Eat Right on the Fly

Last year, the national health- advocacy group Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine surveyed the nation's 13 largest airports in search of healthy vegetarian items.


United Airlines flight attendant Stacy Jassek tries to eat healthy meals when he's at the airport. Some days, he chooses a salad at Quizno's; other days, he gets the Asian salad with grilled chicken at McDonald's. But eating well isn't always easy.

"It's pretty hard to find healthy food. I mean, you've got to get creative to do it," he said.

Jassek has company.

Last year, the national health- advocacy group Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine surveyed the nation's 13 largest airports in search of healthy vegetarian items. It ranked Denver International Airport's offerings as sixth of the 13.

And in a survey last year, travelers gave the healthy choices at DIA's food outlets a failing grade.

Airport managers don't require concessionaires to offer healthy options but say they have been discussing the issue with them for the past few years.

The airport recently added two new concessions it categorized as "healthy quick service" - Schlotzsky's and Paradise Bakery & Cafe.

The choice of Schlotzsky's drew criticism during a City Council committee meeting on the contracts in January.

DIA concessions manager Lisa Torres defended the choice, saying Schlotzsky's serves some healthy sandwiches, soups and salads. She added that DIA will better define its concepts in the future.

In reality, passengers have lots of healthy choices, but concessionaires say not all travelers are really interested in eating them.

"People respond to surveys one way and behave another way," said Les Cappetta, an executive at concessions company HMSHost.

"They tell us they want salads and healthy alternatives," he said. At the same time, "consumers have told us that when they're traveling, they're under a lot of stress and they like to treat themselves."

An airport, Cappetta said, is a mass market of kids, adults, people who want to eat healthy and others who want hamburgers.

"The airport is definitely looking for healthier choices," said Niels van Leeuwen, vice president of operations for concessionaire Skyport Cos. But he points to the success of McDonald's as a sign that not all customers are interested.

And some food that people eat at the airport may be healthier than they realize.

Concessionaire Rod Tafoya said he uses low-fat mayonnaise at his Sara Lee Sandwich Shoppe, for example, but doesn't advertise it.

"There's still a lot of negative connotations with healthy food tasting poorly," Tafoya said. "I won't sell anything that I won't eat myself, and I don't eat regular mayonnaise."

It's also hard to display detailed information at the airport, where travelers are overwhelmed with signs, van Leeuwen said.

At the Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport, concessionaires put heart-healthy symbols on menu items that qualify.

Van Leeuwen said his Wolfgang Puck, Pour la France and Cantina Grill restaurants at DIA all offer healthy options, but those are not the top-selling items.

"They're not Nos. 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5 - they're further down than that," he said.

Staff writer Kelly Yamanouchi can be reached at 303-954-1488 or .

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There are plenty of healthy choices at Denver International Airport, but it's up to you to avoid the aroma of cinnamon rolls, French fries and deep-dish pizza and head toward healthier offerings. For those who would claim "it's too expensive to eat healthy," most of these options are not substantially more expensive - they range from $2 for the McDonald's Fruit and Walnut Salad to $10 for the Shrimp Arrabiata from Chef Jimmy's. Registered dietitian Andrea Carrothers examines healthier choices at DIA below.

POUR LA FRANCE

Location: Concourse B

Item: Smoked Salmon and Bagel Plate

Price: $9.50

The skinny: Shaved smoked salmon is served with a toasted bagel, chive cream-cheese spread, sliced tomatoes, cucumbers, onions and capers. It's high in protein, low in fat and a good source of veggies if you eat them all.

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