Traveling internationally can be a food nightmare- especially for people with food sensitivities, motion sickness or other travel anxieties, and for those who suffer when blood sugar is too low. Some airlines have reliable meal service in terms of quality and nutrition, but your best bet is usually to assume the worst and prepare to subsist only on your own supplemental foods for this temporary period. My personal list of favorites are at the end of the post!
On our flight to and from New Zealand last year on New Zealand air, I have to say that I was pleasantly surprised by the breakfast and dinner served on the plane. I couldn't eat all of it (there were hearty portions of yogurt and cheese and other dairy-based foods) but I picked out the parts I could eat, like chicken stir fry for dinner and the egg omelet for breakfast and made do. On a 13 hour flight from LA, you take whatever you can get! My tips on a peaceful, happy-belly trip of any duration are below.
When making your reservation If there are any options to work around major food sensitivities and allergies, make sure you select those options when booking. Food sensitivities are taken very seriously as being on a plane is quite an unfortunate place to need emergency medical care. So, even if you have a minor sensitivity or even just a preference that can be accommodated, take it, and don't feel bad about it.
Before you go to the airport The first step in preparing for a long flight is to make sure that you're properly hydrated and fed prior to getting on the plane. Even if that means eating a full three course dinner at 4:30am when you're not really that hungry. For me, this goes a long way to helping me stay satiated through the first part of the flight - the part, for me, when I get the most nauseated from motion sickness. Counterintuitively, having something in my belly (not overly stuffed, but also not complaining of hunger) helps me from becoming sick. For some people, that isn't the case, and an empty belly works better for them. If that is the case, time your last meal appropriately but still make it quite satiating.
At the airport Make sure you have an empty water bottle to refill past the security checkpoint, or be OK paying a hundred bucks for a new bottle of water from Hudson News. I've found that there are new water fountains that pour (quickly) directly into a standing water bottle in most airports all over the place. So you don't have to mess with the crazy sputtering water fountain or spend a fortune. Drink up. If you're in between long legs of flights, either have a bite to eat at the airport (international wings typically have the best food!) or get some to go. Prioritize foods that are high in protein and fiber to help keep you fuller longer. High carb meals will send you into a sugar crash later (aka: hangry zone). And, if you are so inclined, you can be courteous to other passengers and opt for the least offensive smelling foods available.
Bring with you on the plane Your contingency of snack items, which should include enough for the flight there and back, and also some extra for when you're at your destination - you have to assume that there will be times you want a little something when nothing is available in a foreign country. When traveling internationally, be careful about opening large packages of food - they will likely not allow them through customs on the other side. My Kirkland Steak Strips (featured below) were confiscated at the New Zealand airport after only eating 10% of the bag on the plane. Fortunately, we had two additional unopened bags with us so I was sad, but I didn't cry. I have since gotten wise and pack individual servings, the amount that I believe I will consume on the plane so that it's gone or nearly gone when I arrive which means less waste, or, I find items that are individually packaged commercially, so that on arrival the items are not open unless I've consumed them.
My current favorites
RXBAR - even for non-traveling situations I love these protein packed bars because most flavors have 5 ingredients or less, are completely natural, and are high in protein and moderate in fat content. The fat that comes from the almonds in these bars helps me feel full for a long time. It's also difficult for me to find bars that are dairy free, and these are not only dairy free, but also gluten free and soy free. Blueberry and Chocolate Coconut are my favorite flavors!
This is the perfect example of an individually commercial packaged item. So, I'll bring one for the plane there, one for the plane back, and a few for the trip itself.
Kirkland Steak Strips - My favorite Costco item. It's not organic (sigh), but since that is secondary on my list of must-haves to high protein and avoiding chemical additive ingredients, these are A-OK with me! Check out these incredible nutrition facts for a snack that will settle a hungry belly for hours and hours. Downside: the package is enormous - I take a ziplock of what I think I'll eat on the plane, and one (or three obv) unopened bag on the plane for while I'm at my destination plus on the way home.
Trader Joe's Scandinavian Swimmers - no, I'm not perfect and I don't always eat healthy shit. I love sugar, in fact, and while I eat it in moderation, I don't ever eliminate it entirely. Which means, my cravings for a frozen yogurt at the airport are going to be a real struggle and as a dairy product, I would be remiss to not preempt such cravings by having something sweet with me. Choose your battles! I love these TJ's gummies because they are the first brand of gummies I've found (G actually found them for me, praise!) that are not $5 per ounce and do not have any unnatural dyes. Anytime you see Red 40, Yellow 5 (and 6), or Blue 1 (or any such color and number combo, I would be weary of) run. Run away! These chemical food dyes contain compounds such as benzidine and 4-aminobiphenyl that research has linked with cancer as well as allergies, hyperactivity, learning impairment, irritability and aggressiveness in children. Now, I totally get that everything we eat has the potential to be deadly to us and we can't avoid every potential bad thing always, but anytime I can make a simple substitution, like TJ's gummy lobsters for Swedish Fish, I'm going to go ahead and do that.
I am super crazy for these - they satisfy my sweet tooth, don't have any chemicals in them, and are the only gummies that won't break your wallet. Ignore the nutrition facts. I am in denial that a serving size is 9 pieces. Eek.