At Logan, pre-flight meals take healthy turn

Before Massachusetts travelers spend the holidays eating homemade cookies and drinking calorie-loaded eggnog, they can grab one last healthy meal at an unexpected source: Logan International Airport.

“Airports have a notorious reputation for serving unhealthy foods,” said Susan Levin, the director of nutrition education for the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, based in Washington, D.C. “But I’d be lucky to stumble upon some of the restaurants at Logan while walking down a street in Manhattan.”

Since 2001, the number of airports with healthy food options has increased from 57 percent to 75 percent, according to a new study by the Physicians Committee. In its rankings debut, Logan placed 10th among the country’s busiest airports for healthy food choices in the committee’s 2014 airport food review. The annual study, released on Dec. 5, found that 79 percent of Logan’s dining options offer at least one cholesterol-free, plant-based, fiber-packed food item.

In the last few years, vendors like Berkshire Farms Market and Gogo Stop and local favorites like Potbelly Sandwich Shop and Legal Sea Foods have transformed dining at Logan.

Massport and project developers are increasingly seeking out local restaurants with healthy, fresh food options in response to an increased demand from surveyed customers, according to Logan Airport’s concession business manager, Leah Teeven.

Kale and quinoa salads and vegetable sushi are common sights in Logan’s new restaurants and concession stands. Sports bars are featuring veggie burgers, and hearty New England dishes are being paired with fresh local produce.

“The demand for healthful meals is creating an artisanal food movement, ripe with beet burgers, quinoa bowls, and Brussels sprouts salads,” said Levin.

Companies like Tastes On The Fly, the boutique airport dining partner that brought Stephanie’s, Boston Beer Works, and Berkshire Farms Market to Logan Airport, have found success at airports like Logan looking to bring in local restaurants.

“Across the board, there used to be a few large players controlling all of the food at airports,” said Michael Levine, chief executive of Tastes on the Fly. “But Logan’s food has changed dramatically since we introduced our first restaurant, Dine Boston, in 2003.”

While healthy food trends like kale may come and go, the impact has been prominent at Logan. The new local, high-concept restaurants are now doing business neck-in-neck with familiar national fast food chains, according to Massport.

As complimentary meals on domestic flights have increasingly gone the way of free checked baggage, Logan passengers now often purchase multiple meals at airport concessions, said Teeven. At the same time, travelers have been forced to arrive for flights earlier due to increased post-9/11 security screening.

“There has been a big change in the amount of time people have to sit in airports,” said Levin. “And businesses either have taken advantage of that captive audience, or tried to cater to what customers want.”

What customers at Logan say they want benefits more than local producers and vendors, dietitians said.

The colorful fruits and vegetables and other high-fiber, low-cholesterol food choices help to stave off the negative side effects of flying: dehydration and increased threats of germs from sitting in pressurized cabins, decreased blood flow from inactivity, and even an altered mood.

French fry lovers need not worry: National chains continue to make up the majority of food vendors at Logan, and Massport officials said they have no intention of pushing healthy foods on travelers.

“We try to find a balance between national brands that fliers look for and local restaurants,” said Teeven. “Overall, fliers want healthy options, and they are willing to pay for it.”

What airports top the healthy food list? Baltimore/Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport ties with Newark Liberty for the most improved airport this year and takes the lead with 92 percent of its restaurants offering nutritious fare. Seattle-Tacoma International (90 percent) and Los Angeles International (88 percent) follow close behind.

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