Meals on the Run 101

Published: 05-27-2006
Having a hard time finding nutritious, delicious food when you only have 30 minutes between plane changes? Or do you find yourself catching the last hotel shuttle arriving too late to get dinner at the hotel restaurant or room service? Eating right on the road can be a huge challenge for flight crews. As a nutritionist married to a pilot, this topic has surfaced too many times to count over the years. It really comes down to one basic principle- plan ahead.

During a duty day, a good strategy is to eat frequent, small nutritious snacks throughout the day to help maintain stable blood sugars and optimal alertness. Pass up foods with high amounts of simple carbohydrates (sugars) like candy bars or soda. Instead, choose foods that contain complex carbohydrates like whole-grain breads and cereals or eat protein-rich snacks such as low-fat yogurt, cheese or nuts. Avoid large, heavy meals before a flight to avert the food coma- that sluggish, tired feeling as your body attempts to digest all the food.

Here are some ideas for healthy snacks that travel well and take up minimal space. Keep in mind that this list is not going to win any gourmet awards. You should always try to find a place to get a healthy well-balanced meal when you can.

Emergency Food Kit Basics*

  • Dried or fresh fruit
  • Trail mix
  • Granola bars
  • Power bars or other protein bar
  • Nuts (pistachios, almonds, peanuts, sunflower seeds, etc.)
  • Beef jerky
  • Canned meats like tuna fish or tuna/cracker pack (remember to take a can opener or get the new individual 3oz easy open pouches with no draining)
  • Graham crackers
  • Individual 8oz size Horizon Organic milk or Whitney's Yo on the Go smoothie (refrigeration is not required for these so they are easy to take along but they taste better if they can be chilled before drinking).
  • Popcorn- keep a box of the mini- or snack-size microwave popcorn bags on hand for quick popping in the microwave. Each mini- or snack-size bag pops up only 5 to 6 cups of hot popcorn a perfect portion size - as compared to the 12 cups or more in a full-size microwave bag.
  • Gu energy gel for a quick pick-me-up. This product is designed for athletes to take before a workout to get energy flowing. They recommend drinking with plenty of water to expedite absorption. This is also a good idea to maintain hydration equilibrium (see related article on Hydration and the Pilot).

If you find that you can make room for a small thermal lunch tote in your flight bag, your options for healthy snacks are greatly improved. Here are just a few ideas:

  • Individually wrapped mozzarella cheese sticks
  • Fresh vegetables
  • Yogurt
  • Hard boiled egg (shell removed)

Most hotels have an in-room coffee pot. In a pinch you can run water through to heat it up and use it for:
Individual pouch instant oatmeal, grits, cream of wheat
Dried soup in a packet or cup (Bear Creek and Knors make good ones)
Ramen noodles

If fast food is your only option, it's not the end of the world. Fast food doesn't have to mean you're stuck with greasy burgers, fries, and soda. Most fast food places now have healthier choices so check out the menus carefully. You can find soup, salads, baked potatoes, grilled chicken sandwiches, chili and yogurt with fruit and granola. French fries are never a good choice no matter what kind of diet you are on. Yes they are delicious and very satisfying, but they are excessive in trans fatty acids, high glycemic carbohydrates and sodium- so make them more the exception than the rule.

Eating small, nutritious meals and snacks throughout the day can keep your energy level high and your mind alert. Taking some munchies with you in the cockpit will help you resist the temptation to grab nutrient empty junk from vending machines or airport snack shops between flights or on layovers. Just remember, it is easy to eat well while you are on a trip if you make it a priority and do a little pre-flight planning. Good luck and eat well!!

*This list is not intended to be comprehensive and may not be right for individuals on special diets. If you are on a special diet, please check with your doctor or dietitian for specific recommendations. Feel free to get creative and make your own emergency food kit list of your favorite foods. Try taking some time and browsing your local grocery store - you will likely be surprised at all the new, healthy convenient take-along options.

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