Healthy Travel Tips: Plant-Based, Gluten-Free Flight Food

Back in March, I decided to join one of my dearest pals on a bucket-list trip through Australia and New Zealand. She IM’d me that she was going to “house and cat sit for a friend in Melbourne” and asked if I wanted to join her.

She had me at “cat sit.”

So we committed…

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…and worked out a really fun 50-page itinerary of adventures that we’ll take on this month.

I’m finally here! Hello Melbourne…

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When I travel—whether it’s a roadtrip, flight (or even a long day of errands)—it’s a priority to bring food with me. It’s taken practice, but now, it’s part of the packing plan. As I fold and iron clothes to put in the suitcase (ironing is a GREAT way to save space, it “tightens” everything), I’ve got Almond Crunch Kale Chips or something prepping in the oven. If recharging our phones at night and taking them with us when we leave the house can be made a priority, so can packing healthy food.

So, it’s early morning in Melbourne. The sun just popped up for the day, but my body believes it’s 4pm (I think)—my right brain can’t commit to learning the math for the time difference yet. I let the kitties out to explore, grabbed a lemon off the tree out back for some tea, and now I’m looking out the windows at this beautiful Mr. Miyagi-style backyard thinking of all of YU who responded so positively to my Instagram and Facebook posts about what I took on my flight(s).

This post will share everything I made and how I did it—I have options for those of you with more kitchen tools and some for simpler ideas. Hope it helps and please use these tips for roadtrips, camping and day-to-day living. Keep some at the office, in your purse, the car—anytime you need a quick meal.

Now, I can’t guarantee that all international flights will allow you to bring your own food. I’m an adventurous gal (and not facing the plane food options was important to me) so having it taken away was a risk I was willing to take, BUT I can’t recommend enough that if you want food to come with you, you must declare it. Don’t try to sneak it in. Check that box on the customs card they hand you on the flight that you do have food with you, and explain to customs personnel that “you have a special diet and wanted to make sure you had options.” Be honest, there’s nothing wrong that you have to hide—just prepare for the fact that it may get taken depending on the country you’re entering.

UPDATE: I am now home from this trip and have to report that all of my food made it with me everywhere I traveled. From Chicago to Melbourne to Cairns to Sydney to Christchurch to Melbourne and back to Chicago. When necessary, I declared everything I had every time. Sometimes, an agent would have to look through my bag, but I explained that I had a “special diet” and it was ok. 

Here are some tips that help for international flights:
1. Make sure all food is in a sealed package. This, the space-saving aspect, and the pure child-like fun involved, is why I bought a small vacuum sealer and a roll of BPA-free bags so I could customize shapes/sizes of packages. (On domestic flights, simple zip-top baggies or unbleached parchment sandwich bags should be just fine, but the vacuum sealer really saves space if you need it.)

2. If you make individual serving-sized packs of foods, there’s a better chance that unopened packs can go through customs, if opened packs cannot (I was able to bring both). So, just in case, don’t pack all of your Travel Cereal in one big bag and open it for one serving on your flight. I made one big bag of cereal that was packed in my checked baggage for once I arrived at my Melbourne home, and had the mini packs with me on the plane to get me by.

3. The same goes for any packaged food that you buy versus make at home—pick up single-serving sized packets of plant protein powder like Vega (you can usually find a cup/bottle and water in an airport or just ask a flight attendant) nut butter (I have a simple recipe for homemade in the YU book) mushroom or coconut jerky, crispy chickpeas, dried fruit or trail mix. For spillage insurance, put all single-serving packs in a larger bag.

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Save space:
Now, if you picked up a vacuum sealer, you can repackage store-bought snacks (like any big bags of organic treats from Costco, etc.) and foods into individual serving sizes. For example, soup mixes and oatmeals usually come in a cardboard bowl that you just need to fill with water—which is great—but when you’re trying to save space, that container can be a bit of a space hog. So. Meet my other new best friend, the collapsible bowl. If you have single-serving sized packs of food, and a bowl that can be collapsed as flat as a pancake, you just need hot water and a spoon. Grab either from an airport restaurant or on flight.

Note: For cereals and soups that you just add water to, you may want to consider buying a bottle of water before you board (after you’re through security). There are a few articles out there about the safety of hot water from a plane. You can skip the hot water provided on a plane if you like and use bottled, either provided by them, or from a bottle from a brand you trust—your meals won’t be warm, but they will still be delicious. It’s your personal choice how much you want to plan and prepare, and what you’re willing to compromise.

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Make your own healthy foods:
23-hours is a long time to sit on a plane, and I wanted to make sure that when folks were being served dinner and breakfast that I felt just as satisfied as they did, so I made some comforting foods that you can also make at home. Some require kitchen tools like a dehydrator (this is the one I have and love), and some do not. I’ll give you all the options.

Tip: if vacuum sealing, make sure you snip the edge of the bag just before the seal—1/4″ should do—so you can open the bag easier.

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A. Cinnamon-Spiced Pecans:

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I just tossed 1 cup of soaked and dehydrated pecans (you can skip this step, but read why it’s recommended) with 1 tsp unrefined virgin coconut oil (you can skip if you want), 2 tsp Ceylon cinnamon, 1/4 tsp cardamom, 1/2 tbsp lemon zest, 1 tbsp sucanat, 1/2 tsp fine-ground sea salt and a pinch of cayenne pepper. Mix well. Try adding cacao for a chocolate version. Dehydrate until they snap dry, or slow roast in an oven set to the lowest temp possible until completely dry (may take a few hours). Make sure you remove all moisture, and cool completely before vacuum sealing.

B. Homemade Veggie Miso Soup:

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You’ll need a dehydrator for this one, but you may be able to slow dry all ingredients in an oven at the lowest temp for a few hours—if you try that and it works, please let us know! I wanted to have a hearty, probiotic-powered, antioxidant-rich soup to boost my immune system for the travel extremes, so I put as many colors together in each packet as possible. This soup is also great for keeping dehydration away—thank you miso!

1. Smear 1 tbsp of miso paste on a Teflex sheet—this is a good amount per serving, so keep making smears but keep them spaced out on the sheet so you can keep track when you make your soup packets.

2. Dice/chop and dehydrate all sorts of vegetables like broccoli, red peppers, onions, garlic, carrots, celery, and medicinal mushrooms like reishi or shiitake (I also used some of the winecaps I grew in my backyard)—whatever you like in a veggie soup, dry it! Try drying some lemon zest on a sunny windowsill, or an oven set to the lowest temp or a dehydrator. This is optional, but it adds a nice level of flavor.

3. Now dry some fresh herbs like thyme, parsley and oregano.

4. If you want some grains, soak and dehydrate (or soak, sprout for extra nutritional punch, and then dehydrate) some buckwheat, which expands nicely in water when it’s been dried. No broken teeth! You can also skip the soaking and sprouting and just add the dry, hulled buckwheat to the packets when you fill them—they expand fine in warm water.

5. I made a batch of Almond Crunch Kale Chips in the oven and added them to the soup, too—I love the flavor of kale chips slow-cooked in the oven and they added a great heartiness to the soup. This is also optional.

Note: Miso is a probiotic-rich paste that adds incredible umami flavor to dishes—it makes a delicious broth for this soup. The probiotic benefits can be compromised if heated to extreme temperatures though, so if you want the benefits, make sure you dehydrate the paste at a temp around 90°F, versus trying to dry it in an oven at a low temp (which I haven’t tried, but please let us know if you do—just smear on a silpat or unbleached parchment paper). Either technique will not compromise the delicious flavor it adds to the soup, so do what you can with the tools you have at home. You should be able to skip the drying and just add 1 tbsp of undried paste per vacuum pack of soup (it’s not that different texture-wise than the packets of nut butters you can buy), but I can’t vouch that it would be ok for customs this way. Dry seems to be best. Again, if you try this and it works, please let us travelers know with a comment below.

Assembling packets: Make sure you remove all moisture, and cool all ingredients completely before vacuum sealing (warm foods will trap moisture in your packet which can mold and/or compromise taste/texture.

In each bag, place one serving of dried miso and 1–2 tbsp each of dried veggies, a pinch of lemon zest, a pinch of sea salt if you like (but the miso is plenty salty), some dulse flakes and/or kombu strips (optional), 2–3 tbsp buckwheat if you’re using some, 1–2 tsp of dried herbs, and some fresh ground pepper if you like. Seal and repeat until you have all the packets you need. Looks can be deceiving—these veggies and grains and herbs expand quite a bit when mixed with hot water (of which you’ll need about 3/4 cup–1 cup per serving.

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Tips: If you tend to get cold on a flight, be sure to add grated, dried ginger or some cayenne pepper to your soup mix—both are very warming to the body. Also, when you stir the water into your soup, be sure to stir well so all the miso is dissolved—you want that salty, umami flavor dispersed throughout the soup, not concentrated into one bite.

C. Savory Walnuts:
I just tossed 1 cup of soaked and dehydrated walnuts (you can skip this step, but read why it’s recommended) with 1 tsp unrefined virgin coconut oil (you can skip if you want), 1 tbsp fresh thyme, 2 tsp fresh sage, 1/2 tsp fresh rosemary (chopped), 1/4-1/2 tsp fine-ground sea salt (to taste), 1 tsp paprika and fresh ground pepper to taste. Mix well. Try adding minced garlic and lemon zest. Dehydrate until they snap dry, or slow roast in an oven set to the lowest temp possible until completely dry (may take a few hours). Make sure you remove all moisture, and cool completely before vacuum sealing.

Try other nut mixes like:

BBQ_Almonds_5001       Herbed_Cashews_Main
Smoky BBQ Almonds      Herbed Cashews

D: Travel Cereal: You can reference this post for one of my favorite recipes, but please play.

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You’ll need 1 tbsp chia seed, 1/4 cup dried fruit, 3 tbsp of hulled buckwheat groats (dry—you can soak, sprout and dehydrate if you like), 1/4 tsp of cinnamon, a pinch of cardamom or nutmeg—whatever spices you’d like, 1/4 cup nuts and/or seeds, 1/2–1 tsp dry citrus zest (optional), 1–2 tsp sucanat or coconut sugar (optional), 1/4 cup toasted coconut (optional), 2 tbsp oats (optional), and a pinch of fine-ground sea salt per serving.

When you’re ready to eat, just add 1 cup warm water and stir—in about 5–7 minutes, chia will plumpen and you can dive in. Add more water to thin out, less to thicken.

This is a combo I came up with for my trip that you might like:
Cacao & Hazelnut: Follow the steps above and add 2 tsp of cacao powder (or cocoa), use toasted hazelnuts, definitely toasted coconut and add a pinch of cayenne.

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Other recipes you could pack/vacuum seal:

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Apricot & Toasted             Blueberry & Cherry 
Coconut Granola
               Granola

Onion_Poppy_Seed_Almond_Crackers-296x224      Seaweed_Snacks-3_lo_250px
Onion & Poppy                 Toasted Sesame &
Seed Crackers                   Seaweed Snacks (YU Book)

Kale_Jerky_main      Crispy_Chickpeas-2_250px
Cowboy Kale Jerky          Crispy Chickpeas (YU Book)

Chocolate-Cherry-Hemp-Bars-WEB-250-1       Trail_Mix_250px
Chocolate & Cherry         Almond & Coconut
Hemp Bars                        Antioxidant Trail Mix
(YU Book)                         (YU Book)

Swirl_Fruit_Leather-13_250px      Bacon_lo_250
Raspberry & Peach          Crispy Eggplant “Bacon”
Fruit Leather                    (YU Book)
(YU Book)

Psst! There are loads of travel-friendly recipes in The YU Book too… do you have a copy yet?

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A few more travel tips:
1. Pack a sleeping mask!

Your flight neighbor may want to watch three movies in a row or read when you sleep—any bit of light keeps your body from producing melatonin (the sleep hormone).

2. Pack earplugs—multiple sets as one will no doubt try to make a run for it into the abyss of airplane seats. As we all know—and understand—babies cry, people cough and sneeze, laugh, talk and play their music loudly, etc., so be prepared.

3. If you need to sleep, pack melatonin, L-theanine or GABA to help your body rest.

4. If you aren’t keen on vacuum sealing in BPA-free plastic, you can wrap your goods in an unbleached parchment bag (or sheet) and then vacuum seal to protect against contact with plastic.

Ok! I hope you all enjoy this post. Please share your tips below with us and let us know what you try.

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Know of any must-sees in Melbourne, Cairns, Daintree/Cape Tribulation, Sydney, Christchurch, Akaroa, Lake Tekapo, Mount Cook, Queenstown or Glenorchy?

Tell us with a comment below—I’d love to hear from YU.

I’d also LOVE to hear if you use any of these recipes! Be sure to tag #YUTravel #YumUniverse or @YumUniverse so I can see YU in healthy travel mode!

Read the comments or add yours.

Comment Rules

  1. Heather! You are a GENIUS! I’ve tried several of these tricks but that soup is blowing my mind – I need a dehydrator, I’m making that soup for every single hotel meeting I have to attend (I HATE hotel lunches – blagh)

    Thanks for the great ideas!!!
    xoxox

  2. Nikki

    Heather thanks for the great tips. While in Melbourne make sure you do a trip to port Philip island to see the fairy penguin parade. So lovely. Ps. May need cat sitters in Los Angeles in February lol

  3. Baillie

    This is fantastic- I’m planning on using some of these ideas not just for travel, but for work lunches that can be easily prepped in advance (I have no kitchen at work). I’m loving your cookbook, can’t wait for #2!

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