So you're in the habit of making healthy meals at home, but then you hit the airport and suddenly everything's up in the air. There's a veritable siren call of bad choices every time you step foot in the terminal or buckle your seatbelt on the plane. But somewhere wedged between all the fried and fatty foods, healthier meal options do exist out there. (Emoji hands to the sky.)
To help you travel like a pro, we asked a couple of top nutritionists to share their picks for the best all-around meals you can get at the airport. None will break your calorie bank or pack too much fat, yet all will provide you with key nutrients to keep you satiated from lift off to landing.
1. Dunkin' Donuts Egg White Veggie Flatbread
The Skinny: 280 cal, 9 g fat (4.5 g sat fat), 4 g fiber, 15 g protein, 690 mg sodium
Hit the line at Dunkin' for this breakfast, which is portably nestled in a multigrain flatbread. Ashley Harris, MS, RD, a registered dietician The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, says it's rich in protein to help you feel satisfied throughout the day. "While the 690 milligrams of sodium may seem high, it's an appropriate amount for a meal — and one of the lower sodium breakfast-sandwich options you'll find out there."
2. Lightly Salted Nuts and Apple
The Skinny: 280 cal, 15 g fat (1.5 g sat fat), 6 g fiber, 7 g protein, 125 mg sodium
Pop open a small bag or tin of sunflower seeds, almonds or cashews (ideally about a quarter-cup portion size), then pair it with an apple for a kiosk-curated "mini meal." "The complex carbs provide energy, while the protein helps you balance blood sugars and feel full," Harris says. "Nuts are a great source of healthy proteins. Stick to roughly a quarter-cup to keep calories low, adding a piece of fruit for the perfect amount of energy from carbohydrates," she says.
3. Starbucks Hearty Blueberry Whole-Grain Oatmeal
The Skinny: 290 cal, 2.5 g fat (1/2 g sat fat), 5 g fiber, 5 g protein, 125 mg sodium
Head over to Starbucks if you've got a 6 a.m. flight straight into a big meeting. This breakfast contains steel-cut oats and fresh fruit, both sources of complex carbs that provide a slow release of energy to keep you powered up all day long. "[This breakfast] also contains almonds, which are a great source of heart-healthy fat," Harris says. While coffee isn't required, we recommend it — because, travel.
4. McDonald's Southwest Salad with Grilled Chicken
The Skinny: 330 cal, 11 g fat (1/2 g sat fat), 7 g fiber, 32g protein, 890 mg sodium
When it's looking like McD's is one of your only choices, turn your attention to the salad menu — but don't be swayed by the fat-laden Bacon Ranch Salad with Crispy Chicken. Lauren Popeck, RD, a dietitian at Orlando Health, says her personal favorite is the Southwest-style option, made with a mix of nutrient-dense greens. Pro tip: Hold the dressing in lieu of a squeeze of lime to save at least 100 calories and six grams fat.
5. Larabar and Nonfat Milk
The Skinny: 340 cal, 8 g fat (1/2 g sat fat), 4 g fiber, 19 g protein, 170 mg sodium
Rushed mornings call for quick bites. First, hit up a coffee shop for a small, 12-ounce cup of milk, then grab a bar you can trust. "Look for natural bars with no added sugar, such a Larabar or Go Raw bar," Popeck says, which are both chockfull of good-for-you nutrients. (Or, if you're really on it, make these homemade three-ingredient Larabars in advance!) The extra 14 grams of protein from the milk helps boost your bar into a more substantial snack.
6. Au Bon Pain Southwest Tortilla Soup and Classic Chicken Salad Sandwich
The Skinny: 350 cal, 13 g fat (3 g sat fat), 2 g fiber, 15 g protein, 1240 mg sodium
Grab lunch at ABP by starting with a small serving of the Tortilla Soup, which Popeck likes to pair with one of the chain's half-sandwiches. (Ask for it on whole-wheat multigrain bread for bonus points.) "The half-sandwich portion contributes 230 calories, 480 mg sodium, 12 grams protein and only one gram saturated fat."
7. McDonald's Fruit & Yogurt Parfait and KIND Bar
The Skinny: 350 cal, 17 g fat (4.5 g sat fat), 8g fiber, 10 g protein, 205 mg sodium
Believe it or not, this McDonald's parfait isn't a secret calorie bomb, says Harris. "[Its] made of fresh fruit and calcium-rich yogurt. And at just 150 calories, a parfait is a perfect healthy option to keep you going." Make it a meal by grabbing yourself a KIND bar from a newsstand like Hudson News, says Harris. Try flavors like Dark Chocolate Nuts and Sea Salt or Madagascar Vanilla Almond to keep sugar in check — each measures in at under five grams per bar.
8. Sabra Pretzel and Hummus Pack
The Skinny: 380 cal, 20 g fat (3 g sat fat), 8 g fiber, 9 g protein, 860 mg sodium
Is this the most well-rounded meal? Definitely not. But Sabra's Pretzel and Hummus pack provides such a great balance of carbs and healthy, plant-based protein, it can replace a meal while you're on the road, says Harris. "It's higher in calories and sodium than most foods I would recommend as a snack, but that's why it's a great 'mini meal' choice if you have limited options," she explains.
9. Starbucks Protein Bistro Box
The Skinny: 380 cal, 19 g fat (6 g sat fat), 5 g fiber, 13 g protein, 470 mg sodium
Look away from the pastry shelf and pick up this well-balanced to-go box with a hard-boiled egg, sliced apple, a bunch of grapes, and white Cheddar cheese, served with multigrain muesli bread and peanut butter. "You get fresh fruit, whole grains, healthy fats and protein to fill you up, while keeping saturated fat, calories and sodium in check," says Popeck. And what's not to love about the cute bento box presentation packed with sweet, salty and savory flavors?
10. Chili's "Lighter Choice" Margarita Grilled Chicken
The Skinny: 580 cal, 13 g fat (2.5 g sat fat), 7 g fiber, 51 g protein, 2430 mg sodium
This one comes with delicious black beans, rice and pico de gallo — but Popeck recommends making some adjustments. You'll get 190 calories and 31 grams protein without the sides, so start with the chicken and pico. Use the beans and rice sparingly and you'll cut back on calories and sodium — always a challenge when you eat out. "If you choose this dish" says Popeck, "remember to balance the high sodium with plenty of fresh fruits, veggies and other naturally high-water foods as soon as you land." (And grab a water bottle for your flight; the low humidity in the cabin is generally dehydrating.)