Flying with Food Restrictions

Airport food. Plane food. Yikes.

It’s awesome that markets and places like Cibo are carrying more gluten free snack options like chips, yogurt, cookies, dried fruit, trail mixes, fresh fruit and salads. But when I fly and end up eating all this crap, I always feel full and sick. It’s not a good, satisfied full. It’s a nasty, gas-creating full, while I’m about to enter a plane and sit for 4 hours.

Flying on a special diet, with dietary restrictions, food allergies, on a diet, or just to eat healthier!

Here are some ideas for how to have a more “normal” day of flying by bringing your own food, saving money and your intestines.

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Purchase a nice, insulated zipper bag to store cold items in.

  • Hard-boiled eggs
  • Snack baggies separated into small portions of:
    • nuts (peanuts, almonds, pistachios) note: these are best to not eat on the plane, in case of nut allergies. Many flights serve peanuts, so just ask the flight attendant or look around if they are serving near you.
    • fruit
    • pretzels
    • veggies
  • Deli meat
  • Cherry tomatoes
  • Grilled chicken
  • Hummus and crackers or veggies
  • Bananas
  • Breakfast muffins and fall cookies (frozen)
  • Oats: check out my idea for oatmeal on the go here!
  • Unsweetened applesauce

My biggest concern with traveling all day, is that I will just continue snacking on all of my random food bags and never feel actually satisfied. My dietitian suggested packing things in several small bags, so you don’t feel like you have to finish the whole bag (ie: 2 snack bags of nuts, instead of 1 sandwich bag full). Then she said to group the bags into meal-like portions. For example, one bag with a  hard boiled egg, one bag of tomatoes, a little bit of hummus, and some grilled chicken. Then have another bag with a similar set up, so you feel like you have meals. And then a few individually just as snacks (ie: a muffin).
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She also recommended I start my day with a smoothie before I leave to give me something lite but filling before I even leave the house.

Declare the foods before going through security (as you approach the scanner). Be prepared for TSA to stop you and search your bag. I’ve noticed they are doing it now even more than a year ago. If you are taking a cooler bag, be sure if you bring ice packs they are completely frozen, and re-freeze or exclude them before your return trip. If they are at all melted, you will likely have to give them up. Also, they have stopped me before for having peanut butter, because apparently the liquid rule includes anything “spreadable” as well. Therefore, make sure you have a small portion size. In the end though, the TSA agent said I could have everything because I have food allergies – they did not require a doctor’s note. Make sure you tell them you have food due to food allergies, even before you send your bags through the scanner – also known as “declaring” the food.

From the TSA.gov website:

You are allowed to bring one small bag of liquids, aerosols, gels, creams and pastes through the checkpoint. These are limited to 3.4 ounces or less per container. Consolidating these containers in the small bag separate from your carry-on baggage enables TSA officers to screen them quickly.

Medically required liquids, such as medications, creams and breast milk, are permitted to be brought on board an aircraft. It is not necessary to place medically required liquids in a zip-top bag. However, travelers must tell the TSA officer at the beginning of the screening process that they wish to bring medically necessary liquids in excess of 3.4 ounces in their carry-on bag.  Liquids, gels and aerosols are typically screened by X-ray and medically necessary items in excess of 3.4 ounces will receive additional screening.

Accessories required to cool medically necessary liquids– such as freezer packs or frozen gel packs – are also permitted through the screening checkpoint, as are supplies that are associated with medically necessary liquids, such as IV bags, pumps and syringes.  These items are also exempt from the 3-1-1 Rule, but may be subject to additional screening.

Declaring Medically Necessary Liquids

Travelers who bring medically necessary liquids in excess of 3.4 ounces or medical accessories such as freezer packs, IV bags, pumps and syringes to the checkpoint must inform the TSA officer at the beginning of the screening process. TSA suggests, but does not require, medication be clearly labeled to facilitate the screening process. If a traveler does not want a medically necessary liquid to be X-rayed or opened for additional screening, the traveler must inform the officer before screening begins.

See more at: http://www.tsa.gov/traveler-information/medically-necessary-liquids-gels-and-aerosols

The reality is, traveling with food restrictions is tough. But hopefully these ideas can get you headed in the right direction to having a healthy, safe flying experience.

Some airlines will provide meals in first class for those with dietary restrictions or who follow a vegetarian diet. I know that Delta Airlines will provide gluten free and vegetarian meals if you call at least 48 hours ahead of time and let them now. However, these meals can only be provided from large airports, such as Atlanta and Phoenix, and if I fly out of Tucson, they will not provide the meal. I will however, get the gluten free meal upon my return from Atlanta.

You can also find some special-diet-friendly available food options in airports on my blog at the links below:

If you get stuck or don’t bring enough food, here are some things I found at my Cibo Express. Many of these pre-packaged foods, while processed, can be found in gift shops and food markets in airports across the country. Go Picnic makes a great pre-packaged gluten free meal that can now be found in nearly every airport with options like hummus and crackers, turkey, and salami.

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These kids lunchboxes are great for portion size control: Laptop Lunches or this cheaper version on amazon.

For insulation, I really like these PackIt Freezable bags, where the whole bag gets frozen to insulate. And finally, here’s a great article on SheKnows.com with a list of adorable lunchboxes for kids & adults alike.

Do you have some good ideas for food in flight? Comment with your suggestions below!

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