First, a few general guidelines:
1. If you're flying with a cranky, crying child or one who's still sitting on your lap (i.e. taking up a lot of room and kicking the chair in front of her), offer to buy your seatmates a cocktail or a snack pack. It fosters goodwill.
2. Pack a lot of options. I pack very, very light when it comes to gear and go heavy on snacks instead. (Trust me, kids prefer SkyMall to Goodnight Moon anyway.) Food is entertaining; don't worry that you're spoiling her lunch/dinner or letting her have too many granola bars. Also, if you get delayed, you'll need extra.
3. I don't want to get into a debate about TSA procedures here, but this is my two cents on bringing liquids for a child. I've carried on 60+ ounces of frozen breastmilk, bottles, sippy cups, you name it, and it's never been a problem. Here's what almost always happens: I forget it's in the bag, then casually alert the agent just as it's going through the security machine ("Oh, there's a sippy cup for her in there!"). Sometimes it's just water and yet they are always very nonchalant. They take it out, remove the top (or have me do it), wave a litmus strip over it, and I'm outta there. I've found that if I have a child strapped to me/walking with me, they are quick and understanding (and that's LaGuardia, folks).
Here are a few options for different ages:
Babies to One Year:
• Infants of course don't need anything other than a breast or a bottle. Buy bottled water before you get on the plane if you need to mix formula (ask for a room temperature one that's not in the cooler case).
• Puffs or cereal. Easy to eat and fun to pick up one by one.
• Pouches. These can be good for older kids, too.
• Blueberries and clementines. They don't stain as badly as strawberries or raspberries, they don't get easily pulverized in a bag, and they're easy to pick up/peel without a huge mess.
• Cubed tofu. Also low-mess, healthy, and can stand to be room temperature.
• Cubed, roasted sweet potatoes. See above.
One to Two Years:
• All of the aforementioned, plus...
• Plain pasta. No utensils required, not messy.
• Sandwiches. Peanut butter & jelly (hey, they hand out peanuts on Delta flights, so...), turkey and cheese—easy to pack and fine at room temperature.
• Granola bars or cereal bars.
• Dried fruit. Mango strips, apricots, apple slices.
• Edamame. Again, clean and easy.
• Several special things they don't get at home (but you know they'll eat). Maybe that's granola bars or a certain kind of chip. In my experience, food on a flight is as much distraction and entertainment as it is nourishment. If they eat it every day, it's no fun, Mom. And you sometimes need a trick up your sleeve.
TIP: Pack things creatively. Put jelly beans or Goldfish in plastic easter eggs. Tie ribbons around things. Treating snacks like little presents can buy you extra time, especially during takeoff and landing when you can't turn on Bubble Guppies.
Things to Avoid:
• Bananas. I know, they're a staple at home. But they can turn into a brown, slimy disaster in a carry-on bag, and if you don't eat the whole thing at once, saving the leftovers is a nasty endeavor.
• Avocado. Same deal. It's mushy and messy.
• Crumbly crackers. Things like Ritz or butter crackers that scatter massive crumbs every time your child takes a bite. One-bite things (Goldfish) are better.
• Dips. Kids love hummus, but trying to balance the dip plus the cracker plus the cup of water the flight attendant just handed you plus the tray your kid keeps lifting and lowering...
• Broccoli. I've made this mistake. My child loves broccoli, and it's so easy to pack (not messy at all). But it stinks when you open it.
Of course, the options are endless depending on your child's taste. What are your best bets for feeding a kid on a plane?
(Image: Elizabeth Passarella)