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.

  • Mary-Elizabeth Travale MacDonald
    Mary-Elizabeth Travale MacDonald
  • PH69
  • Susanna
  • Gail Dalmat
    Gail Dalmat
  • Marianna Foos
    Marianna Foos
I'm a native New Yorker, Le Cordon Bleu graduate, former food writer/editor turned entrepreneur, mother of two, and unapologetic lover of cheese.


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
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.
creamtea July 22, 2019
Lately, when I make chocolate chip cookie dough, I roll it into logs using baking parchment and put the logs into ziplock bags and on into the freezer. Recently before a flight, I took out a log (the night before), sliced it and baked a small batch of cookies in the toaster oven for my husband and myself. 8-10 minutes baking time and a brief cooling period, and we had fresh cookies for the flight! (I was rather proud of myself, as we're usually very no-nonsense pack-and-go-to-the-airport-early types).
Greenandleafy July 21, 2019
Great ideas! And could we please remember when in an airplane or train or other enclosed spaces, please go easy on the strong smelling food?
Melissa B. July 21, 2019
When driving long distances with kids, I give each kids a shoebox packed with snacks. They are allowed to eat anything in the box— no permission needed. Everything is divided up fairly beforehand. No bothering adults necessary, no fighting over the last cookie. My kid with allergies gets fun new packaged snacks to try. A cooler in the way back means that one kid gets to be in charge of something— a power to be wielded wisely. And I get to have actual conversations up front. :)
creamtea July 22, 2019
Brilliant! My kids are grown. Wish I'd thought of the shoebox idea when they were little!
Melissa B. July 22, 2019
It really has been a life-changer. :)
Lindsay S. January 5, 2019
I once saw a french family at the airport eating hard boiled eggs. I do this now, ha. If you cook them properly they don't smell strongly. I made "Louisa's peach cake" and took frozen leftovers with us and we ate it once we got to the hotel, it was so perfect still! Also I have always loved the french ham and butter on a baguette as a travel meal, and also the Italian version with prosciutto plus a san pellagrino limonata! :) Can't get much yummier than that!
Rose C. August 11, 2022
At least they were eating them at the airport, and not on the plane!
Helen October 6, 2018
I like to make my own trail mix of toasted or raw nuts, different kinds of raisins, roasted chickpeas, pumpkin seeds etc. It is easy to carry, eat and doesn’t smell. Peanut butter on triscuits are good too. I think avoiding strong smelling food is really important. Sometimes i pack a few dried apricots, apples, figs for something sweet that isn’t messy. I buy water in the airport past security and am good to go. I usually avoid meat and fish when traveling but a few slices of cheddar are good if you eat early enough. I prefer to eat vegetarian than risk food poisoning on a trip. Been there done that. Homemade trail mix, peanut butter crackers, dried fruit, hard dark chocolate and water are my go-to snacks.
Bonnie T. September 10, 2018
I like to make breakfast burritos or bean, cheese, veggie + avocado burritos. Wrap them in foil, they can handle being jostled, will stay warm (but aren’t bad at room temp) and satisfying. Homemade granola is good too, you can add milk on the plane or just eat it as a snack.
Cecilia September 9, 2018
My favorite on-board snack is oatmeal. I take regular rolled oats and chop them up a bit in my food processor to convert them into instant oats (or I just buy the individually wrapped packets of instant at the store, but I don't usually have these on hand). I then pack a serving of oats in a small container along with some salt and cinnamon, flax seeds, etc. On the plane, I'll ask a flight attendant to fill the oatmeal cup up with hot water (I wait until any service is finished, then go back and ask politely. I have never had anything but an enthusiastic and gracious response). It's a lovely warm, comforting snack for me, and can help me fall asleep if it's a long flight. It's also endlessly customizable, and I can pack a few packages of instant oats to last different legs of the trip. Bonus: the same method can be applied to packages of instant miso soup from Trader Joe's.
Lazyretirementgirl October 5, 2018
Great idea. Thanks!
Michelle S. September 3, 2018
Stuffed pizza wrapped in foil, w wet naps or wet paper towels, Fruit ( pre peeled oranges or a large fruit cup) mints, m&ms, granola bars. skittles. We take long flights.
M S. September 3, 2018
Nice. Trow some anchos on that baby. Onions?
Deborah B. September 2, 2018
My standard in-flight snack bag contains a package of pre-sliced apple wedges, individually wrapped non-smelly cheeses like mini bonbels, granola bars, good chocolate.