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Special to msnbc.com
updated 3/30/2007 7:52:43 AM ET 2007-03-30T11:52:43

Airport security procedures and airline budgets are leading to ripples of change in layover time, airport restaurant options and in-flight food service. All this adds up to major strategy adjustments for people trying to eat healthy while traveling.

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Security and flight changes result in many passengers spending enough time at airports to allow a meal at one of their many restaurants. Options at smaller airports may not be exciting, but most major airports now feature local-flavor restaurants that expand options beyond the repetitious fast-food choices of only a few years ago. Airports generally either limit or forbid any price increase beyond a restaurant’s other locations. Look for the low-fat options and seek out ways to add extra vegetables and fruits in soups, salads and side orders.

For many travelers, time to eat is short. Now that food offered on most flights is extremely limited, bringing food to eat on the plane or while waiting at the departure gate is often the best option. Security regulations allow passengers to carry food and beverages from restaurants located past security screening checkpoints onto planes. (The food is not counted as part of your allowed two carry-on items.)

You can also bring food from home or places outside the airport, but it will need to be inside your carry-on luggage as it goes through security screening. Any non-solid foods, such as yogurt, soup, peanut butter or canned fruit must be in three-ounce or smaller containers and be included in your allotment of carry-on liquids.

A healthy start Snacking stats: Low fat vs. the real thing
If you do not have time to eat before leaving for an early morning flight you can still energize your day with a healthful breakfast. You can pick up yogurt, cereal and low-fat milk or fresh fruit on your way to the gate. Or choose a bagel (whole grain if available). Big bagels are already fairly high in calories so eat them plain, with a dab of light cream cheese, or peanut butter for protein and longer-lasting energy.

Another hearty but healthy breakfast choice could be a small egg sandwich on a bagel or roll, but limit the add-ons like cheese, bacon or butter to no more than one, and definitely skip the high-fat sausage. You should also forego the sugar-loaded fatty pastries and doughnuts that will have your energy hitting the ground before your plane does.

Eating while flying
If flight time coincides with mealtime later in the day, look for low-fat takeout options among the many sandwiches, wraps and burritos. A small deli sandwich or 6-inch sub can work well. Ask for extra vegetables and stick to no more than one high-fat add-on such as mayonnaise, dressing, cheese or bacon, which add 50 to 100 calories each. You can also try a tomato or broth-based soup, vegetarian chili or a stir-fry from grill restaurants. Steer clear of the giant cookies, since they pack 200 to 300 calories each.

If you need a snack, some good choices include yogurt, fresh fruit and whole-grain cereals. Bypass the candy bars at newsstands and choose a one-ounce sleeve of nuts or small bag of trail mix. Some airport stores even have fresh fruit, although you might want to bring a piece of fruit just in case.

But don’t get in the habit of snacking your way through airports and flights as a way to relieve boredom or deal with the stress of traveling. A bottle of water allows you to stay fully hydrated and drink on your own schedule. In contrast, those extra-large mocha whipped-cream coffee drinks have the calories and fat of a whole meal without the nutrients.

On the plane when drinks and snacks are served, think about what you take. Even those small soft drinks and tiny bags of pretzels add unneeded calories and refined carbohydrates. If you didn’t carry on a water bottle, ask for water or juice.

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