Blog · Nutrition

Tricks for eating healthy at an airport

My husband and I just enjoyed a whirlwind of a mini-vacation in Colorado. I can’t wait to tell you all about it and share some pictures with you, but today, I’m going to talk about airports instead. Since two out of the four days of my vacation were essentially spent in airports or on planes, I have strong feelings about this right now. I’m sure many of you will be able to relate.

First, let me just say that I do not like large airports. I do not like getting off a plane and wondering which direction I need to head to board the next one because there are NO SIGNS in the immediate area. In general, airports themselves are easy to navigate. But guessing at which direction to head and stumbling on an obscure, unmarked set of stairs with an airport employee calling out “Shuttle to Terminal A, down these stairs” is not fun when you have a total of 40 mins until your next flight leaves. Not. Fun.

But I digress.

Since I was spending the bulk of my day travelling, finding something to eat was a must. On the first leg of my flight on the way to Colorado, I was given a snack mix from the flight attendant to “hold me over” until I got to the next airport and could get real food. I readily accepted this treat, hoping for some peanuts in the mix of it all. Whatever happened to being offered peanuts, anyway? After reading the ingredients on my “treat” I put it in my bag where it stayed until I found a garbage can. It was NOT real food. I have no idea what most of the ingredients even were. Though the mere 60 calories and the lack of candy found in the snack mix may have some people believing it’s a good, healthy snack, I disagree. It was fake food. For 60 calories, I’d much prefer to have some string cheese.

Now on to finding some real food. You won’t go hungry in an airport, that’s for sure. You also won’t be forced to choose from one or two types of food. The choices abound. However, most of the choices offer different varieties of fast food. There are healthy options at fast food restaurants, so this isn’t necessarily an evil in and of itself, but the sheer number of them is a bit ridiculous.

Once I got to the terminal I needed to be in and checked the gate my plane was parting from to  be sure I had some time before boarding, I set out to find a quick bite to eat. Scanning the corridor up and down in both directions, nothing jumped out at me. I certainly didn’t have time for a sit-down meal and after refusing the snack on the plane I could hardly eat something greasy or otherwise unhealthy now. Luckily, my eyes settled on a market-type place with a kiosk available for self-checkout. Bingo! There was my food.

I walked through what I’ll call the market looking for something that would help me not to feel hungry for the next five or so hours and would make my insides happy. Then I walked through it again. There were plenty of options. I stopped at one cooler and looked through the yogurts on the shelf. I looked at the various packaged salads and sandwiches. I looked for fruit. I passed by a stand with different types of trail mix on display. Now, I know I was being picky and sometimes my expectations are very high, but I almost gave up. Most of the items that would ordinarily interest me were merely prettily-packaged junk food disguised as health food (label reading reveals many things, my friends). At last, I settled on a container of raw, whole nuts and seeds, which was actually extremely filling.

Side note: When I sat down to eat my nuts and seeds, I couldn’t help but notice that several other people made quick stops to grab a bite to eat too. One gentleman had two candy bars on his lap and another had an open bag of chips – not the snack size. Seeing this made me even more grateful that I took a couple extra minutes to make a healthier choice.


So what are we to do when we travel? Forget about our healthy habits? Compromise as needed? Maybe. It depends. Here are some tips that will make airport travel a little more lifestyle friendly for those who want to be fit and healthy.

1. Bring an empty water bottle

This is a life rule for me. I drink a lot of water. Even when I go grocery shopping I take a water bottle with me. If I have a drink already available to me, I’m less likely to give into the urge to buy something in one of the coolers I pass. When traveling all day, you can’t – or shouldn’t – get by on the small cup of water offered to you on the plane. You are left with two options. Bring something or buy something. Since a container filled with liquid would never make it past airport security, it may seem that you’re forced to buy something. But you’re not!

Pack an empty water bottle in your carry-on and fill it up at a water fountain or water station at the airport. You’ll have your drink without spending money, and you’ll have a reason to say no to the sweetened beverages being sold all around you. As a bonus, you’ll have your water bottle to take with you wherever you go on your trip, drinking for free the whole time!

2. Take your own snacks

Thankfully, airport security won’t deny you the apple or granola bar stashed away in your carry-on. Though taking a complete, hot meal with you may be out of the question, you can definitely get by on a few well-chosen snacks. Fruit, like apples, and nuts are easy to pack and you don’t have to worry about them getting smooshed. You can make your own granola bars or larabars, or other types of protein bars, package them up and stow them away in your bag too.

Mark and I bought some granola bars to take hiking with us. I spent some time reading all the labels on the boxes and picked one I felt good about. We had a couple extra so we each put one in our bags for the trip home. I was thankful to have something that helped fill me up without the worry about what was actually in it.

3. Consider all your options

At first glance, it is easy to believe that the only way to fill your stomach is by buying whatever is being thrust at you by the nearest vendor or restaurant. Especially if your layover is short. A quick walk through the terminal will often reveal an alternative that is more appealing. You may find a deli with fresh ingredients (or so they claim) or a place that sells fresh (ahem) salads with grilled meat. It’s worth checking it out before making a decision. Besides, the walk will feel good after sitting on a plane. Enjoy it!

4. Choose the lesser of the evils

You may not have the best options to choose from, but you can do your best with the choices you have. Even if you find yourself waiting in line at a McDonald’s, you don’t have to buy a Big Mac and large soda. At fast food places, grilled chicken sandwiches are usually a decent option. Sometimes you can swap out the fries for a side salad. Don’t simply look at the signs and what other people are eating and assume that’s what you’re stuck with. You can usually improve on otherwise unhealthy options.

5. Don’t stress out about it

You know what, it’s vacation. While I don’t believe in tossing healthy habits out the window simply because you’re traveling, I have no problem with occasional treats. One candy bar isn’t going to destroy you. If you’re making good choices most of the time, then there’s nothing to worry about. Just don’t lose sight of why you’ve chosen a healthy lifestyle to begin with. Spending the entire trip in “treat yourself” mode is a dangerous path to walk. So relax and enjoy yourself along with the occasional treat.

FitTip: It truly is amazing the amount of junk food that is disguised as health food. Learn how to read labels! There is more to them than the number of calories. Check the serving size, the sugar, the protein, the healthy and unhealthy fats, and – maybe most importantly – the ingredients. Just because you chose yogurt over an ice cream doesn’t mean you’re eating healthy. Sometimes, there’s barely a difference. And when it comes to eating food made from REAL and not manufactured ingredients, the ice cream may actually be better. So pay attention and make educated choices.






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