If you know me, you know I love to travel, but there’s one thing about travel that gets me worked up every time. There are millions of people coming in and out of the airports across the world thinking they have no choice. They think they have to eat airport and airplane food because it’s the only thing available. They let their surroundings control their lives, their health, and the health of their families. I used to be one of these people. For years, I traveled for work, consulting at major financial institutions all over the United States going from city to city. I didn’t know anything about the food I was eating and I felt terrible about myself – I was overweight, felt tired all of the time, my skin was a mess, and I was generally less productive. This is why I feel obligated to share the information I learned that changed my life forever. I can’t just sit back and let this happen for so many people. This madness needs to stop. We have a choice! We are in control of everything we put in our mouths! Our bodies are not trashcans for the industrial food system!
Bring food with you to the airport & on airplanes!
I’m happy to say that I haven’t had to eat airport and airplane food in a long time. Airplane food is often heavily processed with tons of controversial additives and preservatives that don’t fit into my healthy lifestyle. On my last flight, I posted some pictures of what I was eating and drinking on my Facebook page, and got a lot of questions. Many of you are wondering how I was able to bring my own food on board and wanted details. It’s easy to do, but it does take a bit of prep time and you have to make sure that what you bring won’t get confiscated by the TSA at the security checkpoint.
TSA lets you bring food through security.
In the United States and in most countries, the transit authorities allows you to bring food through the security screening and onboard. Here are some items that work well and don’t get confiscated:
- Homemade sandwiches wrapped in parchment paper stored in a quart-sized plastic bag. Keep in mind that all food that you carry on will need to go through the x-ray machine at the checkpoint. So, never use any foil. They will want to search your bag and delay your travels.
- Dips and sauces, such as hummus, salsa and almond butter, as long as it is in a 3.4 oz (or smaller) container, and put into a quart-sized plastic bag.
- Fresh fruits and veggies, such as apples, bananas and avocados. Just wash them at home or in your hotel room before you put them in your bag. If you cut or peel them ahead of time, of course they need to be wrapped in a plastic bag or put in a glass container. Keep in mind that you can also bring a butter knife to slice ripe avocados and bananas on the plane.
- Crunchy snacks such as crackers, popcorn, kale chips, etc.
- Dried fruit and raw nuts make a great snack on the plane. I like to make my own mix – 1/2 cup each of raw almonds, coconut flakes, dried cherries or raisins, and raw walnuts. The airport usually has trail mix, but it comes loaded with inflammatory oils, other additives and are usually not raw or organic.
- Pre-made salads in glass containers or BPA-free plastic. Salad dressing can be packed separately as long as it’s in a 3.4 oz. or smaller container. However, I find that it’s easier to bring it already mixed into a salad or at the bottom of the bowl for mixing in later. (Just don’t forget to bring a fork!)
- Empty thermos and empty water bottles – any size. These are great for filling up after you get through security.
- Tea bags for making hot tea in the airport before you board. Don’t use the hot water on the airplane. It’s not as clean as you would like, try to get it from a cafe in the airport before boarding.
- If you are traveling with your child: baby food, breast milk and formula are exempt from the 3.4 oz. rule and you can bring those on the plane in any quantity needed.
- Green juice in mini ball jar containers packed in a cooler to stay fresh.
In addition to this list – Check out this app on the TSA website to search for what items may (or may not be) currently allowed in your carry-on.
Tips for packing your carry-on bag:
- Most people don’t think about this, but you can pack a cooler as one of your carry-on bags. There are some great travel coolers available, and even some that are on wheels that easily go through security for long flights or if you are traveling with family. Just make sure that it meets the size requirements for the airline that you are flying on. These are two of my favorites:
- eBags Crew Cooler – Designed to fit over your carry on luggage as your second bag and comes in many different colors. Perfect for in-flight food. Available on Amazon for ~$49 here.
- Coleman Wheeled Travel Cooler – This cooler has a hard plastic liner, which is good for either taking as your carry-on bag or checking in with your luggage at the airport. Available on Amazon for ~$41.23 here.
- I drink a lot of water, especially when traveling. Try packing a large empty water bottle and fill it up after going through security. Make sure you fill it up before you get on the plane, because I’ve found that some airlines won’t do it for you.
- Pack an extra empty plastic bag and fill it with ice from a restaurant after you get through security to keep your cooler cold. I’ve never had a problem asking for free ice, they will gladly provide it. Some airports have food courts, where you can just help yourself too.
- I personally haven’t had any trouble bringing in frozen gel ice packs, so you can try it – but there is a possibility that they would be confiscated. So, an extra bag for ice is a good back up plan.
- For longer flights, pack some frozen food in your cooler. If you pack some frozen berries or yogurt in small containers, it will help to keep your cooler cool and slowly defrost during your flight.
- If you find yourself in a bind or didn’t have time to pack food, don’t worry. There is fresh food available if you look for it. Many airports have a Jamba Juice, where you can pick up wheatgrass shots and some juice bars even offer fresh squeezed green juice or cold pressed juice in bottles (Yeah! San Fran airport!). You can always find fresh fruits (bananas, apples) and raw unsalted almonds in a store or restaurant at the airport. Check out this “Farmers Market” stand with plenty of real food options I found in terminal E of the Charlotte Airport:
- I have an extensive list here of easy to pack snack foods that you can easily toss in your bag and take through security.
- If you are traveling internationally, only bring enough food for your flight in your carry-on because you will likely need to throw away any leftover food when you arrive at customs in your destination country. Before you leave, review the customs restrictions for your destination, to see what you may be able to bring into the country you are visiting.
- I like to fill my thermos with about 3 inches of sliced raw ginger before packing it in my carry-on bag. After you go through security, fill it up with hot water from a restaurant and you’ve got hot ginger tea for your flight! Ginger tea improves circulation, reduces inflammation, and is antibacterial – everything you need on a flight. I’ve been using the Think Sport insulated bottles – which come in two sizes for my tea. They are available here with 10% off affiliate code: FOODBABE10 if you’d like to get one!
- 3 inch piece of ginger root
- Empty insulated water bottle like ThinkSport
- Wash, peel and slice ginger root
- Place ginger root in an empty insulated bottle
- Fill with hot water after going through security - any cafe will gladly do this for free or sometimes for a dollar. (If you get it free, don't forget to leave a tip).
- Enjoy hot ginger tea while you travel, on flight or anywhere!
Recipes that travel well for your flight:
Salads – These pack well, especially if they have some grains in them such as quinoa to help keep the greens from getting wilted. When packing a basic salad, layer the salad in a glass container with the dressing on the bottom, followed by the grains, and then layer the greens on top. Just stir it up on the plane right before eating. Of course, this will need to be packed in a cooler with some ice to keep it from going bad if you don’t eat it right away.
- Melt in Your Mouth Kale Salad Recipe
- Quinoa Tabbouleh Salad Recipe
- Gazpacho with avocado on top
Wraps – My absolute favorite thing to pack for a flight is a wrap, filled with lots of fresh veggies and greens. This keeps well for an hour with no cooler and is easy to eat on the plane. Stay tuned – I’ll post the recipe for my favorite travel wrap soon. For now, this one is great to try:
Some other great recipes for food that’s easy to pack in your carry-on cooler:
- Orange Poppy Seed Cranberry Hemp Muffins Recipe – These can be frozen for long flights to help keep your cooler cold
- Sushi Triangles (Onigiri) Recipe
- Raw Cacao Candy Crunch Recipe
If you start from a destination with no kitchen – remember to hit up a natural food store or a Whole Foods to stock up for your flight or have the hotel make you some raw fruits and veggies or a healthy real food meal to take with you. And when all else fails – check this dedicated section for healthy travel to learn about my past experiences and best travel tips.
Don’t get caught with your Food Babe pants down and always have food with you!
If you know someone who is traveling soon, needs these tips and/or eats unhealthy airplane and airport food, please share this post with them! I’m sure they will thank you later for it – let’s change the lives of people around us together!
P.S. I’m visiting with Anheuser-Busch today. On my way to St. Louis, I brought some gazpacho on the plane – it was delicious and so hydrating. I practice what I preach! The eco-friendly green “Preserve Food Storage” bowl I am using comes with a screw top lid – perfect for traveling!
176 responses to “What To Bring On Your Flight, So You Never Get Stuck Eating Airport Food Ever Again!”
traveling from Nevada to Colorado, I have homemade beef jerky as a gift, can I take this on my carryon bag?
I always bring trail mix and bananas but was cautious with hummus because I wasn’t sure of the regulations. Now I’m excited for the next time I travel…..I’ll be making a pretty enviable mini veggie platter with hummus to enjoy in the air!
This is great to know what to take on a plane! The last time I flew in a plane, I actually ate something I was allergic to do my lips swelled at first, but then my throat began closing up! I tried to see if the allergy would go away but after 45 minutes, I went to the cabin out of breath from just breathing, blood pressure was way off and my heart rate was going whack! They had to call a doctor that was on the plane and they gave me a shot on my hip. Worst day of my life! I’m never eating airplane food after that.
You are not mentioning that you CAN NOT take certain foods across the border if you are flying Internationally. Fruit, meat, etc…
That is what makes it very tough.
Just eat what you brought Before landing – Wouldn’t that work???
I just brought penne ala vodka I just made in a regular tubberware, they didnt have a problem with it even still being hot. The extra bags to get ice is a great idea thanks for the tip.
Hawaii was the big no food leaves from the honlulu airport onto the plane and the food served from the plane must be consumed or disposed of before landing in California. Even the sealed juice cups. The same rule applied when flying between the different islands. The wouldnt allowed agricultural items in checked bags and even my Haupia Pie(no veggies or fruit in it) wasn’t allowed in the flight 🙁
I travel a lot and have done this for years all over the country, I pack my foods in a large plastic bag inside my carry-on. when I get to security I take it out and hand it to a security check person and ask them not to radiate my food but to check it by hand. If they are reluctant I tell them I’m on a cancer preventative diet and cannot have my food radiated. They kindly do it for me every time. It will take a little longer so allow for the extra time.
As an international flight attendant, I can say that you are “spot on” with every single recommendation! Yay! I travel this entire globe and rarely eat from outside my crew cooler (ebags). You’ve given me some fresh ideas. Thank you Food Babe. BTW, you are so right about the potable water on the aircraft. Just don’t drink it!!
I love your suggestions and the work you do. Can I suggest one thing- please do not encourage people to bring nuts on planes. There are so many people today who have nut allergies, and an airplane is a very scary place to have a reaction. Nuts are messy to eat, often bits and pieces can fall into seats. Epi pens don’t always work. Maybe you could work with us to get nuts banned on flights- you do a great job of mobilizing people and getting results. I know many families who can’t fly by plane for this reason. It would help tons if planes would stop serving peanuts. You could help so many families- we need you! Thanks for all you do.
As a parent of a child with a serious nut allergy I cringed at the nut suggestion. Maybe save that for your airport snack. It’s very scary to be trapped on a plane with the very thing that could kill your child.
I am also an international flight attendant and only eat out of my lunchbox. As a FA, the liquid rules usually don’t apply to us so that gives me more options – but one thing I make that is TSA approved and is great because it can be eaten hot or at room temp is my “garbage pail quinoa” – basically onions and garlic sautéed with every color of veggie (usually yellow and red peppers, shredded carrot, mushrooms, kale, cauliflower – but really whatever is in the fridge), lots of curry, and fresh ginger. A little stock or water and simmer. Then stir in cooked quinoa and garbanzo beans. I add a bit of sriracha for heat. It’s filling and healthy! I usually bring along marinated/grilled chicken tenders to eat with it if I want more protein.
No nuts on airplanes please. I know of a man who died from a nut allergy on an airplane.
I’m a flight attendant and am always looking for ways to improve what’s in my lunch box to help me from having to eat airport/airplane food. I’m very excited to try pretty much all of your suggestions!!!
Great info! I travel often and always looks for new ideas from others. FYI I started bringing frozen ice packs and have been successful bro I g them through security in the last year or so (they used to get confiscated but it hasn’t happened in a really long time)
Thanks so much Food Babe! I am new to this website but I have found all of your recipes to be ingenious, particularly this article. As a busy (you could say I’m a busy bee hahahah) businesswoman, I find myself in the airport and traveling on the planes very often. And during my travels, I often found myself being given revolting food choices in too small portions. I am very conscientious of my body figure, but these peanut packages are smaller than those I buy at Costco! But worse than the food choices are the drink choices. Canned drinks have been scientifically proven to be contaminated with their industrial metal containers, and I cannot stand the thought of such impurities penetrating my body. However, bringing my own tea in my own stainless steel container is the perfect solution, and with your concise instructions, I feel so much cleaner already! I’m looking forward to bringing some of your tasty snacks on the plane next time. What do you think of fried rice?
Thanks again Food Babe!
I brought some thick applesauce on the plane and they would not let me take it on board, I had to exit security, eat the applesauce in the airport lobby and go through security again. They also confiscated my coconut oil which was hard, not runny or oily, simply because if had the word oil on the label which implies it is a liquid! I will try sandwiches in the form of Onigiri next time! Thanks, Vani!