The Best Ways to Eat Healthier and Save Money When You’re Flying
Flying can feel distinctly unglamorous these days: we’re rushed through a fairly invasive security protocol, corralled into tight spaces, asked to wait through seemingly endless delays, and forced to run through the airport to make our connecting flights — just to find out there’s another delay, so we end up sitting and waiting some more. On top of all this, the limited food options in most airports tend to be overpriced, unhealthy, and unsatisfying.
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Travel is exhausting, and we need solid sustenance while we’re doing it. With just a little planning, you can save money and prevent yourself from getting hangry while flying — so you can stay in the right mindset to make wise decisions and enjoy the experience more.
1. Drink more (no, sorry, not Bloody Marys)
Flying is incredibly dehydrating. Airplane cabins have really low humidity levels because about half the air is pulled in from the outside, and air at high altitudes has very little moisture. We often make the situation worse for ourselves when we load up on alcohol or caffeine while in the airport. What we really need is lots of water — and there are free refill stations for that at most airports. “While you can’t bring your own drinks through security, you can bring your own empty water bottle,” says Kristi Ruth RD, LDN, of Carrots & Cookies.
Once you pass security, head to a water station and fill your bottle up for free, rather than dropping an eye-watering $5 on a bottle of Dasani. “This strategy will help to keep you hydrated — as well as keep you out of the kiosks where you may end up grabbing more than just an overpriced bottle of water,” says Ruth.
2. Prep a snack that feels like a treat, like DIY charcuterie boards
The more good choices we have, the less likely we are to make bad choices out of desperation — and healthy food choices can still be fun and make travel feel a bit more celebratory. “Make an ‘on-the-go’ charcuterie platter with whole grain crackers; lean, minimally processed meat; cheese cubes; and baby carrots or cucumber,” says Justine Chan, MHSc, RD, CDE. Pack in a sturdy, reusable container, and you’re good to go.
Think creatively, and bring snacks you’ll be genuinely excited about. “Homemade muffins are convenient, portable bite-sized snacks that can help to keep your energy levels up on your stressful travel day,” says Chan. We love these sweet potato breakfast muffins, gluten-free lemon-chia muffins, and chocolate-raspberry collagen muffins, all tasty options that have a fun, cupcake-like appeal.
3. Wraps can save the day
You’re not allowed to bring liquids into the airport, but you’re completely allowed to bring solid foods like wraps and sandwiches with you. “Fill a whole grain wrap with ingredients like raw almond butter, hummus, sprouts, vegetables, or fruit, which will provide filling protein and nutrients,” says wellness adviser Serena Poon, CN, CHC, CHN. We’re partial to a few combinations of these ingredients, including almond butter, strawberry, and banana, or hummus, sprouts, and baby spinach.
4. Prep some hydrating snacks
Since plane rides are dehydrating and water alone can get boring, it’s a good idea to try pack freshly cut vegetables like cucumbers, celery, and radishes. “Not only do these vegetables supply rich nutrients, they also deliver a crunch that makes them feel super satisfying,” says Poon. Some fresh fruit such as apple slices or fresh blueberries are also a great snack.
The better we plan ahead with good options, the less likely we area to go for the heavy ones that leave us feeling icky later. “I always recommend that people bring their own plane snacks from home,” says Poon. “Not only will you save money and cut down on packaging, you’ll also be ensuring that you are eating foods that make you feel good and that are full of fresh, nutritious ingredients.”
5. Make up a DIY trail mix
Homemade trail mix is Ruth’s number one go-to for air travel. “It doesn’t require refrigeration, doesn’t get ‘smushed,’ and it contains protein and fiber, which help keep you full longer,” says Ruth.
Nuts and seeds are a wonderful plane snack since they’re full of the protein and fiber that will help you feel fuller for longer, and also contain antioxidants and other important nutrients. “One of my favorite airplane snacks is a homemade trail mix full of raw, unsalted organic nuts like almonds or cashews, and dried, unsweetened, organic berries,” says Poon.
6. Find good food choices at the airport
If you didn’t think ahead about food, that’s ok, too — more and more nutritious options are being added to airport terminals. “In my opinion, the most convenient and affordable food options in airports can be found in what’s called a Farmer’s Fridge,” says Ruth, who was able to locate one in each terminal on a recent trip — although she says you had to really look for it. Here you will find everything from chocolate chia pudding for about six dollars to various bowls and salads for closer to eleven dollars. “These definitely beat the over-priced chicken caesar salad option that’s on most airport restaurant menus with regards to cost, taste, and nutritional value,” says Ruth.
Still, if you are in a rush and need to grab something at an airport kiosk, they almost always have a fruit-and-yogurt parfait in the cold section, and a variety of nuts and dried fruit in the snack section.
Of course, sometimes we’re at the mercy of the options on hand, and we have to eat at one of the fast food kiosks if that’s the only choice available. “Try to opt for grilled over fried foods, get a protein-rich salad if possible, and choose vegetables or fruit over fries,” says Trista Best, MPH, RD, LD.
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