A Flying Foodie’s Crisis

Once upon a time you’d get on an overseas flight, the stewardesses would roll a cart down the aisle, and you’d be offered a choice of meat, chicken or (sometimes) fish. That’s it. Pretty easy. No stress.

Then, for various reasons – medical, dietary, religious – airlines began to offer wider choices, catering to changes in health consciousness and passengers’ individualized needs or requests.

So I wasn’t too concerned when my travel agent asked if I had any special meal requests. Actually yes I do, I replied. Which is a hard thing to admit when you’re an avowed foodie. Next thing I knew, he sent me links to the airlines’ special meal sites. Which is precisely when I realized that I was in trouble.Empty plate

As many of you know, I’ve had to modify my diet considerably over the past few weeks (months in some cases). So I suspected it wouldn’t be the easiest task to pre-order my meals for a series of long-haul flights. But little did I realize just how overwhelming an effort it would be: Turns out that it’s not so easy to choose when your relatively strict dietary modifications don’t fit theirs.

Here I go…

First stop, the Thai Airways website: My choices range from bland meal to fruit platter and lots in between: gluten-free, diabetic, non-lactose, seafood, Hindu, Moslem and Kosher. A few are categorized under Low (this or that) and there are no less than SIX different kinds of vegetarian meals.

No Can Do!
No Can Do!

The array of 16 special meal choices on Lufthansa was equally dazzling, made somewhat easier by virtue of a section titled Dietary Meals. Still, the choices included diabetic, gluten-free, low cholesterol, low sodium, lactose-free and the decidedly tasteless-sounding choice called ‘reduction food’ – calorie-reduced, rich on fibre, low on fat and carbs. Mmmmm. Any flavoring left, or is that reduced too?

Turkish Airlines beats all: 21 meal choices! I don’t envy the headaches that this airline’s food-catering manager has to deal with every day: Would you like Vegetarian Hindu/Asiatic Meal with that wine? How about a Jain Meal or perhaps you’re in the mood for a Vegetarian Lacto Ovo Meal? Happen to be in the mood for Veggie Raw or Law Salt this flight?

I pondered the Gluten Intolerant Meal; if I were to order it for my outbound flight, would someone signal the alarm if/when I dared to order the Celebration Cake on the return leg? If it were my birthday, could I ask them for a Gluten-Free Celebration Cake?

Then I started to wonder about all the people who aren’t represented in those meals:

No Can Do Either!
No Can Do Either!

What if you have nut allergies? Is it possible to request a bit of low this mixed with some of lactose-free that? If I dare to ask them for a more customized meal plan – lactose-free, gluten-free, high protein, high complex carbs, good fats – am I doomed to join the ranks of innocents who have, for one reason or another, been added to the no-fly list?

Suddenly I remembered that classic scene from When Harry Met Sally, when Billy Crystal’s character points out to Meg Ryan’s character the quirkiness of her food selection habits: Waiter, I’ll begin with a house salad, but I don’t want the regular dressing. I’ll have the balsamic vinegar and oil, but on the side. And then the salmon with the mustard sauce, but I want the mustard sauce on the side. “On the side” is a very big thing for you.

In the end, this is what I replied to the travel agent: If it’s possible to ask for a combination of Diabetic, Gluten-free AND Lactose-free, then please do so. They’ll likely be stumped… Otherwise, Diabetic.* He wrote back: I ordered you diabetic meals on all flights.

Now I just need to figure out what to do when the bread and rolls and butter and milk and cheese (let alone breaded fish!) arrive on my tray. Maybe I’ll be lucky and what’s left after everything else gets put “on the side”… will be edible, even flavorful and just enough.

*No, fortunately I’ve not been diagnosed with diabetes; it’s just that many of my current food-taboos (for fast metabolizers) happen to be the same as those for diabetics.

Now This I Can Probably Eat... and Love!
Now This I Can Probably Eat… and Love!


  1. I once ordered an in-flight Jain meal. It was inedible. Once bitten, twice shy. Now I just eat whatever I’m given! In an ideal world there’d be a grocery store in the airport (after security) that you could buy your own food from to take on the plane. The trouble with long-haul flights is that they are SO boring – that in-flight meals, however rank they might be, do at least offer some entertainment value and distraction. I twice got upgraded to business class on Emirates and the food and the choices were excellent. The trouble is that now, whenever I do long-haul in cattle class I feel cheated, knowing exactly what I am missing ‘up front’ :mrgreen:

    1. Too bad about the Jain meal. Love the grocery store idea Lottie! But alas, in the many airports where I have seen something like it, it’s prohibitive to even buy an apple!!

  2. I didn’t realize there were so many options! When I became a vegetarian years ago, I asked for vegetarian meals but they were so tasteless that I just started bringing my own meals on planes instead in case I don’t like or can’t eat what they offer. Now that I know they offer such a selection, perhaps I should try again.

    1. Indeed, I remember the same when I’d order those veggie meals awhile back – cardboard. Now, as you can see, some airlines give you an amazing choice of type of veggie meals.. not bad, huh?!

  3. I also didn’t realise there was so much choice around now – I have some long haul travel planned later this year and I guess I’m not holding out much hope about the food options factor, but we’ll see.

      1. I booked my Poland flights yesterday (flying 4 different airlines) and it would’ve been much simpler to fall into one of their dietary boxes. There are already loads of categories, maybe in time there will be paleo too!

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