Staying healthy during a long-haul flight is no easy feat. It's as if the odds are stacked against you: Cabin pressure makes your taste buds go numb, low humidity causes intense dehydration, and sitting for hours on end can make you snack out of sheer boredom. For Food52 CEO and co-founder Amanda Hesser, this is an unhealthy scenario she faces frequently on long-haul flights—and one that she's learned to combat.
"I used to be afraid of flying so I was always packing my last meal," says Hesser, who started making homemade meals to bring on planes "forever ago." Frustrated with the unappetizing processed food, she prepares nutritious, easy-to-transport meals whenever she travels. "People have yearned for better food on planes since the Wright brothers, and there's still only one solution: Pack your own."
While her routine involves a fair amount of preparation, she points out that every meal she packs is practical. "If I cook a dish for the plane, it has to withstand being made at least the day before I leave," she tells MyDomaine. "There are so many other details to wrap up the day you're leaving; this is not one you should add to your list." Ahead, she shares exactly what she packed on two recent long-haul flights. This is how a foodie stays healthy at 30,000 feet.
Hesser's flight meals have to tick a number of boxes: "I try to avoid anything that's too heavy (you already feel bloated on a plane, so why add to the misery?), too aromatic (neighbors), or too sloppy (oily spills are not worth the risk)," she says. She preps all the food the day before her flight, so it also needs to last overnight.
Her go-to menu is healthy, vegetable-based, and varied. "I like to pack small vegetable dishes [like] roasted eggplant or bean salad, cured meats, bread, and fresh fruit," she says. On two recent flights from Indonesia to Ireland, then Ireland to New York, Hesser packed sautéed broccoli and eggplant in small, spill-proof containers, as well as a few luxuries like cured meat and a fresh baguette.
She's careful not to forget breakfast and snacks, too. "I like to pack a mixture of snacks like almonds, cashews, Turkish apricots, raisins, corn nuts, potato chips, and wheat-y crackers and chocolate if it's a very long flight," she says. "If it's an overnight flight, I like to bring a pastry and fruit for breakfast." Fresh fruit is permitted on most flights, except those departing from Hawaii, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
Though this mightn't seem like a lot of food to sustain you throughout a long flight, Hesser says less is more. "A friend who owns a travel business told me that at 30,000 feet, your digestive system slows down," she explains. As a result, she tries to minimize meals that are difficult to digest and avoid overeating.
To avoid airport issues and delays, take note of the TSA rules and regulations before you whip up a four-course meal to take on your flight. Food is permitted aboard planes but may be subject to additional screening, so be sure to pack it in an accessible place. TSA permits up to 3.4 ounces of liquids and gel-like foods, including creamy cheese, dips, and spreads; honey; jelly; and juice. When in doubt, check specific food rules in the MyTSA app before you travel.
To avoid any leaks and spills, Hesser packs her food in specific containers and bags. "[I use] airtight containers that snap closed (for salads and vegetable dishes) and reusable silicone or fabric bags (for dry foods). If anything has a chance of spilling, I also put the container into a ziplock bag for extra protection," she says.
She's fortunate to also have access to the containers, bags, and food wraps sold on Food52. She recommends reusable silicone storage bags from Stasher to minimize waste and denim bags by Dot and Army for sandwiches. "When I get to my destination, I wash out any containers or plastic bags and pack them in my checked luggage for the return home," she says.
The In-Flight Routine
Beyond pre-packed meals, Hesser has a pretty robust in-flight routine to stay healthy and look fresh when she arrives at her destination. "I always dress in loose clothing so I can stretch on the plane," she says, which helps with circulation and counteracts the negative effects of sitting for hours on end.
"I also like to brush my teeth and put face cream on before landing—it freshens you up and counteracts the post-flight blahs," she says. With trips to Japan, Florida, Indonesia, and Ireland already under her belt this year, she's certainly put this well-honed routine to good use.