Wandering from airport vendor to airport vendor in search of a meal that's even remotely nutritious can be exhausting -- and, in some airports, completely fruitless. Avoid the food-court shuffle by packing up these sturdy, delicious dishes before you leave home.
We've all been there: wandering an airport in the wee hours (or just during a layover) desperately wishing for food options beyond salty, greasy, fatty. Thoughts of fresh fruit and crisp vegetables come to mind with ever-increasing frequency, and it's almost unbearable to have to dig into yet another slice of pizza dripping with oil. I'd give almost anything for a bowl of quinoa -- or just a PB&J on toast.
Onboard it's even worse. The food served on planes is typically high in calories and salt and within the U.S. isn't even free anymore. If you have food allergies or dietary restrictions, good luck. As a vegetarian, I once made a meal out of an expensive can of potato chips, wishing all the while for something real.
There's a simple solution. Bring your own in-flight -- and in-airport -- nosh. With a little bit of foresight and fairly minimal effort it's easy to avoid unappetizing, often overpriced fare that seems to be mostly wan salads, fried everything and soggy vegetables. The bonus of stuffing your carry-on with your own edibles is the option to eat whatever you want whenever you want. You'll save a few bucks, too.
When I travel, I try to make and bring things that are not only what I'd like to eat but which are sturdy and easily packable. Though I must admit I harbor a deep and abiding love for potato chips, I try to snack mostly on homemade trail mix or simply a little bag of raw almonds, knowing my body will thank me later for avoiding the salt. Dehydration is part of the flying experience, and those in-flight snacks, if delicious going down, don't help.
Another trick is to make sure your food is fairly compact and not too perishable. Hearty one-serving salads, wraps stuffed with raw or roasted vegetables, little bags of raw almonds and dried fruit, a few squares of dark chocolate all are worthy options. If you bring fresh fruit, wash, peel, slice and generally try to do as much in advance as possible to avoid mess.
Some of my favorite take-aboard meals include savory grain salads, apple slices dipped in a little container of peanut butter, a deliciously substantial beet and carrot salad, peanuty pesto tossed with soba noodles, and a bit of sweetness in the form of whole-grain cookies or a granola bar. (A confession: If I'm pressed for time, sometimes I just throw leftovers from last night's dinner in a plastic container and take that along.)
Of course, there's nothing wrong with taking a sandwich crammed with your favorite things -- cheese and avocado on good bread, perhaps, or a piece of pita stuffed generously with hummus and lettuce. And don't underestimate the power of a good peanut butter sandwich -- whole grain bread, creamy natural peanut butter, a swipe of good jam -- to banish airport food cravings once and for all.
Just remember to pack everything in plastic or wrap it in foil; glass containers might not make it through security.
If you're only going for a short trip, stash the leftovers from your preflight preparations in the fridge for late-night nibbling when you return. Otherwise, consider portion size and potential appetite carefully (and maybe bring along an extra cookie or two just in case).
During a recent layover en route from Maine back to the West Coast, I started craving healthful food -- anything, really, would do. I'd left in a rush and hadn't had time to pack my own lunch. I started thinking about what I would have brought if I could have brought something. Maybe some fresh broccoli doused in a creamy tahini dressing and a scoop of brown rice seasoned just with a little salt and pepper. Or whole wheat noodles with peanut sauce and crisp slices of cucumber. Slices of raw red pepper. Hummus and carrots. A perfectly ripe apple with that tart crunch. Or a handful of sweet clementines -- much more satisfying than that corn syrup-enriched cranberry juice I'd had on the plane.
I searched vainly for the fast-food stand of my dreams, wishing for lightly steamed edamame and vegetarian sushi and cursing myself for not making the time to pack something nutritious. Eventually I settled on limp steamed vegetables masked in a cloying soy-based sauce. But the next time, I vowed ...
I've learned -- the product of having the bulk of my extended family and good friends live on the opposite coast, thus necessitating at least a few transcontinental trips a year -- that some airports are better than others. In Minneapolis, for example, I drank the best coffee I've had yet (or maybe it was just that I was so awfully tired?). At Chicago's O'Hare, I can find a decent smoothie if I'm desperate. And San Francisco offers one of the best chocolate cakes you'll ever eat. But like the mythical dining halls I used to hear about in college that served the tastiest, the best, the most organic and vegetarian-friendly meals (UC Santa Cruz was always described in particularly glowing terms, though I never got to experience it), I've yet to find the airport that has it all.
Until then, I'll bring my own.