Airport lounge food during Covid – can you eat healthy?

Airport lounge food has changed thanks to Covid

Airport lounge food during covid, in many cases, is very different to what we are used to. I think we can all agree that travel experiences for many of us have changed due to Covid, including the foods served on planes and in airport lounges (if any food is served at all). While many airlines have now started to find their new “Covid normal” and are bringing back services that they may have put on hold, pause or whatever you want to call it, they are still not necessarily back to normal – and this couldn’t be more true for foods served in lounges.

But have these changes been good for our health? Or are the changes to food bad news for us frequent flyers?

Bye bye buffets

For many of us when we are faced with choosing foods from a buffet, we eat more than we normally would. It could be we pile more food on to our plate than we would at home just to be able to try a few more options. Or when our flights are delayed we might find ourselves heading back to the buffet to try another dish, or to just grab a ‘little bit more’ to help pass the time as we a re bored or have talked ourselves in to still being hungry due to all the aromas wafting through the lounge. Either way, our snacks may now be the size of an actual meal, or we have just had the equivalent of two dinners as we weren’t really paying attention and were firing of email after email after a long day of work. Essentially it can be really easy to overeat at buffets.

But now in the time of Covid, some airport lounges have done away with the self-serve buffet of hot meals and communal plates of sandwiches etc, and replaced them with either individual plates of food (already served and portioned) wrapped up or prepackaged foods that you can pick up yourself. And some lounges have gone even further with all food behind a counter and served to you by lounge staff, or they have a menu with a QR code in which you can place your food orders online. The staff serve plate the food on to plates and determine how much goes on there.

Now these new ways don’t necessarily limit how much you have (there usually aren’t limits applied to how many plates you can ask for), but it may reduce how much you eat just from the act of having to ask staff for multiple serves. Also the amount of food the staff give you may be less than what you would have served yourself. And so if you grabbed your plate, sat down and made yourself nice and comfy, and didn’t feel like moving again, you may have eaten half of what you may normally have eaten if you had served yourself from the buffet. A great example is me with cheese – when I think back to the pre-covid cheese boards Qantas used to have in the lounge, I would serve myself a few nice chunks of delicious cheese. Now on their pre-plated cheese plates you get a few measly tiny cubes of cheese that would only add up to one of their previous sized pieces – so essentially I have already halved my intake of calories.

airport lounge food during covid
Breakfast choices in Adelaide Qantas Club

Lack of choice

While many lounges have started serving food again, typically it is not on the scale seen pre-covid. Not only are the buffets gone, but so are the choices of dishes. So if you don’t like what is on offer, bad luck, chances are you won’t be eating as there aren’t really any other choices. For examples in the Qantas Business Class Lounges (domestic) here in Australia there is only 1 hot meal on offer plus a soup, sometimes sandwiches (depending on time of day), 1-2 salad choices are usually on hand, and there are some vegetables/cheese plates available. While this doesn’t sound too bad written here on paper, it is about half the choice they previously offered (think the Spice Bar in Melbourne, Mexican Cantina in Brisbane etc). I have been to the lounge a number of times and not liked the hot meal, sandwiches or soup, and so just have eaten the vegetable stick plates. Now I am not complaining here, hey a discussion re food quality is a blog for another day, but just demonstrating how this cut down the calories/kilojoules I ate just from the fact I didn’t like anything and wasn’t tempted to eat anything.

Airport lounge food during covid in Qantas Business Lounge Melbourne menu
Hot meal choices in Qantas Business Lounge Melbourne (domestic) – hard to eat a hot meal (if you wanted more than soup) if you are a vegetarian on this day.

Everything prepackaged

Now I am lucky being a Qantas frequent flyer and having access to their Business Class lounges where they do have hot dishes, fresh vegetable crudites and dip plates, and fresh salad bowls, however some lounges have not opted for this. Some people have told me that lounges they have visited only served foods that are prepackaged – think sandwiches in cardboard boxes, packets of chips (crisps), cakes etc. If you weren’t travelling often this might not be an issue, but if you are still in the air lots then eating prepackaged and ultra-processed foods often can be unhealthy.

So overall – can you eat healthy?

Well yes I would say you can eat healthy in an airport lounge during covid, but there is a big BUT! The reduced choices and lack of fresh options in some lounges can make it hard for even the most well meaning people to eat well. When the healthy options just aren’t there, you can’t eat well even if you try. The individual, smaller plates of food on offer may mean we are eating less calories than previously but only if we don’t go for another round.

So my tips:

  • Choose what you will have up front and don’t go back for seconds.
  • Do some research first before your fly to see what the food options are like (so you can eat before you go if the choices are not great).
  • Where you can, eat a plate a vegetables first to fill you up a bit before you make other choices. This way you may be less inclined to overeat on the less healthy choices.
  • If you don’t like the look of it, then don’t eat it. With reduced menu sizes if could very well be that you will not like what they are offering. Just because you are in the lounge with free food, doesn’t mean you have to eat anything. Think about the timing of your flight, whether you will eat on the plane, when you ate last etc – you might not be hungry or need to eat in the lounge.
  • And keep watching out for my travel nutrition advice – as the world opens up more (and when I get out of lockdown and can get back in the air) I will do all the research for you and bring you airport lounge reviews so you can make informed choices. I’ve started my lounge reviews up again and I hope to ramp them up soon.

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