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 .
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
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.
Location: Concourse B
Item: Tortilla Soup
The skinny: Tomato and broth-based soups like this one are low-fat and filling.
LEFTY'S MILE HIGH GRILLE
Location: Concourses B and C
Item: Veggie Burger
The skinny: Unlike most veggie burgers made from frozen patties that resemble hockey pucks, this one's made from brown rice, onions and mushrooms. It tastes great and is easy to eat on the run. High in fiber and protein, it's a good choice for sustained energy.
Location: All concourses
Item: Fruit and Walnut Snack Size Salad
The skinny: A great snack or mini-meal, this is low in calories (210) and a good source of calcium and vitamin C, and adds just the right amount of healthy fat and flavor from the candied walnuts.
CHEF JIMMY'S BISTRO
Location: Concourse A
Item: Shrimp and Pasta Arrabiata
The skinny: Tossed in a spicy marinara sauce and topped with fresh basil, this low-fat dish is filling and definitely does not taste like "airport food."
Location: All concourses
Item: Burrito Bowls or "Naked" Taco Salads
The skinny: Order your burritos and salads "naked" (without the tortilla shell) and save big on calories. The deep-fried taco shell adds a whopping 400 calories and 25 grams of fat. Oversized tortillas are low in fat but contain 350 calories. Black beans, veggies and salsa make the bowls and salads healthy ways to satisfy a craving for Mexican. POUR LA FRANCE
Location: Concourse B
Item: Lemon Hummus Plate
The skinny: Tasty lemon hummus is topped with chickpeas and surrounded by grilled pita, baby carrots, cucumbers and kalamata olives for dipping. Good source of fiber, vitamins and good fats from the olives and olive oil in the hummus.
U.S. airports with the largest selections of healthy vegetarian food, according to a November study:
1. Orlando 97%
2. (tie) Detroit,
San Francisco 96%
3. Newark Liberty 95%
4. Dallas/Fort Worth 94%
5. Chicago O'Hare 91%
6. Denver 89%
7. Philadelphia 86%
8. (tie) Minneapolis-
St. Paul, Los Angeles 84%
9. Atlanta 83%
10. Houston Bush 76%
11. Las Vegas 69%
Source: Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------ Food choices that won't add baggage
At breakfast, skip the heavy egg sandwiches and cinnamon rolls and opt for yogurt, fresh fruit, cereal, low-fat milk, bagels or a granola or energy bar. These are widely available throughout the airport; bananas and apples can be found at many of the newsstands.
At Mexican restaurants, choose soft shells and tortillas over crunchy fried ones. Many locations now assemble your dish in front of you, so request extra veggies and salsa and go easy on the cheese and sour cream.
Watch the "extras" on sandwiches. Many sandwiches are loaded up with mayo or sauce, cheese, guacamole and bacon. Each will add nearly 100 calories to your sandwich, so decide which one extra topping is your favorite and go with that. Use mustard, veggies and pickles to add flavor and crunch with no fat and few calories. Case in point: the small Quizno's Turkey Lite has only 330 calories and 6 grams of fat, while the same-size Turkey Ranch Swiss has double the calories and five times the fat.
Salads aren't an automatic healthy choice. Many of them are loaded with cheese, nuts and dressings that can push the calorie count over 800. Yes, 800 calories. For a salad? You might as well go for the Big Mac. Asian salads are usually a good bet because they don't have cheese or nuts, and you can make any salad a healthier choice by going with a low-fat dressing or using less regular dressing. You probably won't notice the difference if you use only half the packet.
ANDREA CARROTHERS, RD
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