Healthy Travels: What to Do When Flying

by in Dining Out, Healthy Tips, November 3, 2009

I’m no stranger to long-distance flying. Every summer I travel with my family on a 12-hour flight to Israel. Packing food and drinks can be tricky, especially since you can’t bring beverages and space in limited carry-on bags. If you’re flying somewhere this holiday season, here are tips to keep you from starving — or oversnacking — on your trip.

The Food
There’s no such thing as included meals anymore. These days, you’ll need to buy food or bring your own on most flights. Besides saving money on overpriced airplane (and airport) food, your own grub undoubtedly will taste better. Problem is you have limited space to carry food — so smart packing is a must.

I typically take dry foods for the kids to munch on. Graham crackers, goldfish, pretzels, dry cereal or raisins and a granola bar work for the whole family. Kids get bored on flights, so instead of shoving candy or lots of food at them, bring some games (sticker books, playdough and color-by-number pictures are big hits with my crew). During take-off and landing, you’ll find that many kids start crying due to the change in pressure and its effect on their ears — make sure to have them suck a lollipop, munch on food or drink something. It helps “pop” their ears and alleviate the pressure.

Sandwiches are also a good idea, but forgo the stinky stuff. A tuna or salami sandwich may sound tempting, but they start smelling after sitting in your bag for a couple hours and your fellow passengers won’t be pleased. Some easy sandwiches include cream cheese with sliced cucumbers, hummus and veggies, peanut butter and jelly, turkey and cheese. Coolers are bulky and take up precious space. For shorter flights (less than four hours), you don’t need one. On longer flights, use a small cooler for foods that easily spoil (this would be any food you’d keep in the fridge). It’s important to keep all foods refrigerated until you’re about to leave your home and not to eat them once you’ve landed. Some easy items to pack from home in your cooler:

  • String cheese
  • Fresh fruit
  • Cut up veggies with a side of hummus
  • Cheese and crackers
  • Rice pudding (Kozy sells travel-sized cups)

The airport is another place to pick up a last minute snack. Your options are usually limited to fast food joints and quick-stop coffee shops (i.e. Starbucks). Sometimes I find a healthier grab-and-go deli, but they’re always very pricey. Here’s a list of healthier items that you can probably find at the airport:

  • Fresh fruit (i.e. banana or apple)
  • Yogurt
  • Nuts
  • Pretzels
  • Garden salad (ask for vinaigrette on the side)
  • Grilled chicken sandwich or wrap (avoid those with added mayo)

The Drinks
I’ve flown with a 3-month old infant in tow—and nursing is an option (they can’t confiscate that liquid!). If you’re not comfortable feeding in public, pack along a small towel. For formula fed infants, measure out powdered formula for several bottles—you can get a mixture of hot and cold water on the plane.

It’s important to drink enough fluids while flying—you tend to dehydrate quicker than usual. For kids, bring along an empty sippy cup or water bottle to fill on the plane with milk or water.—believe me, kids can’t sit still and the open cups spill in no time. You know your child is drinking enough if they take a few trips to the restroom (remember, they have smaller bladders than adults). Some airports allow you to buy beverages once you’ve passed security—I’ve been asked to show my receipt before boarding the plane to prove it. You can always check with your local carrier to verify any rules in your area.

TELL US: What healthy snacks do you pack for the airplane?

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Comments (17)

  1. julo says:

    I always buy 2 big bottles of water after the security gate if the flight is 4 hours of more (otherwise just one). I've never been asked to show a receipt or prove that I didn't sneak them past security. That would be a bit odd, I think, since every food and magazine stand sells them.

    I used to take dried mangoes, but having something so delicious within such an easy reach was dangerous, so I nixed it. My last long flight I took a small package of trail mix (just nuts, pumpkin seeds, and dried cranberries), a granola bar, a cut up apple, and some baby carrots. All things that would fill me up but not make me feel uncomfortable while sitting around for long periods of time.

  2. Sarah says:

    I try to pack things that dont require me to touch them- when youve been travelling all day and your handsanitizer just doesnt feel clean enough- its good to have foods that dont require you to get your hands all in them. I like hommade granola bars (wrapped in clingwrap or foil), or bananas, or a small sandwich (like bread w/ peanutbutter). The usually fly from coast to coast, so I usually just eat during my connection, and maybe once on the actual plane. Yes, airport food is expensive, so bring some extra fruit or something from home! Cheers :)

  3. Msjuju says:

    I take oatmeal packets! The airlines always have hot water, and although I usually eat it in a paper cup with 2 stirrers, it beats the soggy (and questionable) sausage, pancake and egg breakfast on long international flights.

  4. Flying and eating always seems like a problem with me and my family. Kids want to take junk that they see once we get past the gate while my wife and I are wanting to take healthy snacks. It is rare we take long flights, but when we do a flight picnic may have to be made.

  5. stephanie says:

    I love the oatmeal tip for international flights!!! Great idea!!

    And I agree witheveryone else! I love to bring dried fruit, flattened bananas, and sometimes some yogurt with some granola!

  6. grossesse says:

    Really inspired by this article. Had looked up the possibility of taking a cargo ship to Chile last year. The other problems for a blogger like myself is the high costs of satellite phones on cargo ships and that you may not be able to get home in an emergency until the ship docks at the next port. Love to give it a go though.

  7. Kathy says:

    These are all great tips. I have also taken bagels with peanut butter, they do not need to be kept cold. Have used the trail mix and bananas also. The airport food is not only expensive, but usually is not very tasty.

  8. Joe says:

    As a backpacker, I have lots of ideas about portable food. If you want something hot to take with you, check out for recipes that you assemble at home, then just add hot water. I make a great dehydrated spaghetti sauce!

  9. Linda says:

    My favorite thing to pack is a Martha Stewart trick- A hot or cold baked sweet potato wrapped in foil.
    Peeled boiled eggs with sea salt and fresh ground pepper in a snack-sized plastic bag or
    natural almonds are other favorites of mine.

  10. BonjourC2 says:

    Ever save those empty chinese take-out soup containers? I fill it with cereal and ask for a cup of milk when I'm on board. Microwaveable soups and pasta like Campbells and Chef-boy-ardee are also great. Just ask the attendent to heat it up.Best part, no cooler needed and you have a hot meal.

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