About to jet off on your summer holidays or just got back? While I've no doubt the majority of your brain space is taken up dreaming about sun, sea and sand, if you're anything like me, you might also be thinking about what to eat on the plane.
Hopping on a flight often marks the first day of the holiday, after all, and there's nothing worse than arriving feeling lethargic, sluggish, or just plain unwell. That's where thinking about the foods you're eating comes in - by no means a cure-all, but certainly a way to leave your body (and often immune system) feeling their best.
Trust me on this one - I'm a Health Editor who, although mindful of how I travel and how many flights I take a year, flies for both work and leisure occasionally. I'm also someone who bloats easily and often gets off a flight feeling pretty rubbish, and so have spoken to many an expert over my seven-year career about how, exactly, to exit that air cabin feeling the best I can.
Keen to read my formula for fail-safe eating on a plane? Keep scrolling and don't miss our guides to what to eat before a flight and how to get rid of a bloated stomach after flying, while you're at it.
Eating on a plane can be complicated - not thanks to this handy trick
1. Opt for east-to-digest, snack-like meals
According to Jo Woodhurst, Head of Nutrition for Ancient & Brave, going for small, easy-to-digest meals and snacks is key to feeling your best.
I like to take a Tupperwear containing the following:
- Vegetable sticks - anything like cucumber, carrot, celery, pepper, or radish
- Nuts, if the plane will allow you to take them on board - almonds, cashews or Brazil nuts
- A side salad - normally spinach, rocket and some seeds
- Cheese cubes
- A wholegrain carbohydrate - pumpernickel bread, seed crackers, or oat cakes.
Woodhurst confirms that this is a great option, adding: "Opt for protein-rich snacks such as homemade trail mix, flaxseed crackers, or greek yoghurt, seeds and berries."
Registered nutritionist Clarissa Lenherr agrees, adding that nuts and seeds are a source of healthy fats, protein, and fibre, key for staying satiated and energised, and eating water-packed fruits and veggies contributes to your hydration levels.
Of course, there are also plenty of times when I get caught out and don't have time to prep anything before I fly (we're all human, after all).
When this happens, I normally pop to Pret at the airport and pick up a few of their vegetable pots. My favourites are their egg and spinach pot and chicken, avocado and edamame protein bowl.
Of course, if you're flying long haul this won't be enough to sustain you, so you might want to order one of the in-flight options here. While they're not the most nutrient-dense, pre-ordering the vegetarian or vegan in-flight option can at least be a nifty way to ensure your meal is made fresh.
2. Focus on hydration
Sounds obvious, but our bodies need even more water than usual when travelling. Why? Well, as Woodhurst explains, "Research points to a loss of around two litres of water during a long-haul flight. This, alongside low air pressure and low humidity levels in the cabin, can leave you dehydrated and feeling lousy."
Not to mention the impact dehydration has on our immune system. "Already with a lot to deal with on a flight, our immune system uses a key defence - our mucus membranes - to trap and filter our airborne bacteria and viruses," explains the pro. When we become dehydrated, our mucus membranes become dry, leaving us vulnerable."
Consuming plenty of water while on board helps counteract the drying conditions on planes that lead to brain fog, fatigue, swelling, dry and lacklustre skin and bloodshot eyes, she goes on.
Not a water fan? Try this: "Increase your water intake with frequent sips, rather than glugging down glassfuls," advises Woodhurst.
Some people also find infusing water with mint, berries, citrus or cucumber makes the taste more enjoyable.
3. Up your electrolytes
Did you know? When your body needs hydrating, sometimes it's important to look beyond the water and supplement. "Electrolytes can also be lost when you experience water loss coupled with poor food choices," explains the nutritionist. Why are these important, then? Well, "electrolytes are essential minerals such as sodium, potassium, magnesium, and calcium that play a vital role in the functions of your body."
I always take electrolytes with me when I travel - great for post-sweaty long runs at my destination and feeling my best while on the move. My go-to is the ARTAH Cellular Hydration blend.
That said, if you'd rather not invest in a supplement you're not sure you'll get on with, a cheap and easy way to up yours is to add a pinch of salt to your water. "Coconut water also naturally contains some electrolytes," she continues.
4. Opt for seaweed thins
Stick with us on this one. While you may not normally opt for seaweed thins as a snack, flying makes us crave sweet and salty snacks.
One of Lenherr's favourite snacks when flying is seaweed thins, a snack rich in essential vitamins and minerals. "Seaweed thins are great at satisfying your craving for a crunchy snack, making them a healthier alternative to crisps and other ultra processed snacks," she shares.
Of course, if you do fancy crisps or the like, go for it. You're on holiday, after all - just be mindful that they may add to your overall dehydration level if eaten regularly.
5. Be mindful of foods that will irritate your gut
Yep - in an ideal world, there are a few foods you should avoid eating while flying. Read: beans, pulses and spices. "They can be irritating for the gut and cause bloating," shares Woodhurst.
Of course, if you fancy a spicy chickpea salad pre-flight, go ahead - balanced eating is all about listening to your body and honouring your own cravings. Just know they have the potential to cause discomfort at some point down the line.
Similarly, Lenherr warns against fizzy drinks - "they contain high volumes of the gas carbon dioxide, which ends up in your digestive system," she explains. "Some of this gas can get trapped which can cause cramping and uncomfortable bloating" - and super salty snacks - "snacks high in sodium can contribute to dehydration, which is already a concern in the dry cabin air."
Shop my favourite travel essentials now:
You might think this is a high price point for a lunchbox - it is - but I've had mine for around six years now and it never fails to disappoint. It never leaks and is ideal for plane carry-on snacks or lunch.
Promising to be a convenient, effective and natural way to help alleviate stress headaches and tension, as well as ease anger and frustration, I'm a fan of these little patches. They're easy to apply and help ease any flight anxiety.
Can I bring my own food on a plane?
Yes, you can - and it can sometimes be a great way to save money if you're not a fan of airline food and would rather avoid expensive options at the airport.
According to the official TSA website, you're allowed to take solid food items can be taken in carry-on or checked luggage.
While you can take liquid or gels in checked luggage, any items larger than 100g can't be taken in hand luggage. While we all love a houmous pot, chances are you won't get it through security so best to leave at home.
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Ally Head is Marie Claire UK's Health, Sustainability, and Relationships Editor, eight-time marathoner, and Boston Qualifying runner. Day-to-day, she works across site strategy, features, and e-commerce, reporting on the latest health updates, writing the must-read health and wellness content, and rounding up the genuinely sustainable and squat-proof gym leggings worth *adding to basket*. She regularly hosts panels and presents for things like the MC Sustainability Awards, has an Optimum Nutrition qualification, and saw nine million total impressions on the January 2023 Wellness Issue she oversaw, with health page views up 98% year on year, too. Follow Ally on Instagram for more or get in touch.
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