By Carolyn O’Neil, for the AJC
Holiday air travel is notoriously challenging with the rush of passengers crushing through security lines, waiting for delayed flights, jostling with fellow fliers to stow carry-ons (more than ever now that most airlines charge for checked bags), sitting on the runway, accepting an airline snack mix and eventually making it to your destination.
Air travel needs to be done in true survival mode these days, and that means more people than ever are packing their own snacks, and even meals, to help get them through the day. Since airline meals (at least the free ones) are disappearing, too, it’s even more important to have an in-flight food plan.
● Ask for OJ. The nutrients in 100 percent orange juice help boost your immune system to give you a fighting chance to ward off cold and flu germs floating in airport concourses or the cabin air. Ask a flight attendant to mix orange juice with sparkling water for a nutritious, low-calorie thirst quencher. I love the fresh-squeezed orange juice at Nature’s Table Bistro on Concourse E of Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport.
● Snack smart. Bag your own “sky trail mix” of peanuts, almonds, walnuts, dried cranberries and granola. Healthy fats and stomach-filling fiber will keep you going, and this combo will be much lower in sodium than the airline’s on-board snack mixes. You want to cut down on sodium intake because all that sitting can lead to unwanted puffiness and even ankle swelling.
● Concourse cuisine. If you are bored and have flipped through all your magazines even before takeoff, you might be tempted to reach for food as entertainment. So make sure to ask yourself whether you are really famished. If it is, in fact, mealtime, the good news is that most airports offer healthier choices, including freshly made sandwiches, salads, yogurt and even sushi.
A salad is fine, but make sure it contains some kind of protein, such as chicken, turkey, ham, eggs or cheese to keep your blood sugar on an even keel. Stress can take a toll driving your blood-sugar level down way below normal.
● This flight is making me thirsty! Buy bottled water on the concourse after security screening to drink while you wait and to take on board in your carry-on. Or bring an empty water bottle or other container to fill up from an airport drinking fountain (after you’ve gone through security) to avoid paying for water at airport vendors.
● Watch the alcohol at altitude. You, your skin and your brain can really get dehydrated in a pressurized cabin and alcohol can accelerate dehydration. If it’s at the end of a long travel day and you want a drink to unwind, that’s fine. But make sure to double up on water with the wine.
● Get the special. If you happen to be on a flight that serves a meal, know that you can order a special meal ahead of time. Airlines request a minimum of 24 hours’ notice. Special meals usually include fruit for dessert.
You can’t always take it with you
Keep in mind that airport security rules prohibit “gel-type substances,” such as yogurts, and liquids, such as bottled water or other beverages, in carry-on luggage you take through security checkpoints. Solid foods such as sandwiches, hard cheeses, crackers, fresh fruit and vegetables are allowed.
Just as security officials don’t like wrapped gifts, make sure food can be seen through packaging and falls under the Transportation Security Administration’s guidelines for acceptable items. www.tsa.gov/travelers /airtravel/holiday.shtm. (And no snow globes! That’s on the TSA Web site, too.)
Holiday travelers take note — you cannot take these foods through airport security even if the homemade jam is your Aunt Martha’s:
● cranberry sauce
● creamy dip and spreads
● peanut butter
● maple syrup
● oil and vinegar
● salad dressing
● wine, liquor and beer
But if you’re bringing the pecan pie or caramel cake to the family gathering, TSA rules state, “You can bring pies and cakes through the security checkpoint, but please be advised that they are subject to additional screening.”
(Especially if it looks like a really good dessert.)
Carolyn O’Neil is a registered dietitian and co-author of “The Dish on Eating Healthy and Being Fabulous!” E-mail her at carolyn@carolyn oneil.com.