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Airline Food: Know Your Options

Nov 10, 2014

Airline food has come a long way from limited options such as "beef" or "chicken." Airlines now offer meals that are suitable for a wide variety of diets, from vegetarian to medical to religious. Continue reading to find out which options might be available to you.

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Types of Airline Food

On most major carriers, passengers may select airline food items from "special meal" menus including vegetarian, children's, religious and medical. On airlines, "vegetarian meals" translate to meals for Lacto-ovo vegetarians (no meat or seafood), vegans (no animal products or animal byproducts) and Hindu vegetarians (no meat or seafood, limited dairy).

Meal Options for Children

Meals for children include easy-to-chew foods or finger foods. Children's menus include foods that are less likely to cause choking (foods that are mashed, chopped or grated) and foods that are not highly seasoned. Two-percent milk and juices are also staples on most kid's menus.

Meals for Religious Persons

Airlines typically recognize religious diets such as Hindu (spicy vegetarian, limited dairy), Kosher (certified kosher, no pork, sausages, cured meats, shellfish, rabbit meat) and Muslim (no pork, sausage, alcohol, eel or animal fats).

Airline Foods for Medical Conditions

Medical diets may require the elimination of any number of food items. Airlines typically recognize the following conditions for the purpose of creating medical menus:

  • Diabetes
  • High cholesterol
  • Obesity
  • Hypertension
  • Gluten-intolerance.

For individuals that may be allergic to peanuts, all packaging and meals will contain information about the use of peanuts in processing.

Airlines offer diabetic meals made without the use of sugars and syrups. These meals do not include pies, chocolate, fried/fatty foods, or sweetened yogurts and cereals. Diabetic persons may select items such as fresh vegetables, lean meat, eggs, whole-grain and sugar-free foods. Overweight or obese individuals that have been restricted from eating fried and fatty foods, sugary snacks, high-fat dairy products and sausage meat will find an array of fish, poultry and lean meat on the low-fat/low-cholesterol and low-calorie meals menu. Olive oil, fresh fruits and vegetables, rice and skim milk are also available.

Low sodium menus do not contain added salt or garlic salt. These meals do not contain baking soda, fish/cured meats, sausages, cheese, pickles, canned meats or monosodium glutamate. Monosodium glutamate (MSG), is a sodium salt that has been associated with hypertension, headaches, water retention, sweating, nausea, flushing, chest pain and weakness.

Gluten-free meals are reserved for individuals with sensitivities to gluten or individuals that have been diagnosed with Celiac disease (inability to tolerate wheat protein). These meals are prepared without the use of wheat and wheat flour, barley, oats, rye, sauces, breads, sausages or sausage meats, pasta, or gravy mixes and stock cubes. You will not find cakes, biscuits or pastries on gluten-free meals prepared by airlines.

How to Request a Special Meal

If you book your travel online, you will have the option of purchasing a special meal during the booking process. If you do not purchase a special meal in advance, you may or may not obtain the meal of your choice during the flight. Special meals are prepared upon request before each flight. This means they are not heavily stocked on most flights.

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