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America’s Healthiest and Unhealthiest Airline Meals Slideshow

America’s Healthiest and Unhealthiest Airline Meals Slideshow

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No, this isn’t some new airline you’ve never heard of. A little bit of careful, pre-flight food packing is the best way to ensure a healthy travel diet. Why? Because we lose 30 percent of our ability to taste while at such high altitudes, and thus, the airlines tend to over-flavor their foods, often adding unnecessary calories. Make sure to check out the latest TSA regulations, though, before loading up on yogurt.

Air Canada

With the help of a Montreal-based company called Food with a Conscience, Air Canada's in-flight offerings are top-notch in the nutrition department — they even named their food "Air Canada NutriCuisine." Instead of just pretzels, enjoy cashews or celery and carrot sticks. And the vegetarian sandwich — just 390 calories — is not just for vegetarians.

Virgin America

The high-tech award goes to Virgin America, where you can order your food on-demand via a touch screen on every seat back. This way, there's no need to wait for the cart to come squeaking by to nosh on Virgin's extra-healthy "Protein Meal" snack box, consisting of crackers, Craisins, hummus, nuts, and tuna. On flights longer than two hours, consider the edamame and portobello mushroom wrap (lots of fiber, but also lots of sodium).


United was once a forerunner in providing healthy food choices, but after their merger with Continental, the snack options on both airlines are now mainly limited to calorie-rich concoctions. Their in-flight meals, however, are their saving grace; they include a grilled chicken spinach salad, which is just 360 calories, including the dressing.

US Airways


Amidst the Pringles, huge bags of salted almonds, and a brand-new bacon and egg breakfast croissant, there are a few health-conscious gems, such as the "Late July Organic Sea Salt Multigrain Chips & Frontera Chunky Tomato Salsa" or the Cobb salad. As for the other choices…well, that's what New Year's resolutions are for, right US Airways?

JetBlue Airways

JetBlue is still pretty new to the game in terms of its food options — just last year, they only served snacks. While those snacks are free and small in portion, they're not low in calories, save for the Quaker Multigrain Fiber Crisps and Terra Chips. As far as their newfound Meal Boxes go, only the "Shape Up" box (hummus, pita, almonds, raisins, and pears) can really qualify as both healthy and a meal.

American Airlines

Boston Market may be a lot of things, but healthy is not one of them. American Airlines, which recently filed for bankruptcy protection, offers three sandwiches from the fast-casual chain, and all three have way too many calories for someone sitting in a chair for two-plus hours. The same goes for their pizza, as well as the breakfast croissant sandwich. A better choice is Marcus Samuelsson's turkey and chutney sandwich (hold the chips).

Delta Airlines

Calorie-wise, Delta's snacks are not snacks at all. The "Flight Delight" snack box is healthy for the amount of food you get, but should be shared or considered a meal. Speaking of which, the Delta meal choices are mostly high in calories, except for the yogurt parfait (breakfast only), or the fruit and cheese plate. Otherwise, it's straight to the chicken and turkey Cuban (estimated at 552 calories).

Southwest Airlines

Southwest is far better known for its in-flight humor and open seating than its food. The selection, while free, usually consists of honey- or dry-roasted peanuts, Ritz crackers, Wheat Thins, or the truly gross "Sweet and Salty Mix." If you're not allergic, the nuts are the closest thing to healthy. [Insert Southwest-ian airplane joke here.]

Spirit Air

Wholly uncooperative toward inquiries regarding the food they serve, Spirit Airlines, a "leading Ultra Low Cost Carrier," also leads the way as the least healthy major domestic airline in terms of calories. The lowest estimated calorie option on their menu appears to be animal crackers (240 calories).

Best and Worst Chinese Dishes for Your Health

Sure, there are veggies in the filling. But egg rolls are anything but healthy. They’re wrapped in dough and deep-fried. The result is an appetizer that packs more than 220 calories and 10 grams of fat in each one. And that doesn’t include the sweet dipping sauce. A few dunks in that can add more than 2 teaspoons of sugar.

The 1930s:

In the mid 1930s, kitchens became available aboard flying boats (fixed-winged seaplanes that had a hull to allow them to land on the water).

Aboard Pan Am’s Clippers, customers started to be served meals like beef, roasted right on the aircraft.

“It would be taken in raw and roasted by the time you were halfway through your flight,” Foss told T+L.

Pan Am’s Clippers sometimes even had a dining room onboard, allowing customers to go in groups at a time to the dining room, where they𠆝 be greeted with white tablecloths and a buffet, Foss said.

At the same time, United Airlines began refocusing their food concepts around 1935 by adding drinks like cocoa, adding linen and flowers onboard, and serving dishes that consisted of crabmeat cocktail, avocado and grapefruit salad, or lettuce and egg salads.

“What they realized on the long flights was that the meal was more than just a sustenance it was a chance for the crew to engage with passengers and take what was considered a nerve-wrecking experience for the average person who had not flown much and turn it into comforting with food,” Foss said.

Sometimes, planes would even stop off for lunch, serving customers in the airline hangar or at picnic tables while the plane refueled before continuing with the remainder of the trip.

Since the restraints of visual navigation meant planes still flew closer to the ground at this time, there was more turbulence and a greater chance of spilling food and drink when served in the sky.

Sometimes, it was simply easier for the staff to land the plane and conduct the service on the ground.

1 of 21

Best plain burger patty

A healthy rule of thumb is to keep your meal around 500 calories, says Katherine Brooking, a registered dietitian and cofounder of, but that can be hard with big juicy burgers and lots of fixings. You're generally safe, though, with the plainest, smallest burger available.

"If you stick with a plain single patty, you may even be able to have a small order of fries," she says. All the major drive-throughs have similar plain offerings, but Wendy's Jr. Hamburger&mdashat just 230 calories, 8 grams of fat (3 grams saturated), and 470 milligrams of sodium&mdashis the least nutritionally offensive.

Which airline's food is healthiest?

Alaska Airlines' protein platter is a big hit with passengers and dieticians.

Alaska's breakfast version of the protein plate that includes a small serving of honey-sweetened yogurt

Chef Joshua Rappaport alongside his culinary creations for Alaska Airlines first and economy class passengers

Economy class cobb salad on Alaska Airlines

Alaska's very popular fruit and cheese plate won't change much

A raspberry-peach fruit smoothie shot- holdover from Virgin America

Items from United's domestic First Class snack basket. How many can one fit on the table?

United has partnered with Uno's Pizzeria to bring a classic Chicago-style deep dish pie onboard longer flights.

Rosbacher water and Loselet treacle toffee ice cream

Flight attendants taste testing and offering feedback on how they will serve new menu items

A hearty first class breakfast on Virgin America

Edamame, mozzarella, veggie and pita snacks in first class on Virgin America

United's new cheeseburger for purchase, economy class ATL-SFO- delicious but kinda messy. Handi-wipe would be good to add to this service

The full array of economy class meals in long box packaging on display at LSG kitchen

After its merger with Virgin America, Alaska Airlines tried very hard to keep one of the things that loyal Virgin fliers often raved about &mdash the inventive, fresh and flavorful inflight food.

The strategy has paid off. Those Virgin-inspired food items helped Alaska earn the title of being the healthiest airline of 2018, according to an annual ranking of North American airline food.

"The airline worked hard to inherit the food footprint of Virgin America, and surpassed VX by offering better individual snacks and healthier meals," according to Dr. Charles Platkin, the executive director of the Hunter College New York City Food Policy Center and author of the yearly ranking.

Platkin highlighted Alaska's calorie-friendly and nutrient-rich "west coast inspired" items like the Fall Harvest Salad, and the Fresh Start Protein Platter as being some of the more sensible options off the buy-on-board menu. Frequent Virgin America fliers will tell you the protein platter (including turkey or chicken, hummus, cheese, sliced vegetables and grapes) was one of the more popular items, and were excited when Alaska kept it around.

Keep in mind that this is a ranking of of the healthiest food, not the "best" which is a relative term based on individual palates.

Over the summer, we took part in a tasting panel at Alaska Air's catering kitchens in Seattle that helped decide on some of those items that are now available on most Alaska flights. Click here for more details and photos.

During the panel, Alaska execs wanted to know if dishes exemplified west coast cuisine &mdash with many items incorporating fresh ingredients from California, Oregon and Washington like asparagus, avocado, apples, cheeses and stone fruit. See the slideshow above for some of the dishes that were considered.

Delta Air Lines came in second in the ranking. Platkin was particularly impressed with the airline's partnership with Luvo, the Vancouver, Canada-based health-centric frozen food company. Some buy-on-board items off the Delta menu, like the whole grain wraps with fresh fruit, are Luvo branded. Regrettably, Delta jettisoned Luvo snack boxes from its California corridor flights earlier this year, which included gluten free crackers, edamame hummus, carrots and celery.

JetBlue Airways ranked third, followed by Air Canada. American Airlines received a satisfactory-level rating. American recently partnered with Plano, Texas based Zoe's Kitchen for inflight food items, but the ranking notes "the food is cleaner, but higher in calories."

United Airlines's food offerings came in below average on the ranking, weighed down by the addition of a cheesy, bready (but tasty!) Chicken Parmesan Sandwich and Banana Bread Pudding added to the inflight menu. Its popular Cheeseburgers and Stroopwafels likely did not help when it comes to healthy food, but passengers sure like them. the carrier serves about 10,000 burgers a week. More about that here.

United's original cheeseburger served on a pretzel roll with unusually delicious and crunchy Calbee chips

"It's a full-on dessert and not something you want to eat on the plane," Platkin said of the pudding, which is available for sale for breakfast.

He recommends United's Tapas snack box, but only if you share items with a friend or seat mate if you're noshing on it as a snack.

"[It] is high in calories but has many healthy foods, including almonds, olives, hummus and bruschetta just toss out the cheese spread," Platkin recommends.

Hawaiian Airlines, Allegiant Air, Southwest Airlines and Spirit Airlines rounded out the bottom of the list. It's unclear why the study included Southwest, since nearly all of its flights only serve packages of pretzels.

Frontier Airlines was ranked dead last by Platkin, mostly because it took too long for the carrier to respond to his requests for nutritional information. From our experience, Frontier's inflight food is mostly salty snacks, cookies and candy. Read our review here.

The study warns passengers flying any airline to avoid drinking coffee and tea served onboard.

"There are a couple of reliable researchers who believe there may be harmful bacteria in airline water," the study notes. "This is probably because the water tanks are not emptied very often (you would think they'd be emptied and cleaned at least once a day, but this is not so)."

4. Citrus Juice in Place of Salt

If you're looking to do something good for your health, cut down on salt. Swapping out sodium from your meals and snacks could help reduce your risk of high blood pressure and other major diseases. The average American consumes about 3,400 milligrams of sodium a day -- that's more than double the 1,500 milligrams recommended by the American Heart Association. Keep your food flavorful (but give the saltshaker the boot) by spritzing chicken, fish and veggie dishes with lemon or lime juice.

If you're looking to do something good for your health, cut down on salt. Swapping out sodium from your meals and snacks could help reduce your risk of high blood pressure and other major diseases. The average American consumes about 3,400 milligrams of sodium a day -- that's more than double the 1,500 milligrams recommended by the American Heart Association. Keep your food flavorful (but give the saltshaker the boot) by spritzing chicken, fish and veggie dishes with lemon or lime juice.

Deep Fried Foods

Unhealthy Ingredient: High heat, inflammatory oil

Fried chicken, fried calamari, pork rinds, chicken-fried steak. You won't ever see these items marked as an "Eat This." Besides the high fat and calorie content, the main issue with these fried foods is that they contain high levels of inflammatory Advanced Glycation End products, or AGEs. These compounds form when animal-derived products are cooked at high temperatures for a prolonged period of time. According to a 2015 review published in the journal Advances in Nutrition, experts concluded that "sustained exposure to [AGEs] gradually erodes native defenses, setting the stage for abnormally high [oxidative stress] and inflammation, the precursors of disease."

Eat This! Instead: Luckily, researchers from the Mount Sinai School of Medicine found that when people cut out high-AGE foods like processed and fried foods, markers of inflammation in their body diminished. So, go grilled whenever you can or bake your foods in the oven.

REVEALED: The airlines which serve the HEALTHIEST food

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Food expert reveals which airlines serve healthy foods on board a flight

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Director of the New York City Food Policy Centre at Hunter College, Dr Charles Platkin has carried out research on the nutritional values of airline food.

He looked at a variety of airlines and the food they served passengers on economy flights.

The study found that Virgin America topped the &lsquohealthy&rsquo list for &ldquocreating interesting, thoughtful food infall categories except for individual snacks&rdquo.

For those wanting a nutritional meal, Charles, writing on his website Diet Detective, recommends the ginger chicken soba noodles, the provencal tuna sandwich or the vega wrap with veggies humous.

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Charles ranked Virgin America as having the best plane food

Charles said: &ldquoThese are meals that you can fill up with help you avoid the junk.&rdquo

Closely behind Virgin was Air Canada and Delta, whose food the the expert describes is &ldquohealthier than those of other airlines&rdquo.

On Delta, Charles recommends the nuts as the best snack, saying it is better than going for the lower-calorie pretzels. And for the meal he suggests going for the grilled chicken wrap or sesame grilled chicken wrap, without the cookie.

On Air Canada, Charles said the airline keeps the calorie count down for meals and snacks and that &ldquoit&rsquos nice&rdquo they do not offer snack boxes.

Panera Southwest Chile Lime Ranch Salad With Chicken (Whole)

Panera Bread/Twitter

Panera's salads might have fewer calories than a Whopper, but it's worse in almost every other category. This Southwest Chile Lime Ranch Salad packs in more than 1,000 milligrams of sodium. If you're planning to order a salad at Panera, try the antioxidant-packed Strawberry Poppyseed & Chicken Salad.

Eat This! Instead:

Strawberry Poppyseed & Chicken Salad, Whole

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