Healthy Airplane Food: DietDetective.com Annual Airline Snacking and Onboard Food Survey with Health Ratings for 2007
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Healthy Airplane Food: DietDetective.com Annual Airline Snacking and Onboard Food Survey with Health Ratings for 2007

Don't know if you should get the bag of chips or the animal crackers? The Diet Detective rates several airlines' snack offerings to help you make the healthier choice while traveling.

United Airlines

The airlines are constantly changing what they serve, and we're on the case, trying to distinguish Calorie Bargains from Calorie Rip-Offs. Since last year's survey, Delta increased its score, but United, American, JetBlue, and US Airways all dropped slightly in the ratings. This year we've also added rankings for Southwest, Northwest, and Midwest Airlines, as well as updated the menus and included food items in addition to snacks.

 

Here are a few of the various airlines' snack and on-board food service offerings, along with Diet Detective's comments, ratings (Health Score: 5 stars = highest rating, 1 star = lowest rating), calories, and exercise equivalents. Only the snacks have the calorie information because most of the airlines could not give us detailed ingredients lists to analyze the nutritional content of the other foods. However, we are able to give you the "best bets" on many of the meal offerings.

United Airlines

(847-700-4000, www.united.com)

Cooperation in Providing Nutritional Information: Very helpful

Health Score: (****1/2) United still has the best variety and most healthful snacks. However, the sandwiches and salads are not nearly as health oriented.

Best Bet: Go for either the Rightbite or the Smartpack. The Smartpack is all natural, trans-fat free, and vegetarian-friendly, but it has a lot of food and can be high in calories, so share it. For breakfast (on five-hour-plus flights), go for the yogurt and mixed fruit; skip the cake, Danish, and crackers. As far as the sandwiches go (on five-hour-plus flights), try the roast beef if you're willing to skip the cheese, and if you're really trying to watch your diet, ditch half the bread. The Ciabatta roll is higher in calories than a wrap (300 vs. 200). The turkey breast looks like the best choice, but the mayo (in all the wraps) adds 100 calories, and you can't remove it. In terms of salads, pick the Hawaiian Chicken. Even though the macadamia nuts are high in calories, they offer nutrients, and the dressing is lower in calories than the other salad choices.

Total Calories: 895 (Smartpack), 550 (Minimeal), 650 (Quickpick), 580 (Rightbite)

Exercise Equivalents: (Amount of walking to burn off the calories) 231 minutes (Smartpack); 142 minutes (Minimeal); 168 minutes (Quickpick); 149 minutes (Rightbite)

Snack Choices

Smartpack

  • SunGold Creamy SunButter (1.5-ounces, 266 calories)
  • Bear Naked All-Natural Fruit and Nut Granola (1/2 cup, 280 calories)
  • Vermont Village Cannery Organic Peach Applesauce (4 ounces, 80 calories)
  • Cowbell White Cheddar Cheese (0.75 ounces, 75 calories)
  • Pita Shack Multigrain & Honey Lavash crackers (0.9 ounces, 120 calories)
  • Hero Strawberry Preserves (1/2 ounce, 64 calories)
  • Bali's Best Latte Candy (1 candy, 15 calories)
  • Emer'gen-C Fizzing Drink Mix - Tangerine (1 packet, 20 calories)

Rightbite

  • Bumble Bee Sensations Lemon & Pepper Seasoned Tuna Medley (3 ounces, 110 calories)
  • Late July Organic Crackers (1 package, 100 calories)
  • Wild Garden Hummus (1 jar, 73.5 calories)
  • Stacy's Multigrain Baked Pita Chips (1 ounce, 130 calories)
  • Fino Selections Gouda cheese (1 ounce, 101 calories)
  • Newman's Own organic California raisins (0.5 ounces, 45.5 calories)
  • Mini-Toblerone (12.5g bar, 66.5 calories)

For detailed calorie information on the Minimeal and Quickpick, go to www.dietdetective.com.

Continental Airlines

(713-324-2950, www.continental.com)

Cooperation in Providing Nutritional Information: Very helpful

Health Score: (****) Continental provides a low-calorie, high-impact meal.

Best Bet: Both sandwiches are fine; impressive that they offer light mayo.

Total Calories: 285 (turkey), 316 (ham)

Exercise Equivalents: (Amount of walking to burn off the calories) 73 minutes (turkey); 81 minutes (ham); 21 minutes (peanuts); 13 minutes (pretzels)

Cost: No charge

Snack Choices

Flights over three hours:

  • Turkey sandwich (170 calories, including Hellmann's light mayo)
  • Ham sandwich (201 calories, including French's yellow mustard)
  • Carrots (35 calories)
  • Fun-size candy bar (80 calories)

Flights under three hours:

  • Honey-roasted peanuts (1.5 ounces, 80 calories)
  • Mini pretzels (1.5 ounces, 50 calories)

Delta Air Lines

(866-715-2170, www.delta.com)

Cooperation from Airline: Helpful

Health Score: (***) The snack choices are not great; however, if you're on a flight that's over 4 1/2 hours, there is an EATS Menu (created by famed chef Todd English) that lets you purchase real food with some decent choices. Plus, Delta is moving away from snack boxes and will provide the EATS Menu on most flights. Good for them -- a big improvement over last year.

Best Bet: For short trips, peanuts from the snack basket are the most satisfying and nutritious choice. From the snack box, the raisins would be the only keeper. The EATS menu includes Kashi cereal with fruit and a Grilled Mediterranean Shrimp Salad, which are the best choices. Skip the Roast Beef, the Cheddar, Turkey Bacon, and Apple Butter Croissant, and the Nutella Banana PB&J -- unless you plan a long hike after you land. If you're thinking about getting a snack from the EATS menu, your best bets are the Clif bar and the animal crackers. If you have someone to share with, go for the trail mix, but it's loaded with calories, so be wary.

Total Calories: 370 (Snack Box)

Exercise Equivalents: (Amount of walking to burn off the calories) 96 minutes for the Snack Box.

Cost: Free from the snack basket, $1-$3 per individual snack, $4-$9 per meal

Snack Choices

Snack Basket (pick one item -- flights of 1.5 hours or more)

  • Dry-roasted peanuts, 1 ounce, 30 nuts, 170 calories, 44 minutes
  • Biscoff Cookies, 5 cookies, 146 calories, 38 minutes
  • Lance Honey Peanut Butter Crackers, 1 package, 190 calories, 49 minutes

Snack Box (flights of 3.5 hours or more)

  • Parmesan Peppercorn Cheese Spread (1 ounce, 70 calories)
  • Pepperidge Farm Crackers (0.5 ounce, 60 calories)
  • Raisins (1 ounce, 90 calories)
  • Walker's Chocolate Chip Shortbread Cookies (1 ounce, 150 calories)

EATS Snacks (4.5 hours or more)

  • Pringles (3 ounces, 480 calories, 125 minutes)
  • Clif Mojo Bar (1 bar, 200 calories, 52 minutes)
  • Dove Milk Chocolate Bar with Almonds (1 bar, 570 calories, 148 minutes)
  • Animal Crackers (32 pieces, 240 calories, 62 minutes)
  • Snack/Trail Mix (6 ounces, 720 calories, 187 minutes)

Midwest Airlines

(414-570-4000, www.midwestairlines.com)

Cooperation from Airline: Very helpful

Health Score: (***) There are some reasonably good "real" meal choices, but those famous fresh-baked on-board cookies can hurt: They're 120 calories each. And the individual snacks are unreasonably large portions.

Best Bet: You're always better off opting for a full meal than a snack. For breakfast pick the cheese omelet, but skip the potatoes and sausage. The omelet, yogurt, and fruit cup add up to only 355 calories, whereas the full meal has more than 700. The yogurt and fruit in the continental breakfast may look okay, but with that muffin and flavored yogurt (which means added sugar) you're still better off with the omelet. At least you'll be getting protein and other nutrients. For lunch and dinner, the Roasted Chicken Salad in Pita Pocket is only 230 calories if you skip the mayo, and the Kettle chips add just another 60. You can also opt for the Shrimp Salad, and if you want to make it even better you can pull out the croutons and use only one dressing package.

Total Snack Calories: 2 cookies, 240 calories

Exercise Equivalents: (Amount of walking to burn off the calories) 62 minutes for the two cookies

Cost: Best Care Cuisine $5.50 and $7.50 per breakfast, $5.50 and $10 per lunch or dinner

Snack Choices: Cookies (served after 10 a.m.), 120 calories each

JetBlue Airways

(800-538-2583, www.jetblue.com)

Cooperation from Airline: Very helpful

Health Score: (**1/2) The individually packaged snacks are portion-controlled; however, you can ask for as many as you want, and many people do.

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 okay, but not very nutritious. Stick with one snack.

Total Snack Calories: See below.

Exercise Equivalents: (Amount of walking to burn off the calories) See individual choices below.

Cost: No charge

Snack Choices (each distributed separately)

  • Nabisco 100 Calorie Packs Wheat Thins Minis (1 package, 100 calories, 26 minutes of walking)
  • Chocobillys Chocolate Chunk cookies (4 cookies, 130 calories, 34 minutes of walking)
  • Doritos Munchies Mix (1-ounce bag, 140 calories, 36 minutes of walking)
  • Mama Says Biscotti Gingerbread Grande (1 cookie, 210 calories, 54 minutes of walking)
  • Mama Says Biscotti Pistachio Grande (1 cookie, 150 calories, 39 minutes of walking)
  • Mrs. GoodCookie Jungle Crackers (1-ounce bag, 120 calories, 31 minutes of walking)
  • Terra Blues Potato Chips (1-ounce bag, 140 calories, 36 minutes of walking)
  • All Nuts Jumbo Cashew Halves (1-ounce bag, 170 calories, 44 minutes of walking)

US Airways

(480-693-0800, www.usairways.com)

Cooperation from Airline: Very helpful

Health Score: (**1/2) There are some decent choices, but overall the Snack Boxes could use a tune-up. On flights under 2.5 hours they offer only pretzels; not much nutrition there, but at least they're not too high in calories.

Best Bet: From the Snack Box, eat only a third of the fruit and nut mix (give the rest away or save it) and the can of chicken salad; skip the fruit bar and the cookies and you're good to go. Aside from the Snack Box, there are a few meal offerings for flights of 3.5 hours or more. For breakfast the choices are not so great. There's a Mini Muffin Breakfast Platter or a Breakfast Croissant Sandwich. Pick the muffin platter; at least there's fruit, and you can eat only one of the muffins (and skip the butter -- it's 100 calories per tablespoon). If you want the croissant, skip the cream cheese. For lunch and dinner, go with the Tomato & Mozzarella Salad with Italian Meats. I know it sounds high in calories, but the protein will keep you from getting hungry, and if you go easy on the mozzarella cheese and the salami and get rid of those butter cookies before the flight attendant leaves your area, you'll avoid temptation.

Total Snack Calories: 820 (snack box)

Exercise Equivalents: (Amount of walking to burn off the calories) 156 minutes (Snack Box)

Cost: $5 per Snack Box, $7 per meal

Snack Choices (Snack Box, over 2.5 hours)

  • Bumble Bee Chicken Salad (140 calories)
  • Wisecracker Partner's Roasted Garlic & Rosemary Crackers (80 calories)
  • Stauffer's Strawberry Fruit Bar (130 calories)
  • Azar Fruit & Nut Mix (330 calories)
  • Old Colony Andes Chocolate Mint Chip Cookies (140 calories)

American Airlines

(817-963-1234, www.aa.com)

Cooperation in Providing Nutritional Information: Helpful

Health Score: (**1/2) No more snack boxes. The individually packaged snacks are oversized and have mega calories. These snacks should be for a family of four, not one person. They really are a disaster, but the real meals American offers for flights over three hours aren't bad.

Best Bet: If an actual meal is not offered, go for the nut blend. The other choices don't offer much nutrition, and they're just too high in calories. For breakfast (three hours or more), go for the Breakfast Club, skip the mayo, and have only one slice of the croissant. Avoid the bagel; it's typically higher in calories. For lunch (three hours or more) there are three choices: the Italian Wrap, Turkey and Cheese Ciabatta, and the Asian Chicken Wrap. The best of the bunch is the Asian Chicken Wrap -- it has healthy almonds and chestnuts, but it also has 1.5 ounces of cream cheese, which makes it higher in calories than I would like.

Exercise Equivalents: (Amount of walking to burn off the calories) Listed individually below.

Cost: $3 per individual snacks, $5 per sandwich

Snack Choices (sold individually)

  • Great Nut Supply Co. Nut Blend (4 ounces, 496 calories, 129 minutes)
  • Mega Bite Cookie (4 ounces, 440 calories, 114 minutes)
  • Lay's Stax Potato Crisps (5.75 ounces, 900 calories, 234 minutes)
  • 3 Musketeers (3.28 ounces, 400 calories, 104 minutes)

Northwest Airlines

(800-225-2525, www.nwa.com)

Cooperation in Providing Nutritional Information: Not very helpful

Health Score: (**) There are snacks sold individually and a Snack Box. Both choices are relatively high in calories.

Best Bet: Pick the Good Sense Snack Mix over the Pringles -- it's more satisfying and gives you more energy. But beware, these are not portion-controlled. Split the mix with three or more people. If you're on a flight lasting more than two hours, you can also purchase the "Smartsnack" Snack Box. The Snack Box is a better option because each item is individually wrapped, which gives you portion control. If you're on a flight to/from Mexico, Alaska, Hawaii, or the Caribbean, Northwest offers sandwiches, which you can preorder; however, the airline didn't provide any information.

Total Snack Calories: 680 (Snack Box), see individual snacks below.

Exercise Equivalents: (Amount of walking to burn off the calories) Entire snack box, 177 minutes, individual snacks are listed below.

Cost: $2 per snack, $5 per Snack Box, $5 per sandwich

Snack Choices (snack basket)

Individually sold snacks:

  • Good Sense Snack Mix (raisin nut mix) 4.5 ounces, 435 calories, 113 minutes
  • Pringles original 2.8 ounces, 480 calories, 125 minutes

Snack Box (flights of two hours or more):

  • Pepperidge Farm Parmesan Goldfish Crackers (0.75 ounces, 90 calories)
  • Sonoma Valley Trail Mix "carb wise" (2 ounces, 320 calories per serving)
  • Chips Ahoy Thin Crisps (0.81 ounces, 100-calorie pack)
  • Glacier Ridge Farms white cheddar cheese sticks (2) (0.5 ounces each, 66 calories total)
  • O'Brien's Premium Hickory Smoked Beef Summer Sausage (1.125 ounces, 110 calories)
  • Venus Stoned Wheat Wafers (0.5 ounces, 60 calories)

Southwest Airlines

(214-792-4223, www.southwest.com)

Cooperation in Providing Nutritional Information: Helpful

Health Score: (**) Not much variety and not much in terms of nutritional value. The snack pack is offered on flights of 2.5 hours or more.

Best Bet: Go for the nuts and skip the pretzels. If you purchase the snack pack, eat the dried fruit and nuts and skip the crackers and cookies.

Total Snack Calories: 380 (snack pack), individual snacks below.

Exercise Equivalents: (Amount of walking to burn off the calories) 99 minutes for the snack pack. For individual snacks, 18 minutes for the nuts, and 13 minutes for the pretzels.

Cost: $3 per snack pack

Snack Choices: Short flights: Honey- or dry-roasted peanuts or pretzels (70, 70, 50 calories). Snack Pack (flights 2.5 hours or more): Lorna Doone Cookies (100 calories), Ritz 6 pack Cheese Sandwich Crackers (200 calories), Dried Fruit and Nut Mix (80 calories).

Looking for more tips on making your airline travel healthier? Go to:

 

Charles Stuart Platkin is a nutrition and public health advocate, founder and editor of DietDetective.com, the health and fitness network, and author of The Diet Detective's Calorie Bargain Bible. Copyright 2008 by Charles Stuart Platkin. All rights reserved.

Reprinted with permission from www.dietdetective.com, May 2008.

 
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