The 6 Healthiest Meals You Can Buy on a Plane

Peanuts, pretzels, and soda aren’t the best feel-good snacks. (Photo: Alaska Airlines) 

In-flight food isn’t what it used to be: Whereas most airlines used to serve full meals and snacks for free even on long domestic flights — no matter how frozen or bland — you’re now charged extra if you crave anything beyond standard peanuts, pretzels, or cookies. While it’s usually better to bring your own snacks, sometimes the in-flight menu is all you’ve got. Fortunately, it is possible to make nutritious choices on the airline, as long as you’re willing to pay for them. Penn State sports nutritionist Kris Clark says some key things to look out for on a menu include plenty of protein (to halt hunger), fruits and veggies (for vitamins, minerals, and appetite-controlling fiber), and meals with fewer calories. To find meals that fit this criteria, we recruited Clark and Ohio State University sports dietitian Jacqueline Buell to pore over the menus for a number of flights and come up with recommendations. Here are the meals that you can order in-air without guilt or regret.

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Virgin America: Black Bean Quinoa Wrap

(Photo: Virgin America)

“I’m impressed by this menu,” says Dr. Jackie Buell, sports nutritionist at Ohio State University, talking about Virgin’s award-winning menu (it ranked at the top of Charles Platkin’s annual analysis of the healthiest airlines this year). Her top choice here: the Black Bean Quinoa Wrap meal, a roasted red pepper tortilla wrap filled with black bean hummus spread, chopped Romaine lettuce, and mixed quinoa salad, served with a side of charred corn salsa. According to Buell, besides looking tasty, the wrap packs protein, veggies, and nutrients that won’t lug you down. The entire meal contains 12 grams of protein, 22 grams of fat, and 49 grams of carbs. [$7.50 for the Black Bean Quinoa wrap; 430 Calories]

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Virgin America: Protein Plate

(Photo: Virgin America )

For tapas-style eaters, Virgin America’s Protein Plate is a great option. The box includes a cage-free hard-boiled egg, smoked gouda cheese, mild cheddar cheese, muenster cheese, grilled chicken breast, red grape tomatoes, grapes, carrots, celery, cucumber, and wheat mini pita rounds with Greek yogurt hummus. It’s got plenty of carbs in the hummus and pita rounds — a nice meal that has a little bit of everything in it, Buell says. Living up to its name, the plate has a solid 28 grams of protein. [$8.50; 360 Calories]

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Delta: LUVO Roasted Turkey & Havarti Wrap

(Photo: Robert Alexander / Getty Images)

Thanks to a partnership with health-conscious food supplier LUVO, Delta’s in-flight menu has more healthy options than many other airlines. The pick of the menu is likely the Roasted Turkey Havarti Wrap, which is a laundry list of great ingredients: antibiotic-free roast turkey breast wrapped in a tomato flaxseed tortilla with Havarti cheese, arugula, and edamame hummus. It’s also served with quinoa and black-rice salad and a multi-seed coconut chocolate chip cookie — enough to keep you feeling full for the duration of the flight. [$10; 440 Calories]

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JetBlue: Spicy Soba and Korean-Style Chicken

(Photo: Jet Blue )

Jet Blue may provide the best in-flight fare for those on a picky or restrictive diet: You can conveniently find the nutritional info for all their meals online, and the menu options have been getting progressively healthier over the years. The Spicy Soba and Korean-Style Chicken dish is one of the best choices on the menu. "It’s a nice dose of protein, and the carbs are a little bit higher than what I’d like them to be,“ Buell says, "but if someone cut back the noodles, that would be great.” The grilled chicken comes served with buckwheat soba noodles, sesame-seasoned carrot and cucumber slaw, a hard-boiled egg, and spicy chili glaze. And with 20 grams of protein, the meal fulfills Buell’s requirements for a satisfying, nutrient-dense meal. [$9; 580 Calories]

Related: Is Chicken Always the Healthiest Protein?

Alaska Airlines: Tom Douglas’s Smoky BBQ Chicken Sandwich

(Photo: Alaska Airlines )

Alaska Airlines has one of the more unique menus that’s most appealing if you’re looking for wholesome, hearty, and filling food in the main cabin. Buell’s top choice: “I would order the Tom Douglas BBQ chicken sandwich, especially if it were available on a whole grain bun." The sandwich, created by Seattle chef Tom Douglas and available if you’re flying out of Seattle or Portland, consists of seasoned pulled chicken, doused in ancho-chile and molasses-flavored-barbecue sauce, then served with coleslaw. The protein mixed with coleslaw and a mayonnaise-based fat makes for a good, slow-digesting sandwich. ($9)

Air Canada: Sushi Bento Express California Roll Combo

(Photo: Air Canada)

Air Canada is one of the few North American airlines that offers sushi for main cabin travelers, and at just 360 calories, the combination plate of California, spicy California, and vegetable salad rolls is one of the best choices of food you can get in the air today. Seafood on an airplane will always be risky since you’re not sure how it’s being prepared, says Buell (who notably doesn’t make a reference to the movie Airplane). "I would want to be extra aware of food safety, so if you could be assured it was handled properly, as with anything with fish, that would be okay." [$9; 360 Calories]

By Jillian Rose Lim

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