Tuesday, August 16, 2011

On Planes, Passengers Indulge

I've written a few posts about trying to stay active and eat healthy while traveling, since it is often difficult to maintain that lifestyle while on the road. Many people constantly ask how they can keep up with their diets or avoid packing on pounds while on vacation, so it seems oddly counterproductive to find out that most passengers will still choose the high-fat and calorie-laden items on airplane menus. What is going on here?

I read an article in the Wall Street Journal that critiques airplane food and discusses what people are choosing to eat onboard. While many carriers have tried to introduce healthy items like fresh salads, hummus plates, fruit and nut mixes, and greek yogurt, passengers seem to pass those over for something a bit more indulgent. For example, Alaska Airlines offers vegan and gluten-free items, and chicken and vegetable dishes. Yet, it's most popular item is the quarter-pound cheeseburger. United Airlines briefly had "active" and "organic" snack boxes, but ended up donating most of the food. In the end, it had to eliminate the items from the menu because they just were not selling. According to the airline, the most popular option is the "tapas" snack box, which has nine different items, like crackers, hummus, olives, cheese, almonds and candy, and weighs in at 553 calories. If experiments with healthy options seem to be failing as passengers decide to reach for salty, carb-ridden foods, what's the point of having them anyway?

Because there will always be at least one person on the plane that will choose the better product. But in all honesty, most airlines still fill menus with food that is not particularly good for you, even though they are making some moves in the right direction. Airlines like Delta still sell items like toffee-caramel popcorn or cans of Pringles sour cream-and-onion chips, which adds up to 375 calories. United's "Classic Snack Box" features both goldfish and pretzels, why do you need both?

Food experts say that many of these snack boxes contain between 600 and 700 calories, mostly because they are stuffed with a variety of different items that most people probably do not need. A turkey sandwich comes in at a reasonable 400 calories, but throw in potato chips, cookies, almonds and dried fruit, and you just bumped it up by another 300 calories or so. And since airlines do not print up the calorie counts for people, travelers believe they are consuming healthy options, when they really aren't. Since carriers cannot seem to sell beneficial food items, they are forced to either riddle them with more salty, high-calorie foods or remove them from menus all together.

For those who don't think twice about what they eat on planes, these options will suffice. But for those who are concerned about what they eat or are trying to maintain a diet or watch their waists, I suggest surpassing the food that airlines provide. The best thing you can do is pack your own food. It's easy to make a small sandwich and bring it on board, or pack small snacks like fruit, cheese and nuts. It's a safer bet calorie-wise, and it also saves you about $10.

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