Many airlines have cut back on the food they give you in flight, but that doesn't mean you have to starve while you're in the air. There are plenty of snackable items you can bring in your carry-on to tide you over until you get to the next terminal or you arrive at your final destination. Before you start packing those snacks, though, check with the airline first -- some things are forbidden on flights. As you're deciding what nosh to stash, keep courtesy in mind as well. You're going to be stuck in a metal tube with dozens of strangers. Just because you're excited to try the latest offering from your cheese-of-the-month membership (a particularly pungent Camembert ), doesn't mean the person in the seat next to you is going to be equally thrilled.
The next time someone mentions snacks on a plane, you'll be ready to dish up at least 10 good suggestions.
Airlines don't give out those little packets of peanuts anymore, and there's a good reason. Peanut allergies are among the most common food allergies. Reportedly, more than 3 million Americans suffer from an allergy to peanuts, tree nuts or both. Furthermore, this type of allergy can trigger anaphylaxis (an acute, life-threatening allergic reaction) -- in fact, it's the most common cause of fatal food anaphylaxis [source: AAAAI]. It doesn't take much to trigger a reaction. So, consider the close quarters on a plane and leave the peanuts at home.
Granola's a terrific snack for the plane, because it's easy to pack and eat and it's supposed to be pretty healthy, too. Well, it's easy anyway. Actually, despite its historic connection with health food nut John Harvey Kellogg, today's granola comes packed with sugar and fat. There's a wide variety of granola bars available, though, including low fat versions. Of course, if you choose the chocolate covered ones, you aren't fooling anybody. Even the loose cereal contains a lot of calories and sugar, but then again, if you're hungry and stuck in midair, those calories might be just what you need. If you really want to cut down on the sugar, making your own granola is an option. But even if you don't go that route and opt for the regular stuff, the person in the next seat will probably still think you're being healthy.
9. Beef Jerky
Peanuts get all the bad press, but other food allergies can become a problem in flight as well. In 2008, the BBC reported on a flight that had to be diverted after a leaking can of mushroom soup caused a medical emergency [source: BBC]. The bottom line: pack carefully.
OK, this might sound a little crazy, but beef jerky is actually good for you. Well, that is if by "good" in this case, we actually mean "not that bad." It's high in protein, which is exactly what you want to pause those pangs of hunger and grind to a halt that growing -- and somewhat embarrassing -- growl in your gut, and typically, it's low in fat. Check the label, though. Some brands are high in sodium and other preservatives.
If beef isn't your first choice or you're worried about taste, you'll be happy to hear that today's jerky comes in a wide variety of meats and flavors. A shopping trip could turn up alligator, buffalo, elk, emu, ostrich, pork, salmon, tuna or turkey jerky. And flavors range from such basics as black pepper, garlic or teriyaki to the more exotic -- chipotle-lime, mesquite smoked or sweet and spicy mango.
Potato chips are a staple American comfort food and probably one of the first things that come to mind when you think about packing a light snack, so naturally, they're not so healthy for you. They're high in calories, most of which come from the oil the chips are cooked in, and they're high in fat. In the plus column, chip manufacturers have been reducing the unhealthy trans fat content for several years now. Some varieties are healthier than others are so look for low salt and/or baked varieties. Supermarkets typically devote an entire aisle to the wide variety of chips and chip-like products on the market. So it's likely you'll be able to find something that sates your hunger without clogging your arteries too much.
7. Cheese and Crackers
So is there anything stopping you from simply packing a whole meal for the flight? Just logistics, really -- think small, easily wrapped items. And be sure to check the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) and airline Web sites to make sure everything in your lunch box is OK by them. For example, although it's a classic, you'll want to leave the peanut butter and jelly at home.
Here, one must keep in mind the first rule of airplane snacking: first, do no harm. OK, that's someone else's rule, but it applies here too. If you are some kind of cheese snob, this is really not the time to bust out the Limburger. Your Camembert, your Stilton, your Vieux Boulogne should all be left at home to be enjoyed in better-ventilated environs. To avoid a mid-air incident, it's best to stick with the milder varieties -- think Colby, or maybe cheddar. Individually packaged string cheese is also a great option.
Not what you would call super healthy, cheese is basically made of artery-clogging fat, but, you know, it's cheese, so it gets a pass -- for reasons of sheer deliciousness. If you're really concerned about it, stick to low-fat varieties and whole grain crackers.
Is there really any point in telling you that candy isn't good for you? Dentists (and moms) everywhere have been pointing that out forever, and if you haven't gotten the point by now, it's pretty much a lost cause. That said, you can get candy, in all its wonderful varieties, just about anywhere except the actual plane. So as a last-minute airport purchase, for the calories you need to get through the flight, sometimes you just can't beat the stuff. Plus, candy comes in a handy package that won't get you the hairy eyeball from airport security. With the usual caveat about being sensitive to the peanut allergies of your fellow passengers, go ahead and grab a chewy, sweet treat. And if you want to make yourself feel a little less guilty, try some chocolate- or carob-covered fruit or pretzels.
5. Trail Mix
Trail mix has been a food staple among campers and hikers for decades. It's no surprise why -- quite simply, it's a high-protein, high-energy, super convenient snack. Most off-the-shelf trail mixes contain peanuts, which should not be taken on the plane, but you can make your own peanut-free version. And that means you can put as many chocolate chips in it as you want. The pre-packaged versions can be high in salt, sugar and preservatives -- yet another reason to mix up your own.
The do-it-yourself approach also has the advantage of potentially being cheaper, and you can experiment in the kitchen until you find the perfect recipe. All you need to get started is a giant bowl, some airtight storage containers and a variety of ingredients such as raisins, craisins, banana chips, sunflower and/or pumpkin seeds, granola, and of course, chocolate chips. The possibilities are almost endless.
4. Power Bars
In some parts of the world, they call trail mix "gorp," which may or may not stand for "good old raisins and peanuts." To avoid the peanuts, you can make your own, substituting something else such as almonds, pumpkin or sunflower seeds, or even nut-free granola.
Power bars -- or more generically, "nutrition bars" -- were once the province of weight lifters, marathon runners and Tour de France finishers, so they must be a great healthy hunger preventer, right? Well, they will solve your hunger problem that much is true, which is why they've made the list.
But on the down side, you're not running a marathon, lifting weights or racing through the French countryside on a bicycle. You're sitting in an airplane seat, with no good way to burn off all those calories. So you'll want to check the label for low fat, high protein content, and don't go overboard on the calories. Unless you're on a super long flight, one power bar should be plenty to stave off hunger until you can stretch your legs away from the airport.
It's not particularly surprising, but the fact of the matter is there's nothing to improve on a piece of fruit. An apple or a banana will quell the hunger, and they come in their own convenient carrying case. Apples have no fat, no sodium, no cholesterol, and they're high in fiber and potassium. The humble banana also contains fiber, and even more potassium, not to start a banana vs. apple fight here.
Oranges can be a little messy for close-quarters plane consumption, but again they're highly nutritious providing lots of fiber, potassium and more than 100 percent of the recommended daily allowance of vitamin C [source: USDA Nutrition Database]. And don't forget bite-sized options like seedless grapes, blueberries and raspberries.
One word of caution on flying with fresh fruit -- inside the continental U.S., you should be fine, but crossing international borders, you may run into import restrictions, so if you bring it, eat it or dispose of it before you get off the plane.
2. Dried Fruit
It's best to check before you pack, but generally the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) allows wrapped foods and fresh fruit on board the plane. If you're uncertain about a food item, check the TSA Web site.
For convenience, taste and nutrition, dried fruit is a sound snack choice. There's a reason raisins were dubbed nature's candy. And craisins -- dried cranberries -- are closing in on the raisin's longstanding popularity. By comparison, dried fruit is easier to deal with than fresh, and you don't have to worry about getting it in season. But that convenience does come at a price: The water in fresh fruit is part of what fills you up, and in terms of nutrients, although dried fruit is pretty much the equal of fresh, the serving size is about halved for the dried version. Furthermore, some dried fruits contain added sugar, so be sure to check the label if you're watching your waistline. And if plain dried fruit isn't particularly tempting, consider some enrobed in rich dark chocolate, which is said to have certain health benefits -- such as lowering cholesterol and blood pressure -- due to the flavonoids it can contain [source: DeNoon].
Some vegetables are more portable than others are. For snacking on an airplane, think fresh, raw carrot sticks and celery. Vegetables are also one of the few things that will allow you to feel smugly superior to the person in the next seat eating an apple. Carrots contain lots of vitamin A and about as much potassium as an apple (one medium-sized carrot vs. one medium-sized apple) and they're similarly low in fat. Celery gives you vitamins K and C, and, reportedly, might help in lowering blood pressure [source: Rarback]. Want something besides celery and carrots? Try jicama sticks, baby broccoli or cauliflower florets, and bell pepper slices or asparagus spears.
Leaving the nutritional merits of these crunchy, satisfying snacks aside for the moment, what about dip? There you run into an airplane-specific problem. It's not just difficult to pack; the Transportation Security Administration prohibits it, presumably as a part of the general restrictions on liquids and gels.