Packing Healthy Food for Air Travel

Ali Segersten Jul 25, 2012 22 comments

Trying to pack up and get out the door on time to catch an airplane can be difficult as it is, but add in packing all of your own food for the day, and you have what sounds like a bit of work. I've been packing my own food for airplane trips since I was twenty years old and I can tell you, that with a little planning, it can be very simple. There are some restrictions of what is allowed through security and what is not. I hope this post will inspire you to ditch the airplane/airport food in favor of healthier options brought from home.

This past winter I took all five children on a trip to visit my family in the midwest. And I did it again this past June, though Tom met us out there part way through our trip and flew back home with nice it was to have another adult helping out! On our trip in February I had everything planned, organized, and packed the day before we left, including most of our food. Getting out the door went very smoothly. On our last trip, coming back home from my parents' house, I had nothing planned which caused quite a bit of chaos right before we left for the airport!

Packing Food for Air Travel:

Plan: Make a list of what you will bring on the plane at least 4 days before the trip. This way you can go to the store and pick up any necessary ingredients.

Prep: Make any food the day before your trip that can be prepped early. Cut up carrots, celery, or cucumbers. Make a whole grain salad. Bake a loaf of bread for sandwiches. Pop some popcorn. The morning before you leave, cut up apples, make sandwiches, and do whatever else needs to be prepped the day of the trip.

Pack: Use small insulated lunch packs with an inserted frozen pack to keep things that can spoil easily cool. We like to dedicate one small roller bag for food. One of the kids is always responsible for it. This keeps everything in one place so if we want to have a picnic in the airport we can. Also, everyone knows where to go if they are hungry on a flight.

Security Regulations:

Liquids: Of course you all know that you need to buy water once you get through security, but if you have a baby or toddler you can take water or formula in a bottle through security. Breast milk is also permitted through security, even if you are not traveling with your infant.

Food: Did you know almond butter and hummus are considered creams/lotions and have to be in 3-ounce containers or less? But if six ounces of almond butter is spread onto four sandwiches it is ok! Here is the other gray area with "creamy" foods: If you are traveling with young children it doesn't matter if you bring a 12-ounce container of hummus through security! If you don't have very young children then play it safe and make sure these types of foods are packed in 3-ounce sized containers or less.

packing healthy food for air travel-2

Healthy Food for Air Travel:

Traveling with Children:

  • Don't bring chocolate or sugary foods ~ the goal is a happy, calm child, right? 
  • Make sure your child has had enough sleep to be able to handle a stressful day of travel and time zone changes.
  • We have each child pack a backpack of things do do on the plane. They bring activity books and crayons, books to read or be read to, wool yarn to finger knit with, and a movie for the computer.

About the Author

Ali Segersten

Alissa Segersten holds a Bachelor's of Science in Nutrition from Bastyr University and a Master’s of Science in Human Nutrition and Functional Medicine from the University of Western States. She is a Functional Nutritionist, the mother of five children, a whole foods cooking instructor, professional recipe developer, and cookbook author. She is passionate about helping others find a diet that will truly nourish them. Alissa is the author of two very popular gluten-free, whole foods cookbooks and guidebooks: The Whole Life Nutrition Cookbook and Nourishing Meals. She is also the co-author of The Elimination Diet book. Alissa is the founder and owner of Nourishing Meals®.

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We are at the end of our Elimination Diet, Thank You! We are traveling in 2 weeks and Do have a layover. I would like to pack our food to avoud airport food. My question is will they require you to X-ray it? Not sure I luke that idea.

Cut all your fruit so that it can go through the agriculture inspection! I once tried to bring two bananas for snacks onto the plane for my kids and they made me dig into the bottom of our lunch bag to retrieve them and hand them over. However, peeled, cut fruit is fine. Just slice the apples, cut the grapes in half, slice the bananas...don't just toss the apple or banana in the bag whole! I always bring our own food on the plane and generally have very happy young travellers.

Great ideas, Alissa -- still timely a few years later! I look forward to sharing your ideas with my clients who have food sensitivities and are going through LEAP diet therapy. Do you know if honey is considered a liquid? I haven't done air travel in awhile. I like the tiny packets of Nature's Nate raw honey -- makes for a nice sweetener that doubles as a face wash while traveling. Here's to Wholesome!

Great ideas - however we can tell you from experience that trying to get breast milk in a bottle through US Security can be a challenge.

Great ideas - however we can tell you from experience that trying to get breast milk in a bottle through US Security can be a challenge. Be prepared to do a taste test.

When we traveled last summer, I bought almond butter in a squeeze packet from Amazon. Justin Nut Butter carries peanut butter, almond butter and a chocolate hazelnut butter that we brought for pancakes. The packets are under 3 oz and easy to open.

The family we buy beef from started making jerkey so we broght some of that too. We also brought some ginger candies to calm queasy stomachs.

We carried empty water bottles and filled them up at the drinking fountain once inside security. No one questioned us.

Great post. I appreciate "Anonymous'" post about nut butters on the plane. I have traveled with the single-serve packets of Artisana nut butters for use in my hotel room and restaurants.

Quinoa is a great food to take for air travel. It can stay out of the refrigerator for a while. I usually prepare with vegetables and spices and it is delicious on the plane and often I have left-overs for the first day or two of travel.

Great planning! We travel internationally, and always pack only carry-on, and take our own food. The only comment I would add is not to count on getting any fluids other than breast milk through security. The TSA "disappeared" my husband for an hour at Newark once over a slosh of water in a sippy cup--water that we had gotten on a connecting flight! We had to wait for him (fortunately, a long layover that time) while they took him to some back ally to dump the water in a special explosives barrel. Jeez. Don't count on getting anything wet through. :-)

Do you have suggestions for what foods to pack for a 3 day hospital stay?

Great tips! My family has been flying with food for a few years now and I'm always amazed at how understanding airport security is (though I have lost a few jars of almond butter!). One tip I'd offer is I use a couple packages of frozen pastured meat in addition to freezer packs to a) keep everything in our cooler cold and b) make sure we have good quality food for our first meal after getting to our destination.

Thank you for all the great tips!! Traveling and being gluten-free is difficult and your blog makes it a little easier to find things to take with me!! :)

A helpful article. I would, however, ask you to ditch the nuts. Many flights won't, thankfully, serve them anymore. For those who are anaphylactic nuts and nut butters are a nightmare. Touching arm rests, seats, TV screens, controls, bathroom taps and door handles etc with unwashed hands are potentially lethal. Dangerous on the ground BUT a nightmare in the sky. Twenty odd years ago a plane we were travelling on in the US had to make an emergency landing when my daughter was served a sandwich that had been contaminated with sone thing. It was a VERY SCARY process. My daughter will no longer eat anything - even prepared at home - on a flight. Please re-think the nut thing particularly when the airlines are trying to make it safe for all passengers.

Great website! I travel quite a bit and take my own food. I take Justin's almond butter pouches in my liquid's baggie - they look just like shampoo or conditioner pouches. They do almond, peanut and hazelnut butter - Most natural and regular grocery stores have them. I also save 3oz bottles from hotel shampoo etc., wash really well and put salad dressing in them. I love Larabars for a sweet treat too.

Last time I traveled as an adult with special dietary needs, medically necessary food was allowed through security. I was sure to declare it to the TSA agent, letting them know. you are Any liquids were packed in a clearly labeled ziplock bag Anything "dry" (like supplements and solid food)can be in a separate bag. Every time I prepare for a trip, I carefully check the TSA site
Take note of this page, very sensitively written:

I like to have a little surprise reward for the kids as they (we) make it through the day in good spirits. Something like an organic sucker that can last awhile or a sticker to acknowledge their progress. I think you can bring a can of tuna while still sealed for some good protein which i would love to try w/ your flatbread
We are getting ready for a road trip. So your post is very helpful to us. On my list of car food (or camp food) are GF morning glory muffins, GF zucchini banana bread, homemade "trail mix" bars, and G.O.R.P. balls (chopped dried fruits, nuts, shredded coconut, w/ honey and a nut butter for the "glue").

This is great, I am sure other travelers will appreciate happy calm children too =)

Love your blog! Just wondering, have you ever tried flackers? The are gluten free flax seed crackers, sprouted, healthy, yummy. Just a thought....

I Know it says you can bring baby food but when I brought 4 ounces of ella organic baby food in the pouches they really questioned me, pulled me aside and put me in one of those chambers for a super pat down. I had my 1.5 year old with me too! The problem they said is it was 4 ounces? I am not completely sure but on the flight back i did not take any! So just a warning!

Your post about air travel was too timely!!!! We are traveling by air for the first time with small children in a couple of days and had no clue what to take on the trip as vegans. I was going to call the airlines today to find out what we were allowed to bring before heading to Whole Foods. You paved the way for us. Thanks for sharing! I love your blog!!

I hear you. I fly at least twice a week for work and am always staying in hotels. Protein powder that can be mixed with water is my saving grace!

These are such great tips! I find that air travel is especially difficult since starting a grain-free diet. I make a couple of batches of grain-free muffins a week before my trip and then freeze them. The morning of the trip, I pack the frozen muffins. They act like temporary ice packs and stay fresh longer.

This is great info !!

I also have to bring my own food when I fly. I make up several Bento boxes of cooked food the morning I'm leaving. (prep time a couple days before is essential)

I pack each of them in a plastic bag with an ice pack and fork.

I take them out of my bag and put them in their own tray to go through security and haven't had any trouble with it !!

So great to be eating real food while I travel ! :-)

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