Airplane food is gross. Here’s what to eat instead!

You know how it goes.

You spend a few hours at the airport making your way through security, dropping off your bags, maybe refilling your water bottle before the long flight ahead. Eventually, you shuffle onto the plane, take a seat, and set your watch to your destination time before nodding off.

When you wake up, your stomach is growling. Luckily, the flight attendants are making their way towards you with a cart of foil-covered trays. For a moment, you’re excited, but… then reality kicks in. You tear the foil off a plastic container of unidentifiable… beans? Meat? It’s all been marinating in some kind of salty, drippy sauce. You slurp your way through it, wishing you’d thought to bring something from home instead.

Why bother with the gurgling stomach and bloated, nauseous post-airplane-meal nastiness when you can easily pack healthy snacks and meals to eat on the plane?

vishang-soni-100402.jpgPhoto by Vishang Soni 

what to pack from home

The most important things you need to consider when you’re eating in the air are hydration, flavor and immunity. Plane air can be drying, and elevation changes can mess with your digestive system, so water is crucial to keeping your gut happy. It also helps keep your skin hydrated and glowing. Anyways, the more you have to pee, the more you’ll have to get up and stretch your legs on a long flight. You can also up your hydration by eating fruits and veggies with a high water content, like cucumbers or tomato slices. I also always bring some organic teabags (I love Numi‘s Moroccan Mint and Roasted Dandelion teas) and just ask the flight attendants for hot water on board.

As far as flavor, well; I’ve heard your taste buds don’t work as well in the air or something, which is why plane food is so over-salted. Combat this bringing your own salted almonds, or adding sauces like salsa on a salad to brighten up your food. I almost always travel with a bar of dark chocolate for emergencies (and by emergencies I mean about 3 hours into every flight). Chewable ginger candies are another great addition to your travel bag- the spice of ginger is super potent and the chewing will help reduce the pressure in your ears during landing and takeoff- kind of like chewing gum, but healthier!

Finally, airports and planes are filled with germs. You don’t need to be paranoid about this, but give your immune system the support it needs to avoid falling sick and eat foods rich in vitamin C. I love satsuma oranges because they’re so easy to carry around, and bell peppers have both vitamin C and a high water content. I’ve also just starting carrying around this MyKind Organic Vitamin C Spray, an entirely plant-based vitamin c supplement. I really, really hate being sick while traveling, and I also usually have to work 10 days in a row before and after long trips to make up for taking time off work, so building up my immune system is a high priority for me.

If you’re in it for the long haul, grab a reusable container and pack it with quinoa, fresh greens, beans, olives, baked sweet potatoes, beets, sliced carrots… really whatever you want! If you pack a flavorful dressing in a separate small container (usually 3oz is the max in your carry-on), you can easily enjoy a healthy meal on the plane. I like salsa, as I mentioned, but you could combine tahini, garlic, lemon juice and salt for a creamier dressing, or simply shake up some olive oil and apple cider vinegar. Peel some hard-boiled eggs at home and slice those in as well for an added protein boost.

For more protein, you can slice apples and squeeze a nut butter pack over them. For a sweet tooth, pack some berries. I could go on, but you get the idea. Healthy and delicious food is easy when you plan ahead.

Remember, you can grab free plastic forks, napkins, spoons and whatever else at the airport. You can always rinse out a dirty container in a bathroom sink to pack it back into your bag without smelling. There’s no reason you should be forced to eat airplane food when it’s so easy to bring your own!

tetiana-bykovets-422966Photo by Tetiana Bykovets

things you can buy at the airport if you didn’t bring enough food

It happens. We rush out of the house, head to the airport straight from work, or are just too darn tired to be bothered. Luckily, depending on the airport, you can find some pretty good options. I’m writing this post in London’s Heathrow airport, where I’ve just finished a cup of gluten free coconut porridge topped with nut & seed mix and a banana, and a hot cup of organic coffee. It only cost me about 6$ for the lot!

Sadly, not all airports are this awesome. At Sea-Tac, I usually stop at Starbucks for a fruit cup, banana and sweet potato chips in a pinch, and grab some popcorn from the Hudson News stand. I also always haul a huge bottle of SmartWater around on long flights. I don’t care really what brand it is, they just make the biggest bottles (this in addition to the reusable I also have in my carry-on). Water is great for digestion, hydration and everything else, but it also keeps you full, which hopefully helps you spend less money on airport snacks.

At Houston-Bush, however, you can find packets of gluten-free cookies, portable snacks like Lara Bars and sugar-free dried fruit, and lots of little fruit or veggie mixes.

I’ve also been stuck in places like Narita in Japan where all I could eat was a party-size container of little mochi-like candies (though they were delicious), and an airport somewhere in China where the only option in the terminal was a vending machine of $50 dried meat packages.

Then there’s Changi in Singapore, also known as the world’s best airport, where I once bought a whole box of Laduree macarons at 5am and devoured them all without a shred of regret.

At the end of the day, it all depends on the airport. Research your options before you go and plan ahead for your dietary needs and desires.

best choices for long-haul flights when you can pick your meals


It’s best to consider airplane food a supplementary snack to the food you’ll be bringing, but there are ways to get the most out of it. I’ve found that in order to get the healthiest meal, choose a strict dietary option when booking your ticket. The stricter, the better, because the more you narrow your restrictions the more likely they are to just throw you a bunch of fruits and vegetables and call it good. Which, if you are like me and trying to stay healthy, is exactly what you want!

For my flight from Seattle to London this morning (yesterday morning? ugh, time changes), I had chosen the “vegan vegetarian” option, figuring if I went with just gluten free, they’d give me a lot of dairy. Telling them you can’t do eggs or dairy narrows the junk they can give you, beacuse it’s hard to make highly processed bread without it. The flight started with a light meal of something foil wrapped, which I didn’t eat, as well as a small salad and a heaping pile of berries. Paired with the granola bars, bell peppers and cucumbers I had prepared, I felt perfectly nourished and not weighed down by whatever was in the foil. I did take one bite of it, but… ugh.

Before landing I was given another fruit cup and a chia seed granola bar. Not bad at all, British Airways! It was so nice to actually consume real food on a plane.

I hope what you take away from today’s post is that healthy eating is possible even on long-haul flights if you are willing to do a little research and be prepared.

jonathan-pielmayer-176664Photo by Jonathan Pielmayer.

How do you stay healthy while flying? Let me know in the comments!

Featured photo by Omar Prestwich.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s