What to Eat Before Taking Off: Guide to Airport Dining

People often find themselves stressed out on travel days. A way to minimize this stress and help eliminate it is to make smart choices when it comes to food. Unnecessary calories are packed into the foods offered in the airport and even on the plane. Below are five tips to avoid consuming unhealthy foods and improve your eating while traveling.

1.     Eat Breakfast!
Most of you know by now that you should always eat breakfast. It is one of the most important meals of the day for a reason – it kick starts your metabolism and improves bodily functions, physical and mental. Eating breakfast, whether it be eggs and toast or just a piece of fruit, can help you throughout the day. Making sure you are at your best on travel day is important for keeping track of tickets, boarding passes, times, etc.

2.     Hydrate, Hydrate, Hydrate
Staying hydrated is extremely important when traveling, regardless of the method of transportation. Water is the best choice when it comes to drinks, however teas, juices, and flavored water work just as well (make sure you watch the sugar!). Other beverages such as sodas and specialty coffee drinks are not the best choice. Water helps you stay alert and focused, as well as aid in relieving common travel issues like headaches and fatigue.

3.     What to Avoid at the Airport
The airport is full of temptations when it comes to food, especially if you have a long layover. Although the massive cinnamon rolls and fried chicken may taste fantastic, the results of consuming these foods are not. The obvious “unhealthy” foods, as you know, are packed with calories. For example, the Cinnabon Classic Cinnamon Roll has 880 calories alone. If you are on a 2,500 calorie-per-day diet, that one food right there is 35% of your daily intake. Thirty five percent may not sound like too much, but it has 36 grams of fat, 127 grams of carbohydrates, and only 13 grams of protein. Avoid foods that are comprised of empty calories: common fast food items, creamy soups and salad dressings, specialty coffee drinks, ice creams, and snacks like potato chips, cheese curls, and candy.

4.     What to Choose Instead
Many airports have healthier places to grab a quick snack or to enjoy a nice meal. If you are running short on time in the morning and can’t eat breakfast at home, choose a breakfast that is filling and satisfying. The key to a great meal is carbohydrates plus protein. For example, oatmeal with dried fruit and nuts is a good meal for breakfast, and can be found easily in an airport. If your airport has only big chain restaurants, still check out their menu – McDonald’s even has oatmeal! Another option for breakfast is a bagel with peanut butter or cream cheese. Try to pick bagels that are whole wheat, have fruits and/or nuts baked inside, or multi-grain. Bagels that are plain or covered in cinnamon sugar are full of empty calories. The carbohydrates from the bagel and protein from the peanut butter or cream cheese will make you feel fuller longer, and may prevent unnecessary snacking. If you have enough time to sit down for a meal, choose items that are not deep fried or covered in creamy sauces or dressings. Keeping your meals light and healthy will improve your mood and function during and after your trip. If space and time allows, packing foods from home is a great way to keep your eating healthy, and may even help reduce your cost of travel.

5.     Eating Because You’re Bored
Everyone has at least once snacked for the sole reason of being bored. Waiting for flights is a fairly boring activity, especially when the layover is long. Keep yourself occupied to avoid unnecessary snacking. For example, bring a book, magazine, or puzzle to occupy yourself. You can also try walking laps around the terminal. This is a great way to waste time while waiting – you avoid the snacks and get some exercise! If you feel the need to eat something when you are not hungry, chew a piece of gum. This will give you the feeling of eating without the calories.

Following these five tips will help you decide what to eat the next time you take a trip. Remember to eat breakfast and keep drinking fluids, exchange common fast food items for healthier, delicious options, and take a walk instead of mindless snacking. If you always eat a cheeseburger every time you go to the airport, go for it. However, keep these meals small and eat them sparingly. Your travel day will improve significantly by making better decisions.

Contributed by:
Lauren Marucci
Dietetic Senior
Penn State University