Healthy eating on-the-go is hard. Long days of hopping shuttles, waiting at gates, in-flight boredom, and layovers often go hand-in-hand with greasy fast food and processed snacks — not the best situation for health-conscious travelers.
The fat content and hard-to-pronounce ingredients in airport food can put wellness warriors at a disadvantage. Sugary foods, dairy products, and caffeine can even cause digestive problems while traveling when it’s definitely not convenient.
However, you don’t have to wreck your healthy eating plans just because it’s not convenient. When you know how to navigate airport food choices and choose the right snacks you’ll feel energized and equipped for even the longest travel day.
Pack these TSA-friendly snacks
Before you head to the to the airport, pack a healthy snack.
Dried or dehydrated foods are healthy, easy to pack, and TSA-compliant. An easy option is trail mix. Make your own raw energy variety with walnuts, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, cinnamon, nutmeg, sea salt, dried apricots, and dried cranberries. There are a ton of great trail mix recipes to choose from.
Natural beef jerky is a great travel snack since it’s rich in protein and generally low in saturated fat and calories. If you’re not a huge jerky fan you can to for meatless vegan jerky. Meanwhile, cheese and whole-wheat crackers will also ensure you get your protein.
For a fresh snack, grab an apple and a small pouch of nut butter (it won’t violate TSA requirements). If you have a sweet tooth, pack some dark chocolate in your carry-on — it’s a much better choice than airport candy bars.
And don’t forget to hydrate. Bring your empty water bottle with you so you can fill it at drinking fountains after you’ve gone through security.
Eat healthy at the airport
If you don’t have time to pack a meal or snack before you leave for the airport, don’t worry. Even if you’re stuck with airport food choices, you can stay hydrated and healthy — you just have to know a few healthy eating tips.
1. Know your healthy food options
Airports have some of the world’s worst food. However, airports do offer some spots where you can grab a nutritious bite.
For a quick fix, yogurt, fresh fruit, and nonfat beverages at Starbucks are a good option. Meanwhile, any sub shop can whip up a salad, soup, or sandwiches under 500 calories. Other smoothie chains generally have menus that offer health-focused light bites as well — just make sure to opt out of the high sugar options.
2. Look for brown rice
Seek out rice-based meal options that will energize you with healthy carbs. Rice has a number of health benefits. It can help to replenish fluids due to its water-absorbent properties. Also, rice is beneficial simply because it does not contain any harmful fats, cholesterol, or sodium.
3. Stay hydrated, the right way
Frequent fliers know that jet setting, while glamorous can also cause dehydration in-flight, since the humidity in airplane cabins is low. Drinking lots of fluids is essential when you’re hopping planes.
It’s easy to reach for a soda or caffienated energy drink when you’re rushing to your gate, but artificial sugars will only make your organs work harder than they need to and dehydrate your system. Stick to water or reach for electrolyte-packed coconut water.
4. Grab some chia seeds
Super foods like chia seeds are loaded with nutrients. “ A tablespoon of chia seeds contains more calcium than a glass of milk, more Omega 3 than salmon and more anti-oxidants than blueberries. Chia seeds also contain lots of fibre, protein and micronutrients. And, as well as boosting energy, the nutrients have been proven to help heart health and joint function, encourage a healthy digestive system.”
They are fairly bland in taste, so you can add them to anything. Sprinkle chia seeds on yogurt or on a fruit salad.
5. Eat water-rich fruits
Watermelon, cucumbers, pineapple, and berries are a just a few examples of fruits with high water content, which means they’re helpful for hydration. They are also more substantial than oatmeal. Many airports now sell healthy fruit options, so you don’t have to rely on processed foods.
6. Pass up that mini Fireball
Alcohol will make you use the restroom more frequently. It is also dehydrating — especially on airplanes.
7. Refuel in an airport lounge
Airport lounges offer a multitude of fresh and healthy food options. Lounges not only offer a secluded getaway from the crowded terminal, but you can relax in a comfy lounge armchair and enjoy a selection of complimentary drinks, refreshments and pre-flight bites to help you refuel before your next flight.
If you don’t have elite status or you’re not a member of a frequent flyer program, some airlines sell day passes to their lounges. Meanwhile, if you book flights on multiple airlines, a lounge membership, like PriorityPass.com, offers access to more than 850 lounges worldwide for an annual fee.
Traveling for hours on end can be physically, mentally, and nutritionally draining. Airport life may never be like wandering your local Trader Joe’s or Whole Foods, but with these tips you’ll reach your destination feeling great.
This article has been edited.
Tony Tie is a numbers-obsessed marketer, life hacker, and public speaker who has helped various Fortune 500 companies grow their online presence. Located in Toronto, he is currently the senior search marketer at Expedia Canada, the leading travel booking platform for flights, hotels, car rentals, cruises, and local activities. Connect with @tonytie on Twitter.