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If you’ve ever perused the in-flight catering menu in your seat-back pocket, you know your options are limited. Not every choice listed is available in every region, or on every route or flight. So once you’ve narrowed down your (available) options, you have to consider: which is the healthiest pick? Well, that depends on which airline you’re flying.

If you’re looking for healthy options, you’ll find the most variety on Virgin America, according to research by Charles Platkin, the director of the New York City Food Policy Center at Hunter College and editor of

Platkin studied the menu options in coach on 12 carriers and scored them on a scale of one to five, based on nine factors that include health and calorie levels, menu innovation, use of sustainable foods and price.

Virgin America scored four and a quarter stars, followed by Delta and Air Canada, which tied for second with four stars each. Tied for last: Spirit Airlines and Frontier, with a meager one star each.

The “most improved” airline award went to Delta, which has a partnership with LUVO, a frozen food company that uses antibiotic-free proteins and non-GMO and organic ingredients; and the Flight Fuel program, which focuses on healthy options, fresh foods and more frequent menu updates.

If you want to know the truth about your favorite snacks, the full report includes the average calories over all meals. It also includes average calories per snack box, meal and individual snack choices as well as a breakdown of menu options with nutritional information and how long you’d have to work out to burn those calories off.

Platkin also includes his recommendations for best choices by meals and if the airline cooperated in providing info. (If the airline did not, registered dietitians estimated nutritional content.)

Overall, Platkin found a small trend toward lower calorie counts (the average number of calories per item is down to 392 versus 400 in 2015) and smaller snack portions. And while Platkin told The Washington Post that “none of the airlines have great snacks,” he did include his recommendations for the best you can do, in-flight.

Featured image courtesy of Virgin America.

Do you bring your own food when flying coach? 

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