Healthy airport food does exist. It's just a matter of being knowledgeable enough to know what's around you and what is available for you. Unfortunately, most airport food is processed convenient food that isn't so convenient when you're trying to keep it clean. These foods are also loaded with empty calories and sodium which will only leave you feeling hungry again moments after eating.
In a perfect world, you’d pack your own lunch. And this is what we would recommend first, if possible (we'll get to that in a minute). But with airline baggage restrictions getting tighter and tighter, throwing some apples in your bag often means sacrificing a valuable portion of luggage real estate.
If you decide to brave the airport food court, it can be nearly impossible to determine which menu options are your healthiest bet. If you're lucky, you'll come across a Starbucks or Chipotle which will have nutritional info on their website if they don't have it already on the menu in front of you. Always have your My Fitness Pal app open and ready to enter in what you're about to eat. Their database is full of chain restaurant items.
As a rule it’s better to buy whole foods like bananas, apples, nuts, yogurt and dried fruit for snacking instead of fast food menu items. Unfortunately, these are not always available — and in the airport, they’re not always fresh.
To get a good idea of how you can survive your airport layover, I've put together some items that you can find in almost all airports. Healthy, in this case, is based off of calories, levels of sodium, fat, fibre and protein content.
Au Bon Pain Garden Vegetable Soup: Filled with carrots, green peppers, zucchini, broccoli and corn, a large-size serving of this vegetarian soup has just 110 calories plus 4 grams of protein and 4 grams of fiber. It’s also got 70 percent of your daily recommended vitamin A and 50 percent of your daily vitamin C. Like most restaurant soups, this dish is high in salt (with 1,520 milligrams of sodium). Order a smaller size if you want to curb your salt intake.
McDonald’s Bacon Ranch Grilled Chicken Salad: McDonald’s offers a number of decent salads that can be ordered with or without meat. The bacon ranch salad with grilled chicken has 320 calories (without dressing) with 42 grams of protein and 60 percent of your daily value of vitamin C. You can eliminate the chicken and/or bacon to reduce your sodium intake as well if you're keeping an eye on that.
Starbucks Classic Whole-Grain Oatmeal: This food is quite possibly one of the healthiest options in your airport and is my go to. I always have protein powder on me (which is okay in a zip lock baggy in most airports) which I then add into the oatmeal for an extra protein boost. 1 Cup of oatmeal is under 30 grams of carbs and really low fat (3 grams!)
Dunkin’ Donuts Egg White Veggie Flatbread: Something other than donuts! Dunkin’s egg white veggie flatbread has 320 calories plus 17 grams of protein and 4 grams of fiber. Real veggies like bell peppers, potatoes and onions add vitamins A and C. Keep in mind that there are 13 grams of fat if you're watching your fat intake.
Panda Express String Bean Chicken Breast: The only thing I'll get if I see this in an airport - the string bean chicken breast is a good bet, with just 190 calories plus 14 grams of protein and 4 grams of fiber. If you have it with rice, though, beware; eating a full portion of white rice will tack on an additional 380 calories. Brown rice is a better choice for fiber (4 grams), but it adds even more calories (420).
If you're avoiding the restaurants by any means and have decided to #lifehack by bringing your own snacks, or maybe you're looking for something a little lighter, I've added in some tips and tricks for airport navigation.
1. Pack granola bars, dried fruits, and nuts: These snack essentials will curb your hunger if you're on a flight that doesn't serve food. You likely have one or all these items at home, so toss them in a Ziploc bag, stuff them in your duffel, and you're good to go.
2. Head straight to a smoothie or frozen yogurt spot: Bypass popular chains like McDonald's or Dunkin' Donuts when you want on-the-go breakfasts and fill up on a filling smoothie instead. If you do succumb to your Dunkin' habit, choose the egg white veggie flatbread over a sugary muffin.
3. Make your own inflight "protein plate": You've likely noticed when you order the protein plate on flights you typically receive an assortment of cheese, grapes, and boiled egg. Instead of overpaying for a snack pack, prep your own version and include your favorite cheese slices.
4. Make your own sandwich or bagel: It's easier to choose the less-fatty options when you're in charge of the ingredients. Even though you are still consuming carbs, you can balance that out with fillings like lettuce, tomatoes, spinach, eggs, or turkey.
5. Bring an empty thermos and tea bags: Fight the urge to grab a coffee or soda to stay caffeinated before and during your flight. Instead, opt for green tea or one of your favorite varieties. All you need is hot water, which you can get anywhere in the airport and on the flight.
If you have any questions or feel like you need some extra support during your next vacation, book a consult with one of our coaches and learn how they can help get you through any fast food filled airport.