How to Eat Smart at the Airport

By Keri Glassman, MS, RD, CDN

Long gone are the days when a small bag of salty nuts and a miniscule bag of pretzels were your provisions (that needed to be rationed, carefully) during a long travel day. Airports have become more of a place to indulge rather than go hungry, sometimes even giving mall food courts a run for their money. Whether you are in a full on 50-yard dash or you have a delay long enough to watch an entire season of 24, there are no more excuses to eat poorly in airports. I promise you, I travel for work a lot -- and with my kids a good amount, too -- and I know you can get in and out of an airport not only without letting gluttony totally take over but actually making some pretty darn good choices. Fasten your seat belts: Here are some of my favorite airport picks for quick energy boosts and full, satisfying meals.

In an ideal world, I have a meal before I leave for the airport. That way, the amount of food I need to eat at the airport and/or on the plane is limited. I try to pack enough snacks to make mini meals (gotta plan for delays on the runway). Oatmeal topped with nuts and flaxseed anyone?

What I Bring

  • Turkey jerky. I like Krave or Slant Shack.
  • Nuts. In Ziploc bags, I bring a mix of almonds, pecans, walnuts, cashews (all unsalted), the nuts being roasted or raw.
  • Peanut butter. I like Justin’s individual packets.
  • Chia. From Chia Co.
  • Flaxseed packs. I prefer Carrington Farm.
  • Salmon in a pouch. Bumble Bee brand.
  • Individual oatmeal pack. I enjoy Nature’s Path products.
  • Tea. I'll drink chamomile, green or something sweet like a vanilla tea, usually from Yogi or Traditional Medicinals.

What I Buy

  • Fruit and veggies. You can probably stop your search for freshly cut papaya, and I’ll bet you my eye mask you won’t find any airport jicama, but there’s nothing wrong with a good old apple, banana or pre-sliced carrots and celery. Sure, these might not be the most exotic options, but there’s no shame in an apple. If you haven’t packed your own, you can find them everywhere from the juice bar to the newsstand to the sandwich shop.
  • A protein-filled snack is a must. No, I am not giving you permission to go wild at McDonald's or Burger King. But do check the refrigerator case at any food kiosk for Greek yogurt, individual portions of cheese, hard-boiled eggs and even edamame. Need something heartier? Starbucks offers great bistro boxes that make a healthy, protein-packed meal. And I will bet you my toiletry case you can find a Starbucks! Also, let’s not forget about bars. I'm talking about protein bars, so don’t get too excited. Not all bars have candy in them, after all, and it pays to have a couple of nutritional options on hand for emergency. Kind and Keen-Wah brand products are great options.
  • "Gourmet" eats. If you’re in a more fancy-schmancy airport terminal (which could be any airport terminal these days), you might be able to find gourmet food stands with snacks like individual portions of hummus, natural peanut butter, popcorn, olives, crudité or seaweed snacks. Sure it’s no Whole Foods, but it sure beats a biscotti on the flight.
  • Salad. If you’ve got time for a sit-down meal, your healthiest option will be a salad or any veggies with lean protein. From Chick-fil-A and Au Bon Pain to Friday’s to various celeb chefs' restaurants, you can find salads that range from simple and basic to those featuring grilled chicken or salmon (available on top or on the side). Will it be the best piece of tarragon lemon roasted chicken you have had or Wild salmon with fresh herbs? Maybe, but probably not. It will definitely do the trick to hold you over without overdoing it, though.

Pack your few go-to foods, hunt down a few more and buy (or bring) a big bottle of water. (Hydration is key, and who wants to wait for the flight attendant to bring you another little cupful.) And, if you have a few minutes while you are waiting to board, do a set of tricep dips on the chair. I swear, I do this and don’t even get too many crazy looks. Safe and healthy travels, friends!