Spoiler alert: JetBlue wins big.
In a perfect world, you’d board your flight with a tidy carry-on packed with delicious healthy snacks to tide you over until you reach your destination. In reality, though, you might have dashed to the airport, dragged yourself through security, had your bags searched, your gate reassigned and your flight delayed, and your next meal or snack is the last thing on your mind—until it isn't, and you're starving.
Lucky for passengers, airlines have begun offering healthier—and more diverse—snack options, moving beyond the staid choice of pretzels or peanuts. When we talked with nutrition experts about their favorite airline for healthy snacks, the overwhelming frontrunner was JetBlue. This New York-based airline has been raising the bar for low-cost carriers for a while now (mood lighting, free satellite TV and some of the roomiest economy seats among U.S. fleets), so we can’t say we’re surprised they’re following suit with snacks. Here’s what to nosh on while aboard, plus healthy options from other airlines, too.
A complimentary bag of non-GMO Terra Sweets & Blues potato chips has 130 calories, relatively low sodium and 3 grams of satiating fiber, unusual for chips. Plus, they contain only three ingredients—potatoes, oil and sea salt. “They have less fat then regular chips, and the ‘sweets’ part is actually sweet potato, so [you’re] getting a nice boost of beta-carotene,” says Lauren Manaker, MS, RDN, LD, owner of Nutrition Now Counseling in Charleston, South Carolina.
PopCorners Popcorn Chips are another complimentary snack with only a handful of ingredients. “Popcorn is a whole grain, which means it has more fiber and protein than refined grains and is a great alternative to greasy chips,” says Natalie Rizzo, MS, RD, owner of Nutritional Natalie in New York.
If you’re in the mood for something heartier, JetBlue’s for-purchase snack box offerings fit the bill. Rizzo says she recommends the protein-rich turkey jerky, blueberry protein bar and fava beans in the Big-Up box ($8) to all her clients. The entire box has a meal-worthy 441 calories and 34 grams of protein, so share it with a friend or save some for later.
The AmpUp box ($8) is a good option, too, with pitted olives, roasted almonds, red pepper hummus, gluten-free crackers and a That’s It fruit bar. “This [bar] is one of the least processed sweets on the market, and it soothe a sweet craving as its only ingredients are fruit,” notes Jessica DeLuise, MHS, PA-C, founder of Eat Your Way to Wellness in New York.
An insider tip: When the complimentary snack basket comes around, you’re welcome to take as many as you like, as JetBlue’s vice president of marketing stated in a press release.
Delta Air Lines
If you’re lucky enough to be flying First Class or Economy Comfort on Delta, you get to dig into a better selection of complimentary snacks than the rest of the passengers. Delta wins points for always having bananas in that basket, an ideal mid-flight (or anytime) snack, as they’re loaded with vitamins and nutrients, plus about 3 grams of fiber to help keep you full. Delta is also one of the few airlines offering almonds instead of peanuts, sensitive to the growing number of peanut allergies.
Manaker is a fan of Delta’s for-purchase Tapas Box ($9), an eight-piece that includes multigrain crackers, hummus, almonds and a dark chocolate square, among other things. “It has ton of healthy goodies that are portion controlled and yummy,” she says, noting it’s also kid friendly: “The snap pea crisps are a treat that even my 3-year-old will eat.”
If it’s carbs you crave, the complimentary (for all passengers) KIND Oats & Honey with Toasted Coconut bars are a healthy option made with five whole grains (oats, buckwheat, millet, amaranth and quinoa) with 150 calories, 5 grams of fat and 2 grams of fiber. “It’s a tasty way to add filling whole grains into your day, as most people do not get enough,” says Toby Amidor, MS, RD, founder of Toby Amidor Nutrition in New York.
To avoid flying hangry on an Alaska flight, Amidor recommends the for-purchase Mediterranean tapas picnic pack ($6), which is vegan, kosher and gluten free. It includes multigrain chips, olives, hummus, almonds, apricots and dark chocolate. “This is a good option,” says Amidor, “but treat it as a meal, not a snack,” as the entire box has about 500 calories.
United previously had a relatively poor selection of healthy onboard snacks, but this spring they added Think Jerky Sweet Chipotle Grass-Fed Jerky ($5) to their for-purchase menu. The cost is a bit steep, yet nutrition wise, it’s one of the best options, plus it’s gluten-free. “With 100 calories, 16 grams of protein, and less than 1 gram of saturated fat, this tasty protein option can help fill you up and is a better choice than the potato chips, chocolate and sugar-filled candy offered,” says Amidor.
Biscoff cookies and pretzels are the only free snacks offered on American Airlines flights, and for-purchase options are slim. In a pinch, DeLuise recommends ordering the fruit and cheese plate ($9) from the meal menu to satisfy hunger. “While cheese gets a bad rap, finding real cheese with three or fewer ingredients can be part of a balanced diet,” she says. “Because cheese is high in sodium, this snack is great because it is paired with fresh fruit, which can provide hidden hydration and is not processed.”