Traveling on airplanes with kids or babies can be a real trip – and not necessarily in a good way. As well as being at the mercy of the usual frustrations, you’re also dealing with a tired, cranky, hungry child. While most parents reach their destinations without giving much thought to the food along the way, a little planning can help keep your flight from feeling like a scene from a bad reality show.
Unless your child is an extremely frequent flier, a little bending of normal dietary rules, such as allowing an occasional juice drink, isn’t a problem. However, you might want to hold off on the airline child meals, as they tend to be loaded with sugary treats. On my last trip out of Beijing with my son, I made the mistake of requesting the child meal and ended up hurriedly hiding a huge bottle of sugary milk, a chocolate bar and gummy bears before he could see them. The main course resembled fast food: reconstituted mashed potatoes, a white bread roll, and chicken nuggets. It was a nutritional nightmare. Adult meals are palatable to most kids and they are likely to contain less sugar, though they can still be high in sodium.
Speaking of sodium, this brings us to concerns about dehydration. It’s true that airplane humidity can be less than 20 percent, which are conditions that rival those found in the Gobi. Frequent sips of water will suffice for most. Remember that the dry lips and skin you and your children may experience on long flights is usually the result of exposure to dry air and not due to a lack of fluid intake; so there is no need to go over the top with the liquids and thereby forcing everyone to the cramped airplane toilets every hour. Simply pack a TSA-friendly three-ounce lotion and lip balm to protect tender skins, plus a covered cup or bottle to help with spill management.
With the dubious quality of airline food, packing a bag of your own snacks is a good idea. For an eight-hour flight that could turn into a twelve-hour misadventure, the last thing you want is to be caught empty handed with a hungry toddler in tow. Don’t overdo it; some finger foods that are not too sticky and can survive a few hours without refrigeration will do the trick. Do any necessary slicing and dicing ahead of time and pack snacks in easy-access plastic zip-up bags.
Healthy foods that travel well are fruits, dry graham crackers, granola, carrot sticks, hard cheeses and boiled eggs. For longer flights you can pack more meal-like foods. Peanut butter sandwiches are a good option as they don’t require any refrigeration. Just remember to check for allergies if you’re traveling with friends. It’s also worth checking that the passengers next to you are allergy-free.
Grain or bean salads, boiled dumplings, savory muffins and even Beijing snacks such as xianbing or shaobing are worth consideration. Remember that the three-ounce limit for liquids, gels and similar substances has been known to apply to baby foods and is open to interpretation depending on destination and airline. Check with the airline you’re flying with before stocking up on any liquids. US-bound travelers can visit www.tsa.gov/travelers for any changes to the current rules. With any luck, you’ll be healthily snacking your way through your flights this Christmas.