The holiday season is one of the busiest times for traveling. Whether you are traveling by plane, train, or automobile, one thing is certain – your options to eat healthy will be limited. Even if you are the healthiest of eaters, many of us tend to forgo our regular diets during the days in which we are traveling because of limited options, limited time, and a limited travel budget. Airports are known for having notoriously unhealthy foods for patrons like over-priced convenience store snacks, fast food joints, and greasy restaurants. However, there seem to be more and more healthy alternatives popping up – if you know how to find them. Below are some popular restaurants and food spots you might find on your next layover, and some of their healthier options.
Healthy Airport Eats
Most airport terminals, especially those at larger airport or airline hubs, are stacked with restaurants and food stands just trying to lure you in with their sweet smells and tempting treats. It’s easy to get sucked into the unhealthy options, even more so when you tell yourself, “Well, I’m on vacation!” But there are healthy options if you know where to look.
Although they are known for their sugary drinks and tasty baked goods, Starbucks has some healthier options like the ones below:
- Perfect Oatmeal
- Egg white, spinach, and feta wrap
- Reduced fat turkey bacon and egg white on English muffin
- Fruit salad
- Couscous salad with curried chicken
People don’t usually think of Dunkin’ Donuts as being synonymous with healthy food options. But there are some healthier options if you know where to look:
- Whole wheat or multigrain bagel with low fat cream cheese
- Sliced turkey breakfast sandwich
- Egg white flatbread
- Egg and cheese on an English muffin (subbing out the bagel)
Potbelly Sandwich Shop
Potbelly Sandwich Shop is a popular airport restaurant that serves sandwiches, soups, and salads. Although many love their heavy-loaded meat and cheese sandwiches, there are some tasty options that won’t bloat your belly:
- TKY Skinny Sandwich
- Hammie Skinny Sandwich
- Chickpea Veggie Salad
- Farmhouse Vegetarian Salad
- Garden Vegetable Soup
- Chicken Noodle Soup
- You can also do a made to order sandwich or salad, allowing you to control what you’re eating – which sometimes can be dangerous!
If you’re looking for a place to sit down and relax for a bit, Gordon Biersch is a common sit-down restaurant you see in many airport terminals. They are known for their beers, juicy burgers, steaks, and specially seasoned fries, but they have been adding more and more healthy options to their menu over the years. Some of these options may not be available on airport menus, but it’s worth a look while you’re waiting for your flight.
- Mediterranean Chicken
- Ahi Salad
- Margarita Steak
- BBQ Chicken Flatbread
- Spinach Salad
TCBY Frozen Yogurt
If you just can’t resist getting a sweet treat, a frozen yogurt place like TCBY is sure to hit the spot. You may not be able to find a TCBY in your airport terminal, but any frozen yogurt place will be comparable.
- Plain frozen yogurt – choose low fat or non-fat if possible
- Get it in a cup instead of a cone.
- If you can’t resist toppings, try to choose some of the healthier options like nuts to add a little crunch.
Despite your best efforts, sometimes the only real options are fast food joints like McDonald’s, Burger King, or Chick-Fil-A. Luckily, in recent years many of the biggest fast food establishments have added healthier options for their patrons. Below are some better choices to make when you just have to eat from a sack lunch.
McDonald’s – known for their Big Macs and double quarter pounders – isn’t what we think of as healthy. But there are some options available that won’t clog your arteries:
- Southwest Chicken Salad – A tasty option that allows you to choose grilled chicken and a dressing of your choice.
- Premium Chicken Sandwich with Grilled Chicken – If you are getting a meal, ask to sub a bottle of water and their fruit and yogurt parfait instead.
- Fruit and Yogurt parfait
- Breakfast Oatmeal
Like McDonald’s, Burger King isn’t on most people’s radar when thinking of healthy food options. But they do have some choices if this is one of the few places to grab a bite:
- Chicken Whopper Jr. – Ask to sub a bottle of water and apple fries if you are getting a meal.
- Garden Salad
- BK Veggie Burger – Although probably not available in many airport locations, the veggie burger is a great option if you can find it.
- Whopper Jr. – If you just have to have a burger, choose the small size Whopper instead of going big.
Known for their chicken sandwiches, Chick-Fil-A is a popular fast food place that you may find during your travels. Out of the fast food chains they are one of the healthier spots.
- Chick-Fil-A sandwiches – All of Chick-Fil-A sandwiches, wraps, and salads can be made with grilled chicken instead of crispy which makes it a much better choice.
- Chick-Fil-A Spicy Southwest Salad – Ask for grilled chicken.
- Side options: The nice thing about Chick-Fil-A is their options for healthy sides in place of their waffle fries. You are able to get a fruit cup, broccolini and kale superfood side, or a small garden salad.
Tips for Eating Healthy During Travel
Finding a healthy spot can still be tricky, even if you go in armed with the list of healthy eats above. Some airports are small and don’t offer much to eat, much less anything healthy. Or you may be in a commuter terminal, where nothing but a small convenience store is available. Check out some of the travel tips below that can help you manage your healthy eating habits even when the odds are stacked against you.
- Bring snacks – Since TSA was founded in 2001, there have been questions of what you can and cannot bring through security checkpoints in terms of food and beverage. The rules have changed several times over the years, but it currently is maintained that small, easily consumed snacks are allowed, but pure liquids like water, tea, soda, etc. are not allowed through security. With that being said, it is smart for air travelers to pack small healthy snacks like pre-made granola bars, fruits, small veggies, or even your own “protein box” with a hardboiled egg, dried meats, and your favorite cheese slices. You can also bring bags of trail mix, mixed nuts, or dried fruits.
- Stay Caffeinated – It’s always tempting to stop by the coffee shop during your trek through the terminal, but many of those drinks are laden with sugar and additives. Even though you can’t bring liquids through security, you can bring an empty thermos with tea bags or instant coffee. Ask one of the coffee shops to fill up your thermos with hot water, or wait until you get on the plane and ask the flight attendant.
- Breakfast on the go – If you have an early flight, don’t fret! You don’t have to get breakfast at the donut shop on the way to the gate (although they are delicious!). Many companies make single serve oatmeal packs that are easy to prep at the airport. You can also pack yourself a bagel with a to-go serving of cream cheese or your favorite nut butter to munch on in those uncomfortable black chairs.
- Stay hydrated – Since you have to dump your water before you head through security, it can be tempting to want to grab a juice, coconut water, or even a soda while you’re walking through the terminal. But any of these options can be expensive, and they are usually unhealthy. Quench your thirst by bringing an empty water bottle.
Traveling can be exhausting, and it’s always so tempting to comfort yourself with food, drinks, and treats. But if you are normally a very healthy eater, just one day of deep indulgence can send your belly into a whirlwind. And that’s the last thing you want when stuck on an airplane for hours! Eating healthy while traveling is possible though, as long as you know what to look for and if you have some tips in your back pocket. Travel safe and travel healthy.
Photo credits: Ashley Sisk