Whether you are flying to an exotic foreign land for vacation or to visit relatives for a holiday, one thing you can count on is bad airline food. Not just bad tasting, but bad for you. Airplane food, when it is served at all, is notoriously bad for anyone not in the first-class cabin, and it seems to get worse by the day. But if you have to fly, it might be good to know what your options are, not to mention which are the healthiest.
DietDetective.com has come to the rescue, doing all the legwork for you. Their annual survey rates the best “Calorie Bargains” and “Calorie Rip-offs” at 35,000 feet. The 2010 Annual Food Survey rates foods for eight airlines: United, Continental, Delta, Virgin America, US Airways, JetBlue, American, and Southwest.
The survey assigned a “Health Score” (5 stars = highest rate, 1 star = lowest) based on snack/on-board food service offerings, number of healthy offerings, airline cooperation, fruit and vegetable offerings, and improvements. The survey includes health ratings, cost, comments, food offerings, calories, and exercise equivalents. I should note that some airlines were not very cooperative, according to DietDetective. This may have an impact on final scoring.
Below is a synopsis of the report, by airline. Should you wish to read the full report, you can visit www.DietDetective.com.
United Airlines: 5 stars
Improvement has been made, although the airline admits that people are not buying the healthier food choices. On flights of over 2 hours, the best bet is the Tapas ($8.49), a healthy mix of Mediterranean foods. There is also a Lite snack box ($6.99), weighing in at 430 calories, that is a good bet. Also for around 400 calories is the Chicken Caesar Salad ($9.49) and the Fruit Cheese Tray ($6.99). For breakfast, the Yogurt Parfait and My Smoothie are the best options.
JetBlue Airways: 3 ¼ stars
JetBlue is now serving some meal boxes on longer flights, in addition to their array of snacks. Their Shape-Up box ($6.00) contains some tasty treats for 484 calories and the Cheer Up ($6.00) which contains a trio of cheeses, dried fruit and crackers, is only 260 calories. All other meals are over 600 calories, with the exception of the Beef Up, which is high in fat. The healthiest snacks are the nuts and animal crackers.
American Airlines: 3 1/8 stars
Much of the snacks on this airline are high in calories, with few healthy offerings. According to DietDetective, your best bet is the Cheese Cracker Snack Tray ($4.49). Just skip the cracker packages. The Premium Nut Blend ($4.49) is a strong nutrition choice, but you may want to split it with someone, as it is 487 calories. If you're on a longer flight, the Boston Market Chicken Caesar Salad ($10.00) with chips and dressing on the side is a pretty good meal choice at 470 calories.
Delta Airlines: 3 stars
DietDetective had a hard time getting information on food choices from Delta. Ultimately, their snack choices are not very healthy, even the popcorn isn’t standard, but instead a fancy sweetened version from Bentley’s. Try the Travel Treat ($5.00) instead, which has chicken salad, wheat crisps cheese spread, raisins and a cookie. Or, the Fruit Cheese Plate ($6.00) which has nuts, fruit and cheese, or the Breakfast Snack ($3.00)of yogurt, fruit and granola bar.
Continental Airlines: 2 ½ stars
Not a lot of healthy food choices on this airline. Healthy, but high-calorie, almonds are available but most of the snack packs are high in calories. The Mini Snack Box ($4.00) is 408 calories but there is nothing fresh in the pack. For breakfast, a Yogurt Parfait ($3.50) is an option, and the Grilled Chicken Spinach Salad ($8.25) passes muster as well.
Southwest Airlines: 2 stars
Southwest is a no-frills airline. You get peanuts or pretzels on most flights. On longer flights, you might see cookies, cheese sandwich crackers and Ritz toasted chips, most of which should be avoided.
Virgin America: 2 stars
This is my favorite airline, EVER. They are very customer-service oriented, but they were less than responsive to DietDetective’s inquiries on their food offerings, which is reflected in their rating. On the VA website, I found are quite a few healthy offerings, which should garner them a higher rating. But I am biased. Regular offerings on all flights include a Protein Meal (390 calories). On flights over 2 hours, you can get Veggies and Hummus (275 calories), Thai Peanut Chicken Hand Roll (skip the chocolate), and a Power Protein Breakfast (385 calories), all very good choices. For snack, you can try a SweetRiot Yumbar, sure to satisfy your sweet tooth. (Prices unavailable.)
US Airways: 1 ¾ stars
Another uncooperative airline, this time with few healthy choices. Some of their boxes start out healthy, but then add in cookies AND a candy to the mix, ruining the calorie count. The Mareblu Naturals Trail Mix Crunch ($4.00) is 450 calories and could be shared. Also available is the All Day Fruit Cheese Plate ($7.00).