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The Best Airport Food

Flying this holiday season? Here's your go-to guide for what to eat no matter what you encounter in the terminal.

By Jennifer D'Angelo Friedman

woman with suitcase

If you're one of the 93.3 million Americans expected to travel 50 miles or more from home during the holiday season, there's a good chance you'll be taking some of your meals on the run at the airport. What's the only thing worse than airplane food? Airport food.

Or so we thought. According to The Physicians Committee's 13th annual Airport Food Review, 76 percent of restaurants at 18 of the busiest U.S. airports now offer at least one healthful plant-based entrée—with "healthful" being defined as high-fiber, cholesterol-free and including two of the following food groups: fruits, vegetables, whole grains, or legumes.

Great news. But as we all know, the stress of holiday travel can send even the most mindful yogi running for Cinnabon. (Admit it.) So we asked Diane Henderiks, Registered Dietitian and personal chef at, for the go-to list of airport food that will keep us in balance, on track, and healthy this season, even if:

The flight's delayed and you can sense a kid meltdown brewing. To bust stress and simply feel good, Henderiks recommends grabbing a satisfying bag of nuts. The magnesium helps keep cortisol levels down, and Vitamin E is an antioxidant that destroys free radicals associated with stress. Try to stay under about an ounce for portion control (about 24 almonds), and choose raw or unsalted versions. And while Starbucks may be beckoning, skip the Peppermint Mocha and and go for hot tea instead. Tea contains numerous compounds including catechins, polyphenols, flavonoids and amino acids that have been found to reduce levels of stress hormones. Add a splash of low-fat milk, which contains tryptophan, an amino acid that helps the body produce the mood-boosting compound serotonin and calming compound melatonin.

You need a little help getting into the holiday spirit. Dark chocolate contains more than 250 compounds known to help improve mood and brain function. The higher the cocoa content, the better, so choose 70 percent or more. Go ahead and indulge: 3/4 of a small bar is an appropriate portion size, Henderiks says. Eat slowly and savor.

You have just 2 weeks left to get into your New Year's dress. If you have the time to actually sit down and eat a meal at the airport, choose an entrée that contains 4 ounces of lean protein (legumes, tofu, fish, lean poultry or meat) and double up on your veggies, Henderiks recommends. The combo of lean protein and veggies will fill you up with less calories, so you're not tempted to mindlessly graze on newsstand snacks or pretzels on the plane. Enjoy a big salad with grilled chicken or tofu; vegetarian or turkey chili and a pico de gallo; seafood/veggie/chicken fajitas with guacamole and salsa; or grilled fish with steamed veggies and a salad. Wash it down with water to stay hydrated and boost your metabolic rate.

You're already exhausted and haven't even met your husband's whole family yet. When an energy boost is in order, think complex carbs: Henderiks recommends air-popped popcorn or Triscuit crackers for a nice, gradual lift of energy. Bananas are also a great source of natural sugar for energy. If you have a bit more time, choose a veggie wrap on a whole grain tortilla.

You want to avoid spending your holiday sick in bed. Oh the humanity. If the thought of being trapped for hours, elbow-to-elbow, with coughing, sneezing strangers has you (rightfully) concerned, give your immunity a protective boost. Yogurt is chock full of probiotics, the healthy bacteria that keep the gut and intestines armed against disease-causing bugs. Just opt for the lowest-sugar version available; sugar can actually depress immunity. Or carry on a burrito, southwestern salad, or a hummus platter. The beans are rich with zinc, which may help fight infection.

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