Healthy Snacks to Take on Your Next Flight

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We all know that healthy eating is important. We also know that burgers are delicious. How do you reconcile those two ideas? For me, it’s a little of column A and a little of column B. While some people are better at living a hybrid of healthy and indulgent, I’m more extreme. I like to go nuts on the junk food for a while and then pick a day and swing back towards the nutritious stuff. My current bout of junk has gone on way too long and now it’s time to fire up the weight-loss plan. I joined a new gym yesterday and my barley/chicken/veggie stir fry last night may not have been as immediately satisfying as lasagna, but I feel MUCH better about it this morning.

In honor of my new quest for health, I’m sharing some great tips I came across from Molly Kimball, a registered dietitian in New Orleans and “Eating Right” columnist for the New Orleans Times-Picayune. In her most recent column, Kimball lists twelve foods that make for great snacks on airplanes. Her list is below, along with my commentary in italics.

Chicken salad or tuna salad, made with Greek yogurt in place of mayonnaise (or reduced fat mayo or just a bit of the real thing), with fresh grapes or whole grain crackers (like Triscuit Thin Crisps or Mary’s Gone Crackers). If Greek yogurt isn’t your thing, try a really ripe avocado. You get all the good fat and a little extra flavor from the avocado.


Leftovers. I hate leaving food to spoil in the fridge when I’m traveling, so I bring anything with me that can stand in as a meal or snack. Just put the leftovers in a leak-proof container in your carry-on, along with plastic utensils and napkins, and you’re good to go. This really only applies if you were eating healthy food the night before…


Deli meats. One of my favorite airplane snacks is deli-sliced meats (think turkey, chicken or lean pastrami) rolled up with a bit of spreadable cheese like goat cheese or Laughing Cow cheese. Honestly, I don’t recommend deli meat at all. It traditionally has so many preservatives and known carcinogens. If you can find some without nitrates and nitrites, you’re better off, but your best bet is roasting a chicken breast and slicing it yourself at home to take with you.


Babybel cheese.  These wax-wrapped little rounds of cheese with just 50 to 70 calories will stay fresh for several days even unrefrigerated, as long as they’re in an air-conditioned space like your hotel room. 7th Grade me loves this pick. You can also consider one of those new Oscar Meyer protein packs — the food may come from factory farms, but it’s got meat+cheese+nuts for a protein explosion that will keep you full for much longer than carbs.


Beef jerky. Or turkey or vegan jerky.  They’re all protein-rich, and low in saturated fat and calories. The main drawback is the sodium, of course, for those watching their salt intake. You also have to watch out for the amount of sugar used in any jerky. I know teriyaki tastes great, but it adds a lot of extra calories.


Nuts. Any and all types, from almonds to peanuts to cashews, are excellent sources of heart-smart fats, along with protein and fiber. Just be mindful of portion size, since every quarter-cup serving is about 170 calories. I usually opt for the single-serve packets, or make my own with snack-size baggies. Couldn’t agree with this more.


Nut butter. Peanut butter, almond butter, and sunflower seed butter are all available in one-ounce squeeze packs that provide healthy fats and protein, with minimal sugar. Have one as a stand-alone snack, or pair it with whole grain crackers or apple slices. I can only imagine TSA trying to figure out if your nut butter is a liquid or a gel. If you get the kind with oil on top (Laura Scudders, etc.), you may be in trouble.


Veggies. Buy them pre-cut in individually wrapped packs, or DIY with cut veggies and Ziploc bags. Bring a small container of your favorite dip, made with plain Greek yogurt in place of mayonnaise or sour cream.  Just be sure the container isn’t larger than 3.4 ounces (approximately 6-7 tablespoons).Who can argue with this?


Protein bars. There are tons of high-protein, low-sugar bars on the market. A few of my favorites include Power Crunch, ThinkThin, and Nature Valley Protein bars. Just keep in mind that they can pack in 200-plus calories, so limit it to just one bar per travel day. I’m partial to Clif Bars and American used to sell them on board. They still might, but I didn’t see them on my most recent flight. United serves “Two Degrees Fruit & Nut Bars,” which aren’t quite protein bars but do the trick.


Protein powder. Put a scoop of your favorite protein powder into a shaker cup, then all you’ll need post-security is water or milk for a low-calorie, protein-rich meal or snack. Personally, I think protein powder is gross.


Beanitos and soy crisps. They’re both types of chips that are good sources of fiber, protein and fat.  Buy a regular-sized bag and divvy them up into a few snack-sized bags, or opt for the single-serving bags of Beanitos or Glenny’s Soy Crisps (available in select stores and online). Sure, why not?


What are some of your favorite healthy snacks to take on flights? Let’s build a communal shopping list in the comments.


  1. I like the packs you can get with apples slices and caramel dip. I’ve never looked at what’s in the caramel dip, but the pack is 100 calories.

    Also the Special K Sea Salt cracker chips, It may be too much salt for some, but you can’t cut out everything. 110 calories for 30 chips.

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