It may seem impossible to eat healthy meals when you’re traveling. When you’re on a road trip, you have your pick of pulling off the highway when you see your favorite place with your favorite healthy option or continuing on if nothing strikes your healthy-fancy. You can even stop at a grocery store to build your own salad or bring a cooler filled with your planned meals. Stuck at an airport, though, sometimes your only option is fast-food or a “healthy” salad that is totally soggy and almost inedible. But it looks like airport restaurants are starting to consistently offer healthier eating options, so you may not be stuck packing your own meals any more — and the limited healthy options may be a thing of the past.
According to the Physicians Committee’s 13th annual Airport Food Review, 76 percent of restaurants at 18 of the busiest U.S. airports offered at least one healthful plant-based entrée — a number consistent with the 2012 study. That number was up from 57 percent in 2001, meaning that healthful options are more easily found at more airport restaurants. Dietitians who conducted the review looked for restaurants that offered a variety of vegetables, fruits, whole grains and legumes. A restaurant ranked as “healthful” if it serves at least one high-fiber, cholesterol-free menu item, according to the report. That healthful option had to include at least two of the four food groups dietitians were looking at: fruits, vegetables, whole grains, or legumes.
Denver International Airport came out on top of the list, with 55 of its 64 restaurants offering healthy meals — a whopping 86 percent. Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport came in last place, with barely over half — 53 out of 103 — of its restaurants providing healthy eats. (Check the entire list of the busiest airports here to see how yours stacks up.)
So what should you look for when eating at an airport restaurant? Try to go heavy on veggies, beans and fruits, and lighter on meats, cheeses and fatty extras. Registered dietitian Susan Levin recommends that travelers lighten up their meals at airports by asking for steamed veggies, going light on nuts, seeds and avocados, and skipping meats, oils, cheese, mayo and sour cream. Instead, look for green salads, like the baby green, quinoa and spinach salad at Wolfgang Puck’s in Denver. Or try the Homeboy Café’s hibiscus flower tacos; they also serve guacamole with grilled pineapples, not chips. Asian restaurants offer veggie stir-fries, or go for a non-meat burger like a barley burger or veggie burger.
With healthy airport options “taking off,” maybe now when you hit the airport you can focus on getting your liquids safely through security instead of wasting time worrying about what you can eat that won’t leave you lagging. If you’re traveling home for the holidays, scout ahead to see what restaurants your terminal will have and what healthy options are on the menu. You just be able to skip packing your own sandwich!
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