A Traveler's Trap: Eating at the Airport
Don't let your trip sabotage your healthy eating. Plan ahead to avoid mindless snacking and poor food

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A Traveler's Trap: Eating at the Airport

If there's one word to describe air travel, it's stress. We rush to the airport, herd through security and are greeted with endless food outlets promising quick comfort. In many cases, that means a quick dose of calories, fat and salt.

Even worse, layovers between flights tempt us to indulge after we've gone hours with only a free snack on board.

You may be a healthy eater at home, but travel can test your resolve. Here are some tips for eating well - before and during your journey.

Before you go
If you have a long flight, it makes sense to eat a healthy meal before your journey. If you're like most people, though, you're rushing out the door to catch your plane. It pays to prepare ahead of time, so your body will be well fueled for the stresses of your trip.

"Planning ahead is key to successful eating during travel," says Angela Lemond, a registered dietitian and spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. "Traveling is stressful enough. Don't complement it with a hungry belly! Instead, stay snacked up so you can make healthy food decisions."

If you have a morning flight, "Eat a nice, hearty breakfast to give you that long-lasting energy," she says.

She offers these pre-flight meal suggestions:

  • Oatmeal with half a banana and an ounce of chopped walnuts, topped with cinnamon
  • Sauteed spinach, scrambled egg and cheese in a whole wheat tortilla with a side of berries

Take-along snacks
Lemond suggests packing fruit and a cheese stick, cut-up fruit or snack-size bags of trail mix. To make it, mix low-sugar whole grain cereal, unsalted whole-grain pretzels, nuts and dried fruit. To keep the calories in check, most of the mix should consist of pretzels and cereal with a splash of dried fruit and nuts. Be aware that nuts and some dried fruits are not appropriate for small children, as they may pose choking hazards.

Or, spread nut butter (peanut, cashew or almond) on whole grain crackers.Remember, though, that some fellow travelers may be sensitive to nuts or have nut allergies.

If you can carry an insulated lunch bag, other options are regular or Greek yogurt, fruit cups, veggies and hummus.

Healthy snacks from home not only ward off the munchies, but will likely save you money, too.

Getting through security
While most foods are allowed through security, not all are a good idea. Spilled liquids or other foods can cause a mess and damage equipment and luggage. The federal Transportation Security Administration has these rules:

  • All food and drink must pass through the X-ray machine.
  • All food must be in containers or wrapped to avoid spills. No unwrapped food (loose French fries, half-eaten sandwich) is allowed.
  • Beverages must be in containers of 3 ounces or less. Some exceptions exist. Ask if you're unsure.
  • Once you're through security, you can board the plane with food and drink items purchased on the concourse or brought from home.

On the concourse
Airport restaurants certainly aren't off-limits, Lemond says. Many now offer healthier fare. Look for options like grilled chicken, side salads, baked potatoes and low-fat dairy. If you're in a rush, get it to go and have it on the plane.

"Most airports have a directory of food options," Lemond says. "Either stake those out before your trip for utmost preparedness, or seek them out during the layover."

Lemond suggests these fast-food choices:

  • Healthy sandwich wraps, mixed salads with grilled chicken and fresh fruit cups at the food court are good choices.
  • For Mexican food, avoid the meat, which is usually high in fat, and opt for a bean and cheese burrito.
  • For Italian places, soup and salad or pasta with marinara and a salad are good options. Skip the breadsticks. Be careful, though; some soups may be high in salt.
  • In salad places, limit high-fat additions like nuts, cheese and high-fat salad dressings. "Choose one fat and eliminate the rest," says Lemond.
  • In sandwich places, try whole grain breads, maximum veggies on your sandwich and limit yourself to one fat like mayo or cheese. Skip the chips. Opt for a side of fruit.

Drink enough water
"Thirst can often be confused for hunger, so stay well hydrated," Lemond says. You can buy bottled water at shops and newsstands after you pass through security.

By Ginny Greene, Editor
Created on 02/25/2013
Updated on 02/25/2013
  • Transportation Security Administration. Food and beverages.
  • Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. How to eat right in an airport.
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