On the Table

On the Table: How to eat well if you’re flying

May 14, 2013 

Leave the flying to your airline pilot. But take care of in-flight meals yourself.

Airline food service has changed dramatically in the past several years. Fewer meals and snacks are served, and if you want more than a beverage, you may have to pay extra for it.

Even then, your options may be limited to a snack pack full of candy and chips or a sandwich made with white bread.

Airlines have cut back on special meals, too. Most post information online about how to place pre-trip orders for such options as vegetarian, gluten-free or diabetic meals.

But even if you request a special meal, schedule changes can mean you never see it. It’s tough for people who travel a lot or whose comfort or health depends on consistently eating well.

That’s especially true on long-haul flights. As one colleague who makes regular trips to Africa told me, “It’s 24 hours of bad food.”

She views American carriers as being the worst. “It’s all about the least expensive, nasty foods.”

But you don’t have to fly as far as Africa to be affected. If your travel takes you on more than just short hops, plan ahead to eat as well as possible.

Try these tactics:

• Eat a wholesome, substantial meal before you leave home. You may need nothing more than fluids in flight to hold you until you get to your destination.

• Push fluids. Water, fruit juice, tomato juice, coffee and tea can keep you hydrated and happy.

• Pack portables such as small bags of nuts or dried fruit. Fresh fruit is even better. If you’re traveling overseas, eat it before you land, because regulations may prohibit you from bringing fruit into other countries.

• Don’t eat any foods that don’t meet your standards. Skip soggy, plastic-packaged pastries, refined white rolls, cookies and brownies that you wouldn’t typically eat. Resist the temptation to eat out of boredom.

• Pick and choose from in-flight meals. I often eat the fruit and salad and leave the rest.

Think of it this way: You’re not going to starve. If you must, wait until you get where you’re going and look forward to a good meal then.

Suzanne Hobbs is a registered dietitian and clinical associate professor of health policy and management and nutrition at UNC-Chapel Hill. Reach her at suzanne@onthetable.net; follow her on Twitter, @suzannehobbs.

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