Traveling is at its height during the holidays—up by 23%, according to the US Department of Transportation—as are the calories you presumably consumed before, during, and after each special occasion. And with the major ones behind us, that means many of us are shlepping back home via planes, trains, and automobiles. If you should find yourself at an airport, don't let it be your excuse to continue letting your diet spiral out of control. Instead, get back on track before you touch down at your final destination.
To help you do just that, we worked with Molly Kimball, CSSD, and Registered Dietitian with Ochsner's Elmwood Fitness Center in New Orleans, to narrow down the overwhelming selection of foods readily available within most airports to the 12 healthiest options you can purchase at magazine shops, delis, and kiosks. From nuts to smoothies, the picks in this roundup contain minimal sugar and refined carbohydrates, while being rich in protein and healthy fats, which will ensure sustained energy before boarding that flight.
Next time you roam the terminals in search for a healthy snack—holiday season or not—skip the fast food chains and consult this list instead.
This chewy, savory snack is a great airport grab—so long as you choose right. Skip brands that are high in saturated fat, sodium, and sugar, and search for healthy beef jerky that’s free of nitrates and artificial flavors. (Here are three healthy beef jerkies we love.) “They’re an excellent source of lean protein,” says Kimball.
Pistachios, almonds, peanuts—you name it—whichever one of these 8 healthy nuts you come across, you can be sure it's a smart choice. From heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids, to higher-than-the-average-snack protein and fiber content, nuts will keep energy levels high and hunger levels in check. The key is to keep your portions reasonable, per Kimball. And, of course, steer clear of the candy-coated, sugar-loaded varieties and trail mixes filled with dried fruit.
Snap pea crisps are frequently found in airport shops and are great because they're essentially baked snap peas, says Kimball, meaning they pack a bevy of health benefits. They're similar in texture to cheese puffs but contain way more good-for-you protein and fiber (and they won't turn your hands orange).
Look for the two-pack of hard-boiled eggs—for just $2.00 typically—at airport delis. One of our top muscle-building foods, eggs are high in protein, and will provide you with essential vitamins and minerals needed for a well-balanced diet.
Craving a meal that's slightly larger than a snack? Greens are the way to go. Most delis sell a selection of pre-packaged salads, but Kimball advises creating your own and topping it with grilled chicken and a small amount of vinaigrette dressing. Adding nuts, avocado, or hard-boiled eggs will bulk it up without filling you out.
If you’re tight on time and can’t pick at the leaves, then forget the fork and make it a sandwich. Delis allow you to customize your order, so you’re not limited to the selection off say, a Starbucks menu. Try a grilled chicken or turkey sandwich with one slice of whole wheat bread, lettuce (and any other veggies of choice) to make it crunchy, and a healthy seasoning to give it flavor.
Most, if not all, airport shops offer a variety of sliced, fresh fruit in the fridge area, or have a pile of saran-wrapped options at the counter. Either way, fruits like apples, sliced melon, and berries are a great source of fiber, natural sugar, and contain zero fat. But fruit is a little low on the protein side, so consider complementing it with nuts or peanut butter (you may be lucky enough to find little individual packages of PB if your airport is swanky).
If you’re ever faced with a wall of protein and snack bars (so, everytime you go to a grocery store), Kimball recommends looking for options, “that offer more protein than sugar.” Kind+ bars are your best bet, followed by Think Thin, and certain Kashi flavors like the honey almond flax bar.
Greek Yogurt is rich in calcium and protein, and is a core probiotic food that improves digestion. Kimball suggests Chobani greek yogurt, which is relatively high in protein. Eat the plain kind (and add fresh fruit) to save in the sugar deparatment.
Skip the pretzels paired with hummus dip and search for the better-for-you option that comes with carrots. Carrots alone are low in calories, filled with vitamins and minerals, and are virtually fat-free. Once you consume them with the hummus spread (or even nuts, as an alternative) they supply an A+ amount of protein and fiber.
If you're booking it from terminal A to terminal Z, consider grabbing a smoothie for the journey. More often than not, you can customize your order, which is definitely the way to go. Kimball advises ordering the blended beverage with fresh fruit, veggies (kale!), protein powder, and no added sugar (that includes "healthy" sweeteners like turbinado, agave, and honey). Sipping on-the-go will give you a pep in your step without slowing you down.