The holidays are the busiest travel time of the year. Folks from around the world get on a plane to visit their families. If they are not the ones doing the flying, they will likely be the ones nursing the jet lags of visiting family members.
For years I have taken the annual trip to see my family in Dubai, and for years I have struggled with the food hangover caused due to airline food. The food is mass-produced and usually far from nutritious. This year I vowed to eat consciously, and arrive without the feeling of disgust and overindulgence. Here are some tips that helped me, and I hope they will help you too!
- Hydrate! Hydrate! Hydrate!: I can’t focus on this enough. I used to be ‘that girl’ who rarely dank water on the flight because I didn’t want to be the rude neighbor who always asked my fellow passenger to let me out of my window seat (I like my window seats!) to go to the washroom…again! Well this year I accepted that it’s ok. People that sit in the aisle seat know that its part of the deal to let people out. I got over it, and I asked my neighbor to let me out several times in the flight (or timed it cleverly when he needed to go too!). I brought water with me, and asked for more each time the flight attendant came by. I didn’t have scaly skin by the end of 2 flights and the 18 hour travel saga. That’s proof that a little aqua makes a huge difference. It’s easy to skip it in the air conditioned, freezing, pressure-controlled atmosphere of the place, but don’t. Just drink some. It will make a marked difference.
- Support you immune system: Airplanes are a mecca for germs. You are stuck with strangers in a pressure locked chamber for 6+ hours. And throw in the fact that everyone is stressed out beyond belief and likely have a cold or flu that they are fighting during the holidays. Eeekk! That’s a nightmare for your immune system! So before you get on the flight make sure you load up on your anti-oxidants: blueberries, leafy greens, carrots, peppers, and all colorful fruits and veggies. Make sure you get lots of sleep before the flight. The less sleep you get, the more compromised you immune system is. I loaded up on Vitamin C and Zinc before the flight, and I took Emergen-C with me on the flight and had one sachet every 6-8 hours. I would highly recommend it! It’s one of my favorite products. I take it whenever I travel or when I feel the beginnings of a cold setting in.
- Less is more: Eat less than you would in a normal meal. It’s to inhale all the food that’s put in front of you when you have nowhere to go and nothing to do except watch movies, fall asleep or avoid awkward conversations with the person next to you (“Yes, London is so gloomy and rainy this time of the year. I have never thought of THAT before.”). Try not to overindulge. Eat all the greens (albeit the limited quantity they give you), pull back on the simple carbs (rice, pasta, that infamous airline bread roll) and just ‘sample’ the dessert. Skip a meal if you are full. I ate a green salad and chicken, skipped the rice and tasted the chocolate cake (few bites) on the first flight from Toronto to London. When they came by with muffins a few hours later, I skipped that completely and opted to eat my raw granola bar later when I was actually hungry.
- Make the right choices: Airlines will often give you a choice for the main meal. Chicken or Pasta? Pick the chicken. It will most likely be grilled with a semi-healthy glaze or sauce. The pasta is all simple sugars. Skip it. I usually inquire what the vegetarian meal is. It’s hit or miss since it usually ends up being pasta. Sometimes it’s a veggie curry which is better choice. On the second flight I picked the lamb curry over the chicken with alfredo sauce and pasta. The lamb was roasted, a slightly healthier option and much more flavourful and delicious.
- Bring back-up food: Unless you are on an international flight, chances are you have to bring your own food or eat before or after the flight. Eat a healthy meal ahead of time, as long as it won’t disrupt your eating schedule. Alternatively, you can bring a healthy sandwich with you. A homemade veggie sandwich with avocado, tomatoes, lettuce and a delicious mustard spread will hit the spot. Sandwiches are perfect for traveling- they are portable and easy to carry without making a mess. Raw and natural granola bars are also a good snack. Fruits are a great alternative to the unhealthy dessert options. I brought along two granola bars and a pint of blueberries. You can also bring trail mixes with nuts and seeds. They make a great snack and provide healthy protein on the go.
- Drink responsibly: If possible, don’t be tempted by the free drinks on that long flight and skip the alcohol all together. Alcohol dehydrates you, which is the opposite of what we want on an 18-hour flight. I had a few sips of red wine on the first flight and skipped it on the second. Also try to avoid pop, tea and coffee. They all dehydrate your body, leeching it of essential electrolytes. Fruit juices are filled with sugar, so skip those and treat yourself with a few bites of dessert instead. If you must have juice, try the tomato juice. It’s not as high with the sugar content. If you want something fizzy, ask for sparkling water or soda water with a squeeze of lemon- refreshing!
- Undo the mistakes: So I have to confess, I overindulged on the second flight. Although my main meal choices were acceptable, I ate a croissant (which I never would on solid ground!). So now what? I was full of regret and felt gross. All this white sugar was wreaking havoc on my digestive system. When I arrived in Dubai, I chose to skip dinner with my family and have a small pot of plain yogurt instead. The next morning (more like afternoon since I slept for 16 hours straight!), I ate 2 hard boiled eggs and some fruit. I was able to reset my digestive system and undo the damage (damn you delicious and buttery croissant!).
Overall these flights over to Dubai were much less painful than my previous years’ travels (sans the croissant!). I believe the key is balance. Eat your veggies and taste a bit of the dessert. Don’t eat when you are not hungry and drink lots of water. Do you have any tips and tricks for curing the airplane food hangover? I would be interested in adding those to my arsenal!