Healthiest Airline Food Choices

Healthiest Airline Food Choices

Image courtesy of num_skyman at

DietDetective has released its 2014 Airline Food Survey rating foods for thirteen (13) airlines. The survey assigns a “Health Score” based on eight criteria, including things such as health of meals and snack boxes, health of individual snacks, healthy offerings, and calorie levels.  It’s an annual survey conducted to provide travelers with the best in-flight food options, so they can make healthier choices.

I was personally curious about these scores and best choices on each airline, so I thought I’d wade through the (lengthy) press release and share a summary of this interesting information.

Healthiest Airline Food Choices

At a glance, here’s a summary of the contender’s results:

Virgin America Received the Top Rating

  Delta and Jetblue Close Behind

Delta Most Improved

Air Canada Dropped

United, American and US Airways Below Par

Hawaiian Airlines at the Bottom

The ‘Shame on You’goes to Frontier” says Charles Platkin, PhD, MPH, public health advocate, editor of, citing their lack of cooperation in providing nutritional information for the survey review.

Airline Food ~ Average Calories, Best Choices

Personally, when I’m on vacation it’s pretty much party time, calorie-wise!  Because air travel can be unpredictable (isn’t that a nice way to describe it?!), I always pack a few snacks for the kids.  And ideally any needed meals will coincide with a decent layover in an airport, where your options will be greater.

But if I’ve got a case of the munchies on board, it’s always fun to purchase a snack or two for us to share during the flight.  So by airline, what are your best choices?  See the airline food survey results below for each airline, listed in order from best to worst (in healthy food ranking).

Please keep in mind that although shortened and paraphrased, this wording is from the press release.  Not necessarily my way of thinking, in all cases.  <<Bossy!>>

Virgin America

Average Snack Box Calories = 450

Average Meal Calories = 481.25

Best Bets:   Avoid the individual snacks, none of them is very healthy – although the nuts are the best choice. The best snack box is the Protein Meal, with hummus, nuts and tuna.  In general, the best bet is to go for a real meal, even if you save half for later. The Salmon Soy Ginger Salad at only 390 calories is a good choice and high in protein, which will help keep you full longer.  The Protein Plate is also a good choice, as is the Autumn Veggie Wrap. Again, these are meals that will fill you up and help you avoid the junk.

Delta Air Lines

Average Snack Box Calories = 712

Average Meal Calories = 542

Best Bets: For the free snacks (on flights of more than 1.5 hours) the peanuts are the best choice. The snack boxes are high in calories… choose the EATS Tapas and eat the hummus, bruschetta, olives, almonds, apricots and dark chocolate – skip the rest. Of the breakfast options, your best bet is the LUVO Fresh Breakfast Medley (without the muffin). For Lunch/Diner the LUVO Quinoa Crunch Wrap Snack Box is a good choice and will fill you up; you can skip the cookie to save calories if you want. On eastbound flights the LUVO Grilled Chicken Wrap and on westbound the LUVO Roast Turkey & Havarti Wrap are good choices.

JetBlue Airways

Average Snack Box Calories = 450.22

Average Meal Calories = 447.5

Best Bets: Still nothing much in terms of healthy individual snacks and no more nuts. Skip the New York Nut Factory Omega-3 Mega Mix.   In terms of the meal boxes, Shape Up has healthy ingredients (Mary’s Gone Crackers-Original, olives, humus and raisins) but should not be eaten as a snack; it’s a meal. If you are on a flight that does offer the Eat Up Café, the Yogurt Smoothie, the Kale & Quinoa Salad, the Spicy Soba & Korean-Style Chicken, and the Veggie Platter are all good choices.

Air Canada

Average Meal Calories = 300.5

Average Individual Snack Calories = 340.25

Best Bets: Pick the chicken soup. The cashews or almonds could be shared.  The celery and carrots with ranch dip (limit the dip to no more than half) and the tuna are also good choices. While the hummus sounds healthy, it’s high in calories and you’re better off having a meal if meals are available.  For breakfast, all the meals are good, but for best nutrition, unless you’re really hungry, skip the bagel.  The Chipotle Chicken Wrap is OK, and better than some of the other choices. On flights more than four hours departing from Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver, the sushi is a good choice.

Alaska Airlines

Average Snack Box Calories = 399.50

Average Meal Calories = 456.71 (no individual snacks)

Best Bets: Among the snack boxes, the Mediterranean Tapas box is still the healthiest choice. It has olives, hummus, almonds, dried fruit and even a dark chocolate bar.  In December you can choose the Denver Scramble for breakfast, and the calorie range is reasonable.  The fruit and cheese plate is available all day, and is the best choice for breakfast if you skip the crackers and half the cheese. On the south/eastbound flights, skip the shepherd’s pie, and on north/westbound flights, the jambalaya or the chicken sandwich are reasonable choices.

United Airlines

Average Snack Box Calories = 537

Average Meal Calories = 506

Best Bets: On flights of more than two hours, choose the tapas snack box, which is high in calories but has many healthy foods, including almonds, olives, hummus and bruschetta — just toss out the cheese spread. Skip the Classic and Savory snack boxes; they don’t have much going on nutritionally. United has also added the Sweet & Savory Bistro Blend Trail Mix, which is a good choice if you share it, the Two Degrees Food Bars at 190 calories per bar, and the Wild Garden Hummus Dip with Chips at 210 calories. The bars and hummus are both good snack choices. Skip the cheese plate; there are better options.  For breakfast, your best bet is the Morning Energy Selection, with fruit, egg and yogurt.  For lunch and dinner a reasonable choice would be the Chicken & Swiss Focaccia.

American Airlines

Average Calories Overall (Meals, Snack Boxes and Individual Snacks) = 456

Average Meal/ Snack Box Calories = 447.57

Best Bets: For individual snacks, the hummus and chips is your best choice. You can pass on the other snacks, especially the fruit and nut mix, which has 640 calories. The Chicken Caesar Salad is a good choice minus any chips or bread that is served with the salad. Avoid the brisket sandwich; even without the chips it’s more than 600 calories. For breakfast on flights of more than two but less than three hours (see below) there’s not much to eat; you can get the snack pack and at least the almonds will fill you up. On flights of three hours or more, the breakfast sandwich is an OK choice. The fruit and cheese plate is a good mix of fruit and nuts, and the cheese can be OK if you share it with your seatmate.

US Airways

Average Snack Box Calories = 440

Average Meal Calories = 620

Best Bets: The only individual snack that works is the humus; the rest lack nutritional value (and have too many calories). There is only one snack box, and while it’s low in calories, there’s not much going on there. The breakfast sandwich, which comes with Greek yogurt and fresh fruit, is high in calories, but if you remove the cheese and have only half the bread it’s an OK choice. Skip the bagel on the continental breakfast and the fruit and cheese plate.  None of the lunch or dinner choices pops out as healthy; however, if you cut out some of the extras, the Asian Chicken Wrap could be OK.  The Chicken Quiona Salad is high in calories, but you can probably remove the feta cheese and go light on the dressing and it will be a good option.

Southwest Airlines

Average Calories = 104

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


Allegiant Air

Average Calories Overall (Meals, Snack Boxes and Individual Snacks) = 391

Average Individual Snack Calories = 374

Best Bets: The snack boxes are not great in terms of health (and not just calorie-wise). Among the individual snacks, nuts are the healthiest choice. Low-carb fans might consider Jack Link’s Beef Jerky. Overall, the turkey sandwich without cheese is a good choice for the West Coast. On the East Coast, go with the hummus, but you’ll probably also want to bring a sandwich for yourself.

Frontier Airlines

Average Calories Overall (Snack Boxes and Individual Snacks) 281

Best Bets:   Bring your own food. If you’re stuck perhaps the Clif Bar, or the beef jerky if you’re not watching your blood pressure. 

Spirit Airlines

Average Snack Calories = 489

Average Snack Box Calories = 504

Best Bet: The cup of noodle soup at 290 calories is the only choice that will feel like a real meal. Watch out for the Nuggets & Nuts at 600 calories, and all the muffins are at least 400 calories —not the best choice unless you split one (if you’re the type of person who can do that). Bringing your own food is the best option.

Hawaiian Airlines

Average Calories Overall (Meals, Snack Boxes and Individual Snacks) = 525

Average Individual Snack Calories = 335

Best Bets: There are not many individual snack choices that are healthy.  Maybe you can split the popcorn — that’s about your only choice in terms of getting some nutritional value. For the brunch, the only bright spot is that the airline offers free fruit. For the meals, skip the salad unless you can get it with the dressing on the side and remove some of the cheese.  Also, there is free wine with dinner; that’s an additional 120 calories, plus 70 calories if you have a free snack later.  You could be in the 1,500-calorie range for just one meal. Bring your own food, stay healthy and refuse the tray.

*o*    *o*    *o*

There you have it folks!  Do with that what you will.  🙂  Happy and safe travels!

 Healthiest Airline Food Choices [photo credit num_skyman]

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About COMtnMom

Hi, I'm Tami! Writer, Influencer, and mom of two who loves travel, the outdoors, staying active, photography, reading books, and eating desserts. We are pretty much always planning our next trip to Disney World.

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