Staying healthy on the road is not easy, and in no place is that more true than at the airport food court in the skies. Airlines today offer a wide variety of food for sale, but while some items are good for your diet, others are nothing short of mile-high junk food.
Charles Stuart Platkin, a visiting assistant professor at CUNY School of Public Health at Hunter College and editor of DietDetective.com, has ranked the airlines based on his observations about their various in-flight food offerings.
United, JetBlue and American Airlines top his list, with Southwest, Virgin America and US Airways at the bottom.
Healthy eating starts before you get on the plane. Platkin suggests stocking up on some key items at the terminal and bringing some snacks from home. Among his suggestions:
Buy water after the security checkpoint to take onboard. Dehydration can cause or exacerbate hunger, jet lag and fatigue.
Bring Kashi, Shredded Wheat or other low-calorie cereals from home. Look for portable, low-calorie choices, under 120 calories per cup. You can also look for cereal in a cup -- portion-controlled 1.5-ounce packs that are easy to store and easy to use.
Bring along fruits but choose carefully. Apples and oranges are best able to withstand the rough treatment of travel. Otherwise, put grapes or other fragile fruits in a small plastic container.
Energy bars tend to be high in calories and fat but are generally better than a slice of pizza or a candy bar at the airport.
Prepare pre-cut sandwiches made into portion-controlled sections so you can pull them out at different times during the trip without making a mess. Chicken, turkey, cold cuts and cheese on whole-wheat bread are all great options for sandwiches on the go.
All that sounds very smart, but not everybody prepares in advance. Which airlines have healthier food and which options should you choose during your flight?
Platkin rates airlines from one star to five, although one of the factors was how helpful the airline public relations department was. Virgin America (which got two stars) took umbrage at that, as well as Platkin's focus on calorie counts, which it says is just part of the story. For the record, Virgin America's eggs are cage-free and it focuses on fresh items and organic and locally-sourced products.
Other airlines told ABC News they are constantly refreshing snack selections and expanding menus to offer more options based on what customers want.
Here are Platkin's ratings and reviews:
United Airlines: 4 stars
"Best Bet: On flights longer than two hours go for the Tapas; it has some great foods, including almonds, olives, hummus and bruschetta – nice, and guess what? It's their top-selling snack box.
"The Lite is also very good and balanced at only 430 calories. For flights longer than three hours, United has a plethora of choices, but I really like the turkey sandwich at 600 calories including the sauce and chips -- skip those if you want to save the calories.
"The Chicken Caesar Salad and the Fruit Tray are also good choices. All the meals are served with dressing on the side, so try to use only half.