Is it possible to stay primal / paleo and eat in airports?

The challenge of staying primal / paleo whilst eating in airports is a constant one for me.

I’ve just spent a wonderful two and a half days catching up with friends in Cairns (in the tropical far north of Australia). I’m quite used to the travel and many of the airports are very familiar but when it comes to meals I usually find myself `just doing the best I can’. However this time I was more determined to maintain my standard of primal living.

Because the trip this time was about relaxing and catching up with friends I knew that it would involve lots of time in cafes and coffee shops, so I didn’t know how that would go. I was also staying with friends – a great Samoan family of twelve. If you know anything about Samoan culture you will know that it’s about food, feasts, family, food, friends, food, fun, food, laughter, food, and more food!

As I reflected on the time away I recognised some things I learned. Here we go:

Airports are like an alien land when it comes to eating in a way that contributes to health. Most of the food outlets are the normal fast food chains, so we have to have a strategy in place to survive.

I started off by having a really good breakfast of bacon, eggs and some veggies prior to leaving home. I knew that would keep me going for a long time. On the way up to Cairns, I had packed a small bag of macadamia nuts and a couple of Coconut Energisers just in case I needed them. (Lots of yummy protein and good fats.) I had a lunch time stop over so went hunting for something remotely primal. I managed to find a place that served pre-packed fresh fruit salad, so that and my pre-packed snacks were lunch. Success!

Coming home was another story. Again I had a stop-over, but instead of it being the planned 3 ½ hours it turned out to be 5 ½ hours!! I no longer had a package of Mac nuts (and all the ones I saw in the airport were roasted with various numbered additives) so went hunting again. This time I found a bar that had one treasure on its menu, a chicken Caesar salad (with the dressing served on the side). Yay. Another success!

So with a total of seven hours in that one airport in four days I pretty much know that there is very little available that fits within the framework of a primal diet. On the plus side though, there is plenty of space to go for a walk and get in some exercise!! The trick there is to pack a very light carry on.

In flight is another challenge much greater than on the ground. A cup of tea or a glass of water were the only grain free, unprocessed choices on board the planes. I was already aware of that so just avoided having food, though it was nice to enjoy the cup of tea.

Then there is the minefield of eating out consistently.

  • I did discover that you can (sometimes) get a reasonably safe meal in shopping centre food courts. I don’t like having food in food courts at the best of times so wasn’t looking forward to the options of the usual fast food outlets, deep fried `things’, burgers, chips etc. However…..a reasonable solution was to be found. This was one of those situations where you have to settle for the best of the choices you have available. In this case a meal of roast beef, roasted vegetables (pumpkin, carrots, green beans) was the gold. I just asked them to leave off the roast potatoes and gravy normally included. The oils used were probably not `good fats’, so I really had to apply the 80/20 rule.
  • Sometimes you have to give up your ideals for the sake of others. On one occasion I was passed a sausage in a slice of bread for dinner. To do anything less than graciously accept & eat the sausage would have been rude in that situation. (A slice of white bread in a white serviette is easily secreted away to a nearby rubbish bin.)
  • Grains seem to have overtaken the food world!! I noticed a new place that promotes itself as the new healthy alternative, so had a look around. Hmmm…. fine if you think that grains are healthy!!
  • Even though most cafes have menus laden with things not primal, it is usually possible to find something that is safe. My strategy was to first look for the (few) things that don’t have grains. This usually narrows it down to just a very few options. Then look for protein and vegetables.

So, is it possible to stay primal / paleo and eat in airports? Yes. If you plan and prepare well in advance. The secret is to not expect to be able to find anything appropriate and pack a survival kit. Then if you do find appropriate foods, consider it a bonus.

Please leave comments with any suggestions you have for things that work.



  1. after 10 months not “at home” but rather traveling between diffrent places trying to stay healthy and eat somewhat good/well, i have to say, for a short time it’s much easier then for the long run. But it is possible, even in new cities when you can’t find much there is often something like meat (steak or somekind of meat) with a salad, or salad with meat. As i am also not allowed to have too much fruit it was a challenge. But i have to say, it worked out and i am very grateful for it…

    Btw, Judith and Sharon, i’ve learned a lot from your explanations, even though i am not living fully/official “primal/paleo” we do have the similarities with low carb, no gluten, no grains, little/no sugar, no fruit and many other don’ts.
    Thanks for sharing your expieriences!

    • Thanks for the encouragement Biggi. I know that you experience the same challenges I do with consistent travel. It seems that what you are describing as your diet is very primal. The only other things would probably be avoiding all processed foods and making sure you get enough `good fats’…..and avoiding all the `bad fats’. I hope you enjoy some of our recipes.


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