Anyone who knows me, knows that I am a strong proponent of the work hard, play harder mentality. In most cases, I uphold this motto in the form of frequent traveling! Over the past two months, I have had the opportunity to travel to Abu Dhabi for the Tri Yas Olympic Triathlon, and to Scottsdale, Arizona for a half-work/half-play getaway. Every time I travel, I am amazed at how many people walk into the airport under the assumption that they have no control when it comes to healthy eating on the fly.
We’ve all been there. We rush through security as fast as possible, and immediately scramble for food, grabbing whatever we can get our hands on before we board our plane. Or, when we are really crunched for time, we hop onto a plane with no food at all, and we are forced to choose between a mini bag of pretzels or honey-roasted peanuts. Those choices are the perfect storm of heavily processed, nutrient-depleted junk food that are guaranteed to spike your blood sugar and leave you feeling “hangrier” (hungry+angry) than ever. For longer flights, we may score a “meal”, but it’s nothing close to the type of nourishing real food your body deserves. It’s these types of “food emergency” moments that force us to sacrifice our health and choose the most convenient option rather than the most nourishing option.
The good news is that we actually DO have a choice. With a little pre-travel planning, you can bring a home-packed meal or stash of snacks that will get you through your flight. By having healthy options conveniently packed in your carry-on, the nourishing option also becomes the convenient.
To get you started for your next trip, here are some of my go-to plane-friendly foods that will take the health-sacrificing gamble out of traveling and guarantee an enjoyable and well-fueled flight!
1. BYOW: Hydration when flying is HUGE! Being at higher altitudes is super dehydrating. So, BYO! Make sure your water bottle is empty going through security, and once you’re in the clear, go on the hunt for the nearest drinking fountain and fill er’ up. Or, ask the friendly barista at Starbucks for some water (they haven’t turned me down yet).
2. Pack a meal: Did you know you can actually put a home-packed meal through security? Salads, sandwiches, wraps, rice bowls – they are all passable. Just be careful with salad dressings, sauces, salsa, hummus, or anything that appears as a liquid, sauce, paste, or dip. If it’s already incorporated into your meal and your meal is securely wrapped, you should be fine. But if you plan to keep these items separate, be sure to abide by the TSA guideline for fluids and pack them in 3.4 oz containers and in a quart size ziplock bag. (3.4 oz is about ¼ cup) Speaking of containers… if the last time you packed your lunch was in middle school, I have news for you. The “lunch box container” industry has kicked it up a notch since the 90’s. From reusable utensils, to “bento boxes” that keep meals neat and organized, eating on the go is easier now more than ever. Consider investing in portable meal containers — they will save you money in the long run and work wonders on your overall health.
3. Snacks: There are healthy snacks out there, you just have to do some digging and label reading to identify the winners from the losers. Here are some of my winning go-to snacks that use simple, whole-food based ingredients:
Think fresh cut or freeze-dried fruits and veggies. Cut-up carrots and celery are durable, making them great options for veggies on-the-go. Whole pieces of fruit like apples and easy-to-peel mandarin oranges such as Clementines are great for travel because they are resistant to bruising. In the freeze-dried department, Just Tomatoes and Nature’s All are two companies that offer a variety or freeze-dried produce. I am a fan of freeze-dried peas as they are the perfect combo of protein and carbs!
Healthy Whole Grain Crackers, such as Mary’s Gone Crackers provide the crunch without the crap! You can also try whole grain rice cakes. I am currently digging Lundberg’s new Red Rice & Quinoa Thin Stacks featuring 3 simple ingredients: red rice, brown rice, and quinoa. I also like Suzie’s Whole Grain Thin Cakes. Low-salt Popcorn is another option as a fiber-rich whole grain snack! Aim for options that use high quality oil. Half Naked Popcorn is air-popped and uses a hint of olive oil and sea salt, and it’s non-gmo project verified! Lastly, turn to oatmeal. I stash single-serving packets of 365 Everyday Value Multigrain Oatmeal with Flax everywhere. There’s one in my purse right now. If you’re on a plane, just ask the flight attendant for a cup of hot water. On a day to day basis, just pop into a coffee shop do the same.
Grab a handful of nuts and seeds, such as almonds, walnuts, cashews, and pumpkin seeds (opt for the raw and unsalted variety). You can also munch on nut/seed butters (look for no added oil, no sugar added options). Artisana makes individual squeeze packs that are great for traveling. Each packet is just over 1.0 oz, TSA-approved!
I am on a serious roasted chickpea kick. They are easy to make yourself, or you can purchase them: The Good Bean or 2 Armadillos are both great choices. Hard-boiled eggs are an eggcellent portable source of protein. You have 4 hours outside of refrigeration, so plan to eat them towards the earlier portion of your flight.
How about jerky? I thought I would never say those words back to back, but thanks to EPIC, Healthy Jerky is no longer an oxymoron! They also carry “meat bars” (no, seriously). Bison Bacon Cranberry, Beef Habanero Cherry, Lamb Currant Mint, Turkey Almond Cranberry to name a few, all of which feature 100 percent organic grass-fed meats. Their products average 10-15 grams of high quality protein per bar and much lower in sodium than other jerky and shelf-stable meat products on the market.
Canned tuna is another option. Wild Planet offers single serving pouches of no-salt added wild albacore tuna in a BPA-free, shelf-stable packaging. (Bonus: Their product is Non-GMO Project verified.) One pouch delivers one 3 oz serving of tuna, delivering 20 grams of protein and a solid dose of omega-3 fatty acids.
Nutrition Bars can be tricky. Most bars are full of refined sugars and heavily processed isolated proteins. Scan the ingredient list, and opt for bars that feature simple, whole-food based ingredients, such as LARABAR, Kit Bars, or Kind Bars with less than 5 grams of sugar.
Have a square of dark chocolate. Aim for 80 percent cacao or more and learn to love the bitter beauty of chocolate – this is what chocolate is supposed to taste like! Go Raw Super Cookies are available in a variety of flavors, these good-for-you, crunchy, sweet treats are made with dates, seeds, coconut, and spices. My favorite is definitely the carrot cake! Or nosh on some dried fruit. Dates, figs, apricots (unsulphured), mangoes, even raisins! But steer clear of cranberries, cherries, pineapple, etc which are often sweetened with cane sugar.
So, whether you are flying somewhere exciting for a fun getaway, or simply traveling for business, the next time you pack your suitcase, use these simple guidelines to include some healthy snacks in your carry-on. Instead of playing the passive victim and allowing your environment to dictate your health, I encourage you to grab the steering wheel and take an active role in your own health. Let the pilot drive the plane, but you should be the driver of your wellbeing.
This article was originally published on Philly.com’s Goal Getter column.