Many airports are starting to offer plain Greek yogurt. Sweeten it yourself with fresh fruit like bananas & strawberries. I purchased this one shown below from the Chicago airport, but I had my own banana and strawberries with me. 

Sweeten plain Greek yogurt yourself with fresh fruit.
Protein boxes are packed with healthy fats, protein, and fruit.

Starbucks and airport "Markets" often offer a “Protein Box” – which usually features some type of nuts or cheese, fruit such as grapes or apple slices, and a hard-boiled egg. Hard-boiled eggs are one of my favorite airplane snacks. They’re rich in protein and fat-soluble vitamins such as Vitamin A & Vitamin D. They’re also loaded with antioxidants such as lutein and zeaxanthin which are important for eye health. Starbucks also offers veggie trays, fruit cups, and smaller single-serving bags of mixed nuts (great for portion control!). 

Delicious salad ordered from Mod Market at the Denver Airport.

Lunch/Dinner: If you're stuck for several hours and need a meal, many airports now offer make-your-own salads or sandwiches. I recommend customizing your own, rather than buying the pre-packaged sandwiches. This way, you can choose whole wheat bread over white, leave off the mayonnaise and excess cheese, and add more veggies or lean protein to it. One example of this is Potbelly’s at Chicago-Midway. Another option is searching for a Mexican-style restaurant. Ideally they offer burrito bowls – in which you should choose brown rice if available, and add in grilled veggies, and beans or lean protein. Here's a salad from Mod Market at the Denver airport.

Be cautious of certain so called “healthy” foods

Food companies love to try and trick people into thinking they're eating healthy by using trendy or "healthy-sounding" words. Not all smoothies, energy/granola bars (read more about those here), trail mixes, are as healthy as they sound. A lot of people associate those types of words, “granola”, “energy”, and “smoothie” as being healthy…but here’s some examples as to when that may not always be the case.

Not so "healthy" "good for you" snacks.

Here’s a display boasting the words “Healthy Snacks” and "Good For You" at the airport. If this were a display filled with fresh fruits and veggies, raw nuts and seeds, whole grains, etc. I would be stoked. Instead, it's filled with processed bars that have as much if not MORE sugar and fat than a candy bar. Take the Promax bars for example (second shelf from the bottom)...the second ingredient in those bars is corn syrup!!! It gets worse. The third ingredient is fructose, and the fourth ingredient is "yogurt coating" with yep, you guessed it, more sugar!! This bar contains 30 grams of sugar! You’d be much better off buying a banana and a bag of nuts than snacking on this bar! However, it’s so deceiving with their nicely displayed “healthy foods” sign. Good thing you read my blog on “Everything You Need to Know About Energy Bars” beforehand! ;)

Same goes for smoothies. Smoothie King has actually done a pretty good job at trying to revamp their smoothies by adding in more veggies, and blending them with nonfat plain Greek yogurt. However, other airport smoothie joints solely rely on concentrated fruit juices, frozen yogurt/sorbet, and little to no veggies at all to make their smoothies. For the smallest size, you could be drinking up to 65 grams of sugar!! Way too much sugar in one drink! Make your own at home so you can control the sugar content – here’s a guide to healthy smoothie making.

Get some exercise inyes, it's possible!

So much sitting goes on while traveling. Get active by taking advantage of using stairs instead of escalators and walking instead of using the moving walkways. If you have a layover, instead of immediately sitting at your next gate, try to go on a quick walk down the long hallways between flights, and stretch out your arms and legs. More airports are now adding “Yoga Rooms” (which in my experience are almost always empty), so what a great place to do some stretching and move around a bit while you have a break! Here’s a sign for the one in the Dallas airport. 

Is it bad to drink alcohol while flying?

I wouldn't recommend it; here's why. Flying can increase your risk for dehydration due to the low humidity in the cabin. Pair that with the fact that alcohol alone is dehydrating, and you're setting yourself up for a serious headache, fatigue, or prolonged jet lag upon landing. I recommend saving the drinks until after you land, and sticking to plenty of caffeine-free fluids while in air. 

Still have questions about eating healthy while traveling? Email me at angie@eleatnutrition.com or visit the contact me page to schedule your first appointment.