How to set yourself up for success by traveling on a plane with your favorite gluten free food (and avoid being hangry or risk cross-contamination).
There are over 44,000 flights per day in the air, which means that millions of people in these airports must eat at some point. Yes, there’s food after security, but those options may not be something you want to eat. Then you throw in some cross-contact from a new (or poorly trained) employee and bam–you’re in the midst of an attack thousands of feet in the air, away from the comfort of your own bed. No Bueno. So, as someone who has specific dietary needs and has had one too many contamination incidents, you may start wondering how you will survive a flight. Those of us who flew before 9/11 understand life without strict regulations on a commercial flight in the states. These days, airport security has specific regulations on what we can and can’t bring on board. It’s not as hard as you may think. Just don’t plan a three-course meal that requires knives. Think handheld, portable snacks. Typically, you just need to ensure that any liquids you carry on are less than 3.4 oz. That means that, as long as your item is not a liquid or gel, you can probably bring along almost any snack (or meal) of your choosing. Yes, you can probably bring your own favorite food that’s not contaminated. Here are the essential food items you need for your next fight (even the long ones!).
Sometimes you need a quick trip to the next city for the weekend or to avoid driving. For flights less than 3 hours, you just need the basics.
Nuts – Choose your favorite variety bag from your local grocery store and know that you will have protein over the carbs from the flight snack option. Choose snacks without peanuts so you can still eat if someone on board has a peanut allergy.
Fresh fruit or veggies – Pack some sugar snap peas or your favorite apple. Just make sure to wash ahead of time or cut up oranges ahead of time so your hands aren’t covered in wax. You can thank soccer moms for that trick. Oh, and always add a napkin for your own sanity. The last thing you need is a sticky hand after that fresh apple.
Chips – For those who want a salty snack, chips may be your go-to guide. Classic potato chips by kettle brand are my personal favorite because they offer chips that are certified gluten-free.
Headed cross country or on a journey that includes a meal? Here are my recommendations for then the airline unintentionally fails to meet your gluten-free requirements (always tell your airline about your dietary needs ahead of time). I recommend all the snacks below, so you keep your cool and avoid a hangry interaction.
Sandwiches – These are the bread and butter of any school time lunch. Bring your favorite bread and slap on something that doesn’t need to be refrigerated, like almond butter and spinach (try it!) or your basic turkey swiss. Just make sure to eat that turkey sandwich within 3 hours or you will get the runs. Anyone who has had to take a food handler permit knows that once food gets below a certain temperature, it is not safe to eat. Save your vacation by avoiding perishable sandwiches in your carry on, and if you must have a cold item, make it the first thing you eat. If you have no idea what I mean, read my post about gluten-free camping to get yourself up to speed on life without a nearby fridge. My favorite way to travel with almond butter is with the single-serving packets you can find at your local grocery store. They meet security requirements and don’t take up much room in your bag.
Hummus and your fav veggie – Pack a container with carrots, broccoli or sugar snap peas and less than 3.4 oz of hummus. Some grocery stores sell prepackaged single-serving hummus or dip in small containers, or you can just use your own. Just remember that some security agents will not allow unmarked products through, but prepackaged items are much easier to get approval in security.
Candy – You will get super bored on the flight if a binge-worthy show isn’t available, so take some solid candy to help your blood pressure and cure those cravings. I recommend a dark chocolate bar or sour patch kids. Just keep the candy away from your phone or electronics so it doesn’t melt all over your bag.
You need to tell your airline that you have dietary restrictions for this type of flight. It will completely enhance your experience when the flight attendant serves food you can actually eat. But I know, we live a busy life and our requests may not hit the airline in time. So, here are some options in addition to the ones above:
Cereal – No, you don’t need milk! Just look at any parent of a toddler and you will see their bag of cheerios in hand. A bag of dry cereal will help you get that breakfast mindset when you wake up after a red-eye flight. The airline is probably offering milk anyway. And remember, no peanuts.
Bread – We all know gluten free bread is hard to come by. No joke, sometimes I travel with a loaf just in case my hotel doesn’t have anything available. The hardest part is making sure you don’t smash the loaf. But use your imagination! You can pack muffins, cookies, all sorts of baked goods on a flight. The world is your oyster.
Dried Fruits – This is old news to backpackers and hikers, but dried fruit is such an easy way to pack some extra calories for a flight. My personal favorite is dried mango with chili powder, but apricots, bananas and raisins do well too.
Protein or energy powders – Yes, you can pack your favorite meal replacement shake on a plane! It’s so easy to do, I travel with 2-5 single-serving protein powders when I travel, just in case I can’t eat. The only downside is that you must accept that you may be forced to mix the powder with water. It is the 21st century, but there is never any guarantee that you will be able to find milk (dairy or non) on a flight or past security. And remember your re-usable collapsible cup or empty water bottle!
Traveling with dietary restrictions can be rough, but with the right pre-planning, your next flight will run smooth. Prepackaged food, non-perishable items, and your favorite muffin will keep you sustained until you land. Avoid perishable items that need to stay cold and keep your liquids (this includes nut butter and jams) at the current security requirements. Take your cue from parents of children in sports by pre-planning your snacks and setting yourself up for success. If you are new to eating gluten-free, check out my 7 Day Gluten Free Guide to get your started on your gluten free journey.