What food to pack in a cooler for a looong plane flight?
March 26, 2008 9:34 PM   Subscribe

Food to put in a cooler for a long plane flight. Difficulty: one omnivore, one vegetarian.

Onlyconnect and I will be spending most of a day on a plane. The airline will be selling food, but we think that we should be able to do better than buying their fare. We have a carry-on sized soft-sided cooler and want to stock it with tasty food. Plotting what to bring gets complicated due to TSA rules banning containers of liquids bigger than 3 ounces (no hummus?), tray room and personal space on a crowded flight, consideration for our neighbors noses (we will be spending around 12 hours with these folks), and what will be a satisfying mix for both the lacto-ovo vegetarian and the omnivore. What belongs in our bag?
posted by NortonDC to Food & Drink (28 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
Veggie sticks: carrot, broccoli, cauliflower, celery, peppers, if you're into that kind of thing.
A little wedge o' brie and crackers/baguette
Berries/apple wedges/grapes/oranges
posted by loiseau at 9:42 PM on March 26, 2008 [1 favorite]

The Surreal Gourmet had an interesting episode about airline take-on food a few years ago. The idea was to bring your own food but combine it with stuff available on the plane. So he put together chopped up veggies with cilantro and added tomato juice or bloody mary mix on the plane. If someone more video-savvy than me can find the episode, it might be a good fit.
posted by acoutu at 9:43 PM on March 26, 2008

posted by docpops at 9:57 PM on March 26, 2008

Avoid camembert and brie unless you eat it quickly. Too many hours at room temp and it starts to smell like feet.....
posted by kjs4 at 10:13 PM on March 26, 2008 [1 favorite]

Cheez-its, nothing more.
posted by 517 at 10:18 PM on March 26, 2008 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I worry about two things on long flights: getting enough protein and food boredom. I usually just pack a lot of things that assure that I will suffer with neither, but I don't really worry too much about having mealish stuff. Time goes weird on planes anyhow. Things that are good on planes

- carrots
- celery
- sliced green and red peppers
- apples with SMALL peanut butter packets
- mixed peanuts and raisins
- power bars or other protein bars
- cough drops/gum/mentos (boredom alleviators)
- cinnamon apple snacks
- dried fruit generally
- smartfood
- cup o noodles that you can put tea water in (if flight crew is helpful)
- cheese and cracker packets
- crackers, goldfish, triscuits
- emergen-c/airborne packets to put in water to drink
- your own tea

for the meat eater you can bring slimjims/pepperoni/baked chicken

Avoid fish at all costs and really anything with mayo/dressing or stinky cheese (and I'd include any soft cheese with that) but since there will be a time when everyone is eating, at least one, I wouldn't worry about room to eat too much. I assume you've checked TSA regs but if you have any sort of cooling agent in your cooler it's unlikely to make it on the plane. If you're just taking the thing out of the fridge and carrying it with you, that's probably okay. The big thing that I am always happy when I remember to bring it on long flights is (not edible) moisturizer. After a really long time on an airplane your skin feels all crummy and it's nice to sort of freshen up with something that smells nice and feels soothing and you can feel cleaner after basically eating a meal in your lap.
posted by jessamyn at 10:25 PM on March 26, 2008 [2 favorites]

Best answer: i work on airplanes and always bring my own food, so i have a few tips i can pass along...

- prepare meals in advance, store in plastic containers and freeze them before packing, you can then ask the crew if they cold heat them up for you in flight.
- loiseau already mentioned, fruits and veg, bread and cheese
- make cheese and cold cut sammies and once again ask the crew to heat them up. i like pb and j sammies myself.
- hard boiled eggs are my favourite travel food
- steam some broccoli til just a little tender, dress in soy sauce and vinegar, chopped green onion, red pepper flakes, sesame oil and ground sesame seeds.
- sweet potato wedges or fries are good hot or cold.
- instant oatmeal is also good on the plane as all you need is hot water. toss in some berries or banana for extra oomph.
- if you're worried about food spoiling bring along some ziploc bags and once on the plane ask the crew for some ice to fill them then put the bags in the cooler to keep yor food cold, or ask if they can store it for you if the plane has fridges or ask for dry ice ( although dry ice is considered a hazardous material, it is allowed on board aircraft in limited quantities )
- dry soup cups and packages ( once again only hot water is needed )
- go to your local asian market and look for precooked, packaged steamed white rice, just needs to be heated up ( easily done by dropping the package in a coffeepot filled with hot water )
- avocados are a tasty treat
- nothing smells better than a freshly peeled orange on the airplane. very good to combat the smell of stinky people
- dry cereal, easy to get milk after security or on board.
- pre shred some cheese, bring jalapenos, bring some aluminm foil and some nachos, figre out the rest.

many of these ideas require the help of the crew, so it might be good to start the flight off right by offering them a box of chocolate from duty free in order to generate some goodwill and ensure assistance and cooperation later on...
posted by dawdle at 10:27 PM on March 26, 2008 [8 favorites]

btw is the flight is 12 hours in length, i'm sure the food will be free and not for purchase as is the case on shorter flights...
posted by dawdle at 10:31 PM on March 26, 2008

Best answer: Go for high fat, high protein foods. Ditch anything with lots of sugar. Nuts are terrific, but get dry. Avocados are probably the best thing ever, and with a little bit of salt are amazing. I've never tried the hard boiled egg suggestion, but that's a great one. Honestly, though, I've found that Clif bars & the like are the most straight forward and functional solution. They may not be amazingly fun, but they'll give you pretty much exactly what you need, and will let you not worry about it for the flight. If you're already bringing the cooler, bring something fun, like grapes.

I'll also confirm that I've had hummus thrown out (the TSA guy didn't even know what it was, even though it was in a well-labeled & plastic-sealed brand tub). That, combined with getting a carabiner taken away at CDG after flying with it for years, really started to make me hate flying.
posted by devilsbrigade at 11:10 PM on March 26, 2008 [1 favorite]

Wow. I was all with you until I hit this, dawdle:

- pre shred some cheese, bring jalapenos, bring some aluminm foil and some nachos, figre out the rest.

And I'll be damned if I have a clue as to what you're hinting at.

Then again, I typically just bring some high-dosage sleeping pills (OTC, natch) and a fistful of fives for liquor and try to knock myself out as best I can on long flights.
posted by Ufez Jones at 11:20 PM on March 26, 2008

Following up on kjs4, I'd avoid the brie for more than just spoilage. It could be a bomb.
posted by soy_renfield at 11:23 PM on March 26, 2008

My approach is often to try to *augment* the commercial offerings. Think about what they'll likely offer: food that's salty, fatty, not too nutritious, but fills certain needs.

They're not likely to offer: fresh vegetables; lots of protein; whatever your favorite thing is.

Also, I'm a huge fan of sandwiches, especially if you can add the wet ingredients right before consumption.

That said, you may not have a lot of room to fiddle with your food if the flight's packed.

I'd consider avoiding things like jerky (including tofu/seitan jerky) because they can make your mouth a little yucky afterwards. Yes, you can brush your teeth, but that never seems to work as well as at home.
posted by amtho at 12:10 AM on March 27, 2008

spread out some foil curling up the edges to make a kinda bowl, put down a bed of nacho chips, top with grated cheese and jalapenos, ask the nice flight atendant to stick it in the oven for a bit. nachos and cheese. some diced tomato, onion and cilantro on top once it's out of the oven.
posted by dawdle at 12:20 AM on March 27, 2008

i also like boiling chicken breast ( so it stays nice and moist ) then dicing it. then i cook up a pot of brown rice and steam some broccoli or green beans, then i dump the whole thing into a frying pan with some olive oil, add soy sauce or teriyaki sauce, stick into a plastic container and freeze it. then i stick it in my food bag then go to work. i then reheat them on the plane.

voila, lean protein, good carb, greens and healthy fat all in one convenient ready to heat meal. i pilfer little packets of chili and soy sauce from the airport restaurants for extra flavour but salt and pepper is usually all i need. i hit all of my macronutrient ratios and calorie targets for my rather strict training / eating plan.

protein powder to make shakes is key also.

i also like making these low carb protein brownies
posted by dawdle at 12:32 AM on March 27, 2008 [1 favorite]

Meh. It's only 12 hours. I'd go with the plane's food, plus a couple of apples, oranges, and bananas. For the omnivore, bring a Clif bar or two for that "ate something with actual food in it" feeling. Nobody drops dead after eating light for a whole day.

Do drink coffee (even bad plane coffee) if you normally drink coffee, though. Caffeine withdrawal can make you really irritable without knowing why.
posted by ctmf at 1:25 AM on March 27, 2008

I guess most people are more "careful" about food than me, but brie is just not going to spoil in 12 hours. Trust me. You've never been to a party where the brie has been out at room temperature all evening? It's fine. Hard cheeses are way grosser left out because they sweat and get rubbery. Warm brie is teh hottness.

And anyway brie is not, in my world, a "stinky" cheese. It's the mildest.
posted by loiseau at 1:40 AM on March 27, 2008

Best answer: Apples, Pears, or bananas with cashews and raisins.

Cold 3 bean salad you can add the dressing to the salad just prior to going thru security if you are worried about it but they wont care.

Sandwiches and chips

A packet of kool aid and some sugar, refill your empty water bottle from the water fountain after you go thru security and get ice and cups on the plane.

bring extra and offer to share with immediate neighbors.

Fly happy and contented with a full stomach
posted by kanemano at 2:43 AM on March 27, 2008

"Omnivore" means "eats all". Humans aren't obligate carnivores, so just pack stuff you can share.

-Crisp apples (sliced, preserved with a little OJ or lemon juice to prevent browning)
-A few different cheeses
-Some nuts
-Crackers (the airplane crackers are almost universally nasty)
-Some bread

I'd also recommend packing a little tupperware container filled with a flight-approved amount of peanut or sunflower seed butter for a little extra protein/fat.
posted by explosion at 4:20 AM on March 27, 2008 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: ctmf, some people have been known to be cranky purely from plane-induced food denial. No one I know, of course, but some people.

I like the ideas for things that get heated on the plane, but can I count on the plane having a convection oven, or would it likely be just a microwave?

I see some sandwiches in our future, maybe some noodle/bean salads, nuts, crackers, and cheeses. I really like the cereal idea, but one of us relies on soy milk, and that could be hard to get after the security checkpoint.

Thanks, and keep the ideas coming!

Hey, sweetie, how do you think your mushroom pie would be chilled?
posted by NortonDC at 5:53 AM on March 27, 2008

Please don't take any small peanut butter packets on the flight. It will make your 12 hours even longer if it causes someone around you to go into anaphylactic shock and the plane has to make an emergency landing.
posted by meerkatty at 6:28 AM on March 27, 2008 [2 favorites]

I guess that cold mushroom pie will stave off the apparant raging beast of my crankiness when pushed to exceeding hunger, but I'm not sure it would be safe to eat since it has cottage cheese in it. I could ask this as a new AskMe if you like -- "Should we eat it -- vol. 57 - cold mushroom pie on 12 hour flight."**

Whenever I pack a hard boiled egg sandwich, it smells like feet when I unwrap it (and yet is so delicious!). Will just a plain hard-boiled egg give off this same smell?

** You know, I would not have been so hungry -- or cranky! -- if you had just acceded to my instinct to get food from the vending machine upon landing instead of having us tough out the hour and a half subway ride and restaurant hunt that developed. I still think you're lucky that I didn't gnaw off your arm in the cab. :P
posted by onlyconnect at 7:03 AM on March 27, 2008

You can also buy instant hummus and bring it with a little bowl to rehydrate it with. Not really as good as the normal old kind but if you're real hummus people it might be nice to have in a pinch.
posted by jessamyn at 7:13 AM on March 27, 2008

Smell issues aside, would the presence of peanut butter on the plane really risk sending someone into an allergic reaction? If so, why is it ok for the airlines to hand out packets of peanuts on flights?

If you want to get really careful about not annoying your neighbors, I'd argue that crunchy vegetables are out too. Sitting next to someone who is crunch, crunch, crunching for 12 hours could get old. If you confine your eating to a set period when everyone else is eating, though, it probably wouldn't be that bad.

My suggestions: string cheese, edamame, and the previously-mentioned sandwiches and dehydrated soups. You might also be able to find dehydrated refried beans in the bulk section of your grocery store (even my giant, corporate supermarket has it). Stir in some shredded cheese on the flight, possibly even some veggies (peppers & tomatoes, chopped finely at home), and then pour in hot water from the tea pot to rehydrate. The heat should help melt the cheese, too. Spread on tortillas, roll up, and enjoy.
posted by vytae at 8:22 AM on March 27, 2008

If so, why is it ok for the airlines to hand out packets of peanuts on flights?

I'm not sure where you are, but I haven't seen a package of peanuts on an airplane in years. It's all pretzels now, if anything. My peanut butter suggestion was ill-advised as much as I love the stuff. maybe cream cheese for celery?

You could also bring little restaurant-size jelly packets and some crusty bread (though look out for crumbs) or granola or something to put in yogurt (they often give you yogurt if you're on a flight that includes breakfast.
posted by jessamyn at 8:32 AM on March 27, 2008

I'm not sure where you are, but I haven't seen a package of peanuts on an airplane in years.

I flew this weekend and was given peanuts on 3 seperate flights (although all with the same airline, Continental).

Anyway, I packed granola bars and didn't need to eat any of them--a seven hour flight consisted of two meals, plus the peanuts. I was never hungry.
posted by Polychrome at 8:43 AM on March 27, 2008

Swiss cheese sandwiches. There really is no need to get too fancy - anything that requires a hard container is a waste of space coming & going. Sandwiches are perfect plane food - soft wrapping, one handed operation, super tasty, and you can even pick them up on the way to the airport at a deli if you forget to make them yourself.
posted by gyusan at 9:37 AM on March 27, 2008

I flew this weekend and was given peanuts on 3 seperate flights (although all with the same airline, Continental).

Same here. I flew four days ago, and we got peanuts. It was on Continental.
posted by oaf at 11:51 AM on March 27, 2008

Response by poster: I see Swiss cheese and Triscuits in my future, along with some kinds of sandwiches, nuts, grapes, some little sweets, maybe some cereal. I keep having visions of some sort of cold spicy thing with sautéed veggies, bow-tie pasta and goat cheese, but I'm not sure if that'll come together.
posted by NortonDC at 7:25 PM on March 27, 2008

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