16 Lunches and Dinners to Pack for the Airport

September  1, 2017

Here is a quote from a post I famously contributed to on the subject of packing food for the airport:

Normally, my airport food isn't some beautiful little snack I've diligently packed away—it is bodega yogurts and bags of pretzels and peanut butter cups. Why, Heidi, would you ask me to gently sauté a ginger onion paste while I’m supposed to be packing? I hardly have the time to fold my laundry, let alone swaddle herbs in barely warmed oil. 

The Heidi in question here is Heidi Swanson, whose delicate little spring rolls I was making as a test to see if it was, indeed, worth it to add “make food” to your already long list of flight prep. (See: “remember toothbrush,” “where is your license,” and “CHARGERS?!?!?”)

Spoiler alert: It was. I may have felt twee wrapping and packing these up, but I felt like a winner once I got to my terminal. A winner who has her life together, and who got at least half her servings of vegetables that day.

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You can do it too, and you should. Here are 16 lunches that will pack and serve you well for long flights:

Great grain salads:

Lentil salads:

Salads that won't wilt:

Noodle salads that are better cold, anyway:

This article was originally published in July 2016, but it's never a bad idea to pack your own airplane meal!

Do you have a airport meal tradition? (Alternatively: What's the weirdest thing you ever ate on an airplane?) Tell us in the comments.

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See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Laura McCloskey
    Laura McCloskey
  • Ann
  • april
  • Lynn
  • Ann
Kenzi Wilbur

Written by: Kenzi Wilbur

I have a thing for most foods topped with a fried egg, a strange disdain for overly soupy tomato sauce, and I can never make it home without ripping off the end of a newly-bought baguette. I like spoons very much.


Laura M. November 29, 2017
I thought any food taken through TSA was confiscated.
Lazyretirementgirl November 29, 2017
Nope. Just pastes ( e.g. hummus) and liquids (e.g. vinaigrette).TSA has a list on their website.
Ann July 10, 2016
april your menu sounds delicious!!! and easy on the stomach! I want to travel with you! :-)
april July 10, 2016
I'm gluten and dairy free and just got back from flying halfway around the world. I went on All Nippon Airlines and ordered their strict vegan meal, hoping I'd have something to eat. I bought chicken legs, hard boiled eggs, seaweed snacks, curried cashews, chocolate, zippfizz powder, pickles, carrots, celery, peanut and almond butter, oat cakes and jerky. All of it made it through security (I put the nut butters in with my other liquids and gels) All the meals were fine, except the last meal, on my return trip, "breakfast" was spaghetti. I had to convince the flight attendants that I *could* eat the fish that was the alternate.
I won't bring as much next time, but I'll be sure to have a few things on the way home too.
Ann July 10, 2016
Agree Ann! Yikes!
cv> fruits are great and onigiri is the best!! Too bad not a lot of people have heard of them.
Lynn July 10, 2016
This are all really great ideas- but usually when I'm traveling, before I leave I try to use up what I have in my fridge- leftovers, bits of cheese, raw vegetables, fruit, nuts, etc... So realistically what I bring ends up being a mash up of what I have on hand. Also, I have yet to master the art of hydrating and cooking up a single serving of lentils or grains.
Ann July 10, 2016
Lentils and beans do not travel well in one's gut. Owing to cabin pressure, it is best eaten at ground level.
Coach R. July 10, 2016
My other go-to travel food: individual servings of hummus and raw cauliflower florets and carrots Yeah, not super creative, but perfect for the RETURN flight, right!
Coach R. July 10, 2016
Love these hearty salad ideas!!! I'd ADD chopped kale to a lot of them, because generally raw kale taste better after being tenderized by a dressing and infused by seasonings
Jenny B. July 10, 2016
Great recipes! Eating well while traveling is a bear. These will help.
702551 July 1, 2016
Unsurprisingly, the food on Air France is pretty good for airline grub. Same with your typical Asian carriers (JAL, ANA, Singapore, etc.).

That said, I don't eat much while in the air. The altitude/air pressure/low humidity/recirculated cabin air depresses my appetite. If I recall correctly, some airlines have studied the effects of airplane travel and determined that one loses much of one's sense of smell at regular cruising altitudes, so consulting chefs who devise on-board meals take that into consideration when writing a menu.

What I do bring on the airplane is a bunch of fruit (pre-sliced). I feel that the water in the fruit helps a bit in staying hydrated.

One thing that does travel well is onigiri (Japanese rice balls) which have a history over a thousand years old. They are quick to assemble, don't require any utensils, and are easily consumed at 35,000 feet or in an airport terminal lounge.
ccsinclair July 1, 2016
I was pleasantly surprised by KLM's air plane food. So it's not as dire as it seems. We didn't touch our cheese sticks and protein bars.