The Paleo Traveler’s Guide to Airport Food

Airport Collage2

Not going to lie, the original title of this post was written as The Airport: Where All Nutritional Morals Go to Die. In the fair amount of traveling I’ve done since embarking on my paleo adventures, I’ve found that airport concourses are absolute minefields of convenient, tasty and nutritionally useless ‘foods’.

I haven’t been on an airplane in 3 months. That’s impressive, considering the fact that I sat in that seat and did 50,000+ miles of flying in 2013, and another 30,000 through July of this year. I’ve found traveling to be a clean eater’s nemesis. Some of us don’t have the time, luggage space, resources or cojones to make 3 days worth of non-perishable paleo meals and try to get them past your airport’s TSA crew.

Here are a few helpful hints so you don’t hangrily disembark a Boeing 737 and do something regrettable like actually go to that place in ATL called Piece of Cake. (For the record, I’ve pondered it, but have never given in.)

Starbucks - DTW
Kickin’ it with a nice cup o’ joe while waiting on my connection in DTW.

Black Coffee. It’s not glamorous. It’s not exciting. But, it’s delicious. If you find yourself struggling to stay awake and need a jolt, a Starbucks Americano or plain black coffee will do the trick. If you’re new to paleo and are used to the cream & sugar to help lessen coffee’s bitter taste, try sprinkling a little cinnamon in to jazz it up.

Go Nuts. Yes, they’re expensive. However, hiding on the bottom of the news stand’s wall full of trail mixes you can usually find some overpriced dry roasted almonds. If you’re lucky, you may even find them mixed with cashews & raisins. While a relatively bland snack, they’re fairly common.

Trail Mix & Smoothie (Freshens - ATL)
DIY Trail Mix from home and the least frankenfood smoothie on the menu at Freshens in ATL.

No Sugar Added Smoothies. If you pick apart the menu, you can usually get lucky at the Freshens/Jamba Juice-ish smoothie stands and grab a non-dairy smoothie with no sugar added. The yogurt, mystery juice mix and add-ons like peanut butter and energy shots jack up the caloric count. Try to keep your order to as few ingredients as possible.

Bacon Guac Burger (Black Bear - BDL)
With some time to spend before boarding, I was able to chow down on a burger minus the bun plus guacamole & bacon. Yes, I splurged on the sweet potato fries. Thank you Black Bear at BDL.

Sit Down. If you’ve got more than an hour layover, consider going to a sit-down restaurant. While it may be a bit pricier than a Frosty & some chicken nuggets, you’re more likely to find 1) vegetables 2) a kitchen that will happily modify your order to omit things like buns & cheese, while subbing fruit for fries. As a Delta flier I’ve been through Atlanta, Detroit & Minneapolis quite a bit. In ATL I always make it a point to get the lettuce wraps or ahi tuna from the PF Chang’s in Terminal A. Not to mention, their staff is the absolute friendliest of any airport restaurant I’ve ever been to. Minneapolis is also a very health conscious airport – they’ve got an open food galleria with a DIY salad bar and hot foods made to order. Or, if air travel has gotten the best of your patience, take down a flight of wine and a few small plates at Surdyk’s!

Grab your veggies and GO! The little Grab & Go kiosks that pop up in between each larger chain establishments are usually where you’ll be able to find food that’s still recognizably in its original form. While not always perfectly bruise-free, apples and bananas are easy to find, if you step away from staring down the Dollar Menu and over to the sandwich stand. Just be sure to check the date on any prepared salads and fruit cups. Seeing that health food isn’t the overwhelming favorite in the terminal, you want to make sure that your cantaloupe isn’t going to yield a disappointing mouthful of mush.

If all else fails: You can eat the bacon & eggs or grilled chicken out of a sandwich and toss the bread. With the smell of Cinnabons and french fries invading your nostrils at every turn, it’s easy to give in if you’re hangry and in a rush. Do what you can. Sometimes, delays cause a missed connection and you find yourself stuck in a sold-out city overnight with no idea where you’re going to sleep. Sometimes you angrily take that airline voucher to Chili’s, down a Presidente Margarita and a Quesadilla Explosion Salad with ZERO qualms about it. It happens.

While everything may not be grass-fed and organic, healthier options are there if you seek them out. Hopefully this helps a few of you out on the next business trip or vacation you take. What are some of your other ideas to keep your eating clean while on the go?

Keep calm and airport on… and for the love of anything bacon DON’T be that lazy person who stands in the middle and blocks the escalators and/or moving walkways when there are people with tight connections who need to get by. Rushed travelers throughout the country thank you in advance. Mini rant over.

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