Like most millennials, I have chronic wanderlust. I start feverishly planning my next trip on every plane ride home. But I’m also a health-conscious dietitian hoping to get off the plane rocking the same size pants that I was wearing when I walked on it. So thanks to how much time I spend in airports, both for business and pleasure, I’ve learned which foods are the best to grab before a long flight.
We can’t help you with the screaming child in the aisle seat to your left, but we can help you eat well. Arrive to the gate armed with an arsenal of these nourishing, satisfying snacks, and pray the in-flight entertainment stands up to the tasty eats.
1. On-the-Go Meat Snack
Best: Krave Gourmet Jerky
Available in turkey, beef, chicken, and pork, these gourmet goodies contain no artificial ingredients and are made using high cuts of quality meat. With about nine grams of protein, zero saturated fat, and significantly less sodium per serving than most jerky brands, they will get you through your flight without caving on the complimentary pretzels.
Worst: Jack Link’s Pepperoni Beef Stick
With almost twice the calories for the same protein punch, and an extra 40 percent more sodium than Krave, these salty sticks might leave you feeling pretty bloated at 30,000 feet.
2. Sweet and Salty Snack
Best: KIND Bars
KIND bars are packed with real ingredients you can actually pronounce, five grams of protein, five grams of fiber, and as little as just five grams of sugar per bar. Sweet and salty fans will want to load up on the maple glazed pecan and sea salt before takeoff.
Worst: Check Mix Popped Sweet and Salty
We love a morning bowl of Chex cereal, and are always down for popcorn, but add in a bunch of salted pretzels and a caramel coating and you’ve got a recipe for an energy crash. With almost double the sugar of KIND and a measly one gram each of fiber and protein, you’ll easily plow through a multi-serving bag (and almost 1,000 calories) before takeoff.
3. Something Nutty
Best: Wonderful Pistachios
Let’s face it: Long flights are painfully boring, and we need to keep our hands and mouths busy for as long as we can. These shell-on pistachios are great for mindful snacking because you have to crack into each nut one at a time. Easy to find at any local and international airports, they’re a tasty source of the hunger-crushing combo of fiber, protein, and fat.
Worst: Snak Club Chocolate Trail Mix
Don’t be fooled by the nut-mix health halo on the bag. When harmless peanuts are mixed with handfuls of coated chocolate candy, you know it’s not your best pick. For a measly 1/4 cup serving, you’re getting 11 grams of sugar for a fraction of the fiber and protein of those satiating pistachios.
4. Fruit Fix
Best: Bare Snacks
OK, so the best choice would be to track down a fresh apple or banana, but sometimes our mouth is craving something crunchy like chips. This is the time to grab a bag of Bare. These vegan, nut-free, fat-free, and gluten-free snacks are packed with fiber with one ingredient to boot (a.k.a. apples).
Worst: Maynard’s Juicy Squirts Berry Gummies
Don’t be fooled by the “made with real fruit” label—these snacks are just sugar loaded with more sugar. For a conservative 10 pieces of candy, you’re packing in 20 grams of sugar that will leave you with a brutal toothache.
5. Plant-Based Protein Combo
Best: Sabra Hummus & Pretzels Pack
Hummus is an essential travel snack thanks to its perfect combination of fiber, protein, and good-for-you fats. One container of this creamy, crunchy combination flaunts an impressive 11 grams of protein and seven grams of fiber in a convenient, purse-popping pack.
Worst: Snyder’s of Hanover Hummus Pretzel Sandwiches
Don’t be fooled by the healthy-looking picture of hummus on the bag. These crunchy sandwiches are more pretzel than plant-based dip, and even contain some whey powder, making them not fully vegan-friendly. With almost 20 grams of carbs, a quarter of the protein, and a fraction of Sabra’s filling fiber per serving, this is one on-flight snack you can fly right over.
6. Salty Crunch
Craving that mile-high crunch? We got you. These popped potatoes pack no artificial flavors or preservatives, and an impressive 170 calories per 31-chip portion. Yes, you might drive your seatmate mad with your nonstop munching, but you’ll definitely be in your happy place.
Worst: Pringles Potato Chips
You don’t need a dietitian to tell you these aren’t your best pick. If you consume the recommended serving size of a pathetic 16 chips, you’re taking in 150 calories, nine grams of fat, 260 mg of salt, and barely any fiber or protein. It maybe doesn’t sound like a total diet-buster, but you know damn well you can’t eat just one (or 16, in this case).
7. Morning Fuel
Best: Siggi’s Yogurt
This dreamy Icelandic yogurt has an addictive thick and creamy consistency, with 16 grams of protein, 90 calories, and no added sugar. Grab a fruit cup or a banana on the side, and dig in.
Worst: In-House Yogurt Parfait
Yogurt always seems like a balanced morning choice, but even the savviest travelers can be fooled by an assembled parfait. With a whopping 44 grams of sugar from the sweetened yogurt and granola on top, expect a total energy crash before your flight lands.
8. Cheese Factor
Best: SkinnyPop White Cheddar Popcorn
With only seven ingredients (all of which are gluten-, dairy-, peanut-, preservative-, and GMO-free), even vegans can indulge in a little cheesy fun. You also get to eat an impressive 3 1/2 cups for just 150 calories and less than 100 grams of salt, so you can stretch the cheese factor all flight long.
Worst: Cheez-It Crackers
We love a good cheese snack, but these freakishly orange crackers are nothing more than white flour, oil, and a little bit of cheese, packing eight grams of fat, 150 calories, and 230 mg of salt per serving.
9. Purse-Friendly Bar
Eating outside your home typically means you have no freaking clue what’s in your food, so we love that RX is super transparent about what’s in their bars (mostly just egg whites, nuts, and dates). Bonus: Greatist readers can get 12 bars for $20 with code greatistrx.
Unless you’re planning to rush off the plane to run a marathon, you probably don’t need a bar where the first ingredient is sugar (29 grams of it to be exact!). Save the candy bar in disguise for a tough workout.