Airline food is usually bad for two reasons: It tastes bad. And it’s unhealthy.
But a new study finds that there’s hope if you’re traveling during the holidays. One major airline and several smaller ones have stepped up. Their food is actually quite nutritious.
As for the others… In some cases, the best you can do is the little bag of peanuts.
Dr. Charles Platkin is director of the Hunter College NYC Food Policy Center. Each year he analyzes airline food. He rates the airlines from zero to five stars.1
Dr. Platkin considers food nutrient levels, calories, ingredient labeling, and the number of healthy options.2
Airline Healthy Food Rankings
- Delta: 4 stars. The survey found that Delta “is the clear leader among the big carriers.” It offers non-GMO, vegan, gluten-free, and lacto-ovo vegetarian options. Best Bets: The almond snack. Other healthy choices include a Kind Bar and a tapas snack box, which is large enough for a meal.
- Virgin America: 4 stars. Virgin was last year’s winner. It leads most others in low-calorie options. And it has added more nutritional labeling. Best Bets: Udi’s granola with yogurt and fruit or the protein meal with hummus, nuts, and tuna.
- Air Canada: 3.75 stars. It keeps the calorie count low and the nutrition content high. Best Bet: Greek yogurt. Also the avocado smash box with fresh guacamole, hard-boiled egg, green apple slices, and multigrain muesli bread.
- JetBlue: 3.75 stars. Its celebrated free snacks aren’t very nutritious, although they are relatively low in calories. Best Bet: The newly introduced AmpUp Box with olives, hummus, Mary’s Gone Crackers, a That’s It fruit bar and almonds. Another good option: the kale and quinoa salad.
- Alaska: 3.5 stars. Its food is calorie heavy. But Alaska Airlines is improving. They introduced healthier, lower calorie choices in 2017. Best Bet: Mediterranean tapas with olives, hummus, almonds, dried fruit, and a dark chocolate bar.
- United: 2.75 stars. Its snack choices and boxes generally are not healthy and they are high in calories. Best Bet: Hummus.
- American: 2.5 stars. American “is very far behind when it comes to food…it needs to get in touch and start offering healthier, cleaner foods,” Dr. Platkin said. Best Bet: Hummus.
- Frontier: 2.25 stars. Dr. Platkin says “travelers would be best off bringing their own food.” Its calorie counts are reasonable. But the nutrition is lacking. Best Bet: Trail mix.
- Southwest: 2 stars. “Not much in terms of nutritional value,” Dr. Platkin said. Best Bet: Yes, the peanuts.
- (tie) Allegiant and Spirit: 1.75 stars. Both need to add nutritious items to their menu and limit calories. Best Bet: For Allegiant, it is the nut snack. For Spirit, it’s hummus and pita chips.
The worst airline? Hawaiian Airlines. It was rated only one star.
Best Ways to Eat Healthy While Traveling
Rather than being stuck eating bad airline food, you’re better off bringing your own. Stick to foods that are easy to carry and not messy to eat.
Fruit, nuts, carrot and cucumber sticks, peanut butter, unsweetened yogurt, and healthy sandwiches are all good options.3
Click here for a list of foods you can bring through airport security.
Try sticking to your normal eating schedule as much as possible while traveling. Eating at odd times can throw off your body clock. This can slow your metabolism, making it easier to pack on weight.4
One more thing… Don’t forget to hydrate before and while flying. Your body loses water rapidly in the dry air of plane cabins.
One trick is to eat some chia seeds along with drinking a glass of water before the flight. Chia seeds absorb up to 12 times their weight in water. They will keep you hydrated longer than drinking plain water.5