We’ve all been there. You get to your flight’s gate (silently congratulating yourself for getting through security sans bag search), and you realize it’s two hours until your (meal-less) flight, and you’ve got no food on hand. The closest thing to a decent meal nearby is a $12 burrito that probably contains your daily sodium limit and then some. So how do we avoid this (way too common) scenario and eat healthy, cheap food while flying?
Simple. Plan ahead! Although the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) can be a little intimidating with their plethora of banned items, it’s actually fairly easy to bring your own food into the airport.
It’s easier to start by covering what is not allowed. With the exception of breast milk, formula, or juice for infants and toddlers, the TSA’s 3-1-1 rule still applies to liquids whether they’re edible or not. That means that fluids still need to be below 3.4 ounces and fit into a one-quart bag, and travelers are only allowed a single quart bag each.
TSA’s list of foods allowed in carry-ons if under 3.4 oz or 100 ml:
- Creamy Dips and Spreads
- Jam and Jelly
- Maple Syrup
- Oils and Vinegars
- Pies and Cakes
- Salad Dressing
- Salsa and Sauces
Although the liquid situation can throw a wrench in some dish ideas, there’s still an excess of choices to bring on your trip. Occasionally even approved foods can be subject to additional screening (usually a quick x-ray) but it always helps to be upfront with TSA agents about the fact that you’re carrying edible items.
Unless it already comes pre-packed or it has a natural covering (like an orange), pretty much all foods need to be wrapped in plastic wrap, placed in a baggie, or stored in a sealed food container before getting to security.
Below are several foods that many travelers have consistent success with when going through security. While not guaranteed to be let through, these meals and snacks are highly unlikely to be confiscated:
Fruits or Vegetables
Whether whole or cut (which then needs to be wrapped up) fresh fruits and veggies are always reliable snacks that won’t leave you feeling tired by the time you arrive at your destination. Just make sure if you bring any dipping sauce that it meets the 3-1-1 rules.
Avoid buying pre-made bars before your trip because their high sugar content might cause a severe mood crash later. Instead make your own customized snack bars, perfect for grabbing and going.
Wrap one of these spuds in some foil, and you’re ready to hit the road! Be sure to pack topping choices that will round out the meal, and place any sort of condiments (or butter that might melt) into your one-quart bag.
Unless utterly soggy, sandwiches are a bit of a gray area with TSA. You can’t bring jars of jam or peanut butter on the plane, but a heavily spread PB&J (we’re talking about half an inch thick) doesn’t get any second glances. If you’re still worried about accidentally breaking the liquids rule, pack the bread and fillings together and put any spreads in small baggies or jars to be placed in your one quart bag.
Salads are perfect for traveling. If you’re wanting a greens-based salad, be sure to use heavier leaves (like kale or spinach) which will not wilt easily. Or opt for a grain-based salad for a heartier meal. On both of these options, be sure to toss with just enough dressing to avoid any pooling in the bottom of your container, which could be counted as a “liquid.”
Driving instead of flying? Then check out our snack recommendations for road trips: