Flight days can be so challenging for someone with a dietary restriction. Airport food does not cater to gluten free eaters, and adding hunger to our already stressed out bodies is an unwelcome addition. For short domestic flights, bringing one or two small meals or snacks can work out well. However, if you’re an international traveler, you have the additional complexities of customs regulations and longer travel days. This article covers the gluten free travel food you need to eat well on long flights.
Like many of you, I’m an avid traveler and won’t let the gluten free diet hold me back from exploring everything the world has to offer! I still get food-related anxiety before big trips, but I find that having this plan ironed out makes me feel a lot more confident.
Recently, I tested this method on my 40 hour trip from Seattle to Windhoek, Namibia. I had two layovers in unfamiliar airports (Dubai and Johannesburg) and worried a lot about eating before I left. Having this guide beforehand would have helped reduce my stress and planning time. I am so happy to share it with you!
Related: Gluten Free Travel Guide to Namibia
Gluten Free Travel Food Tips:
- It helps to start at the beginning of your trip and walk yourself through your normal meal times. If you leave around dinner time, make sure to pack dinner with you. If you’re traveling for 24 hours, make sure to bring at least 4 meals.
- Bring extra food. Most people sleep less on a flight than they would at home. With more waking hours, you will need more meals and snacks.
- Be mindful of the containers you use. Anything you take with you will need to be carried throughout the duration of your trip. I usually pack my first meal in a cute little bento that becomes my gluten free food vessel for the entire trip. I reuse produce and bread bags to carry the rest, since they are disposable and take little room in my luggage.
Gluten Free Travel Food Packing List
Every person is different, but I find eating a medium-sized meal every 4 hours does the trick for me. This article is written with that in mind, but remember to cater to your body and always bring a little extra, just in case.
1. One Packed Gluten Free Meal
This can be a serving of leftovers, a salad, or anything else you would normally take with you as a packed lunch or picnic dinner. This meal can be perishable, and I usually eat it in the airport or on my first flight.
Easy leftovers: rice, cauliflower, parmesan cheese, sunflower seeds, avocado, and a drizzle of olive oil
A couple of key guidelines:
- Do not bring soup, stew, smoothies, or any meal with excess liquid. These will violate the TSA 3 oz liquid regulation and your meal will be confiscated.
- Clear containers are best because TSA can see your food without opening your container. If you choose an opaque container, be prepared to show the contents to your TSA agent.
- Nut/seed butters are considered liquids if brought in a container rather than spread on your sandwich already.
2. A Fancy Gluten Free Sandwich
Gluten free bread is made to last without refrigeration. For this first sandwich, choose ingredients that are fresh but won’t spoil too easily. Vegan/vegetarian options like hummus are a good choice. We often make salami and cheese since both ingredients are well-preserved. Be sure to add your favorite spreads and veggies to pack in as many delicious fresh flavors as you can!
- Pack this sandwich in a produce bag, bread bag, or similar. You save weight, space, reuse old plastic, and can use it to cover dirty airplane tables.
- You will need to eat this meal during your first flight if you are going through customs afterward.
- If you have a long flight, consider bringing two sandwiches.
Ingenious tip from Erin Smith at GlutenFreeGlobetrotter.com : Use frozen bread if your sandwich includes fresh meat or soft cheese. The bread will thaw over time and keep your sandwich cool.
3. Nut/Seed butter Sandwiches
Peanut, almond, and sunflower seed butters can last all day without refrigeration. They’re also a relatively cheap loss if confiscated by customs. I pack two and vary the combinations to prevent food boredom. Sunflower seed butter and dried cranberries, peanut butter and honey, peanut butter and jelly, and coconut butter and peanut butter are favorites in my house!
Food for thought: Whenever possible, I choose sunflower seed butter over other nut butters to limit common allergens in public places. Wouldn’t it be nice if people were so kind with wheat?
4. A Gluten Free Treat
Invariably, I get a serious craving for something sweet when I’m in transit. Lately, my favorite packable treats include:
- Skinny Dipped Almonds
- Justin's Peanut Butter Cups (minis)
- Pamela's Mini Gluten Free Chocolate Chip Cookies
On multiple occasions, I’ve tried to forgo the treats to decrease the weight of my bags, but every time I regret it. It’s hard to watch others enjoy a treat when you can’t have one too!
5. Snacks and Meals post customs
Sometimes you need to pass through customs prior to arriving at your final destination. In these circumstances I bring:
- Crackers - I prefer Mary’s Gone Crackers (the herb ones are amazing!) and Nut Thins
- Jerky - Krave is my favorite brand
- Dried Fruit (most Trader Joe’s dried fruits are gluten free and celiac safe. They are also great about disclosing information about shared lines and cross-contamination through their customer service telephone line)
- Larabars and Kind Bars (favorite flavors are linked)
- A packaged just add water option, such as Thai Kitchen instant noodle packets
I find the entire food experience is just a little bit nicer when you have a cute little bento to bring along! I love this one from bentgo; it fits both sandwiches and my fresh meal. It’s also compact and includes plastic utensils.
Walking yourself through this list will get your ready to explore a new destination in no time!
Bon voyage, and see you soon!
What foods do you take with you on travel days?