In-flight bites

When I was a kid, I loved airplane food. Perhaps it was the tray compartmentalized like a TV dinner or, more likely, because it was the precursor to a rare but memorable trip. The fact that these meals always were salty and usually saucy probably tickled my youthful palate, too.

Now that my childhood is as much a memory as the glory days of commercial air travel — remember pillows, blankets, playing cards and unreinforced cockpit doors? — I have little objection to airlines charging for food because I rarely want it.

With in-flight and terminal options that are limited, costly and generally unhealthful, I think ahead about foods to eat on board. It's important to recognize the length of flights and layovers that will be part of your journey. If you're merely taking a single flight of three hours or fewer, a meal beforehand would probably suffice. But in case of delay, bringing an apple and some nuts, trail mix or a "prefab" snack bar, such as a nut-and-fruit Larabar, is a good idea.

If you have a layover, bringing a simple meal you don't mind eating lukewarm between flights isn't a bad idea, either.

Though I generally avoid eating "smelly" foods on the plane, respecting my neighbors' olfactory airspace, I occasionally bring a hard-boiled egg to eat between flights. Canned sardines and local, naturally preserved beef jerky are compact, satisfying protein sources, though messing with sardines on board is not advisable. Picture that peel-away metal lid sending aloft sardine-infused olive oil onto your neighbor's laptop keyboard, tablet computer screen or well-coiffed hair — cause for an in-flight incident.

I like having basic, snack-type vegetables, such as celery, cucumber and carrot sticks, for a flight. Though they're not especially filling, they're nutritious and hydrating.

I experienced a refreshing airport-food episode about a year ago when returning from a conference in Austin, Texas. Before heading to the airport, I purchased a burrito, known as the "Monster," from a place called Freebirds. I forgot to remove it from my carry-on and, of course, the supersized, foil-wrapped food-bomb attracted the luggage screener's attention. A woman took me aside and checked my bag. I told her it was a burrito, and she agreed, asking whether it was a "Monster." We shared a laugh.

My Monster made it through airport security yet never stood a chance at making it on board, even though I still had another connecting flight ahead of me. At least there are still some flying rules meant to be broken.

Michael Altman is a nutritionist at Ventana Wellness and teaches at Southern Oregon University. Email him at

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