The airport isn’t exactly the best place to find healthy snacks to eat when you’re traveling, but unfortunately, sometimes there’s no choice but to grab something before your plane boards.
While packing your own snacks is ideal (like Quest Protein Bars and Quest Protein Cookies, for example), it’s not always an option, especially if you’re short on time and can’t prep beforehand. For when those times creep up, it’s better to eat something from the airport snack collection than to stay hungry for hours on the plane—especially if it’s a super long flight, too.
And of course, not everyone loves the snacks and meals offered on the airplane itself, so that’s where grabbing something form the airport could certainly be preferable. Here are the best and worst snacks to buy from the airport, which will fill you up for longer and keep your digestion in check.
The Best: Greek yogurt or cottage cheese with fruit and nuts
All airports have Greek yogurt and/or cottage cheese, as well as a fruit salad (or fruit cup) and packaged nuts. And there’s often variety—almonds, peanuts, pistachios, walnuts, and more.
This snack combo offers probiotics to keep immunity high when traveling (so you don’t get sick on the plane!) and digestion in check, and the fruit and nuts provide fiber and extra protein. Go with plain, unsweetened if you can. Get unsalted nuts to keep sodium low, since the body can swell when on plane and stick to one or two portion sizes of nuts.
The Best: Salad with Hummus Cup
A salad that’s made with greens like spinach or kale and has healthy toppings on it, like grilled chicken, cheese and nuts is a good option, and you can also get a hummus cup (like Sabra’s hummus cups with pretzels).
Another swap is a guacamole cup, if available. The protein from chicken fills you up, the fiber from chickpeas does as well (or healthy fats from avocado), and the leafy greens will provide iron to make sure you’re energized during the flight.
The Best: Apples with Nut Butter
Choose an apple instead of a mushy fruit cup of berries—firm fruit is best for a flight, and you can enjoy it with nut butter, such as peanut, almond or cashew, which are often found in most airports by a variety of brands.
Slice it up and lather the butter on or enjoy the apple on its own and put the nut butter on some whole grain crackers, which are also a pretty nice option. Just make sure sodium is low.
The Best: Protein Bar and a String Cheese or Jerky Stick
Protein bars that are clean and high in protein but low in carbs and sugar are the best option, since you can avoid blood sugar spikes and swings (which lead to a crash) during the flight.
Quest Protein Bars are an excellent choice, with enough protein to keep you satiated and for few calories, carbs and sugar. It’s a good option if you’re on a low-carb diet, too. Pair it with cheese or jerky. If it’s a longer flight, go with jerky but make sure the labels show it is relatively low in sodium. You don’t want a jerky that’s high in sodium, which can lead to bloating and swelling.
The Worst: Creamy Salads
Deli salads like tuna or chicken salad sit in mayonnaise and other creamy dressings and sauces, so they are loaded with calories, unhealthy fats (even if it’s a tuna salad, where there are some healthy fats too), and carbs. Plus, they feel very heavy, so you may get an upset stomach during the flight.
The Worst: Fried Foods/Fast-Food Restaurant Items
Getting fried foods, like Chinese food, chicken wings, French fries, and of course, pastries and baked goods like donuts, are all a red flag. Basically, if you’re going to a fast-food restaurant spot in the airport, you’re not going to find a super healthy pick, as you would in some of the other restaurants or food court sections.
These will weigh you down, blow you up from excess sodium and cause you to be dehydrated during the flight, and they may lead to poor digestion.
The Worst: Big Sandwiches
You may find a whole wheat sandwich with lean turkey breast, tomato and lettuce, and that would be a good option, but usually the sandwiches are on croissants, white bread, big white flour baguettes or on brioche or pretzel buns. The bread alone isn’t great for a healthy snack on the plane and it has carbs, calories and more sodium than you realize, without any nutrition.
Plus, usually the inside has mayonnaise or a creamy sauce, or it’s stuffed with that rich, high-calorie and high-fat tuna, egg, or chicken salad, as opposed to just lean meat or cheese slices. If you do get one, you can make it better by ditching the bread.
The Worst: Bulk Serving/Large Serving of Processed Snack Foods
Stay away from the massive bulk bag option for chips, cookies, crackers, and even healthier items like popcorn, nuts, and jerky. The main reason here is willpower—when bored on an airplane you will likely feel hungrier due to the boredom and you’ll polish off the whole bag, when you really should be having just one or two servings. If you’re flying solo, skip it and get a small pack of something else.