What I eat on planes

This is another one of those posts I do when the questions on a particular topic roll in too thick and fast for me to respond to on an individual basis. Every time I travel somewhere I cop this one: but what do you eat in the air?

Image via Favim.com
Image via Favim.com

I’ve covered off what I eat when I’m travelling, that is, what I eat in foreign countries when I don’t have access to a kitchen and familiar foods.

I’ve also touched on what I eat on the run, including toting my breakfast and lunch to work. But today we’re going to cover air travel in all its hyper-packaged, processed, over-salted glory.

I mostly don’t eat on domestic routes

On short flights I simply don’t eat. Honestly, all of us can survive 1-2 hours without food. Snacking is a confection of the food industry to get us eating more of their food. Up until the 1990s common wisdom was to eat three square meals a day. This is what our bodies are designed to do. They like to rest a good 4-5 hours between meals. But in the early 90s nutritionists modified this to the “5-6 small meals a day” prescription in response to their client’s crazy blood sugar issues (from eating too many sugars and cheap carbs).

My issue with snacking is also this: snack food is mostly crappy. And always so on planes.

Know this:

Because our sense of taste dilutes at altitude, plane food is jammed with extra flavourings and salt.

On international flights

On long flights, or if my transit and flying time is right on a meal time, I will generally pack my own food and eat it at the airport or mid-flight. This is what I do:

  • I use up veggies that will go off in the fridge while I’m away. I chop up red capsicum, beans, snow peas etc and put in a ziplock bag (these can be rinsed out, dried and rolled up taking up less room in my suitcase than a lunchbox). I tend to always have a wedge of avocado or cheese lying around. I put that in the bag, too (I always eat fat with veggies). A few lettuce leaves or witlof leaves are helpful for wrapping everything together. And this tip from Sarah Britton: “If you are going to eat greens, stick to romaine. Spinach, butter lettuces, and mixed greens wilt and get soggy.”
  • My Paleo Inside Out Bread is a rippa. Sometimes I add a slice of cheese and some tomato from the Club lounge buffet. Or I’ll use some on-board butter. You’ll find the recipe in I Quit Sugar For Life.
  • A meffin is a great option (a meat muffin). You can find a recipe for such a thing in I Quit Sugar.
  • Some frozen chicken bits. Again, in a ziplock. I always have some in my freezer from making soups and slow cooker chicken. It will have thawed by the time you board and you can team it with the onboard cheese and crackers if you want.
  • Cucumbers. No cutting required, full of water, cool-as.
  • On longer domestic flights I make a green smoothie. Again, I take whatever’s leftover in the fridge, blend and place in a canister or glass jar. I make it extra thick so it won’t spill and add water once on the flight. I then use the canister/jar as my water container for the trip. Here’s some smoothie recipes if you’re stuck.
Anti-inflammatory green smoothie
My favourite green smoothie
  • Super thick dips. In part so they don’t spill, in part because on international flights liquids aren’t allowed and unless it’s stodgy thick, it will be confiscated at security. Simply add some chia seeds to a recipe to thicken things up.
  • Avoid sticky fruit. Oranges etc require napkins etc.
  • I don’t buy little packets of things. As much as those little nut butter sachets etc are handy, I can’t bring myself to add to the packaging disaster on planes.
  • If you make a sandwich, go for a wrap instead so you can secure the bottom in paper/cling wrap and it doesn’t fall out on your lap.
  • Better still, go for some Meal-in-a-biscuit crackers
  • I take a large empty bottle. On the other side of security I fill it up with water. On the plane, I ask the cabin crew to fill my bottle with their main bottle, rather than wasting the smaller ones.

For every hour you are flying, drink at least 500ml / 17oz. of water and drink a stack before you leave for the airport.

Try a chia pudding, too
Try a chia pudding, too
  • Don’t bring sardines. I did once and it was awkward. Which is to say, don’t bring stinky food.
  • Nice teabags. Planes generally don’t have chamomile or green tea.
  • I generally supplement these bits with a bit of plane food (see below) on long flights where I’m in the air for a full day.

When I do eat the plane food

Sometimes I’m stuck, or it’s a long flight, or I’m on a return flight, and so I eat plane food.

  • Choose the main meal with the least sauce. Sauces are full of sugar and crap.
  • Choose the main meal that has the cheap carbs to the side which will will leave you feeling heavy and stodged up and blood-sugar-crazed. Eat the protein and veg only.
  • Eat the fruit and cheese. Possibly your best bet – no added nasties.
  • Don’t eat sugar. It dehydrates, leaves you stodged up, sees you hankering for more food and, as it’s not being burnt off, mucks with your metabolism majorily.
  • Ask for nuts. Economy class mostly don’t serve nuts (due to allergies!?). But business class will generally have a stash and a nice steward will grab some for you.
  • Avoid the soy snacks. They’re full of crap. Avoid everything else in a packet…check out the list of ingredients on most of them to see what I mean.
  • Don’t do the dressing.
  • Don’t order the gluten-free meal. Unless you’re coeliac. Mostly you can avoid crappy carbs on the standard offerings. Plus, for some reason, gluten-free meals come with low-fat soy milk, margarine and other nasty alternatives. I think it might be the same for the vegetarian option?

Take a wastage stand. Please.

Tragically, airlines must turf anything perishable not consumed on the flight. Even the things with 2304928 layers of wrapping between the food and us. So, devastatingly, saying, no to the plane food won’t be saving the planet directly. However, there are a few thing that are not turfed, that you can say no to:

  • the plastic cutlery packets
  • the stupid napkins they bring with everything
  • cups and plastic glasses (if you’re given one, hang on to it the entire flight and reuse)
  • water bottles
  • the soy snacks from the bar cart

But bear in mind: once you touch it, even if you haven’t opened it, it has to be tossed.

I also like to think that by turning down the food, it lowers demand. Wishful thinking, perhaps.

Actually, perhaps some of you might know if there are other ways we can waste less on a plane?

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