Chef Tim Says...

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Chef Tim Says....

Airport Food

I recently sat across from a fellow flyer who during the course of a five hour flight consumed well over 1,500 calories. Pretty much everything eaten was junk picked up on the fly in the airport in addition to every snack offered by the airline. It's a shame because there's many better choices available in the airport.

Most airport concessions are actually run by one of a few major companies. For instance, many of the restaurants at Dulles airport are run by Host Marriott Services (HMS). In such cases a larger company like HMS will manage well known outlets such as Starbucks and Subway. In smaller airports the concessionaire will often create multiple different restaurants but the food will be pretty much the same. This is the case at Oakland airport where I flew out of recently.

There were restaurants with identical food choices even though the names were different. Market Fresh had sandwiches and salads that they would make fresh for you. While the Bay Café, had essentially the same menu. The Bay Bridge Deli had comparable choices but less pre-packaged food. They turn out pretty good deli sandwiches (but it's always good to ask for about half of the meat they normally use). In the mornings they also have bagels (with light cream cheese even).

In every case the food that was prepared to order was superior than some very questionable looking pre-packaged products.

All of the outlets had good juice products and prepared smoothies by Odwalla as well as fresh fruit and yogurt. They even had some O.K. cereal choices including Cheerios, Raisin Bran and All Bran.

The other notable choice was a burrito place called 360 Burritos. They were making pretty much everything fresh and I ordered a vegetable burrito made with squash, onions, peppers and eggplant. This was pretty good but HUGE. More than enough for two people to split!

There are more and more places like this. At Dulles there's a pretty good Japanese restaurant now, for instance. Wolfgang Puck has a restaurant at Chicago O'Hare that's O.K. There are pizza choices in his outlet that two could spilt and do well. That said, eating restaurant pizza is not something I usually do. This is both because it generally tastes terrible and is not very healthy. There were two pretty awful looking fast food pizza places called Round Table Pizza at the Oakland airport. A good example of one to walk on by.

Even the newsstands can be a good source of food to carry on the plane. There's nuts and trail mix in almost every one along with mineral water, specialty teas and juices. Many are stocking fruit just as the restaurants do. This makes it just as easy to eat healthy in airports as it is to grab a large bag of candy corn, potato chips, cookies and a Pepsi.

The idea of getting a good meal on a plane is long gone. Even if you are lucky enough to be in the first class cabin on the meal you receive is going to most likely be terrible. Airlines have employed some celebrity chefs but it's just impossible to have a meal that's much better than a TV dinner at 30,000 feet.

I hear from visitors to the web site and patients all the time about how they feel it is difficult to eat healthy when traveling. Certainly if you are brave enough to place plastic fork to styrofoam dish on board a plane it is not probable that you will get a good meal and much less likely that it will be healthy. There was a day when you might get something healthy that tasted better by ordering the vegetarian choice or pre-ordering a “heart healthy” meal. Now you'll get the same bland meal made blander.

The good news is that the airports have responded by offering you food to take on board. It seems a bit of a swindle that the airlines either don't provide food or offer food that is so bad that you must bring your own. Being able to make your own choice in the airport is great. Stop and pick up something better on the way to the gate.

Eat well, eat healthy, enjoy life!

Dr. Gourmet
August 7, 2006