Best and worst airports for healthy food


Related Articles

Holiday travel, amiright? 

Let’s look beyond the crippling anxiety we get from moving from Point A to Point B by airplane during the Most Wonderful Time of the Year and talk about out gut reactions. No, literally – what do you eat when you’re traveling home for the holidays? For many of us looking for healthy foods at major U.S. airports — either because we are trying our hardest not to overindulge, or as preparation to overindulge — our options are growing, but still quite limited.

The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine released the “2013 Airport Food Review” earlier this month. The survey looked at restaurants in 18 of the busiest U.S. airports and found that 76% of them offer at least one healthful plant-based entrée. “Healthy options” for the survey were defined as a high-fiber and cholesterol-free entrée that included a plethora of fruits, vegetables, whole grains and legumes. 

Coming out on top is Denver International Airport, with 86% of its food establishments serving nutritious options. Ronald Regan Washington National makes the biggest stride, moving from 11th place in 2012 to third this year. Finally, it’s a hat trick for Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, which ranked in last place for 2011, 2012 and now 2013 with 51% of its eateries serving healthy meals. USA Today has a great graphic ranking all of the airports surveyed:

This survey got us thinking. Yes, now we know what airports are ranked best and worst, but that doesn’t help us find those options when there are 100 million of us traveling during November and December. So we asked some friends and family what airports serve healthy options. There’s a big difference between what entrées check off certain boxes for a survey and the options that people actually purchase while part of the hustle and bustle. For those offering opinions, freshness was a reoccurring theme.

Let’s check out some of the wraps, smoothies and salads people mentioned:

  • San Francisco International Airport (ranked sixth, with 76%): Mexican food (with black bean and fresh veggies), sandwiches and sushi

  • Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport (ranked ninth, with 72%) offers a café/bakery with salads, sandwiches, and gluten-free and vegetarian options.

  • Charlotte Douglas International Airport (ranked 11th, with 70%) has Mexican food options that include lots of fresh vegetables and salad eateries that offer more than just a slimy chef’s greens. 

  • Cincinnati-Northern Kentucky International Airport (not in the top 18 airports ranked): There is a gluten-free food bar that offers breakfast, lunch and dinner options.

  • Pittsburgh International Airport (not in the top 18 airports ranked) has Nature’s Kitchen, which offers whole-grain breads for sandwiches, yogurt and fresh squeezed juices.


But while healthy options do exist, unhealthy meals are the norm.

A friend, frequent traveler and Washington, D.C., resident said that he was surprised how unhealthy Ronald Regan Washington National Airport is, considering how food-conscious the nation’s capital is. The USAirways terminal alone includes a Five Guys Burgers and Fries, Auntie Anne’s, Dunkin Donuts and Cinnabon.

And of Chicago O'Hare International Airport, (tied for a second-place ranking with Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport, with 85%) he had this to say: “I remember it had the greasiest collection of eateries in its food court I'd ever seen.”

Happy travels!