I try to avoid eating on airplanes as much as possible. On my last trip
to Cali however I bought the Healthy Snack Box on my Virgin America
flight and inside I found a slew of clearly not healthy snacks including
chocolate, over-processed cheese, jam, and apple chips…for the most
part, gross. I do have to say though that Lufthansa has pretty decent
meals when I fly to Germany and in fact, for the most part, if you’re flying
overseas first or business class the meals are pretty good.
Domestic flights however, that’s another story. It honestly makes me sick when I read how many calories are in some of these foods…I mean it’s one thing to ingest 1,000s of calories for a yummy meal at Le Bernardin, but for something that doesn’t even taste good! Oy!
Charles Stuart Platkin, Ph.D., M.P.H, assistant professor (visiting) at CUNY School of Public Health at Hunter College and Diet Detective conducted a survey to amass the calorie information of snacks and on-board menu choices for major airlines. They then gave each airline a health rating. This year United provided the “healthiest” choices in the sky, while Continental and US Airways received the lowest score.
The Airline Food 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. Jump for the surveyed airlines’ “Health Scores” and the Best Bets!
* The complete survey includes full listings of the snack/on-board food, comments, ratings, cost, calories, exercise equivalents, and tips, which you can see on Diet Detective.
Cooperation in Providing Nutritional Information:Very helpful.
Health Score: (****)
· Best Bet: On flights longer than two
hours go for the Tapas; it has some great foods, including almonds,
olives, hummus and bruschetta – nice, and guess what? It’s their
top-selling snack box. The Lite is also very good and balanced at only
430 calories. For flights longer than three hours, United has a plethora
of choices, but I really like the Turkey sandwich at 600 calories
including the sauce and chips — skip those if you want to save the
calories. (It’s also their best-selling freshly prepared snack box.) The
Chicken Caesar Salad and the Fruit Tray are also good choices. All the
meals are served with dressing on the side, so try to use only half. As
far as the individual snacks are concerned, wow, those are some pretty
high-calorie items! For breakfast, your best bet is the Smoothie or the
Yogurt Parfait — nice and healthy. Or you can have the Ham and Swiss
Croissant — it’s not too high in calories. Skip the Continental
Breakfast — at 783 calories it’s a bad start to your day.
Cooperation in Providing Nutritional Information:Very helpful. They’re always nice and cooperative.
Health Score: (*** 1/4)
Best Bet: If you’re really hungry, try the
nuts. They have protein and good fat and will satisfy you. Eat them one
at a time. The animal crackers are OK but not very nutritious. Try to
stick with no more than one snack. Just because they offer more doesn’t
mean you have to take them, especially if you’re not hungry. In terms of
the meal boxes, the Shape Up is the clear winner — pick that over all
Cooperation in Providing Nutritional Information:Very helpful.
Health Score: (*** 1/8)
Best Bet: Your best bet is the Cheese &
Cracker Snack Tray. Just skip the cracker packages. The Premium Nut
Blend is a strong nutrition choice, but make sure to split it with at
least two other people. If you’re traveling alone and don’t have a lot
of willpower, take a third of the nuts and give the rest back to the
flight attendant. Nuts are very high in calories, but the remaining
choices don’t offer much in terms of nutrition, and they’re just too
high in calories. If you’re on a longer flight, the Boston Market
Chicken Caesar Salad with chips and dressing is a pretty good meal
choice. Also, it’s nice that the dressing is on the side (use it
sparingly). Make sure you split the Boston Market Deli Chicken Pesto
and the Boston Market Turkey Carver — they are way too many calories
for one person.
Delta Air Lines
Cooperation in Providing Nutritional Information:Not helpful at all — I had to contact them repeatedly — they are back to their old ways.
Health Score:(***) Delta’s individual snack
choices are not very good, but their meal choices on longer flights are
reasonably healthy. Still, they can do much better.
Best Bet:Of the breakfast options (on flights
of 3 ½ hours or more) your best bet is the Breakfast Snack, which has
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. Delta also offers a fruit and cheese plate that’s
available for breakfast, lunch and dinner. The cheese is very high in
calories, but it’s still a nice option if you skip the crackers; at
least you’re getting some nutritional benefit from what you’re eating.
Skip the turkey, egg salad and Canadian bacon croissant at all costs.
For lunch/dinner options, there is the veggies and ranch — nice, low in
calories, but watch that ranch dressing! Also, I don’t think this will
be very filling. The roast beef (eastbound) and turkey sliders
(westbound) are both high in calories.
Cooperation in Providing Nutritional Information:Helpful.
Health Score: (** 1/2)
Best Bet: In terms of snacks, if you have a
family of five or six (not very likely) and wanted to split the almonds,
it’s really the only snack choice that has real nutritional value. You
should avoid the chips and pretzels, and the beef jerky is very high in
sodium. That doesn’t leave too many snack options. All the snack packs
are very high in calories. I realize they’re meant to be shared, but
even so, there is no one standout among them. There are elements in
each that are OK; however, if I had to choose, the Savory is probably
the best — just watch that fruit-and-nut mix. In terms of meals, for
breakfast, the yogurt is not too bad. For lunch or dinner, the Grilled
Chicken Spinach Salad is the obvious best choice so long as you watch
the dressing — that could put it over the top. The fruit-and-cheese
plate is not bad if it’s a meal, not just a snack, and the same for the
other choices except for the burger. Also, pass on the dessert: It’s
not worth it.
Cooperation in Providing Nutritional Information: Very helpful, really very nice people.
Best Bet: Go for the nuts and skip the pretzels and other items.
Cooperation in Providing Nutritional Information: Horrible.
This is the second year in a row that Virgin America believes they
don’t need to provide the information almost every restaurant and food
product must offer to customers.
Best Bet: In terms of snacks, the PopChips
and yumBar are low-calorie choices; the others are high in calories and
not good choices. Virgin offers a wide variety of meals, but the focus
is not necessarily on health and calories. The chicken sandwich appears
to be your best bet. For snack boxes, go with the Veggies and Hummus or
the Protein Meal.
Cooperation in Providing Nutritional Information: Dreadful
— it’s a tossup between Virgin and US Airways for least cooperation,
and Delta is a close third. It was a real struggle getting any
Best Bet: The CafePlus is not terrible
because at the very least you get the protein from the tuna, and it’s
low in calories. Maybe you can get rid of the cookies (give them to the
flight attendant as a gift). Not much else. The Breakfast box is very
high in calories and offers little in terms of nutrition.