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Healthy Eating at the Airport

When fast food’s the only option, here’s what to eat

There’s a reason America is called a “fast food nation.” With fast food restaurants at every turn it’s almost impossible to resist the lure of easy to-go cuisine, especially when traveling. Airports are filled with fast food chains almost everywhere you turn and, since many airlines have stopped serving food on flights, sometimes it may seem like that’s your only option before boarding a long flight.

Fast food restaurants have always had the stigma of not being the most nutritious choice. Luckily, though, many fast food chains have started offering low-fat and low-calorie options so travelers looking for a nutritional meal have more options.

Keep it small

After a long flight where the only available food option was a tiny packet of peanuts, a jumbo-sized anything sounds good. But remember, portion control is key to staying healthy while traveling. Forget that super-sized meal and instead fill up on healthier options. Sodas and shakes are high in calories so opt for water or milk for a beverage, they’re much better for you and the water will keep you better hydrated when you’re flying, too.

Healthy fast food items:

  • Grilled chicken sandwich or nuggets
  • Fruit and yogurt
  • Baked potato (no cheese, butter or sour cream)
  • Salad with dressing on the side
  • Deli sandwiches on whole wheat rolls or pita bread.
  • Single hamburger or child-size hamburger
  • Grilled fish sandwich

Least healthy fast food options:

  • Cheese sauce
  • “Special Sauce”
  • Sour cream
  • Gravy
  • Tartar Sauce
  • Guacamole
  • Croissant sandwiches
  • Fried fish or chicken sandwiches
  • Onion rings and fries

Bring your own

The best way to make sure that what you’re eating is good for you is to make it yourself. So, before you leave for the airport, raid the cabinets for healthy snacks that will fit in your carry-on luggage. The Transportation and Security Administration’s rules prohibit travelers from bringing gels and liquids through security, but solid foods like nuts, fruits, energy bars and carrot and celery sticks should clear just fine. Once you’ve cleared security the food options are endless and anything you purchase can be brought on the plane with you. Stock up on bottled water and dried fruit packages and if it’s near mealtime, grab a grilled sandwich or wrap to take with you on the plane.

The healthy side of fast food

Next time you head to the order counter for a quick bite, take a look at these nutritional options from some great fast food restaurants.

Arby’s: The Martha’s Vineyard Salad and Santa Fe Chicken Salad provide a good amount of protein without an abundance of saturated fat and calories. Just be sure to choose a light or low-fat dressing. Arby's nutritional menu

Burger King: Fried food is plentiful at Burger King, but if you stick with the Jr. Whoppers and Jr. Sandwiches, you’ll cut out a lot of the extra fat. Instead of a side of fries, opt for a side salad and you’ll cut out 13 grams of fat. Burger King nutritional menu

Dunkin Donuts: An early morning flight means breakfast on the go. Before you drown your coffee with cream and throw back a sugar-coated muffin, consider healthier alternatives to your breakfast. Try milk in your coffee instead of cream and go for a blueberry bagel instead of a blueberry muffin. Dunkin Donuts nutritional menu

Kentucky Fried Chicken: It says it right in the name – fried. And you know that anything fried is just added cholesterol, calories and saturated fat. But if you’re craving some Colonel Sanders, consider something healthy from the menu, like a KFC Snacker® Sandwich. Kentucky Fried Chicken nutritional menu

McDonald’s: There are more than salads and fruit and yogurt parfaits at McDonald’s for the diet-conscience. A regular hamburger only has nine grams of fat and the grilled chicken sandwich has 11 grams. But calorie-counters beware: the mayo, sauces and carbs will add up. McDonald’s nutritional menu

Taco Bell: Before you slop on the sour cream and guacamole, take a moment and think about whether or not you want the extra seven grams of fat on your taco. The bean burrito is the best bet for healthy eaters craving something south of the border. Taco Bell nutritional menu

Subway: Subway offers some of the most nutritional sandwich options around but like anything, the more you pile on the sandwich the more calories you consume. Start with a smaller sub to quell your appetite, but remember: adding on bacon, ranch dressing and four kinds of cheeses negates the nutritional value of the turkey sandwich. Subway nutritional menu

Wendy’s: Wendy’s is known for its made-to-order menu, so you can choose your sandwich accompaniments wisely. The portion rule applies here, too. Stick with the “Jr. Menu” and the “99 cents” menu – you’ll get the perfect portioned food to satisfy your craving without all the added calories. Wendy’s nutritional menu

 
 
Melisse Hinkle
A New England native but explorer at heart, Melisse has lived in four U.S. cities, spent a summer in Hawaii, made her way through wine-producing regions in Australia and New Zealand, and traveled around Europe while studying abroad in London. She is the Content Manager for the U.S. and Canada at Cheapflights.