20 December 11 Airplane Snack Packs & Other Myths

My last flight involved a ridiculous sprint from one end of a terminal to another in order to make my final connection. Although I arrived at the gate just in time before closing, I was starving by the time I plopped into my seat. The carefully planned healthy meal and snacks I had brought with me earlier that day had already been devoured from a lengthy delay during the first leg of my trip. Now it was time to experience "plane food" – something I rarely do.

What I discovered was something altogether different than a meal. Despite the fact that my flight was several hours long and occurred over dinner, ordering a meal was not an option. Instead, I had a choice of snack box options. I ordered Delta's "Travel Treats" – the flight attendant referred to them as snack packs. By my calculations (I kept my wrappers), this snack pack contained about 935 calories, 50 g total fat, 106 g carbs, 24 g protein, and about 1070 mg of sodium. Enclosed were seven items: Lance's Whole Grain Cheddar Cheese Crackers (180 calories), Mini Pretzels (45 calories), Fruit & Nut Mix (290 calories), Bumble Bee Chicken Salad (140 calories), Party Crackers (estimated 80 calories), Twix Fun Size Bar (website reports 80 calories), and Milano Cookies (120 calories). It is curious that when I add up the caloric equivalent of the macronutrients, I arrive at 975 calories instead of the 935 calories from the food labels. Hmmm.

Wow. That "snack meal" was a study in processed food, with the exception of the Fruit & Nut Mix. Calories were mostly split between fat and carbs. The chicken salad contained the most amount of sodium (430 mg) whereas Twix and the Fruit & Nut Mix contained the least amount (30 mg of sodium each). Although high in saturated fat (about 16 grams), the snack box did not contain any Trans fats – amazing considering that each item could have been purchased from a vending machine. And good thing I don't have diabetes! Consuming the entire snack box cost me 106 g of carbs – about double the intake a woman with diabetes might budget for a main meal. What I learned from this experience is that snack packs are only snacks if you share the box with about three other people.

If you travel a lot, then be sure to read the DietDetective's "Annual Airline Snacking and Onboard Food Survey with Health Ratings for 2011." This survey includes a list their best bets by calories and includes both meals and snacks. Apparently, snacks from most airlines appear to be a caloric landmine. The authors offer some great tips for minimizing caloric damage while still achieving some satisfaction from the selections. The two that I think are especially helpful are:
1. Choose higher protein foods like nuts (but watch the portion size), tuna, hummus, real cheese, and lean meats.
2. Bring our own snacks before boarding – whether from home or from gate merchants.
3. Ideas for calories-controlled, healthful choices include water (purchase after passing security), high fiber breakfast cereal in portable containers, fruit (e.g. apples or oranges that travel well), energy bars (to eat instead of a candy bar), sandwiches made with lean meats and/or veggies, 1 oz of nuts in pre-portioned baggies, whole wheat crackers, jerky (if you can afford the sodium), and nonfat yogurt (purchase after passing security).

Safe travels, everyone!
Katherine Isacks, MPS, RD
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Disclaimer: The information provided here does not constitute medical advice. If you are seeking medical advice, please visit your healthcare provider or medical professional.

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Travel/"Planes, Trains, & Automobiles"

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