How to eat healthy at the airport

With a little preparation and by sticking to a few simple dietary rules, there are ways to stay healthy and eat well while travelling. We asked nutritionist Sarah West to share her top advice on how to eat healthily in the airport and on-board.

Eating healthily at the airport

A recent survey by airport parking provider Purple Parking showed the food options at Luton Airport to be some of the least healthy of UK airports, with 2 out of 3 travellers rating the food as unhealthy. Airports can be difficult spots to find healthy meal choices but for those wanting to stick to their diet (and not undo all their good pre-holiday work!) it’s possible to find healthy food options at the airport, it just takes a bit of pre-planning.

With a little preparation and by sticking to a few simple dietary rules, there are ways to stay healthy and eat well while travelling. We asked nutritionist Sarah West to share her top advice on how to eat healthily in the airport and on-board.

Food choices

Frequent plane travel can be tiring, stressful and uncomfortable, so it's worth knowing which food and drink to stick to in order to minimise the negative impact on your wellbeing.

A few simple food choices can help you stay feeling your best when travelling:

• Airplanes are renowned for spreading germs due to the confined space, so give your immune system a boost before you fly with plenty of colourful, antioxidant-rich fresh fruit. Berries have a high water content so are an ideal choice as they're also very hydrating.

• Drink plenty of clear fluids, such as herbal teas and water, to help avoid dehydration when in the air. Try to stay away from caffeine-heavy drinks or alcohol, as these will only dehydrate you further. Too much salt can also have a negative effect on hydration levels, so avoid crisps, pretzels or salted nuts before you fly.

• Digestion is harder for your body at 35,000 feet, so don't be tempted by a three course dinner; keep it light and relatively low in fat to help avoid discomfort later in the day. Choose chicken or fish items that can be grilled or steamed and add a side of vegetables or salad.

• Wholegrain sandwiches packed with lean protein like ham, fish or chicken will help you stay fuller for longer, helping to stop any mid-flight snack attacks.

• Add a source of protein, such as natural yoghurt or whole nuts, to each meal or snack. This will help balance sugar levels and keep you feeling alert and energised throughout the journey. Natural yoghurt can also help to ease any digestive discomfort.

For a handy guide to put in your back pocket with the best food and drink options to choose when flying, download this Healthy Guide to Airport Food and follow the tips for breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks. It makes life easy with top recommendations for snacks and meals available at main airport restaurant chains.

Before you leave home

Whilst the liquids you can carry through airport security are still restricted to 100ml containers, solid food is actually permitted. Packing a tub of healthy snacks could be really beneficial for keeping calorie and fat content down and staying healthy and refreshed while travelling.

A tub of fruit, nuts or a home-made sandwich or wrap can be tucked into your hand luggage and will save you relying on the restaurants and cafes at your terminal - particularly worth doing if you have certain allergies or eating restrictions. This also has the benefit of keeping costs down and means you won’t rush food choices and fall into bad habits if you are pushed for time at the airport.

Be aware that some countries don't permit certain food types, such as meat or dairy to be brought in from overseas, so if you plan on carrying your food further than the plane, you will need to research the regulations of your final destination.

At the airport

If you're unable to prepare your own food you will be restricted to eating at the limited dining spots on offer at your terminal. Before your trip, take a few minutes to research your departure terminal to find out what restaurants and cafes are there, and take a peek at their menus if possible. That way, you'll be able to pre-plan snacks or meals to suit your individual dietary needs.

There's likely to be the obligatory fast food joints, such as a KFC, McDonalds or Burger King, and whilst these do serve a few healthier options, it can be difficult to make positive choices when faced with such a wide array of calorific foods, Most UK airports, including 'unhealthy' Luton, have a Pret a Manger or EAT café onsite, and if you research beforehand you can usually pick out healthy options from one of these. Likewise, from the 'pub' style restaurants, you can choose a healthier dish like a salad or soup. If you feel like splashing out (especially if you are travelling as part of your holiday) then some of the larger airports like Heathrow or Gatwick have seafood bars offering light options such as oysters and prawns as a delicious pre-flight meal, although these spots can prove fairly pricey.

In-flight dining

When flying, particularly long-haul, you are very much at the mercy of the airline and the dishes and snacks they provide. If you're likely to be eating on board and hope to maintain a healthy diet, you will need to research the menus of your specific airline. If you're with a carrier that provides complimentary food, call ahead of time to discuss the likely options. By giving a minimum of 48 hours’ notice you can often pick a meal that suits your specific needs, such as vegetarian, gluten-free, low calorie or low sodium.

Even budget airlines should provide a selection of healthy snack and meal items, although these will vary depending on which carrier you're with and will often need to be purchased on-board. For example, EasyJet currently stocks a healthy 'Couscous and Lentil Wholesome Pot', with no added salt or sugar, as well as nuts and seeds for snacking.