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Eating on a Jet Plane

Note: Learn more about the Am I Hungry? Mindful Eating program here or at

When returning from my recent trip to New Zealand, I found this quote in the Qantas in-flight magazine: “Proper eating will enhance your comfort both during and after your flight. We recommend [that you] avoid overeating so you don’t have to digest too much food while your body is inactive.”

I was pleased to see this, since it made sense to me and echoed the sorts of things that I teach in the Am I Hungry? Mindful Eating program. And yet as we made our way over the ocean in a 12-hour flight, the amount of food provided by the Qantas staff did not jibe with this ideal.

We left at 2:05 p.m., and we got our first meal – “lunch” – at 3:30, which consisted of: choice of chicken with potatoes, spinach ravioli with couscous, or niçoise salad; roll with butter; a dish of custard; beverages of coffee, tea, hot chocolate, or wine; and an after-dinner mint.

At around 7:30, they came by again with sandwiches, which I assume was “dinner”. At 9:30, it was ice cream (perhaps dessert?), and then at 11 it was cheese and crackers (late night snack?).

We rounded out the meals at 12:30 a.m., with breakfast: choice of cold (muesli and milk) or hot (scrambled egg and bacon on English muffin with baked beans on the side); blueberry muffin; fruit salad (if four bite-sized pieces of melon and two grapes qualifies); and beverage options of tea, coffee, water, and juice.

I don’t see how this could qualify as eating lightly if you took everything offered and especially if, like me, you had eaten lunch before boarding the flight. Of course you don’t have to take or eat everything, but that can be hard. What if, on such a long flight, you get hungry? And the food is free – shouldn’t you take advantage of it? (I will also add that on these long international flights I’m generally favorably impressed by the quality of the food.)

Then there’s the problem of jet lag, and your body being confused about time of day. Even if you’re being mindful, you may find yourself feeling hungry at odd times. Plus, most people recommend eating breakfast at a “normal” mealtime for the time zone you’re going into, to help you adjust. So while 12:35 a.m. may seem an odd time for breakfast, in my case that was actually 7:35 a.m., which is much more reasonable. Shouldn’t you eat it, then?

If you find yourself in such a situation, here are a few tips based on my experience that may help with following Qantas’s suggestion:

  • You don’t have to accept everything they offer you. This may sound obvious, but my first time flying to England, I didn’t realize I had the option of refusing.

  • As with all meals, you don’t have to eat everything – the staff will not chastise you about cleaning your plate because of starving children in some other country.

  • If you don’t take a snack when offered, and you later get hungry, odds are you can request a snack then. (Note that this generally won’t apply to hot meals.) You can also bring your own snacks if you’re worried about it.

  • If you want to follow the breakfast rule (something I usually do), I suggest that you eat less beforehand, so that you’re hungry for it, even if it comes at an odd time. In my case, I ate lunch, and later a snack of an apple, which meant that by breakfast, I was ready for it. (Other trips I’ve declined one of the meals entirely, if it’s a shorter flight to Europe.)

  • Brings things to entertain yourself – books, games, knitting, movies, etc. – so that you’re not quite as likely to eat simply out of boredom (very tempting to do when you’re stuck on a plane that long).

  • Drink lots of water. It’s easy to get dehydrated on a plane, which can make you think you’re hungry even if you’re not. To aid with this, remember you can bring empty water bottles through security and fill them on the other side.

If you do find yourself traveling a long distance, I wish you a safe and pleasant journey, and as always, happy eating!

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