When I was 21, I took my most memorable plane ride (my first international one) to the US and loved it. I loved the little trays of food that magically came at regular intervals and delighted in opening and trying them out one by one. However, over time and with 2 young children, the pendulum for my travel enthusiasm has swung to the other side.
Nowadays I meticulously plan my meal options before, during and after my flights, much to the exasperation and embarrassment of my children. I look at my kids with amusement and the same “been there, done that” expression that my mom looked at me 30 years ago when we used to travel in trains packed with tamarind rice and other south indian dishes.
Here are my common sense ideas to eat healthy while flying:
Domestic Flights (in the US)
1. Do not walk hungry into a plane
The NYTimes states that about 20% of travelers bring a meal or snack to the plane. That means 4/5 people in the plane are thinking, “let’s figure out something to eat once we are in the plane.” Newsflash – Domestic flights will have nothing substantial for you to eat. I have worked with a food supplier to the airline industry and trust me, the US airline industry wants little to do with handling food. They would like to limit meal options to water, soft drinks, chips and the like. Basically, anything with a long shelf life, that requires no heating, cooling or have any cups or plates associated with it.
2. Buy food at the airport instead
You could buy something in the airport. I know, airport food, especially if you are flying out of San Francisco, is expensive. $6.00 for a yogurt, you got to be kidding me!! Add a scone here, coffee there, and you are left scratching your head wondering how did you just spend $48 for snacks for 4 people? But, shove that regret down, you will be in even more pain if you end up eating Lays, m&m’s and coca cola inside the flight. These snacks are deceptive, makes you feel like you ate nothing, adding a lot of calories in the process. You are better off buying real food at the airport than eating junk food on the plane.
3. Pack your own food
You could pack your own food. I know, you are shaking your head, thinking don’t go there, Swetha…Not tamarind rice, idli’s rolled in milagai podi. These, by the way, are fantastic, travel-friendly dishes if you are blessed enough to have someone make them for you. You may also be worried about the impact of opening a traditional smelling dish (delicious to you, I agree) in an enclosed area with other people who may not appreciate your cuisine. But, you can just as easily pack a peanut butter and jelly sandwich before leaving.
If that is also too much to ask, just take fruits to get you through the flight. Banana, apples, washed blueberries, grapes, carrots in a ziploc , do not take much effort, but will appease your hunger until you reach your destination.
International flights –
1. Take out items that do not appeal to you as soon as the tray comes
If not having enough food is the problem for domestic flights; eating all the time may be a problem in international flights. Again, this depends on the airline – we all have our complaints. There was too much food, there was too little food, they ran out of vegetarian food…yada, yada, yada…But, given that all we do in international flights is eat, sleep, go to the bathroom and watch TV for 8-11 hours, there is no reason to eat as though you are carb loading for a marathon (OK yes ..mentally – baggage claim feels like a marathon, you got a point there!! but not physically…)
Once your tray comes, remove the items that you would normally not eat if you were not strapped to your chair. This may feel like a dumb recommendation, but often times since the food is in front of you, you will end up eating it out of sheer boredom. If you have more self-awareness, then great!! If not, try this experiment – remove 2 items you dont want to eat – eg – a dry piece of bread or overly sweet dessert. Place them next to you. Once you finish your meal, you will find yourself drawn to the food items just as a way to pass the time until the flight attendant clears your tray. To avoid this conflict, I either trash the items I don’t like or put them away in a place I can’t see or reach easily.
2. Drink lots of water, avoid the deluge of juice offerings
Flight attendants are always serving us beverages. I am sure they hate that part (justifiably so), more than I do, but there is a reason for that. Planes are a low-humidity environment. The air inside the cabin of a plane usually has a humidity level of 10 to 20 percent — much lower than a comfortable typical indoor humidity of 30 to 65 percent. You will realize this when you see your hands get wrinkly and dry.
Beverage choices usually include juices, water, soda and alcohol. Our efforts to hydrate sometimes feels very self-defeating, as we drink liquids and then go to the tiny bathroom and deal with that tiny airplane “tap” and start the cycle again. So, if you have to use the bathroom, it might as well be for the noble cause of hydrating your body with pure water than any of those other pseudo drinks with added calories. So, avoid juice, soda or alcohol and choose water instead.
3. Skip a meal
There is so little activity in the plane that eating feels like a fun thing to do. If a meal option is not appealing to you, or you are not hungry, skip the meal. Remove the portable portion of the meal – like an apple or a bar, for later when you are actually hungry and eat it then.
Indian domestic flights
Indian domestic flights have a lot more food options than their US counterparts. While having more choices are good, it also makes it easy to choose foods that are quite unhealthy. I took a picture of the menu choices in an Indigo flight. If I had to choose, I would have chosen the hot upma which looks like a really healthy and comforting option.
Indian airplane snack options are also high calorie options like their US counterparts. I would avoid them completely and eat the wonderful hot, idli, dosa available at Dosa Express at the airport instead. When you have steaming hot dosas with 4 chutneys available as conveniently and at the same price as a factory manufactured cookie in a reusable tin can (which you will throw once you get home), why O why would you choose a cookie???
What are your ideas for healthy eating while flying? Any favorite airline food? Post your thoughts below….
Disclaimer: I am not a nutritionist/doctor. These are just common sense guidelines and do not apply to anyone with a health condition. If you have any health condition, follow your doctor’s advise on what you should eat and recommended food timings.