The golden age of air travel, when inflight dining was something to happily anticipate, is so far behind us that it almost seems fictional. Unless you’re in business class or first class, or on a long international flight, you probably won’t be served a meal. Some flights don’t even offer food to buy, and if you don’t bring something to eat, you’ll have to feed yourself with miniature bags of pretzels and a box of tomato juice. Don’t expect restaurants or airport concessions to save you either. The options there are generally disappointing and overpriced, and they may make you feel worse on landing.
As a frequent flyer, I’ve learned to pack something decent to snack on on longer flights – something that controls my hunger but doesn’t fill me up so much that I might get sick to my stomach if we encounter turbulence or if we feel uncomfortably bloated when I arrive. Now that we are traveling more as the pandemic seems to be waning, I wanted to switch up the snack game. So I turned to six professional chefs to find out what they bring. Follow this advice and you’ll never go hungry at 35,000 feet again.
Improve your fluids
Always have a durable water bottle. Many airports now have gas stations, usually near water fountains, so you can fill up after going through security.
But you don’t need to stop there. Pastry chef Paola Velez, co-founder of Bakers Against Racism and host of Food & Wine’s “Pastries With Paola” video series, likes to add Liquid IV hydration booster and Immune Support powder to her water. “It’s basically an energy drink,” she says. “It helps me stay hydrated and feel good.”
If caffeine is your thing and you want to lift your spirits without sticking to the Starbucks or Dunkin’ lines, there are both iced tea and coffee powders. Civilized and Cusa make cold brew instant coffee granules that turn simple H20 into telltale fuel. Of course, you can always bring sachets of your favorite tea, coffee or chocolate drink and request heated water on the plane.
Create bento boxes
For “Top Chef” star Bryan Voltaggio, chef at Thacher & Rye and Showroom in Frederick, Maryland, compartmentalized and covered bento boxes are the key to a successful outdoor snack. They allow him to organize a variety of tasty bites and create a multitude of flavor combinations, which makes snacking interesting in the long run. “I’ll make a selection of salumi, a few cheeses, crackers, pretzels and maybe some homemade hummus,” he says. “That’s all I want.”
The sandwiches satisfy
When the flight lasts more than a few hours – like a nonstop cross-country from DC to Los Angeles – Voltaggio carries something more substantial to support itself. A homemade sandwich offers a comforting taste of home that will fill almost as much as a meal. His favorite combinations include sunflower butter and cream cheese (“Sounds weird, but trust me,” he says); turkey with avocado and bacon; and chicken salad topped with mustard, chopped dill pickles and lots of freshly cracked black pepper.
Gluten-free seed breads are great for long flights because they fill you up and are packed with protein, fiber, healthy fats, and nutrients. Because brick-shaped breads are so dense, you don’t have to stop at sandwiches. Consider using them to make sweet or savory open sandwiches. You can try nut butter and a little honey; roast turkey and Swiss cheese with mustard and mayonnaise; or ricotta topped with sliced cherry tomatoes, fresh basil, cracked pepper and Maldon sea salt.
On the plane, Diego Oka, executive chef of La Mar by Gastón Acurio in Miami, is passionate about Japanese onigiri (rice balls covered in seaweed). Her favorite dishes are served with miso-seasoned pork or umeboshi (salted Japanese plum). “They’re meant to be eaten at room temperature, they’re perfectly packaged, and they’re convenient,” he says. “You can just throw them in a bag and you don’t need utensils.”
Nuts on nuts
All the chefs are big fans of nibbling nuts. Because nuts are packed with protein, they satisfy hunger for a longer period of time than other options. Velez loves cashews, especially in Larabar products. For Voltaggio, Marcona almonds are king, especially when mixed with Old Bay seasoning or rosemary cut from his garden. When Chef Nina Compton of Compère Lapin and Bywater American Bistro in New Orleans wants something sweet but still healthy, she’ll choose a nut-rich Kind bar.
If sodium is your weakness, a five-hour flight seems like the perfect excuse to crush a mega bag of Ruffles or a box of Cheez-Its. However, the chefs suggest slightly healthier savory snacks. Velez takes a look at PopCorners — triangular chips somewhat similar to popcorn — which come in three flavors: sea salt, white cheddar and popcorn. Or she’ll bring plantain chips, as she finds they help her feel full longer than other chips. Voltaggio always wraps a few strips of biltong (beef sausage). “I love the chewy texture, and it has a bit more fat in it, so it’s not dry,” he says. “Plus, it’s tasty and high in protein.”
Don’t forget the fruit
A container of freshly cut fruit can be pure pleasure at cruising altitude, providing a touch of natural sweetness and hydration. Dried fruits may not pack the water content, but they still contain plenty of fructose to help soothe your sweet tooth. Velez always travels with Pure Organic Layered Fruit Bars. “I’m hypoglycemic, so if my sugar goes down, I can get it back up quickly,” she says.
Refreshing pico de gallo
Iliana de la Vega, chef and co-owner of El Naranjo in Austin and a finalist for this year’s James Beard Award for Best Chef in Texas, whips up fresh pico de gallo to sustain her on her travels. While you can use any fruit and veg you have on hand to make the salsa, she prefers large, easy-to-scoop chunks of jicama, cucumbers, oranges, grapefruit, radishes, mangoes, and pineapple. Quickly toss everything together with salt and chili powder to taste, and pack lime slices to squeeze when ready to eat. “It’s refreshing and not heavy on the stomach,” she says. “And there’s no need for a fork. You can just reach for a piece of whatever you want whenever you feel like it.”
Customize your trail mix
Can’t decide if you want to bring something salty or sweet? Prepare a mix of nuts, seeds, dried fruit pieces and small candies, such as M&M’s, chocolate chips or Reese’s Pieces, as you like. There’s plenty of protein for nourishment and plenty of sugar for a quick rush.
Toblerone: Available everywhere at airports. Photo: Alamy
Isn’t a metal tube full of aliens cruising around 800 km/h above the Earth’s surface your happy place? Treat yourself to something to look forward to by bringing a special treat to enjoy. Some of my favorites are Cretors caramel popcorn, a mixed bag of Sockerbit gummies, or a crunchy Toblerone bar with salted almonds.
Especially when traveling alone, I slip a few individually wrapped candies, like small bags of M&M’s or miniature chocolate bars, into my carry-on to share with my seatmates. I don’t always have the interest or time for conversations on long flights, but when I do, giving a small gift creates an instant icebreaker. It can start a dialogue that gives me the opportunity to see a new perspective, hear an unusual story, or just have a moment of connection.
Growing up, Sara Bradley — a “Top Chef” star who owns Freight House in Paducah, Kentucky — had a tradition of buying special snacks at the airport to celebrate her travels. She still buys her longtime favorites: anything spicy for bagels, Twizzlers and a can of root beer, if she can find one at the airport. “Even if I’m on a stressful trip – I just have to fly somewhere, be there for a day, then come right back – these snacks chill me, because they take me back to childhood.”
Spice up Your Life
Sometimes it’s not about the food you bring, it’s about how you season the food you get on your trip, whether it’s during your flight or after. Compton always carries a small container of Jacobsen’s flaky salt and a bottle of Crystal hot sauce; Voltaggio packs a box of Maldon Smoked Sea Salt. I usually carry a little spice kit with me, which includes tiny jars of Urfa biber chiles, merquén (Chilean smoked chiles), za’atar, MSG, and truffle salt. All of these options can turn bland, boring dishes into dishes full of personality and zest.
Whatever you bring to snack on, Voltaggio recommends holding back. You don’t need a full meal. “What’s exciting about traveling are the places I can go, where I try new foods, meet old friends and make new ones,” he says. “The snacks in between are just designed to hold me over until I get to my next good meal.”
The Washington Post
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