Airport Survival Guide

airport tarmac“Getting to the airport” is associated with many different anxiety inducers: from waking up at a disorienting hour to dealing with flight delays after you’ve already raced to the airport. Inevitably it’s 6:30 a.m., you’ve been awake for two hours, and your seemingly empty stomach is burning from the stress and the odd schedule of events -- all before sunrise. This is about the time when the temptation and the “need” for a starchy bakery muffin or a greasy fast food “croissanwich” feels overpowering. It doesn’t need to be. With a little advance planning and basic understanding of what your body really needs, airport travel does not have to sabotage both your healthful eating and your composure. The simple idea behind airport eating is to eat strategically throughout the day in order to avoid the stomach pits and the diet pitfalls.

My Never-Fail Air Travel Tips

Before You Go. The day before you head out the door, make a trip to the grocery store and pick up a couple of healthy frozen dinners. When you get home from your travels and you're tired and hungry and considering a big, comforting carryout order of General Tso's, you can instead pop your healthy frozen mean in the micro, relax with a simple dinner, and get right back on your healthy track. 

Stick to Your Plan. Air travel is particualrly disorienting. You're on a different schedule and you're at the mercy of the weather. As much as possible, try to stick to your basic at-home eating routine. Once you skip meals or start mindlessly nibbling, you begin to lose control. Don't just snack. Find a real meal and avoid bits of this and that. Even if the only meal you can find is not at the pinnacle of health, it's still better than unsatisfied, endless snacking. 

Bring Your Own? I don't think it's worth it to fuss too much about bringing food along to the airport, since you're usually in such a rush that there's not much time for food prep before you go. However, many of my clients like to toss some packable healthy foods in their bags, and I would recommend it, if you can. Some suggestions include: 

  • Instant oatmeal packet under 150 calories 
  • Orgran or GG fiber crackers
  • Single-serve nut butter packets (I like Justin's and Barney Butter)
  • 100-calorie bags of almonds
  • Mini-cheese such as Laughing Cow or Mini Babybel Light

Win the Breakfast Battle. Breakfast sets you up for a healthy day and gives you the nutrition you need to help make good food choices later. But when you're flying, you often have to leave your house at such an early hour that you become dependent on terminal offerings. And that's not always a pretty sight. Stick to my "coffee shop instant breakfast" and you'll have a sure-fire healthy, filling and uber-available terminal breakfast. 

  • Coffee Shop Instant Breakfast: At any coffee shop, grab a venti skim latte or Chai latte. Yes, a venti skim latte is really half of a healthy breakfast. It's a shot of espresso along with about 9 ounces of milk that adds up to 200 calories. Round it out with a piece of hand fruit like a banana or an apple. You'll get a nice dose of calcium, protein and even a few phytonutrients. And it will hold you a few hours until lunch. 
  • Need more? Grab an energy bar at the nearest Hudson News or a add a low-fat yogurt at the coffee shop. 

Reentry. You're back! You may be tired and cranky. Or you may be refreshed and filled with wonderful memories. Whatever the residue of your trip, it's important to ease back into real life with all your health resolutions intact. Keep things simple. Enjoy that frozen dinner you'd stashed before you left. Take a bath or a shower. Get to bed on time. You'll recharge and get control.

In addition to these nutrition tips, while you are traveling remember to:

  • Wash your hands regularly - steer clear of germs
  • Drink plenty of water- keep your skin and your body hydrated
  • Avoid excessive salt - minimize swelling of hands and feet
  • Take time to rest on the plane – it is much easier to make healthful decisions if you are not exhausted
  • Grab 20-30 minutes of exercise if you can – put on your sneakers as soon as you arrive and break a sweat or, if nothing else, walk the terminals before your flight. Moving your body will make a world of difference to your well-being.
  • Avoid taking out your flying frustrations through unnecessary eating -- you will only add to your already elevated stress levels.

IMPORTANT: Whether or not you manage to execute your healthful intentions, when you have arrived at your destination, enjoy a balanced dinner. Start with a salad because your body will need fresh greens, followed by a fresh piece of fish or lean meat with steamed or sautéed vegetables and whole grains. Finish with a soothing cup of tea or a decaffeinated cappuccino. Finally, try to get a good night’s rest.

Heather Bauer, RD CDN
Heather Bauer, RD CDN


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