Dining at Feet

What's to eat at 35,000 feet? Food service depends on the carrier, where you sit on the plane, and the length and time of your flight. As airlines cut back to control costs, food service is often just a light snack, a pack of pretzels or peanuts, or no food—and a beverage.

Whether you're a frequent flier or an occasional passenger, plan ahead so the plane "fare" fits into your eating style—and promotes your health.

  • Except for long (often international) flights, don't count on an airline meal. Instead, check with your travel agent or the airline before the flight to verify the type of food service.
  • If there's no meal served and you want to eat, take your own food on board, especially if you travel with small children. Dried fruit such as apricots, an apple or a banana, raw vegetables, packaged crackers and sliced cheese, muffins, bagels, pretzels, and peanuts are among portable foods that travel well. For safety's sake, don't keep a sandwich with meat or other perishable food for too long at cabin temperature—no more than two hours. That includes transit time from your kitchen, if it's packed there.
  • Want a special meal on a long flight? If you or your travel agent call at least twenty-four hours before your flight, you can arrange for special meals on major carriers—vegetarian, kosher, low-calorie, low-fat, low-sodium, diabetic, and fruit plate, among others—for no extra cost if the flight has meal service. Often special meals are available for infants and children. Some carriers offer Hindu, Muslim, or Asian meals. In fact, the most efficient time to place your request is when you make your reservation.
  • Remember: It's okay to say "no." You don't need to eat airline food just because it's offered. If you just ate or plan a nice meal on the ground, let the serving cart roll by. Today there may be a cost, too!
  • To avoid dehydration, drink plenty of fluids (even if you're not thirsty)—8 ounces every hour of your flight. Juice and water are great choices. For the same reason, go easy on alcoholic drinks. With the low humidity and recirculating air within the pressurized

Passport to Flavor: Six More Ethnic Cuisines

Add variety and adventure to eating out. Try these cuisines, too! Enjoy menu items with fewer calories and less fat more often. Go ahead and enjoy a higher-fat food if you prefer; share or have a smaller portion. This are just a few menu items to whet your appetite:

Enjoy more often


  • Beans and rice dishes
  • Chicken and rice
  • Grilled meat and chicken (jerk chicken or goat)
  • Vegetable stews (callaloo)

Middle Eastern

  • Bean and bulgur salad
  • Cold yogurt soup
  • Couscous (perhaps whole wheat)
  • Fatoosh (bread salad)
  • Lamb and vegetable stew
  • Rice and lentil/bean dishes


  • Cooked cabbage
  • Dumplings
  • Potato salad with a sweet-sour dressing
  • Roast pork (lean) with gravy on the side


  • Broth-based fish soup (bouillabaisse)
  • Demiglace sauces
  • Poached fruit
  • Roasted or braised meat, poultry, or fish
  • Salad greens with vinaigrette
  • Steamed or sautéed vegetables
  • Vegetable casserole (ratatouille)
  • Provençal dishes (with tomatoes)


  • Boiled or baked dumplings (pelmeni)
  • Broiled meat skewers (shaslyk)
  • Kasha
  • Meat-stuffed cabbage
  • Whole-grain breads


  • Baked roti (bread, such as naan), chapati
  • Dishes prepared with yogurt
  • Lentil dishes, curries with vegetable sauce
  • Roasted chicken or fish dishes with vegetable sauces; grilled kebobs
  • Tandoori cooked chicken
  • Papadum (lentil wafers)

Enjoy less often

  • Fried fish
  • Fritters (conch fritters)
  • Fried plantain

Baba ghanouj

Fried chickpea cakes (falafel) Fried meat-bulgur patties (kibbeh) Rich pastries, often with honey (baklava)

Breaded and fried meat and poultry (schnitzel) Creamy soup

Noodle and cheese dishes Sausages

Thick, creamy gravy

Cheese Cream soups Creamy sauces Croissants

Goose or duck liver (foie gras), paté French fries (pommes frites) Rich desserts (mousse, Napoleon) Soups with gratinée (cheese)


Dishes made with sour cream gravy (stroganoff) Fried dumplings

Salads with mayonnaise or sour cream Soups made with cream or sour cream (borscht)

Dishes, such as curry dishes, made with coconut milk

Fried bread (poori, paratha, pakora)

Fried dishes (samosa, shami)

Ghee (clarified butter)

Korma (meat dish with rich cream sauce)

cabin, airline travel can be dehydrating; you lose body fluids through evaporation on your skin. Dehydration causes fatigue. Pack bottled water in your carry-on luggage as an extra supply. Especially on a long trip, drink plenty of liquids before, during, and after flying.

  • Want to relax or sleep on the flight? If you're sensitive to caffeine, avoid caffeinated beverages: coffee, tea, and colas. For some people, too much caffeine can promote sleeplessness, anxiety, and overstimulation . . . especially for those anxious about flying anyway!
  • If you drink alcoholic beverages, go easy—even if you have free drink coupons or you're in first class, where they're free. It's wise to stop after one or two drinks. On a long flight, wine or cocktails may not help you sleep—and may not relax you, either. Instead, larger amounts may have the opposite effect, making you more restless.
  • When the beverage cart rolls by, make your choice count for overall nutrition, not just calories— especially if you may come up short during the day. Ask for fruit juice, tomato juice, or milk.
  • Especially on a long flight, get out of your seat and move around as allowed by the flight attendants. Even a little exercise, such as walking the aisles, will help you feel better than just sinking into the seat with your headset on or with a good book.
  • If you buy airport food to take onboard or eat as you wait, try to order sensibly—even if choices are limited. Rather than sit as you wait for a flight, exercise: walk the concourses, skip people movers!
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