Don’t Let Air Travel Derail You (Here’s How to Fly and Eat Smart!)

You’re stuck in an airport. You are hundreds of miles from home and the bleak weather has put your flight on hold indefinitely. You’re tired, cranky and hungry. And the smell of junk food is everywhere.

Not only are most of the food choices on planes sorely limited but if you wait until you get to the gate to pick up food to take onto the aircraft, the options lend themselves to fast food. So what can you do in an airport when your plane is delayed and all you can think about (and smell) is snack food? Thankfully I’ve discovered that there are a good number of options!

Being trapped in an airport is something I’ve experienced twice during this grueling winter. So when my flights were delayed recently at both Palm Beach International and Nashville airports, I was determined not to resort to the caloric wastelands of Burger King and McDonald’s. Instead, I checked the offerings of the standard airport choices like Starbucks, Chili’s and Quiznos by perusing their websites on my phone. Then I strapped on my heart rate monitor and began walking through the terminal to do a little practical research. I figured that at the very least I could get some exercise and work off some calories while investigating my options. Although this exploration could have been a recipe for disaster, to my delight, I made some surprisingly happy discoveries.

I spent about an hour walking from one food concession to another. My first discovery was a bit discouraging: Some of the chains have limited airport menus based on what sells, and the fare isn’t usually isn’t low in calories. This was true at Quiznos, which did not have several of the choices I had targeted when I looked at its offerings online. It offered an attractive but limited selection of sandwiches, salads, and soups. The regular size soups were ok, including a broccoli cheese soup (180 calories), chicken noodle (140), and chicken tortilla (200), but the large sizes were 270 calories and up. Flatbreads were a problem, ranging from 290 to 480 calories for small chicken or turkey sandwiches. The salads were off-the-charts awful: My first choice, a large Harvest chicken salad, was 600 calories (and had 960 grams of sodium, to boot). To its credit, Quiznos did offer some plain yogurt, but I decided to check out other places before I resorted to thatPhoto Jan 24, 2 30 35 PM

I was particularly heartened by the offerings at Starbucks. Avoiding the pastries, I spotted a chicken Caesar salad without dressing for 190 calories (with dressing, 340) and a delightful-looking Greek strawberry and blueberry yogurt parfait for 220. Starbucks also had a nice selection of fresh fruits, especially bananas, which have the added benefit of being a good source of potassium. And of course, the coffee is always great, although even a regular tall coffee does have a few calories.

Photo Jan 24, 2 36 51 PMChili’s Too was pretty impressive and had some reasonable choices: a nice grilled chicken salad with honey-lime vinaigrette (430) and a lighter choice salmon with rice and steamed broccoli (540). Its small concession offered containers of Oikos yogurt (120), Sabra hummus with pretzels (260), yogurt parfaits (220) and cut up fresh fruit. Even a gift shop sported Pretzel Crisps (110 for 11 crackers) and fruit snacks.

At Nashville, in addition to the above choices, I was delighted to find a wonderful little place called “Noshville” (billed as a New YorkPhoto Jan 24, 2 36 30 PM Delicatessen) which had a wide variety of healthy snack items to go that included yogurt and fruits. We had enough time to indulge in its sit-down café that offered spinach salads, vegetarian salads, and even egg white veggie omelets, accompanied by charming Southern hospitality.

At both airports, I was able to purchase enough food to keep me satisfied and happily within my calorie allowance. However, airports are not alone in their limited meal choices. The offerings while in the air can be packed high with calories, although Delta has taken on an initiative lately to offer more healthy options. Some items found on their “Eats” menu include Wheat Thins, Stacy Brand Pita Chips, GoPicnic Garden Hummus dip, as well as lunch and dinner wraps that are less than 500 calories. However, I’ve found the best way to ensure satisfaction is to plan ahead. Because my husband is diabetic and I want to make my own healthy choices, I’ve become accustomed to packing meals in advance to take through security and onto the aircraft.

The first thing to remember is to take food that doesn’t spoil easily. I’ve discovered that sandwiches or salads, hard boiled eggs, nuts, trail mix, fruit, cut up vegetables, work the best. However, I learned to consider the TSA guidelines that restrict what is allowed through security when some of my well-planned snacks of 8-ounce containers of yogurt were confiscated, not to mention my gel cool-packs! So, be careful about what to bring in terms of “liquids and gels.” Items like cranberry sauce, creamy dips and spreads (cheeses, peanut butter, etc.), salsa, jams, jellies, syrup, salad dressings, pudding, yogurt, and soups must be 3.4 ounces or less, and you have to put them in the quart bag with your other liquids and gels. Check with the TSA so that your snacks don’t end up in the hands of security personnel.

So being stuck in an airport doesn’t mean a caloric nightmare. You just need seek out and purchase good choices and hope that your flight takes off before the next meal!

Photo Feb 15, 11 56 30 AM

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