Your vacation is booked, your bags are packed, and your passport is (finally!) ready for its next stamp. But before you leave for the airport, you’ll want to have a good snack strategy in place. After all, airport kiosks are often stocked with overpriced cookies and candies that don’t do much in terms of satiety (and that paltry bag of pretzels that’s passed out mid-flight is never enough to hold you over).
Consider this your one-stop guide to all things healthy snacking while flying the friendly skies. We’ll break down everything from what foods will pass through security, to how your tastebuds change when you’re 35,000 feet in the air, to the noshes nutritionists love to bring on their own trips.
What Foods Are TSA-Approved?
When it comes to packing snacks for flights, your first challenge is knowing which foods are TSA-approved. Thankfully, the Transportation Security Administration has a pretty comprehensive list of what foods are allowed through security screenings (did you know live lobsters get the green light?).
Foods like hummus, yogurt, dips, applesauce, soft cheeses, and peanut butter can all go through security so long as they’re not over 3.4 ounces. Hard cheese, as well as baby food, formula, and breast milk, are allowed in quantities greater than 3.4 ounces.
How Your Sense Of Taste Changes When You’re Flying
You may have heard before that your sense of taste is altered when you’re on an airplane, and as it turns out, there’s some truth to this.
How it works: The loud background sound of airplanes, as well as the changes in cabin pressure, can impact our sense of hearing, which indirectly affects our sense of taste, explains food scientist Bryan Quoc Le, Ph.D., author of 150 Food Science Questions Answered.
“Studies have shown that unpleasant or loud noises, such as those from an engine turbine, dampen our ability to perceive sweetness and saltiness, as well as our overall enjoyment of food,” he says.
Interestingly, foods with umami aren’t susceptible to this same effect, Le says. That’s because our ability to pick up on savory tastes is based on receptors that are triggered by the presence of amino acids and ribonucleotides. (These types of molecules are found in great abundance in meats, fish, and fermented foods such as cheese and olives.) “Strong, savory flavors are more easily perceived on flights than other tastes and flavors,” Le says. Just something to consider if you’re bothered by the blandness that overtakes your usual snacks when you’re in the air.
Foods And Drinks to Avoid When Flying
Understandably, when you’re stuck in a cramped cabin for hours, you might want to avoid certain snacks and beverages.
The first: alcohol. Booze can dehydrate you (especially if you’re not drinking as much water as you normally do), so having wine, beer, or a cocktail mid-flight may leave you with a headache or nausea, says dietitian Sylvia Klinger, R.D., founder of Hispanic Food Communications.
And if you want to avoid inconvenient tummy troubles? “You may want to limit high-fiber foods before and during the flight if you tend to have a delicate digestive system,” Klinger says. So hold off on cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, cauliflower, beans, and legumes until after you land.
It’s also smart to avoid peanut products while flying since the presence of peanut allergens in the air could cause an allergic reaction in someone with an allergy, says nutritionist Laura Asbury, M.S., R.D., L.D., C.S.C.S.
5 Nutritionist-Approved Snacks To Bring On Your Next Flight
So, which foods make for perfect airplane snacks, then? Here’s what registered dietitians recommend packing.
Sweet and juicy, clementines are portable and can be easily enjoyed on a plane, says Asbury. (Go ahead and peel them ahead of time to save some trouble). “They’re full of vitamin C and nutrients to help you fight off any germs,” she says. Pair them with mixed nuts for healthy fats and protein.
2. Homemade Muffins
“I am a sucker for baked goods, but the ones they sell in airport cafes are humongous,” says dietitian Elana Natker, R.D., of A Sprinkle of Sage. Her solution: She keeps a batch of blueberry muffins in her freezer and grabs one on her way to the airport so it’s thawed just in time for boarding. This way, she can control the ingredients and keep the recipe healthy by incorporating oats, yogurt for extra protein, and either fresh or frozen blueberries, which are nutrient-dense and packed with antioxidants. (Try these collagen carrot cake muffins on for size.)
3. Homemade Trail Mix
Natker also recommends DIYing trail mix by combining a whole-grain oat cereal (like Cheerios), cashews or almonds, unsweetened raisins, and semisweet chocolate chips. The nuts are a good source of heart-healthy fat, protein, and fiber and are also packed with vitamins and minerals. Just keep portions in mind, as one ounce of nuts contains about 160 to 180 calories, according to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. A handful will go a long way in satiating you!
4. Low-Sodium Beef Jerky
If you eat meat, beef jerky can be a lean protein-packed snack that’s easy to pack and mess-free, says nutritionist Alyssa Burison, R.D., of weight loss and nutrition program Profile. She recommends choosing a jerky that contains less than 10 percent of your daily value of sodium intake (high sodium can dehydrate you and flying can make this even worse) and five grams or less of added sugars.
5. Protein Bars
“Protein bars are convenient and nutritious, usually providing a good combination of protein, fat, and carbohydrates,” Burison says. “I like to pack a few extras in case of flight delays.” Look for a brand that contains few added sugars and at least 10 grams of protein, she recommends. Our pick: plnt Organic Protein Bars in Cinnamon Raisin flavor.