A lot of airports are upping their food game with healthier options, barista-quality coffee, and restaurants from big-name chefs. Still, if you want to save time and money, your best (and often tastiest) bet is to bring your own fuel for the ride.
Make your own cereal mix.
Fill a resealable storage bag with your favorite brand of cereal, some mixed nuts, your choice of dried fruit (maybe chopped apricots and figs, raisins, or cranberries and apples), plus flax seeds and a teaspoon of cinnamon. Bring your own plastic spoon and ask for milk and an extra plastic cup to use as a bowl when flight attendants offer a beverage.
Pack a fruit salad that won’t crush.
We’re talking about firm fruit: cherries, plums, apples, watermelon, and pineapple chunks. Even quarts of berries will keep tight with rubber bands to hold them closed.
Prepare a portable breakfast ahead of time.
Homemade muffins, scones, breakfast burritos—they’re all delicious and fit neatly in the palm of your hand. Also, remember, TSA protocols do allow you to carry on up to 3.4-ounces of liquid or gel-like foods (like a mini smoothie).
Go all out on a DIY charcuterie spread.
Pick up a nice artisan loaf—something nutty, a rustic sourdough, or a classic baguette—from your local bakery. Slice it at home and drizzle with a bit of olive oil. Seal those slices tightly in a resealable plastic bag to prevent them from going stale in transit. Then, assemble an in-flight picnic to pair it with—your favorite cheese (not too stinky!), olives, roasted red peppers, salami, and grainy mustard (packed in a small container). Plastic knives and other utensils are allowed on board and will help you slice and prep.
Go with the grain salad.
Hearty and healthy layered salads make a great, satisfying, wilt-free meal. Dress grains with olive oil and give the container a shake right before eating. Top your grain base with chunks of cucumber and tomato, grilled mushrooms and squash, shredded carrots, beets, red onion, hard cheese, and chopped sturdy leafy greens like kale. A bit of cooked bacon adds meaty flavor and won’t spoil. (Not sure where to start? Check out our ultimate guide to buying, cooking, and eating whole grains.)
When the person next to you is snacking on processed, sodium-filled foods and even the air around you is canned and stale, a snack of veggies is a sure way to feel fresher. Try packing celery and carrot sticks in a container with hummus at the bottom for easy dipping. Or, mix up a crudité: radishes, endive leaves, wedges of fennel, asparagus, peas in the pod, bell peppers, cauliflower, and broccoli are a few more out-of-the-ordinary options.
Stow an edible souvenir.
Your plane ride home is the opportunity to savor one last taste of your vacation—and sandwiches are a great portable way to do so, since almost every region has its own signature version. Headed back from Miami? Pick up a Cuban. Memphis? A pulled pork slider.
Pack peeled raw ginger in your thermos, and ask for hot water from the beverage cart to create an instant after-dinner ginger tea. Or, if you prefer something stronger, a Carry On Cocktail Kit ($24) provides everything you need (save alcohol and mixers, which you should be able to score onboard) to make a top notch in-flight Gin and Tonic or Old Fashioned.
Sweat the small stuff.
Stash some little staples, like plastic utensils and salt and pepper packets, in an easy to reach bag to really up your airline dining game. Other must haves: wet wipes to clean hands and disinfect arm rests and tray tables, as well as a small garbage bag to make passing off refuse to the stewardess a cinch. And finally, don’t leave home without some common sense: Out of courtesy to your fellow travelers, don’t pack food with odors that could offend, such as tuna fish.