The Top 10 Healthiest Airlines for In-Flight Dining – The Winner Is…

by Zoe

The NYC Food Policy Center in cooperation with Hunter College is out with their latest edition of the Airline Food Studywhich ranks the healthiest airlines for in-flight dining. Alaska Airlines takes the top spot for the first time ever, though it should be noted that Alaska acquired Virgin America had the top spot last year.

The average number of calories per menu item fell to 373 this year, down 32% from 2017.

The study assigned a “Health Score” (5 stars = highest rate, 0 star = lowest) based on eleven criteria including health and calorie levels of meals, snack boxes and individual snacks, level of transparency (display nutrient information & ingredients), improvement and maintenance of healthy offerings, menu innovation, food and water safety and cooperation in providing this information. The survey includes health ratings, average calories per airline, comments, best bets, food offerings, costs, nutrition information  (e.g., calories and exercise equivalents.)

The “Shame on You” award was given to Frontier.

1. Alaska Airlines
2. Delta Airlines
3. JetBlue Airways
4. Air Canada
5. American Airlines
6. United Airlines
7. Hawaiian Airlines
8. Allegiant Air
9. Southwest Airlines
10. Spirit Airlines
11. Frontier Airlines

Here’s the summary for Alaska, but read about the findings for each airline at thefull study site.

Comments: The clear leader this year. Alaska Airlines purchased Virgin America, (named the healthiest airline over the last few years) and has definitely taken on some of VA’s healthy approach to food.  That said, Alaska has always been committed to food, just not the healthiest. Note that the transition has been taking place over the course of this year with the fresh meals program integrated in July and snacks integrated as of Nov. 16. Exact meals from the original Virgin menu, such as the PB&J half sandwich, do not appear on the menu, but Alaska’s meals are now on the lighter, better and healthier side, having gone from “Island hash” and teriyaki chicken bowls, for example, to Fall Harvest Salad on coast-to-coast flights.According to the airline, main cabin food options can be reserved from 12 hours to two weeks prior to your flight, which makes planning simpler.  Also, the Alaska Airlines website says that all nutrient information is available on its app. However, food and water safety could be better for an airline focused on better-for-you food. It also needs to pay attention to the coffee and tea served on board.

Best Bets: Among the snack boxes, the Mediterranean Tapas hasn’t changed much from last year and is still the healthiest choice. It has olives, hummus, almonds, dried fruit and even a dark chocolate bar. But keep in mind that 510 calories is a bit high for a “snack” (or even a meal), so it would be best if you either shared the box or had it as a meal replacement. For kids, the snack box may be tempting, but it’s always better for children (and adults) to eat a real meal. Among individual snacks, the beef jerky is low in calories but very high in sodium. The Fruit & Nut Oatmeal has almost as much protein and is a higher calorie but healthier choice overall.The breakfast offerings are a bit heavy and rich. If you opt for the fruit and cheese platter on the snack box menu, skip the crackers and half the cheese. You could also choose the Fresh Start Protein Platter and eat only one third of the cheese for fewer calories and less sodium. There are fewer lunch/dinner choices this year, but the Fall Harvest Salad is a high-protein low-calorie choice  There are also fewer individual snacks on the menu this year, and a few reasonable ones (if you share) including the popcorn, the oatmeal (mentioned above), the Jerky and the nuts (only if shared).

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