Chicken or Beef: What’s the Healthiest Economy Option?

Jun 29, 2019

This post contains references to products from one or more of our advertisers. We may receive compensation when you click on links to those products. Terms apply to the offers listed on this page. For an explanation of our Advertising Policy, visit this page.

Ask someone about economy catering offerings and rarely will someone give you a positive response. The term ‘plane food’ has been coined to describe bland, tasteless, unattractive and mostly unhealthy food. But what if there were some healthier economy offerings? What if you knew whether to pick chicken or beef, or even if there some nutrition hacks to make your time in the air a little healthier?

The average person consumes more than double their daily calorie allowance from check-in to arriving at their destination — a staggering estimated 3,400 calories for hours of being idle watching the in-flight entertainment. Moreover, it’s noted that due to the cabin pressure, we lose some taste and smell, and airlines know this. Often, in-flight food has more sugar and salt to satisfy the senses than regular food, meaning it’s often not healthy and mostly very high in carbohydrates.

It helps to think about eating on planes as such: When you eat better on board, you recover better when you land with less jet lag. As such, you’ll get to enjoy more of your holiday. So how do you know if what you’re eating on board is healthy? And what are the healthiest options?

Lack of Nutritional Information

It’s hard to find information about in-flight dining offerings. In fact, there’s no single resource that accurately breaks down the nutritional values for each airline.

Luckily, you don’t need to rely on the calorie content or nutrition labeling to know if something is going to be healthy or not. It can be assessed according to a few rules: Is it processed? How much starch is included? Does it have enough protein? How much sugar and salt is in the product?

Beef or Chicken?

The classic economy choice across all of the airlines — beef or chicken. Among those choices, the healthiest option tends to be the beef. Usually, the chicken is served in a sugary sauce where beef may be more of a basic meal with potatoes and vegetables.

When it comes to vegetarian options, it’s often pasta and cheese that’s loaded with carbohydrates and fats with little protein, which is needed for energy and blood sugar balance. As a general rule of thumb, avoid vegetarian options — even a panini on some airlines can be around 1,000 calories.


Breakfast is usually served just over an hour before you land. The key here is to ask yourself if you really need to eat then, as there’s usually no healthy choice. If you need to eat, just eat the eggs and leave the bread/potatoes and the sugary juice/smoothie out and opt for a black coffee instead.

Choosing the Best Option

Looking at an economy menu, you can do a few things to keep in line with health targets.

  • Skip the bread — who even enjoys eating vacuum-packed airplane bread rolls anyway?
  • Skip the pretzels with the drink and ask for nuts instead.
  • Have the cheese on its own without the crackers. There are already enough carbs to keep you going in the main meal.
  • Don’t eat everything put in front of you — space it throughout the flight.
  • Ignore the chips, candy and sugary yogurts from the snack selection and opt for one of the following: fruit, nuts or hummus.

This is making the most out of economy dining in the sky. In an ideal world, you would be having something at the airport before you board and there are plenty of healthy options to pick from there. If you eat before you fly, then you realistically only need to have a snack in the sky if you are traveling around eight hours.

Aside from the food offerings, remember to keep hydrated. You need more water in the air than you do on the ground — especially if you are eating high sugar and salty food with a few alcoholic beverages. Aim to drink about 3 liters of pure water during your flight.

Featured photo by Alex Macheras/The Points Guy.

Delta SkyMiles® Platinum American Express Card

Earn 90,000 bonus miles and 10,000 Medallion® Qualification Miles (MQMs) after you spend $3,000 in purchases on your new card in the first three months of card membership. Offer ends 11/10/2021.

With Status Boost™, earn 10,000 Medallion Qualification Miles (MQMs) after you spend $25,000 in purchases on your Card in a calendar year, up to two times per year getting you closer to Medallion Status. Earn 3X Miles on Delta purchases and purchases made directly with hotels, 2X Miles at restaurants and at U.S. supermarkets and earn 1X Mile on all other eligible purchases. Terms Apply.

Apply Now
More Things to Know
  • Limited Time Offer: Earn 90,000 Bonus Miles and 10,000 Medallion® Qualification Miles (MQMs) after you spend $3,000 in purchases on your new Card in your first 3 months. Offer expires 11/10/2021.
  • Earn up to 20,000 Medallion® Qualification Miles (MQMs) with Status Boost® per year. After you spend $25,000 in purchases on your Card in a calendar year, you can earn 10,000 MQMs two times per year, getting you closer to Medallion® Status. MQMs are used to determine Medallion® Status and are different than miles you earn toward flights.
  • Earn 3X Miles on Delta purchases and purchases made directly with hotels.
  • Earn 2X Miles at restaurants worldwide, including takeout and delivery and at U.S. supermarkets.
  • Earn 1X Miles on all other eligible purchases.
  • Receive a Domestic Main Cabin round-trip companion certificate each year upon renewal of your Card. *Payment of the government imposed taxes and fees of no more than $75 for roundtrip domestic flights (for itineraries with up to four flight segments) is required. Baggage charges and other restrictions apply. See terms and conditions for details.
  • Enjoy your first checked bag free on Delta flights.
  • Fee Credit for Global Entry or TSA Pre✓®.
  • Enjoy an exclusive rate of $39 per person per visit to enter the Delta Sky Club® for you and up to two guests when traveling on a Delta flight.
  • No Foreign Transaction Fees.
  • $250 Annual Fee.
  • Terms Apply.
  • See Rates & Fees
Regular APR
15.74%-24.74% Variable
Annual Fee
Balance Transfer Fee
Recommended Credit
Terms and restrictions apply. See rates & fees.

Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

Disclaimer: The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser’s responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.