Career,  Food,  Healthy Eating "in the Wild",  Snacking

Healthy In-flight Snacking

7 carry-on friendly alternatives to cookies and pretzels

For our family, summertime is travel time. The kids are out of school and the weather is less blizzardy; thus, making it the ideal time to trek across the country to see our far-flung loved ones. With our relatives anywhere from 1100 – 2500 miles away, we find ourselves on several flights every year, just to visit family. Add in work-related trips and the occasional vacation, and I might average a roundtrip flight once a month.

If you travel even a few times a year, I’ll bet you’re familiar with the challenges of eating well while traveling. Often, you can’t control where food comes from, or even when food comes. These two common travel scenarios (ie, the where and when of eating) can really set us up for making food choices that we wouldn’t otherwise make, either because we select the lesser of all evils (think restaurant salad instead of burger and fries) or we’re starving (ie, only had coffee at 5am and now it’s 3pm and I’m going to devour the first thing I see in at the airport).

Stashing a few small snacks that punch above their nutritional weight can make the difference between starting a trip feeling energetic and motivated … or … setting the stage for unhealthy eating and feeling rotten about it for the duration of your trip.

While some airlines offer snacks and meals that are somewhat healthy – they are offering better options all the time – I’ve learned that they vary widely, and, sometimes, the only options are the complimentary cookies or pretzels. Neither the cookies nor the pretzels can stave off my hunger, and they are not part of my healthy eating plan.

So, we’ve established that airline travelers, once at the departing airport, can’t completely control the following:

  1. Where food comes from.
  2. What food is available.
  3. When food will be available.

What can a smart traveler do to add an element of control to this unwieldy food situation? I like to pack as many nutritious and filling snacks into my carry-on or “personal item” as possible. That way, I can pass on the nutritionally deficient in-flight snacks and even avoid a fast-food meal in the terminal. Here are 7 totally packable snacks that I’ve found work for me.

  1. Bag of nuts. Small quantity, high nutrition. Full of good fats and protein, a large handful of nuts can provide a couple hundred calories of sustained energy. Raw or dry roasted are best, because they are less likely to be cooked in oil. By “bag” I mean either a store-bought bag or a ziplock bag that you fill from your bulk nut stash at home. 
  2. (Small) apple. The most rugged of fruits, apples can be jammed into your purse or bag and emerge a few hours (or even days) later largely unscathed. Yes, you can buy them in some airports, but who knows how many people have touched or sneezed on them, where they came from, or what they’ll cost? 
  3. Jerky. Compact, delicious, protein-packed. Be sure to watch for added sugars – some jerkys, especially ones labeled “teriyaki” or, you know “sweet BBQ” have a few added spoonfuls of sugar per serving. Here are some jerky options that forego the unnecessary sweetening of our meat: Tillamook Zero Sugar, Chomps, Steve’s Paleo Goods, Ayoba-Yo
  4. Bars. OK, most protein or meal replacement bars are full of highly-processed and/or refined ingredients. However, from a nutritional perspective (ie, looking at the carb, protein, fat, fiber, and vitamin/mineral breakdown), they are far superior to anything you’ll get handed from the airplane aisle. In addition, these granola-ish bars are exceedingly packable, nonperishable, and can be pretty tasty. I like to pair my (usually) chocolate-flavored bar with a cup of in-flight coffee. Here are some of my favorite options for flights or anytime I might find myself in a food-insecure situation: Kind Protein, Rx Chocolate Sea Salt, Pure Protein bars.
  5. String or other single-serving cheese. No longer just for children, string cheese has grown up – you can now get single-serving cheeses in adult flavors like “peppered cheddar”, and it’s not all “stringy”, the cheese comes in more sophisticated sticks or squares. Nutritionally, a serving of cheese averages 100 calories, around 1 g carbs, 8 – 10 grams of fat and 5 – 7 grams of protein. Not too shabby. And delicious. Try these, and you’ll quickly forget about the string cheese of yore: Tillamook smoked black pepper white cheddar. Note that cheese is meant to be refrigerated, so these snacks need to be eaten within a few hours. 
  6. Trail mix. Be careful with this one, my diligent friends. Commercially-prepared trail mixes are notoriously sneaky about added sugars (especially to dried fruit) and unhealthy oils. For example, almost all dried pineapple, cranberries, even bananas are sweetened. Look for dry-roasted nuts, unsweetened or freeze-dried fruit, and steer away from additions like, ahem, chocolate candy, yogurt chips, etc. Pro tip: buy your favorite raw or dry roasted nuts and unsweetened dried fruit in bulk and mix your own in a large container. Then, when you’re ready to head out, just grab a handful and put it in a baggie. Here’s one option you can buy: Thrive Market Paleo Snack Mix 
  7. Laird Superfood Instafuel In Matcha or coffee flavor, this powdered drink mix can be mixed with hot water (like the kind your friendly flight attendant brings around for tea) to create a creamy, delicious, and healthy alternative to a sugar-laden latte. The mix is made from coconut milk powder and oil, so it’s full of MCTs, and, although there is some added coconut sugar, it’s waaayy less than what a coffee shop matcha would contain. Oh, and the mixes are vegan, gluten-, dairy-, and soy-free.

Next time you’re flying (or driving) for work or play, try one of these snack options and let me know what you think!

Did I miss any healthy travel snacks that you think should be included here? Don’t hesitate to share in the comments, social media, or via email!