Yes, you can find a healthy meal at the air­port

The Tribune (SLO) (Sunday) - - Living - BY SHIVANI VORA

Is it re­ally pos­si­ble to find healthy food at an air­port?

When it comes to air­ports in the United States, at least, the an­swer is yes, in­creas­ingly so.

In re­cent years, air­ports around the coun­try have amped up their avail­abil­ity of healthy snacks, meals and drinks to cater trav­el­ers who want to fol­low a bal­anced diet when they are away from home.

“Health-con­scious travel has be­come a faste­merg­ing move­ment in the air­port en­vi­ron­ment,” said Scott R. El­more, the vice pres­i­dent of mar­ket­ing and com­mu­ni­ca­tions for Air­ports Coun­cil In­ter­na­tional, a non­profit or­ga­ni­za­tion that rep­re­sents the world’s air­ports. “Healthy food op­tions are part of this ef­fort.”

Much of the push is com­ing from the con­ces­sion com­pa­nies that op­er­ate restau­rants and food mar­kets in air­ports. HMSHost, for ex­am­ple, which has a pres­ence in more than 120 air­ports glob­ally, launched an ini­tia­tive ear­lier this year – ti­tled “Eat Well. Travel Fur­ther.” – at 11 U.S. air­ports in­clud­ing Ne­wark Lib­erty In­ter­na­tional Air­port, Nash­ville In­ter­na­tional Air­port and Seat­tle- Ta­coma In­ter­na­tional Air­port.

The pro­gram, cre­ated in col­lab­o­ra­tion with a team of nutri­tion­ists, has three com­po­nents. There are five bento boxes, each un­der 500 calo­ries, such as a ve­gan box with a len­til and chick­pea salad and veg­gie chips, and a box geared for chil­dren with diced chicken breast, cubed ched­dar cheese and choco­late-cov­ered raisins, as well as snacks (think kale chips, roasted chick­peas and hum­mus with cru­dités), and 30 dif­fer­ent drinks in­clud­ing sev­eral kinds of green juices. The pro­gram will roll out to more air­ports in the com­ing months.

Ac­cord­ing to Atousa Ghor­e­ichi, the com­pany’s vice pres­i­dent of mar­ket­ing and com­mu­ni­ca­tions, the prod­ucts con­tain no ar­ti­fi­cial col­ors, fla­vors, sweet­en­ers and hy­dro­genated fats or high-fruc­tose corn syrup. They’re sold at HMSHost food mar­kets and stands through­out the air­ports and are each la­beled with an “Eat Well. Travel Fur­ther.” sticker.

Fly­ers seem to be ap­pre­ci­at­ing the new of­fer­ings. The paleo bento box, for one, which has a salad of juli­enne squash, zuc­chini and red pep­pers topped with grilled chicken, a packet of al­monds and a cup of berries, fast be­came a best-seller, even com­pared with the com­pany’s of­fer­ings that don’t fall un­der the pro­gram; around 7,000 paleo boxes sell every week across the lo­ca­tions that carry them.

OTG, an air­port restau­rant com­pany that has a pres­ence in nine lo­ca­tions in the coun­try in­clud­ing John F. Kennedy In­ter­na­tional Air­port, is also bump­ing up its healthy food and drink choices. Nate Ap­ple­man, the com­pany’s vice pres­i­dent of culi­nary, said part of the rea­son is re­quests by fly­ers. “All din­ers in our restau­rants can leave in­stant feed­back on an iPad about what they want din­ing-wise, and they were in­creas­ingly telling us that healthy but tasty food was a pri­or­ity,” he said.

OTG’s Cibo Ex­press Gourmet Mar­ket, at all the air­ports where the com­pany op­er­ates, car­ries its own line of cold-pressed juices and sand­wiches that are made with gluten-free bread, or are ve­gan or low sodium. Cibo also sells more than 20 brands of health bars such as Kind and Larabar, as well as ap­ples and ba­nanas.

The com­pany also has new restau­rants that em­pha­size clean eat­ing: Gavi, its Ital­ian restau­rant at Ge­orge Bush In­tercon­ti­nen­tal Air­port in Hous­ton, has a menu of grain bowls in­clud­ing one made of black, white and red quinoa, chick­peas, cau­li­flower, al­monds and a grilled chicken skewer. At Ne­wark Air­port, fly­ers can or­der sashimi that’s flown in from Tokyo’s Tsuk­iji fish mar­ket at Tsuk­iji Fish­room or head to Supreme Bowl for a bowl of hot steel-cut oats topped with their fa­vorite nuts and fresh fruits. And in Septem­ber at Ne­wark, OTG will open a juice bar called World Nec­tar, which will of­fer green juices and smooth­ies.

In­di­vid­ual air­ports are also putting bal­anced eat­ing at the fore­front.

In 2010, Dal­las/Fort Worth In­ter­na­tional Air­port, home to 110 food out­lets, re­quired that all must of­fer at least one ve­gan, low-sodium or low-calo­rie meal or snack. “Healthy eat­ing is very im­por­tant to us, and it’s an idea that we have pur­sued for the past decade,” said

Zenola Camp­bell, the air­port’s vice pres­i­dent of con­ces­sions.

Camp­bell said the ef­forts were backed up by a 2016 sur­vey by the air­port’s mar­ket­ing depart­ment that asked fly­ers what they wanted most from their air­port ex­pe­ri­ence. “The No. 1 thing was healthy food,” she said.

Many restau­rants at Dal­las/Fort Worth have mul­ti­ple op­tions for the well­ness-minded trav­eler. Most dishes at UFood Grill are well un­der 700 calo- ries, in­clud­ing a grilled sir­loin burger with a spring let­tuce mix on a whole­wheat bun, and a curry masala bowl with brown rice, red quinoa, broc­coli, car­rots and grilled chicken. At Ar­ti­san Mar­ket, trav­el­ers can pick ve­gan and vege­tar­ian sal­ads, sand­wiches and soups that use pro­duce from lo­cal farm­ers.

In Chicago’s O’Hare In­ter­na­tional Air­port, at least 21 restau­rants have opened in re­cent years that have a large va­ri­ety of low-calo­rie, gluten-free and ve­gan dishes, ac­cord­ing to Karen E. Pride, the air­port’s di­rec­tor of me­dia re­la­tions. The air­port even has an aero­ponic gar­den that grows vegeta­bles and herbs used in many of these dishes.

At Harst­field-Jack­son At­lanta Air­port, the world’s busiest for pas­sen­ger traf­fic, the con­ces­sions di­rec­tor, Chilly Ewing, said that when he is vet­ting pro­pos­als from food out­lets, he’s more in­ter­ested in those that have at least a few healthy food choices. Na­ture’s Best Mar­ket, for ex­am­ple, has a large choice of sal­ads, whole fruit and fruit cups.

Now that healthy din­ing at air­ports isn’t nearly as chal­leng­ing as it used to be, fly­ers have no ex­cuse not to eat well be­fore they’re air­borne, ac­cord­ing to Keri Glass­man, a regis­tered di­eti­tian in New York City.

“The old men­tal­ity used to be – and rightly so – that you could only get junk food at an air­port, but the choices of un­pro­cessed and healthy foods to­day are over­whelm­ing,” she said.

Brian Sumers, the avi­a­tion busi­ness edi­tor for the travel re­search com­pany Skift, is based in Los An­ge­les and said that he even looks for­ward to the healthy din­ing at Los An­ge­les In­ter­na­tional Air­port on his fre­quent cross­coun­try trips. His fa­vorite spot is the fast ca­sual eatery Lemon­ade, which serves sea­son­ally driven dishes, in­clud­ing the pineap­ple chicken with green beans and toasted co­conut that he usu­ally or­ders.

“So many of the places at the air­port have de­li­cious dishes with fresh pro­duce and don’t weigh you down,” he said. “It’s easy to make the de­ci­sion to eat well.”

OTG

Gavi, an Ital­ian restau­rant at Ge­orge Bush In­tercon­ti­nen­tal Air­port in Hous­ton, of­fers healthy din­ing al­ter­na­tives to the usual fast-food fare. In re­cent years, air­ports around the United States have in­creased the avail­abil­ity of healthy snacks, meals and drinks to cater to trav­el­ers who want to fol­low a bal­anced diet.

HMSHost

HMSHost sells bento boxes, each un­der 500 calo­ries, at its food mar­kets and stands in air­ports around the coun­try. In re­cent years, air­ports around the United States have in­creased the avail­abil­ity of healthy snacks, meals and drinks to cater to trav­el­ers who want to fol­low a bal­anced diet.

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