Photo: Getty Images / Sergey_Peterman
If you managed to pack your bag, get some sleep, check in for your flight and make it to the airport on time, congrats! You're doing a great job at this traveling thing—particularly if you made it through security without having any essentials confiscated or subjecting yourself to extra screening because you forgot to remove your belt (whoops).
But once you make it to your gate, you suddenly realize the one thing you forgot: food for your travels. Not to worry! While airports can be more challenging than your local grocery store when it comes to stocking up on healthy foods, these tips can help fuel you for travel without checking your healthy habits at the gate.
Pictured recipe: Pumpkin Overnight Oats
If you need breakfast
Early morning flight? It's OK if you didn't make time (or it was just too darned early) to eat at home before you left for the airport. Many airport restaurants sell oatmeal, which will give you energy to power through the morning while filling you up with complex "good" carbohydrates. Oatmeal is a whole-grain food that provides fiber to help you feel full longer, and is frequently served topped with antioxidant-rich blueberries or with chopped nuts that add healthy fats to your diet. If you don't have time to sit down and eat a bowl full of oatmeal, keep an eye out for the "quick-oats" option, which are often packaged in disposable cups that double as cereal bowls. (Just keep an eye on the sugar content if you go this route; flavored varieties can sometimes serve up more sweeteners than you'd think.)
Read More: Why oatmeal is a great choice for breakfast.
Hate oatmeal? Go for an English muffin egg sandwich with a side of fruit to keep you full during your flight, says EatingWell.com's Digital Nutrition & News Editor Lisa Valente, M.S., R.D. Add coffee with a splash of milk or a low-fat latte to your meal—"but skip the flavors like mocha or caramel, which can add over 20 grams of added sugar," Valente says.
If you need a snack
Swap candy bars and chips for almonds and beef jerky, which are full of protein to keep you fueled up for a long flight or layover. Just keep an eye on the sodium content of both—particularly if your hands and feet tend to swell during travel. Too much salt can prompt fluid retention, notes Valente.
Fresh fruit, cut-up vegetables or plain yogurt are also great to-go snacks that are readily available in airport food kiosks or in the shops for a snack that you can eat at the gate or on the plane. Just don't forget a spoon for the yogurt!
Pictured Recipe: Sesame Chicken Noodle Bowls
If you need lunch
Pizza, burgers and Chinese food aren't your only options when you're traveling. You can often snag a good cup of soup in the airport, and more salad bars are cropping up in larger airports. Look for a vegetable-based soup with beans (for fiber) or chicken (protein), and again—watch out for overly salted options. If you're lucky, you might be able to pair a cup of soup with a half-sandwich or a salad—but if not, you can always add some fiber and nutrients with an apple or orange.
If you have time, scope out the options in your terminal and go with something that sounds good but also delivers some fiber and protein to keep you satisfied on your trip.
Remember to hydrate
By now, the word is out: flying dehydrates you. But don't automatically reach for the sports drink; unless you've been running laps around the airport since 5 a.m., you don't need to replace electrolytes with a specially formulated sports drink, as it will likely just add more sugar and calories than you need. Same goes for soda and even bottled juices, as some have more than 300 calories and include 60 grams of sugar.
Smoothie stands are a common sight in airport terminals—but just because it's made with fruit, doesn't make a smoothie your best bet. Nor does it guarantee that you're actually getting real fruit. Stick with the small-sized smoothie, and look for options with no added sugar, as some supposedly "healthy" smoothies can pack more sugar than 10 doughnuts.
Your best bet is to drink water in the airport. Make yours free by packing an empty water bottle. As long as your bottle is empty, it will clear security, and you can fill it up on the other side of the line.
Pictured Recipe: Chopped Cobb Salad
If you need dinner:
If your flights span the dinnertime hour, try to give yourself enough time to sit at a restaurant, rather than trying to cobble together something from the newsstand or eating a sad pre-made sandwich. If you truly don't have enough time to order a "real" meal, look for a grain bowl made with quinoa or another whole grain that also includes plenty of vegetables and some protein. By its hearty nature, a grain bowl will hold up better than that BLT on white bread that's been sitting in the cold case since 10 a.m. If you do have time to sit down and look at a real menu, try to replicate what you'd eat at home—a portion of lean meat, vegetables and a whole grain.
Feeling better about your on-the-go eating options? Now there's no reason to check your healthy habits at the gate! Enjoy your trip.