First Class May Kill You! (Or, How To Eat Well While You Travel)

Airport travel food tips


I was upgraded to the first class cabin on a morning flight last year and was excited to learn I had two choices for breakfast, a scrambled egg burrito or oatmeal and fresh fruit. Oatmeal sounds like the healthier choice, right? Yup, I thought so, too, and that’s the one I picked. (Also, I’m allergic to gluten so didn’t have much of a choice.)

Then, when my tray arrived, my jaw dropped and I quickly started doing the math. Rather, I put everything into MyFitnessPal and watched the sugar count climb. It added up to 80g of sugar!

United Airlines first class breakfast deconstructed: here’s how that 80g of sugar added up:

  • 14g – fruit
  • 4g – biscuit
  • 12g – jam
  • 12g – brown sugar
  • 15g – yogurt
  • 2g – oatmeal, 3/4 cup with milk
  • 21g – cranberries

That’s four times the American Heart Association’s daily recommended added-sugar allowance for women and almost three times the allowance for men. And, if you put sugar in your coffee or drink orange juice, you’re getting much more. I’m sure the airline catering vendor had good intentions; it just shows the general perception of “healthy” is completely backwards.

So often we make snap decisions about food based on what we’ve been programmed to believe. “Fat free,” “low cholesterol,” and “low salt” has been hammered into us for 40+ years. Now, science is finding these diets are generally worse for us than the normal balanced diet we were eating before.

Hidden sugars are sneakier than you think so it pays to pay attention to what’s really in the food you eat, especially when you’re on the road and have fewer food options than daily life. The good news is that there are many things you can do to take back control of your food when you’re on the go!

All right, my fellow road and sky warriors, just how do you eat healthy while traveling? I have a few tips to share with you, from over 15 years of coaching busy executives and experimenting for myself. The real fun has been testing and validating all these strategies on my husband, who has flown over three million miles in the last 25 years. He would tell you he’s been amazed at the big difference just a few little changes can make, and once a practiced habit, how easy it can become to improve your eating choices on the road.

At first, it might seem like a bit of extra work in addition to the packing and preparation you have to do already, but it’s worth it. And, once you go through the new routine a few times, it will get as easy as making sure you brought your toothbrush and extra socks!

Before You Go and On the Way

Airports & Road Trips. Pack snacks and emergency food for grab and go at airports, on flights, in the car, or in your purse or briefcase for meetings and conferences. Some great options that travel well are nuts, cheese sticks, trail mix, fresh fruit, hard boiled eggs, protein bars, protein powder, veggie sticks, sandwiches and salads. Hard boiled eggs, cut veggies, salads and prepackaged travel well for a couple hours without refrigeration, or you can use a small insulated lunch bag with a freezer pack. Stay hydrated, eat light and skip the alcohol to beat jet lag.

Bring Food. This is a guarantee you’ll have healthy choices, and can be really handy if you happen to be going to a food desert or have food sensitivities/allergies. Use a soft-sided cooler with freezer packs to keep everything cold until you get to your destination. Freeze pre-cooked meats like chicken sausage, turkey patties and grilled chicken and use those for an extra shot of cold. Anything frozen liquid will get through security just fine.

Hotel Reservations. Try to get a room with a small fridge. If that’s not possible, take a small soft-sided cooler with you. You can fill it with ice from down the hall.

Research. Look for restaurants and grocery stores near your hotel or venue. This will help you find healthy options for dining out or supplies to make your own meals. Preview restaurant menus and choose what you’ll order. This will make it easy when you get there.

Pack Supplies. Take a shaker with a ball for your protein powder. Pack single servings of protein powder in small ziplocs so they are easy to take with you to meetings. All you need to do is add water and shake it up. Most places have bottled water so this is easy. Bring an empty water bottle to fill up after you go through security at the airport.

Set an Intention. Plan to make healthy food choices, and plenty of veggies and a get your day started with a good breakfast. Do plan to enjoy treats in moderation if you’re interested in local specialties!


Once You Get There

Set up Camp. Unload your cooler into the mini fridge or stock it with ice. Set out and organize your snacks and supplies, like protein powder for a breakfast supplement. Organize your snacks so it is easy to slip them into your purse or briefcase.

Stock Up. Hit a nearby grocery store for additional supplies, like almond milk for your coffee, salad mix, dressing, precooked vegetables and proteins. Need silverware? Ask the front desk or room service for silverware and a plate.

Dining In. Take a look at the on site restaurant and room service menus. Find some options that you can make work in a pinch.

Meetings or Conferences. Pack snacks to have just in case sessions go long, or you discover the only things on the “breakfast buffet” are donuts, muffins and bagels. Here’s where a single serve ziploc of protein powder or a small handful of nuts can save the day.

Dining Out. Since you did your research, suggest the restaurant for the group you’re with. Pick healthy options like veggie egg white omelettes, grilled lean meats or fish, salads, and extra vegetables instead of starches (I know those cheesy mashed potatoes sound good, but don’t let them get to your plate unless it’s an intentional treat meal)! Ask to reduce the fat in the preparation, and stay away form heavy or creamy sauces which tend to be loaded with sugar and oils. Get your salad tossed in light dressing: this usually ends up with fewer calories than having it on the side and glopping it on.


Going first class is pretty cool… you just need to stay vigilant about your food choices everywhere you go, and remember, just because it’s free, doesn’t mean you have to eat it!

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