How to Pack the Ultimate Carry-On Bag of Airplane Snacks

Merrill's 10 commandments of eating while traveling.

July 18, 2019

As we head into the long holiday weekend, we’re reminded of the time our co-founders Merrill Stubbs and Amanda Hesser jetted off to Japan on a 14-hour flight—and the magical Mary Poppins bag of plane snacks that Merrill packed. We asked her how she managed to plan such a feast. Here are her tips.

Merrill's 10 Commandments of Eating While Traveling

  • 1. Plan your picnic ahead of time and buy as much as you can before you hit the road/air. You'll be less stressed, and odds are you'll spend less and end up with much better options. A wedge of good cheese and a baguette can easily be shared among three or four people and should set you back less than two soggy airport sandwiches.
  • 2. Choose items that can last for a while at room temperature without suffering (e.g. cured meats instead of fresh, crackers instead of bread, hard cheeses instead of soft). Even for a short flight, you'll need to account for the additional time spent getting to/from the airport, going through security, etc.
  • 3. Plan for several mini meals instead of one or two large ones. We (and our kids) tend to get peckish while traveling—normally we're not proponents of eating out of boredom, but these are extraordinary circumstances!
  • 4. Pack your food in appropriate containers. Either use disposables like foil or old deli containers that you can toss immediately, or—even better—reusable bags that you can wash and press into service during your trip (we take lots of these silicone bags, which can hold snacks for our kids throughout the trip—also great for wet bathing suits!).
  • 5. Include a couple of special treats—now's the perfect time to splurge on those fancy Italian chocolates or handmade spelt crackers you've been eyeing.
  • 6. Focus on things that don't require utensils, or a transfer from one container to another. Dried fruit, nuts and seeds, cut up veggies, and homemade pita chips and hummus are all good options.
  • 7. Pack things that range the full flavor spectrum to keep things interesting (see #3 re: boredom above). This will also help you avoid eating too much salt, which can cause uncomfortable fluid retention.
  • 8. Opt for assertive flavors (olives, herbed or wheaty crackers instead of plain, aged cheeses). Your taste buds are less sensitive when traveling, for a whole host of reasons, so you'll want to stay away from bland foods.
  • 9. Eat the most perishable items first, and work towards the least perishable. If you only get part-way through that prosciutto and fontina baguette with arugula or you're left with a bunch of battered bananas, those will have to go straight in the trash when you land. Leftover nuts or rice crackers will last you the rest of the trip.
  • 10. Pack some napkins and wet wipes. If you bring delicate produce like tomatoes, peaches or plums, wrap the fruit carefully in the napkins to keep them from bruising or splitting.

A Peek Inside Merrill's Snack Bag

Our 11 Best Airplane Snack Ideas

1. Blueberry, Oatmeal & Flaxseed Muffins

Make a batch of Merrill's blueberry muffins with hearty oatmeal and flaxseed and pack everyone on your trip at least two, because eating just one simply isn't an option.

2. Nekisia Davis' Olive Oil & Maple Granola

According to our resident Genius, Kristen Miglore, "This is going to be the best granola you've had in your whole dang life." So yeah, you're probably going to want to pack more than a few bags of this for your next flight.

3. Pan Bagnat: Le French Tuna Salad Sandwich

We bet you'll be feeling pretty good about yourself for making this tasty-meets-easy French tuna salad sandwich when the flight attendants start handing out those aluminum foil meals.

4. Italian Snacking Bread

Whether you're headed to Italy or not, this Italian snacking bread—a type of flatbread topped with anchovies, olives, and onions—makes the perfect plus-one for lengthy flights.

5. Shichimi Togarashi Granola

You could sprinkle this savory granola—made with shichimi togarashi, a highly craveable Japanese spice blend—over a salad or even soy sauce-drizzled rice, but we like it best eaten straight as a snack.

6. Malted Chocolate Chunk Cookie Bars

If you (or any of your fellow travelers) have a sweet tooth, make sure these malted chocolate chunk cookie-meets-brownie bars tag along with you on your trip.

7. Wasabi Pea Snack Mix

This spicy-salty mix combines all of your favorite crunchy snacks—homemade wasabi peas, Rice Chex, cheese crackers, and yes, even Fritos—to create something that is blissfully addictive.

8. Around-the-World Coconut Popcorn Mix

This popcorn's creator describes this one-of-a-kind mix "like Cracker Jacks gone wild" and we'd have to agree. Packed with big flavors (coconut oil, Thai chile peppers, and lime zest for starters), every bite of this popcorn is a little bit different than the last in the best way possible.

9. Slab Muffuletta

This family-friendly slab muffuletta travels like a dream and—thanks to tangy olives and capers, savory Italian meats, and our fluffiest-ever focaccia recipe—tastes even dreamier.

10. No-Mayo Peperonata Pasta Salad

If you've ever been skeptical of pasta salad, meet the recipe that will turn you into a believer. A riff on peperonata (a traditional Southern Italian side dish of sweet peppers, onions, and tomatoes sautéed in olive oil), this pasta salad hits all the right flavor/texture notes and tastes best at room temperature—perfect for travel.

11. Magical, Marvelous, Memorable Cookies

Easily our most popular cookie recipe of all time, these triple-M cookies are soft and chewy out of the oven and perfectly crunchy-crispy after they cool down (aka when you're on the plane).

What snacks do you pack while traveling? Let us know in the comments below.

This article has been updated by our editors in 2019 to include more airplane-friendly snack ideas!

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Diana
  • Elizabeth Finch
    Elizabeth Finch
  • Cindy
  • Elvisthefoodie
  • Susan Dyer Behrman
    Susan Dyer Behrman
I'm a native New Yorker, Le Cordon Bleu graduate, former food writer/editor turned entrepreneur, mother of two, and unapologetic lover of cheese.


Diana April 27, 2024
First, if your biggest problem is someone eating stinky food on your flight, consider yourself blessed. All prepared airplane meals stink too. And if it is a long flight, which is what this article suggests, it is nice to have real food that will sustain you. Eat what brings you joy.
PH69 April 27, 2024
Yeah, I love when someone's meal smells worse than a baby diaper.
Elizabeth F. April 24, 2024
Can’t travel without Olive Oil & Maple Granola From Nekisia Davis with extra clumps, dried prunes- 3 a day really work to keep things moving along… and a small spray bottle of glycerin and rose water- so refreshing during/after long flights.
Cindy April 24, 2024
I always toast almonds for my carry on. Easy and good.
Elvisthefoodie April 22, 2024
Ok I agree with the other comments Anchovies and Tuna its a not a great idea on board of a plain... but so are Mc. Donald's or Pizza Hut.
I tend to keep my snacks options on the dry side and drink lots of fluids.
Susan D. April 22, 2024
Merrill, I think you owe it to humanity to let us know far in advance when you and your family will be flying.
Joy April 17, 2024
Who in the hell brings tuna on a plane? Or anchovies? Sure way to be that annoying paasenger.
kate April 19, 2024
Yes! Please don't bring fish (or strong smelling food) on planes. We're packed in there like sardines, we don't need to smell like them too.
piebaker February 20, 2024
I want to travel with you
lizarddiva February 18, 2024
While these may be delicious, do NOT bring tuna or anchovies on a plane unless you want someone to take viral videos of you describing what not to pack to eat on a plane
J April 1, 2024
People bring onions on a plane all the time so...
Dina April 13, 2023
On the plane? Half of these I can’t pass through security let alone eat next to my seat mate - pain bagnat ? Tuna?
I got protein bars & a sealed store bought bag of nuts, not a picnic.
Jennalynn April 12, 2023
How about also what NOT to take?
Anything where the aroma could wander more than 2ft (think eggs/fish) DO NOT BRING.
Mary-Elizabeth T. March 4, 2023
I get a few ice cube trays with plastic lids - mine have 6 pretty big compartments - maybe 2x2 inches - and fill each with treat. Rosemary and hot pepper taralle, olives, cubed dried Italian pepperoni, savoury dried chickpeas and fava beans, dried apricots, and chocolate covered almonds or sour candies.
PH69 October 30, 2022
My favorite guy on the plane is always the person that brings tuna, anchovies, and onions.
Susanna August 21, 2022
You contradict yourself by first recommending a baguette, then saying in the next sentence to take crackers instead of bread for the crispness factor. Then you say to bring a shareable wedge of cheese—ah, no. How are you going to cut it? You can’t bring a knife on a plane. And please, please don’t bring any strong cheeses. Your seatmates will be rightly offended. Same goes for a flatbread with anchovies, crazy recommendation.
Gail D. August 11, 2022
Yikes! I HAD to fly recently, but wore an N95 from arriving at one airport to leaving the other, including layovers at OHare and Dulles. I snuck a couple sips of water under my mask, likewise I ate a Kind Bar one quick bite at a time. I did NOT get COVID--but my son and his bride did on their boat and train honeymoon. #CovidIsNotOver #MonkeyPoxIsAirborne
ElleT April 13, 2024
It's 2024 and I'm STILL doing this exact thing, because so many friends have gotten sick with a virus soon after flying. I'm probably going to do it for life because I always seem to sit in front of a sneezing, sniffling, poorly attended toddler who ends up TOUCHING ME with her little wet hands. Also, if you pack tuna, onions, strong cheese, garlic, or anchovies, practically everyone near you is going to hate you and, these days, someone just might act out.
Marianna F. August 11, 2022
Smitten Kitchen has a delicious chickpea pan bagnat for the conscientious
Vivian K. August 11, 2022
Seems as if this non-fishy version would be rather messy if the typical amount of oil is used.
Jes August 11, 2022
Please, for the sake of your neighbors no tuna on airplanes!
Rose C. August 11, 2022
Those all seem very delicious, but quite a few have a very high “stink factor.” I think this is an important consideration when traveling by plane. It’s rude to other passengers to stink up the plane.
PH69 October 30, 2022
They really do stink! I was surprised by the amount of stinky suggestions for flying. I mean, there's not caring what other people think, and then there's being terrible on purpose.
Rose C. October 30, 2022
Lol. Word!
Vivian K. August 11, 2022
Apple slices, strips of red pepper, cubes of hard cheese, cubes or sticks of hard salami, dried apricots, small open faced cheese/salami sandwiches, my favorite no-grain granola bars, mixed nuts. Everything is its own ziplock bag or reusable plastic container. No way would I take a tuna bagnat sandwich!
Champagne23 May 28, 2022
Tuna?? On an airplane?? Pleeeeease take down this suggestion. It’s evil!!
billy March 4, 2020
Eating half of this stuff on a plane would be super stinky and rude.... eggs, tuna, stinky meats, just no. All of these are "selfish snacks." Dry foods that are not stinky are best.