Healthy Eating on the Plane? Make it Easy…and Fast!

It’s one thing to have a strategy in place for travel…once we arrive at our destination.  

We can select the places where we’ll be staying and dining in order to determine which will offer the balance of being able to enjoy the local cuisine without compromising your nutrition choices.  

In addition, it’s not hard to figure out where and when to get some workouts in, making it easy to stay on track with exercise and fitness goals, too.

But how to approach sitting for long periods of time in a confined environment at 35,000 feet?

Yes, you can and should get up often to move around and stretch, but you can’t exactly just go for a brisk walk or begin busting out push ups and lunges in the aisle, nor can you order what you like from a menu rich in veggie and wild protein offerings.

And, depending on how long the flight is, how long your layover may be and what your total time ends up totaling, you may find yourself in what feels like an absolutely impossible situation to navigate.

After all, what healthy, fresh foods can safely last for the duration of a long journey?

Even the reusable ice packs I often suggest using to tote food along in your thermal bag to work or school can only last so long.

Despite how carefully you may have planned and portioned out the perfect number of meals for the 22 odd hour trip from New York to Australia, lukewarm chicken breast and soggy lettuce isn’t only unappealing, it’s dangerous in terms of running the risk of food poisoning.

Perishable food shouldn’t be kept out of the fridge for more than two hours; cold foods cold (40 degrees F or below)[1].

So what are your options if the total duration exceeds the safe time frame of toting your food along?

If you’ve got a long enough layover to do a quick and easy turnover and pick up some in-a-pinch foods, you’re in luck.  

You can often make some less than great options work if need be, even at the airport, by cobbling together a meal out of turkey breast, romaine lettuce, cucumber and tomato from a sandwich shop, for example.

Less than ideal, yes, but still a better option than choking down airplane pretzels, peanuts and whatever else you may come across in the form of highly processed, salty, sugary, blood sugar-spiking food items with a very low to nonexistent nutrient density.

Alternatively, and perhaps a more viable option for many reasons is to go the easiest route and not eat at all.

Think about it; what better a time to practice intermittent fasting than in a situation where you’re barely moving at all and are naturally feeling sleepier due to the decreased oxygen level[2]?

Plus, with numbed taste buds due to the dry plane air-induced dehydrated nasal passages and intestinal gas expansion changes along with changes in cabin pressure, adding the task of digestion to the mix almost seems onerous.

A study published in the journal Science[3], researchers suggested that fasting for about 16 hours before a long flight may actually help to fend off jet lag.

The study explains how it’s light that triggers an internal clock that controls when we eat and sleep, but a second clock seems to override the first when the body senses that food is in short supply. So researchers believe we might be able to faster adjust to time zone changes by manipulating this second clock, based on hunger. In essence, if you make your body think it’s starving, you’ll be able to remain awake and alert until it’s dinner-time in your new destination, resetting your body’s light clock in the process.

Anecdotally, I’ve got to say that speaking from personal experience, having upped the fat percentage in my diet to 80% and implementing intermittent fasting, the last few long flights I’ve taken have resulted in zero jet lag.

For whatever reason, if you’re not comfortable with this approach for yourself, or perhaps for your family, including young children, and prefer to begin toying with this approach at home, you can still make the best of things by making sure to veg up and hydrate as much as you can before and after.

Be sure to bring along my top five plane-friendly snacks, all of which are portable, convenient and won’t spoil unrefrigerated:

  1. Seaweed. Dried and packaged, yes, but still an essential part of a healthy approach is seaweed is the best source of dietary iodine, crucial to balance out all the sulfur we get with our crucifers like kale, broccoli and spinach to support healthy thyroid function.
  2. Coconut oil. A great source of both MCT oil as well as Lauric acid, both of which help satiate the appetite, promote gut health..and taste great! Artisana makes handy single serve packets to go.
  3. Raw Sprouted Nuts. So long as you’re not following the autoimmune protocol, nuts can be an easy snack option for flights. Rather than relying on them on a daily basis as a go-to fat source (high in Omega 6s, nut should be enjoyed more as a once in a while type garnish compared to healthier fat choices like olive oil or avocado), they are perfect for travel.   Buy them already sprouted or make your own (link to recipe) in order to decrease anti nutrient content.
  4. Green powder- while I’m not a fan of relying on powders and portions regularly, if you’re in a pinch on a plane and are in a serious veggie deprivation mode, a green powder can be just the thing to drink to help alkalize your pH. Just be sure to do your due diligence to make sure the powder you procure isn’t laden with soy, dairy or other unfavorable additives.
  5. Jerky. Again, not something you’d want to have each day for breakfast, lunch and dinner, as most jerky brands have at least some, if not tons of salt, this is one specific time when a ‘preserved’ protein comes in handy. There are now several viable soy-free options that’ll do the trick when you’re chomping at the bit for some protein mid-flight.

By doing the best you can by planning and being creative, you can swiftly correct the path of your journey from one heading down the path of car wreck, err… plane crash to one of a healthy, tasty start to your holiday!

[1] “How Long Can Food That Is Supposed to Be Refrigerated Stay outside of the Refrigerator and Still Be Safe to Eat.” US DFA. US FDA,

[2] Strutner, Suzy. “7 Ways Flying Messes With Your Body.” The Huffington Post. N.p., 13 Nov. 2014. Web

[3] “Coffee and Naps Not Helping Jet Lag? Try Fasting Instead.” New York Times. New York Times, n.d. Web