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Mother and son (2-4) eating sandwiches in airport waiting area
By Travel writer
msnbc.com contributor
updated 1/2/2007 1:59:28 PM ET 2007-01-02T18:59:28

Is it just me or are airline seats getting skinny again?

I mean, six weeks ago I caught a flight and fit in my seat just fine. Last week, I caught another and the armrests seemed a little snug. Same plane, same seat configuration — in fact, the only difference was that I’d spent the intervening weeks visiting family, attending holiday parties and eating everything in sight.

OK, so maybe it’s not the seats, but rather the combo platter of excessive travel and too much food. Worse yet, with most airlines charging for anything more than pretzels, it’s easier than ever to strap on the feedbag at the airport food court.

Fortunately, there’s an alternative to pre-flight cinnamon buns and burgers on the run between connections. According to the latest report from the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, the number of healthful choices in airport restaurants is on the rise.

The group, which espouses a strict vegetarian or vegan diet, surveyed food operations in the nation’s 13 busiest airports and assigned points based on whether they offered at least one entrée that was low in fat, high in fiber and cholesterol-free. They found that 88 percent of all restaurants surveyed offered at least one qualifying entrée, a 13-point increase over the year before.

I, for one, am not about to go vegan, but the study is certainly food for thought. And who knows — if I eat healthier, I may even be able to shed a few pounds along the way. From “best” to “worst,” here’s where to go for food that may help prevent shrinking-seat syndrome.

With 97 percent of the airport’s 39 restaurants offering a healthful entrée, Orlando took top honors in the group’s study. Restaurants with at least one healthy dish include Fresh Attractions Deli, Zyng Asian Grill and McCoy’s Bar and Grill.

Go for Italian at Max & Erma’s, Japanese cuisine at Musashi or Middle Eastern fare at Mediterranean Grill, all of which helped the airport maintain its second-place status (96 percent) for the third consecutive year.

San Francisco
Maybe it’s the city’s international flavor. Restaurants including Guava & Java, Harbor Village Kitchen and the San Francisco Soup Company helped the airport tie Detroit for second place.

Skip the pizza and hot dogs and head to Sarku for rice dishes or Maui Tacos for tacos and burritos. Hey, even Dick Clark’s American Bandstand Grill has a veggie burger, helping to boost the airport’s score to 95 percent.

Dallas/Fort Worth
DFW moved up 13 points (to 94 percent) from last year with 80 of 85 restaurants offering at least one healthy entrée. Blue Bamboo Xpress, Chili’s Too and the Cool River Café are among those cited.

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Are beer and hot dogs health food? Probably not, but the PCRM study does note that Prairie Tap, Gold Coast Dogs and Goose Island Brewing Company offer healthy fare. I’m guessing Gold Coast’s bacon-cheddar burger doesn’t make the cut.

The folks at PCRM singled out Itza Wrap! Itza Bowl!, Cantina Grill Express and Chef Jimmy’s Bistro and Spirits. Overall, the airport moved up 11 percentage points (to 89 percent), with 33 of 37 restaurants offering a healthy entrée.

Reviewed for the first time this year, Philadelphia scored 86 percent. Asian Chao and Cibo Bistro and Wine Bar were among those getting the nod.

Minneapolis-St. Paul
Twin City travelers can eat well while supporting homegrown companies. Longtime local favorites, including Caribou Coffee and French Meadow Bakery & Café, have healthy fare and deep local roots.

Los Angeles (LAX)
Options include sushi and udon noodles at Sushi Boy, salads and pasta dishes at Daily Grill and just about anything on the menu at Eaturna, which operates under the concept of “healthy food on the fly.”

Five of six restaurants at the nation’s busiest airport offer healthy choices, including Houlihan’s and Moe’s Southwest Grill. And while the fried chicken at Paschal’s Southern Delights won’t pass muster at PCRM, their vegetable platter did.

Houston (George Bush)
The study’s “most improved” airport moved up 30 points to 76 percent this year. According to PCRM, there are healthy choices at Lotus Express, Lefty’s Passport Grill and 40 other eateries.

Las Vegas
Rounding out the Top 13, McCarran Airport offers healthy choices at 38 of 55 restaurants, including Prickly Pear Café (Southwestern cuisine) and Don Alejandro’s Texan Grill (Tex-Mex). Meanwhile, airport officials are awaiting the outcome of a court challenge to an indoor smoking ban approved last fall. If the ban is upheld, airport diners may soon be eating their low-fat, high-fiber meals in a smoke-free environment, as well.

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