It’s rare to get an actual free meal on an airplane these days. At least, if you’re riding coach. This helps makes international travel more enjoyable, because they do feed you.
I got to experience this on my recent flight back from Ireland. Of course, I couldn’t help looking at my meal through a lens of mindfulness. And I realized these meals have both pros and cons. These were my takeaways.
#1 – No choice of timing, but also no eating by the clock
On an airplane, you’re a captive audience in every sense. If you’re planning on eating the airline food, you’re stuck with whatever time they bring it.
On the other hand, you won’t be eating by the clock. In fact, if you’re crossing multiple time zones, it helps you realize some of the silliness of the way we often expect certain foods at certain times.
For instance, I got a full lunch on my flight, which came at about 1 p.m. At least, that was the time in Ireland. But where I was headed, back home in Maine, it was only 8 a.m. Most people wouldn’t think of eating chicken curry at 8 a.m., but why not?
#2 – Limited choices, but they cover a lot of bases
You also only have so many options for your meal. You can request special meals ahead of time, like vegetarian, Kosher, or lactose-free. But you still don’t know exactly what you’ll get.
With the regular meals, you get a choice of two entrees most of the time. In my case, it was chicken curry or a pasta dish. The rest of the meal was the same, so you just go with what they give you.
But on the plus side, they did a good job of covering the bases. I got protein, vegetables, complex carbs, simple carbs, and some dairy.
The meal also hit different textures and temperatures and flavors. The chicken curry was hot (not spicy, just physically warm) and had a bit of texture from chewing the meat. The greens with it offered a hint of bitterness. With the crackers and cheese, I got crunchy, salty, and a bit creamy. The chocolate pudding brought the real creaminess, plus being sweet and cool and smooth.
#3 – Portion sizes are a mixed bag
The down side with these meals is that you can’t choose how much you want. You can’t get a second helping of anything.
But you also don’t get a ridiculous amount of any one thing. It all comes in pre-defined cute little portions. A single wedge of cheese. Two crackers. One roll and pad of butter. Tiny pot of pudding.
#4 – Enforced paying attention and small bites
One of the biggest things I noticed, though, is how the meal enforced some aspects of mindfulness.
For instance, the utensils are tiny, effectively child-sized. You have no choice but to take small bites. It made me wonder what would happen if you used kid-sized utensils all the time.
The other part was having to pay attention. You don’t have a lot of space in airline seats these days, especially if you’re in the middle. Plus, the food trays aren’t all that steady on the tray tables. This means you have to pay attention simply to avoid spilling food all over yourself or those near you.
#5 – Easy to overeat
Of course, even then it can be very easy to overeat because it’s tempting to just accept everything the airline gives you. And it can be quite a bit.
On my flight, at different times I got:
a small bag of pretzels
a full lunch: chicken curry with rice and veggies; barley and vegetable salad; roll with butter; crackers and cheese; chocolate pudding
an ice cream bar
tea service: two finger width slices of chicken salad sandwiches; and a chocolate bar
I actually ate all of it, but it was a conscious choice. The trick is to consider whether or not you’re actually hungry, as opposed to just being bored from being on the plane for so long.
On that front, it helps to have something to do. I wrote a lot, but the lady next to me did some crossword puzzles, and others had good books. If you have enough room, you can also knit, crotchet, or do cross stitch. Or listen to music or watch TV – although TV may also encourage you to eat mindlessly.
Remember, too, that you can say no to the food. Or, depending on what it is, save something for later. That won’t work so well with ice cream or a hot dish, but for the chocolate bar, pretzels, crackers and cheese, the roll, and even the pudding, that was an option.
#6 – Be prepared
But my main advice for eating while flying is to be prepared. If you have some of your own snacks – fruit, trail mix, nuts, granola bars, pepperoni or cheese sticks, etc. – you’ll be able to make much better decisions about the food you’re given. Because then you’re in charge, not just reliant on what the airline gives you, and when.
If you fly anywhere soon, let me know if this information helps, or if you have other tips. Or if you apply any of this to your daily life – like using small utensils – I’d love to hear how it goes.
And whether you’re headed overseas or just down the road, happy and safe traveling!