Tis the season for holiday travel. For the next couple of weeks airports will be the fateful purgatory for all of us venturing home (or away) for the holidays.
Since calorie rich meals are almost certainly in your future, why waste perfectly good indulgences on crappy airport food?
Unhealthy food should be a treat, never a symptom of laziness. Just a little planning can get you through most flights without the need to eat things you’d prefer not to.
Even in suboptimal situations (75% of my flights back to SF are delayed due to weather), there are a few tricks you can use to minimize the damage.
9 Tips To Eat Healthy When Holiday Traveling
1. Eat before you leave
This might seem obvious, but most of the people I know delay packing, commuting and arrival for so long they show up at the airport hungry, a slave to their uber-processed industrial food surroundings. You can avoid this by simply planning time for a meal beforehand.
Make it happen, it’s worth it.
2. Pack snacks
A decent meal before you leave and a few nuts and maybe a piece of fruit inflight should get you through any flight six hours or under. You can find most of these things in the airport in a pinch.
For longer flights I recommend jerky, charcuterie, cheese, boiled eggs and other protein dense food to stave off hunger until you can get a real meal at your destination. If you’d rather not pack animal foods, bean and/or grain salads with diced veggies, herbs and vinaigrette are delicious and keep well for hours without refrigeration.
In most cases eating airplane food is a choice, not a necessity.
3. Stay hydrated
Airplane air just might be the driest air in the world. Also, hunger is amplified when you’re even slightly dehydrated. Combat both these afflictions by drinking plenty of water both before and inflight.
Bonus: this will require you to get up and, errr, stretch your legs at least a couple of times during the ride, which can reduce your sedentary time during the flight.
4. Nourish yourself
Immune systems function best when they are well nourished. To protect yourself from the zillions of germs you’re exposed to in airports be sure to eat a healthy supply of vegetables and fruits for the days surrounding your flights (each way). And don’t forget your multivitamin.
5. Go vegetarian for a few hours
Maybe your flight was delayed so long you were forced to eat in the airport. Maybe your flight is 10+ hours. For whatever reason, sometimes you’re forced to sell your soul and, dare I say it, eat airport/plane food. In these cases I recommend ordering strategically to avoid the worst: refined carbohydrates and industrial meat. Consider going vegetarian for a few hours to avoid CAFO meat. Look for options with extra vegetables—even if they taste bad, it’s not like the worse-for-you food is going to taste much better.
6. Look for Mexican restaurants
If you’re in an airport, Mexican restaurants are a great bet because you can almost always get beans, rice and some kind of vegetable. This is filling and moderately nutritious (plus salsa and guacamole are hard to mess up).
7. Look for high-end salads
Salads with some kind of protein are your second best option, but the taste will be more hit or miss with these compared to Mexican food. If salad is your only choice, I recommend finding the nicest spot in the entire airport to minimize your risk of getting nasty veggies and potential food poisoning.
8. Watch your portions
No matter what you choose, if you’re eating airport food it isn’t going to taste good and is unlikely to be particularly healthy. Eat as little as you need to stop the hunger. Don’t expect to be full or satisfied, in fact it may be better if you aren’t (see tip #9).
9. Don’t fear hunger
Honestly, being hungry for a few hours isn’t going to kill you. There’s even some compelling evidence that caloric restriction (even periodically) can be healthy. I’m not advocating starvation, if you’re landing at 3am in a small town with nothing open, you’ve gotta do what you’ve gotta do. But if a few hours of hunger is all you’re facing, consider embracing it as a zen practice in self-restraint and eat a decent meal when you get to your destination instead of the mystery food they offer inflight.
How do you avoid crappy airplane food?
Originally published November 14, 2012.