Frequent fliers know that fast food and airplane fare get old, fast. For the last two years there has been scarcely a month that hasn't seen me boarding a plane for a trip--work or pleasure, sometimes both--and it wasn't long before I got fed up with breakfast sandwiches, French fries, and burgers.
Eventually I decided to start brown-bagging it on the plane, but first I had to figure out what TSA would and would not allow. TSA prohibits knives--and specifically prohibits meat cleavers, in case you thought charcuterie was an option during flight--but they do allow plastic or round-bladed butter knives. Plastic utensils: A-okay.
As for food, you can pretty much bring whatever you like as long as you adhere to TSA restrictions on liquids and gels. For holiday travelers, TSA has listed suggestions for what to do with standard edible holiday fare such as cranberry sauce, gravy, and maple syrup under "Traveling with Food or Gifts." Take note! Cakes and pies are okay, but they are subject to additional security screening. Beyond that, guidelines for Food & Beverage are pretty simple: food must go through the x-ray machine at security, and must be wrapped or in a container. Unpeeled fruit is okay, but half-eaten fruit must be wrapped.
Without further ado, here are my top five meals to bring on an airplane. I have tested each of these, and had great success.
5. Ramen Cup of Soup
The Ramen cup-of-soup is a simple, if not entirely healthy, meal option for travelers. Just ask for hot water when the drink cart comes 'round and voila--lunch or dinner is served. Make sure you bring a fork or spoon, especially on short flights where in-flight meals are not served, because the flight crew may not have utensils to offer you. I like to bring my own camp utensils, or you can grab plastic utensils from a fast-food joint in the airport.
4. Granola and Fruit
I buy milk at the airport, or yogurt if I can find it, and assemble a breakfast bowl on the plane. I use my own collapsible camp bowl and camp spoon, but you can ask any fast food place at the airport for an empty cup and plastic spoon before boarding the plane. If you don't want to mess around with milk or yogurt, another alternative is to substitute a string cheese stick. Dried or fresh fruit works, and I bring as much as I can carry.
3. Crudités with hummus
If you hate hummus, substitute the dip of your choice. And if tons of veggies is more of a snack than a meal for you, you might want to consider supplementing it with a granola bar, cheese, bread, olives, etc. Bringing dip on a plane is not foolproof -- the 3-1-1 TSA regulation requiring gels and liquids to be three-ounce or less and to fit into a one-quart resealable plastic bag means you may have to fit the hummus in with your carry-on liquids. On her way back to New York after a trip to Fairbanks, Alaska, my mom had her ranch dressing confiscated by TSA because she packed the dip in with her veggies, not her liquids, and it wouldn't fit in her one-quart liquid bag. If they make you toss your dip, you can always settle for something an airport restaurant has on hand for back-up. For travel I like veggies that you can whittle into sticks (as opposed to trees, like broccoli and cauliflower): carrots, peppers, celery, and cucumbers, as well as endive leaves and snap peas.
2. Salads with beans, and pasta or grains
Same situation as the hummus, above--if you don't want to dress your salad ahead of time, make sure you bring it in a 3 oz. container and that it fits in with your other carry-on liquids and gels. Better safe than a sorry, dry salad.
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A sandwich is the ultimate portable meal, and wrapped in cellophane it will go through security checkpoints without a problem. I shy away from onions or other potentially offensive ingredients, not so much to avoid offending my neighbor as myself in the hours following consumption. Or, just bring gum and hand wipes. My favorite plane-friendly sandwiches are peanut butter and jelly on a really hearty wheat, or roasted turkey with cheese, lettuce, tomato and mustard on seeded rye.