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Healthiest picks for airline food

Michele Borboa, MS is a freelance writer and editor specializing in health, fitness, food, lifestyle, and pets. Michele is a health and wellness expert, personal chef, cookbook author, and pet-lover based in Bozeman, Montana. She is also...

Best and worst in-flight foods

Whether you’re packing your bags for the holidays or planning your upcoming business tips and vacations, your health-conscious side may want you to book your flights on airlines that have the healthiest in-flight foods. DietDetective.com shares its ratings for best airline foods and the in-flight meals you want to avoid.

Airplane food

2010 Airline Food Survey

DietDetective.com, founded by Charles Stuart Platkin, PhD, MPH, one of the country's leading nutrition and public health advocates, surveyed in-flight foods for eight airlines and assigned them a Health Score based on food serving offerings, airline cooperation, fruits and vegetable offerings, and improvements. The 2010 Airline Food Survey determined that not all airlines cater to health-conscious travelers. The results?

"This year United provided the 'healthies' choices in the sky, while Continental had a fall from grace, US Airways received the lowest rating, and Virgin America and Delta were the least cooperative (and also received a low health rating)," says Dr Platkin, who is also a public health advocate and visiting assistance professor at CUNY School of Public Health at Hunter College.

United Airlines

Health Score: 4 out of 5

Healthiest in-flight foods: The Diet Detective suggests the tapas for long flights: almonds, olives, hummus, and bruschetta, or the turkey sandwich, Dr Platkin's favorite. Other healthy picks include the Caesar salad (only use half of the dressing), fruit tray, smoothie, and yogurt parfait. Dr Platkin warns, "Skip the continental breakfast -- at 783 calories it's a bad start to your day."

JetBlue Airways

Health Score: 3.5 out of 5

Best for its snacks, JetBlue offers nuts and animal crackers, often more than one serving. "If you're really hungry, try the nuts," suggests Dr Platkin. "In terms of the meal boxes, the Shape Up is the clear winner -- pick that over all the others." The Shape Up includes hummus, pita chips, snack mix, almonds, raisins, and fruit crisps.

American Airlines

Health Score: 3.125 out of 5

Go for the cheese and cracker snack tray…just skip the crackers, says Dr Platkin. Another healthy option is premium nut blend, but since it is high in calories, share it with someone. If you're on a longer flight, the Boston Market Chicken Caesar Salad is a nutritious choice, just use the dressing sparingly. If you order a Boston Market turkey or chicken sandwich, you may want to split it or eat half and keep the other half for later – these sandwiches are way too many calories for one serving.

Delta Airlines

Health Score: 3 out of 5

In addition to being uncooperative in the survey, Delta has poor choices for healthy snacks. However, for long flights, your best bet is the Breakfast Snack (light yogurt and a fresh banana). "In terms of snack boxes, the Travel Treat is a good option because of the tuna and the raisins, and it's also low in calories," says Dr Platkin. "Delta also offers a fruit and cheese plate that's available for breakfast, lunch and dinner (just skip the crackers)." Steer clear of the turkey, egg salad and Canadian bacon croissant, roast beef and turkey sliders, and watch the Ranch dressing that comes with the veggie and Ranch option.

Continental Airlines

Health Score: 2.5 out of 5

According to Dr Platkin, the only snack with real nutritional value is the almonds. However, the large amount you get makes them an unhealthy choice unless you split the calories with fellow travelers. All the snack packs are very high in calories. For breakfast, you can choose yogurt, and for lunch or dinner, the Grilled Chicken Spinach Salad as long as you limit the dressing. In addition, this airline as no dessert choices that are worth the calories.

Southwest Airlines

Health Score: 2 out of 5

Clearly not a winner in the healthy foods department, Dr Platkin suggests reaching for the nuts and forgo the pretzels and other items. Pretzels are low in calories but they are high in sodium and offer no real nutrition.

Virgin America

Health Score: 2 out of 5

Another airline that wasn't cooperative with the Diet Detective Survey, Virgin airlines offers a wide variety of less-than-health-conscious foods. Dr Platkin suggests snacking on PopChips or yumBar, and for a meal, go for the chicken sandwich, veggies and hummus, or Protein Meal, which includes lemon pepper tuna spread, multigrain crackers, hummus, PopChips, dried apricots, and an Almond Roca.

US Airways

Health Score 1.75 out of 5

Not a lot of healthy in-flight foods on US Airways, but the CafePlus (chicken salad, crackers, cinnamon apple chips, almonds, and dessert, which you should share with a travel mate) is one of the better health choices. Dr Platkin recommends avoiding the Breakfast box because it is very high in calories and offers little in terms of nutrition.

More healthy food choices when traveling

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