Airline Snack & Food Survey

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.

United Airlines 

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.


JetBlue Airways

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

the others.


American Airlines 

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. 


Continental Airlines

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.


Southwest Airlines

Cooperation in Providing Nutritional Information: Very helpful, really very nice people.

Health Score:(**)

Best Bet: Go for the nuts and skip the pretzels and other items.


Virgin America 

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.

Health Score:(**)

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. 


US Airways 

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

information whatsoever.

Health Score:(*3/4)

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.

1 Comment

  1. February 28, 2011 / 9:52 am

    maybe you should just take something from home, when you know that the airline does not spend any healthy food. Or you might go just to a good juice, that would be an alternative?

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