Tuesday, September 25

Healthy snacking at 37,000 feet

My running shoes are always on my feet in the airport (except, of course, when TSA makes me take 'em off). So exercise is rarely a problem for me when I'm on the road.

But travel can wreak havoc on healthy eating habits, and it can also be brutal on the wallet.

Peanuts: the traditional airline snack
Most airlines charge a small fortune for a can of chips or the "healthy" alternative: a crackers-and-cheese plate that contains a grape or three. TSA doesn't help matters by confiscating a wide and seemingly ever-changing variety of comestibles.

As a result of the dearth of healthy, cost-effective airline dining options, I've become a pro snack-packer. Here are my go to foods for in-flight snacking.
  • Mixed nuts
  • Sliced cucumber or bell pepper with hummus*
  • An apple and a string cheese
  • Whole-grain ginger snaps or a piece of good, dark chocolate
Because I never know what I'll be craving 4 hours from now, and airport fried-food kiosks are all too tempting, I try to bring a variety of salty, crunchy, and sweet snacks with a balance of carbs and protein.

Image source
I particularly like cucumbers as an in-flight snack because they're refreshing in an otherwise very un-refreshing situation.

As it turns out, bringing high water content snacks (cucumbers, oranges, apples, grapes) is also wise from a food science perspective.

Does This Taste Funny?

Due to a combination of low humidity and high altitude, food tastes more bland at 37,000 feet than it does in your home. Bringing water-rich snacks helps to combat the low humidity problem.

In addition I often spice my snacks in advance (think cumin-and-cayenne roasted almonds) and I bring a couple of salt and pepper packets with me when I travel.

Also, while we're talking about what I do pack, we should discuss...

Things Not to Bring:

While TSA rules can be frustrating, some suggestions for foods to leave at home during airline travel are plain ol' common sense.
  • Heavily scented items - I like a good tuna sandwich, but no one wants their airplane to smell like a bait bucket.
  • Food that requires slicing, dicing, or other preparation - If you need a knife to eat it, leave it at home.
  • Dishes with sauces that can spill/stain - See note below on sauces.
  • Foods that are not properly wrapped - TSA doesn't want your hamburger grease on their equipment, and I don't want it on my luggage.
  • Any of the items on the banned-foods list - I repeat: See note below on sauces.

*A Note on Sauces, Liquids, Creams, Gels...
...and other foods TSA won't let through the security gate.

TSA thinks hummus and peanut butter are "liquid, cream, or gel" items, and agents have been known to confiscate sandwiches for contraband peanut butter.

Clearly the rule-setters are not scientists, as I'm pretty sure ground legumes do not count as a "liquid" by any physicist's or chemist's standards. But having lost one battle over a yogurt, I gave in and learned how to work within the rules. After all, the TSA agents are the ones with the guns, and it was just one yogurt.

But you'll note that my list above includes hummus as a favorite in-flight snack.

How do I do it, you wonder? Magic, maybe?

My Traveler Trick:

Put a 2-3 tablespoon serving of hummus in a small snack-sized plastic bag, seal it well, and put the hummus snack pouch in your 1-quart toiletries bag. As long as the hummus packet fits in the toiletries bag, it passes security standards.

(Don't get me started on how ridiculous this policy is. Just be glad you now know the frequent-flier's inside scoop on how to get your snack onboard!)
Source: Uploaded by user via Missy on Pinterest

The same trick works for other small containers of liquid, including packets of soy sauce, salsa, and those single-servings of peanut butter you sometimes find at breakfast buffets.

That said, I avoid soy sauce and salsa on the airplane if only because I'm clumsy under normal conditions. Give me a stain-inducing liquid and a bumpy flight, and both I and my neighbors will be wearing more food than I eat.

What's your favorite snack - in flight or on land?

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