After successfully passing through the airport’s security check-in, why do you feel the sudden urge to grab a beer and a greasy meal? Is eating healthy even an option at the airport?
Let’s be real. Hardly any of us, me included, have the mental focus to prep and pack a meal ahead of flying, as author Jeanne Kelley writes about in her new book Portable Feast. Bravo to those who do.
Instead, we opt to grab a Lucky Dog at Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport or dine at Salt Lick Barbeque at Austin-Bergstrom International Airport—carrying no guilt about our decision because let’s face it: “We’re at the airport and there are no good eating options. Might as well splurge!”
The food situation at airports is a form of Stockholm Syndrome. Airports have the upper hand. They kidnap our sense of reason about what’s good for us to eat, and they rapture our olfactory system with Cinnabons and hot pretzels—which undoubtedly smell better than the Second Coming of Jesus Christ.
Yet, for the sake of our health—and we can’t forget that heart disease is still the leading cause of death for men and women—the food we eat plays the biggest role as to whether we “catch” this non-communicable disease.
So, the question is simple: Where ought we dine when we fly?
But these options are assessed, for the most part, through the lenses of a glutton who tries to cancel out eating through CrossFit, a person with money to spend, or a snobby foodie.
The wine bar at the Delta Terminal at New York City’s LaGuardia Airport, albeit very pleasant, is too hoity-toity—a scene, if you will. People are either doing business while drinking an obnoxious pour of wine or pretending they are someone important doing business (in reality, they’re texting with their grandma).
Penn Jillette, of the infamous magicians Penn & Teller, recently lost 120 lbs the old-fashioned way through diet and exercise. He eats almonds when he has to travel, according to his podcast Penn’s Sunday School (episode 179).
Let’s face it, hunger sets in at the airport and if you need more than a bag of nuts to hold you over while traveling, consider The 2015 Airport Food Review, a healthful eating guide to help travelers navigate food courts at 24 of the nation’s busiest airports.
Composed of dietitians from the nonprofit Physicians Committee, the group collected and reviewed restaurant menus from the busiest airports in the United States, based on passenger data from the Federal Aviation Administration. Excluding breakfast, airport restaurants received a point if their menu included at least one cholesterol-free, plant-based, high-fiber vegan entrée, which had to be clearly labeled on the menu. Side dishes didn’t count, even though they can be or indeed are the healthiest option on the menu.
Surprisingly enough, Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) came in first, for the first time. According to the review, the airport had “90 percent of its restaurants offering healthful, plant-based meals, including Real Food Meals at Real Food Daily, gourmet broccoli and edamame salads at Lemonade, Martha’s Salad at Homeboy Café, tofu tacos with kimchi at Kogi BBQ Taco Truck, and fresh fruit and vegetables, whole, at The Farmers Market.”
On the other side of the ranking list was Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport (MSP). If you find yourself on a layover in the Midwest and want to eat healthy, then good luck if it’s in Minnesota.
Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport (MSP)—located in the land of 10,000 lakes and home to beloved Prince—came in last place this year, receiving a failing grade by offering plant-based entrées at just 56 percent of its restaurants.
But let’s be real. Who’s going out of their way to find a plant-based healthy meal these days, apart from the vegans and vegetarians, while traveling?
Most people actually prefer the unhealthy offerings.
How do we know this?
A new ranking of airport restaurants filed this year by the makers of AirportXP, a market-research smartphone app, allows travelers to share their experiences at the 30 largest American airport hubs. The results are based on 88,326 food and beverage evaluations from July through December 2015.
What’s the take-away? Passengers prefer airports that offer more of the over-priced, salty, greasy, unhealthy foodstuffs.
Despite it having the healthiest offering of food and beverages according to the 2015 Airport Food Review, Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) had the third-lowest passenger satisfaction for food and beverage offerings according to the AirportXP survey. Evidently, you can’t have your vegan carrot cake and eat it, too. People don’t care that LAX has healthy options. They want the grease.
And this is probably why MSP was ranked among the top-three airports in passenger satisfaction for food and beverage offering according to AirportXP. Despite the fact the 2015 Airport Food Review ranked MSP lowest in its offering of healthy food and beverages, passengers didn’t seem to mind.
In the end, the airport is traveler’s purgatory, composed of rich, calorie-dense, unhealthy food options, of which we somehow seem to consume too much of and admittedly enjoy. It’s tough to say no when the cards are stacked against you.
If you want to be healthy at the airport, try to get full on the peanuts once airborne, and order a fizzy water if you want to feel fancy.