When you’re hurrying through the airport to make sure you’ll catch a flight on time, sitting down for a healthy meal is likely one of the last things on your mind.
And when you do finally make it through security and arrive at your gate with some time to grab a quick bite, you’ll likely look around and realize you’re surrounded by mostly fast food.
You shouldn’t let your limited choices discourage you, though. Even in an airport it’s possible to find nourishing meals and snacks that are weight-loss-friendly, you just have to know what to look for and you can use the following tips to help guide you.
1. Look for dishes made with vegetables.
“Always look for something with vegetables or add in your own if and when you can,” says Heather Calcote, a registered dietitian and corporate wellness coach from Washington, D.C. This will help you avoid heavy, higher-calorie options and provide your body with important vitamins and minerals that will help ensure you’ll stay satiated and energized.
Pairing your veggies with a protein source like grilled chicken, beans or tofu is also a healthy option that will help you feel full and satisfied for longer.
2. Avoid packaged products.
Calcote also advises travelers to watch out for “white” packaged foods like chips, crackers and granola bars. Instead, she says you should opt for fresh, colorful foods, like fruits and salads, which will provide extra energy and essential vitamins and minerals.
3. Pay attention to serving sizes.
“Moderate portion sizes and gravitate towards items that include a protein, starch and fruit or vegetable,” says Virginia-based registered dietitian Kristen Chang. Since fast food places tend to serve over-generous portion sizes, she suggests splitting a meal with your travel companions or taking half to go if you’re on your own.
4. Opt for whole grains.
For example, when ordering a sandwich, choose whole grain bread when possible. Or, if you’re ordering breakfast, instead of grabbing a sugar-filled pastry order plain oatmeal (served at both Starbucks and McDonalds) and top it with some fresh fruit and nuts.
A study from Harvard that analyzed the diets of more than 27,000 people over eight years found that people who ate more whole grains weighed about 2.5 pounds less compared to those who only consumed refined grain foods like white bread and flour tortillas.
5. Steer clear of added sugars.
This means not only skipping out on sweetened beverages like sodas, juices and sweetened teas, but also paying attention to things like salad dressings, granolas and packaged snack bars, which can sometimes be loaded with extra sugar. Most restaurants have detailed nutrition information about their menus online, but if you’re in a hurry, ask for dressings on the side so you can measure out a moderate amount and always opt for water or unsweetened teas when ordering drinks.
For more on why you should avoid too much sugar see: The Surprising Ways Sugar Affects Your Health