4 Snack-Packing Tips for Long Flights

updated May 24, 2019
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(Image credit: Sheela Prakash)

Last week I returned from a trip of a lifetime. My fiancé and I spent almost two weeks soaking up the beauty of South Africa. It was a such an incredible vacation that we’re already plotting our return, if we’re ever so lucky in the future. The only negative part was, well, the flight. I’ve been on 10- and even 12-hour flights before, but this was by far the longest I’ve endured. Book the nonstop from New York City’s John F. Kennedy airport to Johannesburg’s O. R. Tambo airport, like we did, and you’re in for a solid 15-hour flight.

To make matters worse, I don’t eat airplane food. The whole thing actually started as a pact between me and my sister when we used to go on family vacation as kids. Oddly, it stuck; I don’t even touch the little bag of pretzels they hand out. I’m the first to admit that the whole thing is a bit ridiculous, but after so many years of packing my own meals and snacks, I’ve actually begun to enjoy the whole routine.

So how did I pack enough sustenance for such a marathon of a flight? It definitely took some brainstorming and planning, but in the end I figured out the simplest, most stress-free way to accomplish it.

1. Pack a real meal.

I knew I wouldn’t be able to survive on snacks alone so I wanted to bring along one bigger item that would act as my main meal — something I could enjoy while everyone else was poking around at their dinner trays. I usually opt for a sandwich, but I wasn’t quite sure how well it would hold up for six or seven hours (midway or so through my flight when I thought I would want it). Instead, I picked up a big bean and vegetable turnover from one of my favorite stalls at my local farmers market. Since it didn’t contain any meat or dairy, I knew it wouldn’t spoil. If you want to make your own, a few empanadas or a savory hand pie would work, too — just keep it vegetarian.

2. Bring an assortment of snacks.

I wanted my snack repertoire to cover all bases: salty and sweet. But even more importantly, I wanted to stash bites that were nutritious enough to keep me satisfied. Since it’s wrapped in wax, Mini Babybel cheese keeps longer at room temperature than other cheeses, so I packed a few for protein. I also filled a sandwich bag with cheddar cracker and pretzel snack mix for that little hit of salt, and another bag with grapes for something healthy and hydrating.

I reached for fiber-packed granola bars at breakfast time and, of course, I didn’t forget the sweet treat. I packed along a couple of peanut butter-swirled brownies that I had baked before I left. These were for me and my fiancé to enjoy when we were feeling like we’d just about reached our limit on the flight, but still had hours left.

3. Don’t forget to hydrate.

Besides buying giant water bottles before we boarded the plane and asking for at least one bottle of water every time the flight attendant came by, I also brought along a handful of herbal tea bags. It’s so important to keep yourself well-hydrated on long flights; instead of relaxing by succumbing to the free alcohol offered, which can be dehydrating, I asked for a cup of hot water to brew my tea.

4. Freeze a few items to act as ice packs.

While most of the items I packed didn’t need refrigeration, I knew I could extend the life of the cheese and even the grapes if they were kept cool. So I froze the turnover the night before I left and used it as an ice pack to keep everything cold. Since I knew I wouldn’t be eating it until midway through the flight, I wasn’t too worried about it defrosting in time — and it was actually perfect when I was ready to dig in.

What are some of your favorite foods to pack for long-haul flights?