Hanukkah has begin, Christmas and New Years are just around the corner and many of us will be heading to various holiday destinations, traveling close and far via air to visit loved ones (or, get away from relatives). We felt it was fitting to talk a little bit about healthy eating before, during and after the flight.
Let’s face it, most of us are busy as it is during the holiday season, buying gifts, lunch office parties and evening parties with family and friends; the last thing we have time for is to meal prep. Fear not, we at Science and Strength have you covered with our top tips and strategies for any plane ride that will be easy on your stomach, wallet and with minimal effort.
The most common food and travel related issues are:
- Time — you are busy trying to get things in order for your vacation, and have no time to prep any meals.
- Meal Ideas — what to pack in your lunch box, and is home-food even allowed on the plane nowadays?
- Taste — fear that home cooked meals aren’t as tasty as the burger and fries, or pizza I pay premium for at the airport.
- Alcohol – I need a drink to calm my nerves, not because I’m scared but because my kids are driving me bonkers.
Rest assure, we know how you feel as we have battled these very same issues before. In this post, we share our practically tested strategies for a comfortable flight, in reference to food decisions.
- Getting healthy meals together really takes no time at all and can be done by your favourite sandwich bar.
- It’s also cheaper to pack your own food than purchasing a meal on the plane.
- As for taste, Dupinder has first hand experience for how airplane food tastes from first class to budget airlines. She worked many busy summers at a flight kitchen packaging such meals and has tried numerous cuisine options from different airlines — with our tips, your food will triumph any in-flight meal in taste and nutrition.
For a short 2-hour flight, what you eat really isn’t going to matter much but, this is a major consideration for medium to long-haul flights. Before we dive into what to eat, pack and enjoy on the plane, let’s focus on some considerations for your meal prep.
There are 5 areas of health considerations:
- Dehydration – higher altitudes and low moisture content in the airplane cabin—only 10 to 20 percent.
- Gastrointestinal discomfort – gases tend to expand when you’re up in the air.
- Sleep and Rest – if possible it’s always best to take a nap to pass the time and even eat less when possible, as you are burning minimal calories sitting.
- Frequent bathroom trips – most of us would prefer to avoid them on the plane.
- Jet lag – temporary disorder known as flight fatigue experienced by most when traveling various time zones.
Foods that makes you Tinkle
Coffee, tea, dark chocolate — caffeine is a diuretic by drawing water away from the body. It’s best to consume these foods well ahead of your boarding times and use restroom right before getting on the plane.
Acid foods such as oranges, tomatoes, grapefruits have been linked to bowl discomfort that increase restroom visits. If you have an overactive or sensitive bladder then try to substitute these fruits with lower acid content like apples or bananas.
Most beverages – drinking more liquids increases washroom breaks. However, due to pressurized plane cabin causing some dehydration, you may get away by consuming extra water.
Salty, sugary and fatty foods – chips, candy, burger and fries, dry out the mouth cavity and increasing overall thirst. This results in greater fluid consumption to counter the dry mouth feeling.
Foods that make you Gassy
Greasy Fatty Take-outs – burger and fries / Pizza – the body has a hard time as it is digesting foods high in sodium and saturated fats. Now at 35,000 feet up in the air, things can get even worse. These foods have been linked to hindering blood circulation—which elevate their negative effect due to extended sitting position and pressurized cabin. Poor blood circulation leads to swollen limbs, potentially creating blood clots that may be lodged into the brain, lungs and heart.
Processed Carbs – it’s probably best to forgo the mac and cheese before your flight or even during it. Fast absorbing carbs, cause a rapid increase in blood sugar levels, and have been linked to irritable bowl syndrome. Hence, to our surprise on a recent flight we were offered a menu where the choices were mac and cheese, pizza, along with other salty snacks. One would think airlines would do a better job planning meals that serve best their customer’s health. But, like most food industries cheap food is good business. That’s where, as a consumer, you need to make better food choices towards your health while in flight.
Fiber rich foods – Many “experts” state to avoid fiber during a flight but, unless you are eating a bowl full of broccoli with a plate full of coleslaw, from personal experience fiber is not an issue. If you are an avid follower of our blog and cook our recipes your body is likely used to fiber-rich meals. For those who are not accustomed to a high fiber diet—perhaps a long-haul flight may not be a good place to start.
Carbonated beverages and Alcohols like beer – Bubbles in / bubbles out, so to speak. Most sweetened beverages, carbonated water and even beer increase gas. Normally, when on the ground we can walk most of this gas off but when you are sitting for extended periods of time in close quarters this becomes a concern.
A major dietary consideration during air-travel is to be fuelled for the flight and not have an upset stomach or run to the bathroom every hour. So, here’s a list on what to eat Before, During and After you flight to keep your digestive health and maximize on a stress-free journey as much as possible.
Meals Before you Board
Food considerations prior to the flight: food choices shall be quick and easily prepped with few dishes to clean afterwards.
You should choose slow digestive options, keeping you full and steadily energized during the three plus hour wait at the airport prior to boarding. For most international flights, it is advised to arrive at least three hours before your departure time. Eating at home just prior to leaving will decrease overall travelling stress, while you check-in the luggage, pass through customs and await for the boarding call.
A slowly digestible meal before arriving at the airport will keep you full, blood-sugar levelled, providing sustainable energy levels for you to relax and enjoy the beginning of your trip.
If you have the time try these options pre-boarding the plane:
Early morning Flight
Option 1: Night before: If your flight is early in the morning and eating breakfast at home is not an option for you, pack some: oats in a plastic container, washed fruit (berries, whole apple, banana), some nuts (walnuts) and boil some eggs (cool and place in fridge overnight)
In the morning, make a quick coffee/tea in a travel mug and take your food packed the night before.
Homemade breakfast on the go:
Once you have cleared customs:
Head on over to a coffee shop for large cup or 2 of hot water and a small cup of milk.
Use hot water, add in your oats, cover and cook for a few minutes.
Also, drop in the cold boiled eggs in a separate cup to warm up.
Finish the oats with milk, chopped fruit and nuts.
Enjoy alongside the warm eggs.
Option 2: Have on hand some whole grain bagels, bread or a warp; eggs and some veggies (small diced) in the fridge for the next day. Pack some apples, bananas, nuts and seeds.
In the morning of flight — quickly scramble some eggs, with the chopped veggies and sprinkle with cheese if desired. Wrap up the egg scramble in bread of choice, foil it.
Quickly, wash the pan.
Take your packed fruit and nuts alongside and enjoy while waiting in line or even after you’ve cleared customs.
Breakfast opinion for Home:
Have an oatmeal breakfast with boiled eggs mentioned above at home. Quickly rinse the containers, take out the organics and you are set to go!
Lunch and Dinner option:
- Fridge leftovers — Make extra dinner the night before, or clean out whatever is left over to make a quick last minute omelette or sandwich.
- Protein-Rich sandwich — Tuna-salad, Egg-salad or even a Chicken breast sandwich on a whole grain bread is a great option. As a side enjoy some homemade dips — Hummus (recipe coming soon), Roasted Eggplant dip. If you have the room, add-on a green salad with a vinaigrette dressing or even some chopped vegetables (bell peppers, carrots, cucumbers) to go with the hummus.
- Have a nice cup of tea/coffee at home or take it with you in a travel cup—be sure to finish it before crossing customs.
Ideally, if you’ve eaten well during the day—breakfast, lunch and dinner as mentioned above you should be full and set-to-go. It may be wise to eat a healthy meal packed for the flight early in the night before you stop eating and try to get some rest. As with your normal wake/sleep eating schedule, avoid eating or drinking calories during the overnight flight.
Protein-Rich Sandwiches – These taste delicious and keep you full. Can be made the night before and kept in the fridge or, right before leaving.
It is easily tempting, when you can smell the high fat and cheese food cart pushed along the aisle. Before committing to these empty calorie options, remember the feeling that such foods create in your stomach after consumption. Such foods quickly develop irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) symptoms as you quickly take a cue along the line up for the airplane bathroom.
Homemade sandwich doesn’t have to be boring and can also excite your senses:
- Choose a bread of choice – croissant, multi-grain, ciabatta, a wrap, the options are endless.
- Lean protein – chicken breast, good quality cold-cuts: turkey, chicken, roast beef.
- Sauces – forgo the sauce. The high altitude, pressurized cabin has an affect on your palate and you are likely unable to even taste the sauces.
- Cheese – a medium to mild cheddar cheese on the sandwich works well to add a little bit of salty and creamy flavour next to you lean-meats and softness of the bread.
No time to make a sandwich!
No worries, head on over to your favourite sandwich shop, a better choice is a grocery store with a deli that makes sandwiches. Avoid fast-chain sandwich stores as many used ingredients are packed with empty calories. Selection within the grocery store deli sections tend to be more fresh and overall better quality than a take-out sandwich place.
2. Whole fruits and vegetables
Oranges – if acid is not a problem
Whole/chopped/sliced — bell peppers, cucumbers, carrots
3. Trail mix made with the following ingredients or, Nuts and Seeds (pack nuts in a separate bag/container)
Walnuts, almonds, cashews
Pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds
Few raisons or craisons for sweetness
Few small pieces of dark chocolate
popcorn – low salt and sugar are best options.
4. Homemade energy or protein bars
avoid nuts due to passenger allergy concerns
Small vanilla yogurt container (100g) is likely allowed if it meets the liquid/size requirement of 3.4oz. But, be ready to throw it out if it doesn’t. These are excellent for kids or even grownups for a quick sweet tooth satisfaction.
6. Dry cereals
As a treat for kids or even adults, pack some dry cereals that can be added to the yogurt or enjoyed on its own for a crunch satisfaction. Choose low sugar and salt, and high fiber variety.
There is nothing wrong with packing a little treat. A small chocolate bar, a muffin or pastry is a good option for a long-haul flight. But, you may want to keep treats to a minimum as they are often high in sugar thus spiking blood-sugar levels and keeping you AWAKE. So, if sleep is important, keep your treats consumption after your nap, or when you are about to land.
8. Alcohol – keep this to a minimum as alcohol is linked to disrupting sleep patters, and in excess rowdy behaviour. Also, beverages like beer lead to more gas and frequent urination. The cheep tasting wine and overpriced beer offered on the plane really isn’t worth the price nor the calories. So, save them both for your vacation and enjoy that drink at your final destination.
For relaxation, try meditation or java-style music — works wonders for when your kids are screaming or kicking the chair of the front passenger seat (Been there done that! Then bought a tablet for each child to keep them entertained in flight ;-).
The above meals should do nicely for a flight upwards of 6 hours. For longer hauls, just pack twice as much. We at the S&S household take our lunch boxes with us on the plane. Victor, Dupi, Heidi and Kelly have the above meals nicely packed in our own carry-ons.
Rules, Regulations and some friendly Advice
Most countries have their own rules and regulations as to what can come on the plane in your carry-on. Be sure to check travelling country’s air transport security agency website, here’s a link to the Canadian rules and regulation.
Regardless, most countries have strict TSA liquids and gels policy. When applied to carry-on food, this means you should not bring yogurt, applesauce, hummus or soup in containers over 3.4oz. Even containers of jelly, peanut butter, fruit cups in syrup, pudding and Jell-O are forbidden.
From personal experience, we have taken on-board small yogurt containers for the kids, as well as yogurt/cottage cheese mix for Victor—that customs cleared and we were allowed to bring such food options on board.
Avoid strong smelling foods. The airplane cabin is pressurized and any smell can travel long and far—as there is no place to escape. Below are some foods to avoid for yourself as well as your neighbours enjoyment.
- Fish – tuna cans and even fish sandwiches carry a strong, lasting smell. Neither you or your neighbour should be exposed to that.
- Strong cheeses – same reasoning as above.
- Nut butters — with more and more people having a nut allergy this is becoming a major concern. Recently, we were on a flight and informed not to open and/or consume any nut products and none will be served during flight due to extreme nut allergy of one of the passengers.
Food Allergies — ask if your neighbours have any food allergies as you brought your own meals.
Share – We often don’t think about this but it’s a really good thing that’ll make your flight experience better. If you are sitting next to someone for an extended period of time, AND HAVE EXTRA FOOD, share a little bit of your snack (if you only brought enough for yourself and know you will finish it all, no need to offer). Breaking bread is the best way to start a friendship or at least avoid the discomfort from having to ask them: if you can borrow their pen, squeeze by to use the washroom or, even possibly watch a movie alongside them on their iPad.
Eat it or Toss it – If you are on an international flight, the likelihood of your destination of arrival customs confiscating your food is high. Most countries have strict rules on foods that can be brought into their country. So, it is wise to only bring enough food for the plane, share extra with your neighbours, and leave the rest on the plane or in the garbage before crossing customs. Otherwise, you risk the chance of being pulled aside, wait in a separate line with tired kids while answering questions about a banana you’re brining into Mexico (Been there, learnt that!)
After you Land at your destination
Following food advice within this article should produce minimum jet-lag. This physical and mental fatigue accumulates throughout flight due to changes in time zones, schedules as well as eating and sleeping patters. Eating as recommended above and getting some rest during flight will avoid any of the frequent stomach issues, leaving you healthy, energized and ready to enjoy a well deserved vacation.
In this article we discussed food options regarding in-flight that will maximize on personal digestive health and rest, while limiting overall stress during travelling. Homemade food choices will benefit your body wellbeing and overall travel experience.
Packing healthy and nutritious meals can be quick, easy and wallet friendly. Plane and airport meals are take-out boxes filled with empty calories that cost top dollar. Saved money from pepping home meals can be spent elsewhere, like activities during your vacation stay.
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