ROMULUS (AP) — For many who travel for the holidays, the eating begins at the airport.
It’s always been easy to find high-calorie, fat-filled and fried food. But at Detroit Metropolitan Airport and a growing number of airports nationwide, more options for the health-conscious are on the menu.
It was a pilot’s complaint that helped launch the improvement in Detroit. Now “Heart Smart” options marked with a red logo are on many menus — and a recent survey shows the airport continues to make strides in healthy offerings.
“When I’m at an airport, the last thing I want is a cheeseburger,” said Anthony Struzziero, who grabbed a chicken breast sandwich during a recent layover. He decided to eat at Mediterranean Grill after spotting healthy options on its menu.
Struzziero, 18, of Portland, Maine, was on his way to Phoenix to visit a friend and said healthy options like those at Mediterranean Grill are something he’s seeing more often at other airports too. “A lot more have sandwich shops and healthy food places,” he said. “I think a lot of places are trying to get away from fast food.”
Last year a pilot looking for healthy food stopped in to see the Detroit airport’s chief executive Lester Robinson, who has made improving food options a top priority.
Soon after, the airport formed a partnership with a Detroit-based network of hospitals and clinics, the Henry Ford Health System. The network’s experts evaluated the menus of 13 restaurants at its McNamara Terminal, one of Northwest Airlines’ nationwide hubs.
Besides making “Heart Smart” designations, the health experts worked with restaurants on improving their food. Now more of the estimated 50 airport restaurants are getting items certified as heart-healthy.
Mediterranean Grill’s list of healthy offerings include tabbouleh, vegetarian grape leaves and chicken stir fry. Administrative manager Ric Frievalt said one of his changes was to bake falafel instead of deep-frying it so it would qualify as “Heart Smart.”
“It’s something that travelers at many airports haven’t seen,” Frievalt said of the program.
“We think about it only for travelers, but you also have people who work there,” said Darlene Zimmerman, a registered dietitian at Henry Ford.
Recently, the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, which promotes vegetarian diets, cited Detroit’s airport as No. 2 in offering healthy vegetarian fare among 12 of the busiest airports. The group said 83 percent of restaurants offer such food.
Claiming the top spot was Miami International Airport with 85 percent of restaurants offering food low in fat, cholesterol-free and high in fiber. Trulie Ankerberg-Nobis, clinical research coordinator for the Physicians Committee, said the rankings come as airline passengers look for more carry-on food options.
“More restaurants are stepping up to the plate … because fewer people are getting that on board,” Ankerberg-Nobis said. “They have to take it from home or they are going to buy it from the airport themselves.”
The rankings are based on the percentage of restaurants offering at least one entree that fits the requirements. Although airport food is getting healthier, the Physicians Committee said 36 percent of airport restaurants surveyed still don’t offer one qualifying entree.
“There still is lots more improvement to do,” Ankerberg-Nobis said.
In Detroit, airport employees have taken notice of the options.
“They’ve always had salads available,” said Judith Wegner, 49, of Taylor, who works at the Northwest Airlines’ WorldClub. “They’ve always had some of these, but the restaurants have gotten better.”
Wegner was eating a late lunch at Online Cafe, whose menu includes a vegetarian sandwich and smoked turkey spinach wrap.
“I do get tired of burgers and fries,” said the six-year airport employee.