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A Healthful Holiday Travel Guide from the Physicians Committee

 Just in time for the holiday travel season, and for checking back in on those fit and healthy New Year’s resolutions, dietitians with the nonprofit Physicians Committee provide a healthful eating guide to help travelers navigate food courts at 24 of the nation’s busiest airports.

The 14th annual Airport Food Review finds 71 percent of airport restaurants offer at least one plant-based, vegan meal option—a 25 percent jump from 2001, when just half, 57 percent, offered doctor-approved meals rich in the healthy basics: vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and legumes.

The Rankings: LAX Flies to First Place

Los Angeles International Airport tops the list for the first time this year, earning an “A” with 90 percent of its restaurants offering healthful, plant-based meals, including Real Food Meals at Real Food Daily, gourmet broccoli and edamame salads at Lemonade, Martha’s Salad at Homeboy Café, tofu tacos with kimchi at Kogi BBQ Taco Truck, and fresh fruit and vegetables, whole, at The Farmers Market.

Newark Liberty International Airport, San Francisco International Airport, Philadelphia International Airport, and Denver International Airport all rank in the top five, with above average scores: 80 to 84 percent of their restaurants serve plant-based entrées.  The restaurant names at these airports, including Plant Café in San Francisco and Root Down in Denver, give away their popular menu items:  beet burgers, ancient grain and black bean bowls, and cruciferous vegetable salads, served hot or cold.

Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport comes in last place, receiving a failing grade, with plant-based entrées available at just 56 percent of its restaurants. One, French Meadow Bakery and Café, earns high marks for its antioxidant-packed salads, black bean chili, and a vegan stromboli made with cherry tomatoes and artichoke hearts.


The Methodology: Calculating the Scores

From April to August 2015, Physicians Committee dietitians collected and reviewed restaurant menus from the top 30 busiest airports in the United States, based on passenger data from the Federal Aviation Administration.

Search methods include in-person visits, Internet research, phone calls, and photo exchanges of menu boards with food service teams. An airport restaurant receives a point if its menu includes at least one cholesterol-free, plant-based, high-fiber vegan entrée, which must be clearly labeled on the menu. Side dishes don’t count. Facilities that do not serve entrées, such as snack-food kiosks, newspaper stands, and coffee shops are not included in the review. Inconclusive menu data eliminates an airport from the final rankings.

The 2015 survey eliminates breakfast entrées, instead focusing on food available to travelers at all hours. This explains lower percentages at many airports and a 4 percent drop from the national average in 2014.

The final percentage for each airport divides the airport’s number of restaurants serving healthful fare by its total number of restaurants.  The national average is calculated using the sum of all airport restaurant menus.

Background: The Pulse of Holiday Travel

The availability and visibility of easy-to-grab healthful meal options is now more important than ever, with high blood sugar on the rise and with at least 91 percent of Americans falling short on eating enough vegetables. The good news is disease-fighting meals are making a comeback. Nutrition remains a top 10 culinary theme in 2016, with locally grown produce, natural ingredients, minimally processed foods, and vegan entrées ringing in as some of the hottest food trends this year, according to The National Restaurant Association.

The farm-to-table movement is also on the rise, with locally grown fruits and vegetables appearing on many airport restaurant menus. San Francisco International Airport’s Napa Farms Market offers local Bay Area fare in the form of fresh salads, sandwiches, and wraps, while Berkshire Farms Market at Boston’s Logan International sells locally grown produce and fresh smoothies. Earlier this year, John F. Kennedy International Airport joined Chicago O’Hare in opening an urban airport farm to produce hyper-local vegetables for the community it serves.

“Build-your-own” options remain popular at airport restaurants in 2015, echoing customizable plant-based recommendations in the scientific report for the 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. Travelers can load radishes and roasted peppers on top of leafy greens at Real Food Company in Houston or build a broccoli and tofu burrito at 360° Gourmet Burritos in Las Vegas. They can pile sprouts, tomatoes, and roasted corn and black bean salsa onto a vegan veggie burger, which sits on top of leafy greens, at The Counter in Miami, or create a Mediterranean-inspired bowl at Cava Mezze Grill at Reagan National.

Choosing colorful, antioxidant-rich meals will also pay off for travelers contending with the stress of holiday travel: Outside of slashing the risk for type 2 diabetes, weight gain, obesity, heart disease, and certain forms of cancer, plant-based dietary patterns boost both mood and the immune system.

2015 Rankings:

  1. Los Angeles International Airport (90 percent):Los Angeles tops the list for the first time this year, gaining two points and climbing from third place to first. Leading the way with healthful eating standards, the airport replaced several fast food restaurants, like Burger King and McDonald’s, with healthier chain restaurants like The Counter, which serves vegan veggie burgers and salad bowls. Fresh California produce shines at Hollywood-favorite Real Food Daily, which serves an all-vegan menu emphasizing whole, plant-based foods. Travelers can choose salads, lentil mushroom burgers, or Real Food Meal bowls, including the LAX Bowl topped with rice, beans, veggies, and jalapeño-cashew “cheese.”  Lemonade’s colorful menu features more than a dozen plant-based options, including soba noodle salads, roasted Brussels sprouts and baby turnips, and a hearty lentil and eggplant stew. Looking to try up-and-coming trends in healthy eating? Head to Ink.sack for a salad topped with watermelon sriracha or a veggie bánh mì with barbecue tofu.
  2. Newark Liberty International Airport (84 percent): Newark loses 2 percent but climbs from fifth place to second. A new wing of restaurants opened earlier this year, expanding the fresh, plant-centric fare offered to Garden State travelers. For garden-fresh picks, travelers’ best bet may be Flora Café, which serves arugula salads, hummus sandwiches, and tangy tabbouleh side dishes. Craving Jersey tomatoes? Try the spicy strawberry tomato gazpacho. Leafy greens and colorful vegetables are on the menu at Green Beans Coffee, which offers a protein-packed Mediterranean salad topped with nuts and seeds. Wabi-Sabi offers a vegetable stir-fry with brown, rice, tofu, and your choice of vegetables.
  3. (tie) San Francisco International Airport (82 percent):San Francisco rises five spots this year but still cruises steadily at 82 percent. Local and organic produce take center stage at Napa Farms Market, which sells spinach salads and tempeh wraps made with Bay Area ingredients. The Plant Café Organic showcases plants in salads, wraps, quinoa and green curry vegetable bowls, and its renowned plant burger, made with lentils, beets, and cashews. Travelers looking to sip their greens can grab a variety of freshly prepared juices and smoothies. Perry’s, a San Francisco favorite, offers veggie burgers and salads, while Harbor Village Kitchen serves a black bean, tofu, and rice plate. At Fraiche, you’ll find salads topped with chickpeas, cherry tomatoes, and quinoa. The wickedly good vegan soup and green smoothie are both made with five fresh local ingredients or less.
  4. (tie) Philadelphia International Airport (82 percent): Philadelphia rises from 11th place to fourth this year, gaining four points and tying Atlanta for most improved airport. New restaurants, including La Tapenade Mediterranean Café –which offers a grilled portobello panini–helped push Philadelphia to the top of the list. The airport stands out for making it easy to eat healthfully your way. Saladworks allows travelers to pile their choice of greens, beans, and vegetables into fresh salad bowls, while Green Leaf’s prepares custom-made salads or whole-wheat wraps with 10 types of vegetables, chickpeas, and edamame. Currito Burrito and Chipotle allow travelers to load the veggies onto customizable burritos and bowls. Craving a healthful twist on local Philadelphia fare? Try the grilled veggie sub at Philly Steak & Gyros.
  5. Denver International Airport (80 percent):Denver drops 3 percent this year, but rises two spots. Visitors to the Mile-High City can take healthful eating to new heights by sampling green salads with grilled portobello mushrooms and toasted pumpkin seeds at Denver Chophouse. Chef Jimmy’s Bistro dishes out vegetarian sandwiches and a Kung Pao salad served with vegetables and noodles. Pour La France serves a roasted eggplant and red pepper panini and a Provençale salad with sun-dried tomatoes, sliced mushrooms, and garbanzo beans. Those looking for extra West Coast crunch can head to Colorado Sports Bar for a sunflower seed burger or stop by Root Down DIA for a roasted Brussels sprouts and squash salad. Root Down’s Concourse “C”aesar–made with a blend of greens, radishes, scallions, and miso dressing–remains ever popular.
  6. (tie) Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport (79 percent):National Airport drops 8 percent and falls two spots this year. Cava Mezze Grille opened its doors this year, offering travelers a taste of another local Washington favorite. Cava prepares salads, bowls, and pitas with fresh colorful vegetables and a choice of hummus, harissa, or lemon herb tahini. Taylor Gourmet offers a veggie hoagie packed with roasted cauliflower, white bean hummus, and fresh arugula. Lickety Split serves a zucchini tomato wrap, tofu kale focaccia sandwich, and a peanut soba noodle dish. At Grille District, travelers can choose ramen with edamame or a portobello burger topped with fresh vegetables.
  7. (tie) Salt Lake City International Airport (79 percent): Salt Lake City lands in sixth place in its first time on the report, soaring above most of the competition by scoring eight points higher than the national average. Salt Lake City travelers who are looking to warm up before hitting the slopes can opt for the vegan black bean chili at French Meadow Bakery, which offers a variety of plant-based entrées. Those looking for lighter fare can pick up the French Meadow House Salad which combines organic mixed greens and sunflower seeds with a bounty of colorful vegetables, including beets, carrots, and tomatoes. Squatters Pub Brewery serves quinoa salads and a veggie burger made with roasted vegetables, oats, and garbanzo beans. For a quick meal, Great Wraps prepares a hummus and veggie wrap.
  8. (tie) Washington Dulles International Airport (77 percent):Dulles loses three points but rises one spot this year. &Pizza, a Washington favorite, allows travelers to customize their own healthful pizzas by choosing from more than a dozen fresh vegetable toppings. Those not in the mood for a healthful pie can grab a mixed green salad or head to Bistro Atelier for their colorful fennel and radicchio blend. Ben’s Chili Bowl offers a classic vegan chili, in a bowl or on a bed of leafy greens, while City Wok offers protein-packed braised tofu with rice, noodles, and colorful vegetables.
  9. (tie) Baltimore/Washington International Airport (77 percent):BWI drops out of first place and loses 13 points this year, due to stricter grading standards, including the elimination of breakfast entrées—a point generator in the past for Charm City’s coffee shops. Silver Diner continues to expand its flexitarian menu based on local and seasonal produce. Travelers can take their pick of a wide range of healthful options: Teriyaki-Glazed Portobellos, Warm Roasted Veggie Salad, Summer Citrus Salad, Vegetarian Mango Stir-Fry, or the Portobello Pesto Veggie Pasta. Gachi Sushi serves vegetable sushi rolls and an Oriental salad with mixed greens, mandarin oranges, and crispy noodles, topped with a ginger-sesame salad dressing. Greene Turtle offers a customizable autumn salad with Granny Smith apple slices, pecans, and dried cranberries.
  10. John F. Kennedy International Airport (76 percent):JFK drops two points but rises one spot in 2015. Big Apple travelers can visit New York Sports Bar for a grilled vegetable sandwich or seasonal beet salad made with mango chutney, mixed greens, and walnuts. Greenwich Village Bistro serves an immunity-boosting salad packed with tofu, leafy greens, and orange miso vinaigrette. Only have a New York minute? Balducci’s sells salads, macrobiotic vegan pad Thai, and fresh, whole fruits to go.
  11. Logan International Airport (75 percent):Boston loses four points and falls one spot this year, moving from 10th to 11th place. Au Bon Pain, founded in Boston, will warm winter travelers up with a variety of healthful plant-based soups, including Tuscan white bean and vegetarian chili. Cosi serves a Golden Beet Citrus Bowl, a hummus and vegetable sandwich, and a Smart Fit Salad packed with kale and roasted sweet potatoes. Lucky’s, a local Boston restaurant, serves fresh vegetables and warm pita bread with a house-made hummus with lemon.
  12. Midway International Airport (74 percent):In its first time on the list, Chicago Midway earns an above-average score, landing three points above the 2015 national average. Harry Caray’s Seventh Inning Stretch hits a home run for health with a Tuscan Salad topped with chickpeas and artichokes. Sprigs encourages travelers to “saladbrate” their health with custom-made fresh salads. Pegasus on the Fly offers falafel and roasted vegetable sandwiches.
  13. (tie) Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (72 percent):Seattle’s score plummets by 18 points this year, causing the airport to fall from second place to 13th in 2015. This drop can be attributed to stricter grading standards and the exclusion of coffee shops from the 2015 Airport Food Review. Healthful options with a Pacific Northwest flair can be found at Alaska Lodge, which offers a strawberry spinach salad and vegetable hummus wrap. Vintage Washington Wine Bar offers an apple pecan salad, tossed with apples, tomatoes, and cucumbers. At Kobo, travelers can choose Thai-inspired tofu dishes, spinach salads, udon noodles, or a variety of vegetable sushi rolls.
  14. (tie) Miami International Airport (72 percent):Miami climbs three points and jumps two spots in 2015. For a healthful meal with a Southwest flair, try the vibrant La Carreta salad at Café La Carreta: Brightly hued mango and pineapple slices top a bed of leafy greens and cashews. Islander Bar & Grill dishes out a green reef salad made with mixed field greens, tomatoes, pecans, and fresh mango. Icebox Café and Mediterranean Kitchen offer a variety of salads, wraps, and quinoa bowls, falafel dishes, and juices.
  15. San Diego International Airport (70 percent):In its first year on the list, San Diego lifts off in 15th place. Fresh, local California fare fills the menu at PGA Tour Grill, which has a menu fit for professional athletes: “On the Green” menu options include antioxidant-packed kale, romaine, and Mediterranean salads topped with avocado, pumpkin seeds, and quinoa. Travelers can also opt for plant-based pasta dishes or crispy kale served with avocado and smoked paprika hummus on naan bread. Seaside Stack Shack creates a house salad with five healthful components: Israeli couscous, yellow peppers, diced tomatoes, golden raisins, and a citrus dressing. The Counter: Custom Built Burgers offers a vegan burger on a bun or in a bowl of greens, topped with your choice of fresh vegetables.
  16. (tie) Las Vegas McCarran International Airport (67 percent):Las Vegas loses five points and drops two spots this year. Sammy’s Woodfired Pizza & Grill brings ancient grains to the center of the plate with   the Red Quinoa , a mix of leafy greens, red quinoa, golden beets, tomatoes, avocado, red onion, parsley, and almonds. 360° Gourmet Burritos offers a broccoli and tofu burrito vegetable wraps, and custom salads. Jose Cuervo Tequileria offers a wide range of plant-based “verduras” (vegetable) options, from bean-based salads to vegetable tacos.
  17. (tie) Charlotte Douglas International Airport (67 percent):Charlotte falls by 3 points this year. Healthful options are available at Salsarita’s, which offers custom plant-based burritos, tacos, and salads. Hissho Sushi offers edamame, seaweed salad, and carrot, cucumber, avocado, and asparagus sushi rolls. At Genghis Grill, travelers can select garlic citrus edamame or the Buddhist Bowl made with brown rice, tofu, bean sprouts, bamboo shoots, mushrooms, green beans, baby corn, squash, and zucchini. Bad Daddy’s Burger Bar has a healthful Tree Hugger Salad with spinach, walnuts, strawberries, mandarin oranges, pecans, grapes, and red onions tossed in balsamic vinaigrette.
  18. Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport (65 percent):Dallas drops 14 points this year, but travelers can still find plenty of healthful options. Blue Mesa Taco & Tequila Bar serves a taste of Texas cuisine: The loaded veggie burrito comes with colorful vegetables, smoky black beans, pico de gallo, and avocado. Still hungry? Try the veggie combo, which includes a black bean adobe pie, a vegetable skewer, grilled asparagus, and ginger rice. Bánh Shop serves a grilled tofu sandwich and field green salad. Reata Grill offers Martha’s Vegetable Plate: a mix of seasonal vegetables, brown rice, black beans, and corn.
  19. (tie) Houston George Bush (64 percent):Houston drops one point from last year. Travelers can pack their plates with plant-based options at The Frutería, which offers a jicama salad with cucumbers, cantaloupe, tomatoes, avocado, and toasted almonds or a vegetarian tostada with black beans and fresh vegetables. Real Food Company allows travelers to build their own salads with an ample supply of greens and colorful veggies. Zori Bistro offers a sweet and spicy eggplant and tofu bowl, vegetable spring rolls, and steamed vegetables.
  20. (tie) Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport (64 percent):Phoenix drops 10 points this year. Travelers who visit terminal 4 can enjoy a taste of the local cuisine at airport locations of popular Phoenix restaurants. Chelsea’s Kitchen offers a kale and quinoa salad with sunflower seeds, along with vegetable tacos that pack guacamole, pico de gallo, and locally farmed vegetables into made-to-order corn tortillas. At Cowboy Ciao, travelers can choose the beet and buckwheat salad with butternut squash, Belgian endives, and walnuts or opt for the vegetarian Stetson Chopped Salad, with arugula, avocado, Israeli couscous, corn, and diced tomatoes. Super greens are on the menu at Wildflower Bread Company, which serves a protein-packed vegetable quinoa salad with organic baby kale, jicama, and toasted almonds.
  21. Chicago O’Hare International Airport (62 percent):O’Hare falls 10 spots and drops 16 points this year. In spite of the drop, O’Hare’s terminals are still packed with healthful options. As home to the world’s first aeroponic airport farm, O’Hare incorporates fresh, hyper-local produce into some of their meals. Travelers also have the option of eating healthfully their own way by creating custom tofu-vegetable bowls with rice at Big Bowl or salads, tacos, and burritos at Burrito Beach. The Goddess & Grocer offers a vegan Garden Goddess wrap with avocado, sprouts, beets, greens, and Goddess dressing in a wheat wrap. Chicago visitors can also sample four different types of veggie sushi rolls, edamame, seaweed salad, and miso soup at Wicker Park Sushi.
  22. Orlando International Airport (61 percent):Orlando drops five spots this year, but healthful options still abound at the airport. Manchu Wok makes it easy to eat healthfully on the fly with the Wok Express option, which comes with a carton full of fresh vegetables and steamed rice. Home Team Sports wins with their steamed edamame and Fourth Quarter Power Salad, a mix of greens, garbanzo beans, and nuts. Flying to a colder climate? Nature’s Table serves a warm antioxidant-packed vegetarian chili.
  23. Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport (57 percent):Atlanta gains 5 percent and climbs out of last place for the first time in five years, tying Philadelphia for the most improved airport. Travelers at the world’s busiest airport can visit Café Intermezzo for their choice of antioxidant-packed salads: almond avocado salad with mandarin oranges, kale salad with walnuts and cranberries, or strawberry salad with fresh mango slices. In a rush? Travelers on-the-go can refresh at Lotta Frutta, which serves colorful fruit salads and ALT – avocado, lettuce, and tomato – sandwiches topped with cucumbers and sprouts. Harvest & Grounds offers a portable roasted red and golden beet salad, topped with Belgian endives, walnuts, and a lemon zest dressing.
  24. Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport (56 percent):Due to stricter guidelines this year and an abundance of fast-food restaurants, Minneapolis loses 13 points and lands in last place. Just 32 of its 57 restaurants offer health-promoting options. Fortunately, travelers who do seek out healthful options won’t be disappointed: French Meadow Bakery & Café prepares a bounty of plant-based entrées, including black bean chili served with organic brown rice and sautéed kale. Minnesota hockey fans can score major health points at the Minnesota Wild, which offers a farm-fresh salad of mixed field greens and a veggie flatbread topped with basil pesto. Popular Minneapolis eatery Cocina del Barrio serves a black bean tostada with mango salsa and roasted beet salad with arugula and fresh orange slices.

To view a full list of menu items, healthful travel tips, and learn more about the 2015 rankings, visit