5 Easy Ways to Eat Healthy at Airports (and While Traveling)

1/20/17 by Matt Wastradowski

Keeping New Year’s resolutions to eat healthier can be challenging, especially when traveling. The road to the departure gate is, more often than not, invariably dotted with Big Macs and cinnamon rolls, and it all looks even more tempting when all you’ve eaten in the last five hours is a stamp-sized pack of peanuts or you’re rushing to catch a connecting flight.

With a little bit of strategy and legwork, however, you can bypass the roadblocks that leave you feeling less than healthy when you arrive at your destination. Thankfully, more airports these days are responding to customer demand with restaurants, eateries, and stores that emphasize fresh, local, and healthy fare. In fact, according to an annual report in 2015 from the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, 71 percent of the 24 busiest airports in the country now offer at least one plant-based vegan meal.

Whether you’re craving a decent meal or just tiptoeing around temptation, here are five ways to stay healthy in airports (and beyond) while traveling.

1. Survey Your Options

ORD in Chicago has taken healthy offerings to new heights with its Airport Vertical Farm.
ORD in Chicago has taken healthy offerings to new heights with its Airport Vertical Farm. chipmunk_1

Whenever possible, look up airport restaurants and nutritional information ahead of time. Restaurant listings are typically available on airport websites, and some airports go the extra mile by listing healthy offerings available at each eatery. Dallas Fort-Worth goes a step further by breaking out them out into healthy offerings and vegan selections.

These days, more airports emphasize healthy offerings than ever before. Here’s a sample of some healthier bets for your next layover:

  • Chicago O’Hare International Airport (ORD) operates an aeroponic garden that produces numerous herbs (including three types of basil, thyme, and oregano) and veggies like Swiss chard, red lettuce, and green beans. Those ingredients are then used at select airport restaurants like Wolfgang Puck and Tuscany Café.

  • Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) hosts numerous healthy restaurants. One recommended choice is The Counter, is a burger joint that serves a handful of salads and surprisingly healthy sandwiches (like the grilled chicken sandwich or veggie burger).

  • Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport (ATL) hosts Great Wraps Grill, which serves wraps, bowls, salads, and a handful of healthy breakfast options for those early-morning flights. (And if you find yourself in need of some travel gear en route, stop by the ExOfficio store in Concourse A.)

  • San Francisco International Airport (SFO) is a veritable mecca for locally sourced, healthier-leaning options. Some recommended favorites are the renowned Napa Farms Market, which serves local and organic produce and wraps made with Bay Area ingredients, and the Plant Cafe, whose organic menu is full of California classics—try the excellent veggie burger or the fresh juices, an instant pick-me-up before or after a long flight.

  • *John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK) *hosts an outpost of Camden Food Co., which prides itself on salads, sandwiches, and other healthy fare. (ExOfficio also has an outpost at JFK, in Terminal 5.)

2. Make the Most of the Menu.

If you wind up at an airport restaurant, here’s how to make the most of what’s available:

  • *Swap the sauce: *Many sandwiches come blanketed in fatty sauces like mayonnaise or cream cheese. Ask for light mayo or, better yet, no mayonnaise at all; instead, consider requesting extra vegetables, too.

  • *Don’t get suckered by "salads:" *Many restaurant salads are routinely drowning in mayonnaise or other fatty dressings and topped with cheese and croutons, making an otherwise healthy choice a dietary disaster. Ask about ingredients before ordering, and ask for dressing on the side.

  • *Be wary of descriptors: *"Crispy" or “deluxe” sandwiches or salads are synonymous with fatty foods that will weigh you down long before takeoff. Meat eaters should keep an eye out for grilled chicken or fish, wherever possible.

3. Track Down Healthy Snacks from Airport Stores.

Choose with caution from a serve-yourself bar.
Choose with caution from a serve-yourself bar. Wesley Fryer

No time for a sit-down meal? No problem. Here are a few airports with stores that put your corner mini-mart to shame.

  • *Logan International Airport (BOS) *is home to Berkshire Farms Market, a 1,200-square foot mecca of healthy options like juice, cheese plates, smoothies, yogurt, salads, and other refreshing fare.

  • Find a Starbucks; as of 2014, the chain claimed more than 200 stores in 78 airports throughout the United States and Canada. Starbucks’ on-the-go sandwiches, salads, and oatmeal won’t weigh you down before boarding.

  • *Most airports *have shops and even small vendors that carry trail mix, protein bars, dried fruit, fresh vegetables, granola bars, juices, and other healthy items. These are always a better bet than chips or candy bars.

4. Pack Healthy Snacks.

It’s far easier to avoid a trip to the airport bar during a flight delay if you’re armed with your own fuel-up options. Here’s how to make sure your next flight delay doesn’t mean a trip to the airport bar.

Whenever possible, plan ahead for lightning-quick (or glacially slow) TSA lines, flight delays, cancellations, and other hassles by packing** a few non-perishable snacks like **granola bars, dried or fresh, trail mix, nuts, whole-grain crackers, baked chips, and other items that don’t require refrigeration. And don’t forget an empty water bottle: Airports are increasingly adding convenient water-filling stations for savvy travelers, and you’ll not only save time, you’ll save plenty of cash, too (those $3 bottles can certainly add up).

Don’t underestimate the merits of making yourself a sandwich at home, either. This workhorse staple is cheap, easy to stash in a carry-on, and can save the day when you’re stuck on the tarmac for hours. (Just take your fellow passengers into consideration and avoid pungent ingredients like onions.)

5. Avoid Unhealthy Pitfalls.

Counter indulgent eats with a brisk stroll around the terminal.
Counter indulgent eats with a brisk stroll around the terminal. Quinn Dombrowski

No matter how strong your willpower, airports are minefields of temptation. Here, a few strategies on how to avoid them:

  • *Abstain from alcohol: *We get it—half the fun of flying is sipping a refreshing beer or wine at the airport bar. Keep an eye on your intake, though; flying can exacerbate the effects of alcohol, not to mention make you feel sluggish and dehydrated.

  • *Limit your caffeine intake: *For many travelers, coffee is an essential for early morning flights. But caffeine can make you feel dehydrated, unfocused, and (after a few cups of joe) fatigued. Not just that, but it’ll inevitably send you scrambling for the airplane’s broom-closet-sized bathrooms.

  • *Skip fast food: *Don’t let a greasy gut bomb weigh you down before takeoff. You’ll feel sluggish, lazy, and slow—not the ideal way to kick off a trip.

One final tip? A brisk walk around the terminal (or in between terminals) is a convenient way to counter-balance a not-so-healthy meal at an airport, as well as a great way to stretch your legs and burn a few extra calories before wedging yourself into a cramped seat for hours. Whether you have 20 minutes or two hours until your flight takes off, you’ll inevitably feel better if you get moving.

Originally written by RootsRated for ExOfficio.