6 Ways to Handle In-Flight Meals With Picky Eaters

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Anyone who has ever been on a plane can tell you that airline food isn’t the best. Sometimes you can luck out and get a pretty good meal or two. One of the best airline meals I’ve ever had was on Air New Zealand where I got shepherd’s pie and on another flight I got some chicken and rice dish that made me ask for seconds. (I really did ask the lady for more)

But some of the meal options can leave you and your little ones a bit cranky on a long haul flights. So I’m offering some suggestions on how I’ve survived long flights a picky eater.

Pack snacks
So my kid went through this phase where he would only eat crackers and bananas. Seriously. I think it lasted for nearly a month. So whenever I got on a plane, or anywhere else we went actually, I made sure we had those two items at least.

If you have a picky eater on your hands, make sure you have something they do eat on hand. Flights can get long and attendants might not be able to (or want to) conjure up a completely new meal for your young one. There are some really nice folks out there who accommodate, though. But just in case, make sure you have the pickles or whatever your kid likes to eat. But make sure you comply with TSA rules and regulations. They once took my tuna salad because it seemed like a threat.

Wait and see what happen
I was once on a flight to China with the boy when he was 7. I was so nervous because this 12-hour-flight was the longest we had ever taken and I wasn’t sure if he would like the food. I think my backpack was full with sandwiches, fruit snacks, granola bars, and crackers but he never knew they were in there.

We board the flight and get settled. When the meal service begins, I wait to see what he will do. Occupied with some cartoon, he answered the flight attendant when she asked him what he would like to eat. He told her chicken and to my surprise he ate it!

Sometimes just waiting to see if they will try the food will surprise you both. We fear so much that our kids will starve, but I’ve learned that if I just let him eat what is offered he will more times than none take it. But the times I’ve projected this fear onto him, he’s rejected whatever they gave him. So now I just sit back to see what he’s going to do.

Request the kid meal
Most airlines offer a kid-friendly meal for children under a certain age. While some will require you to request this special meal ahead of time or even at the time of purchasing your ticket, it is a great alternative and might help decrease the stress of mealtime during that long flight. Airlines like Emirate and South African Airways have automatically given it to us because we purchased a child’s ticket, but I would double-check just to make sure.

While convenient and a nice touch to accommodate your kids, there are pros and cons with all of them. They come in cute packaging that is enticing to children, but some are packed with sweet treats, cookies, and even candy – which can be against what some parents want for their kids. The meal offerings can include chicken nuggets, cheese sandwiches, or sometimes the exact same thing you might be eating, just in a cute box. It’s a nice option and might trick your picky eater into scarfing down that meal.

I once knew a guy whose nephew would only eat fast food. He would cry and tantrum because his meal didn’t come from a bag. So one day, his mom put the sandwich she made into an old McDonald’s bag. The kid ate it right away.

I say all this to say, sometimes our kids eat the food we give them because it looks nice or packaged in something they are familiar with. The pretty box covered in cartoons just might be the thing to get your kid to eat that airline food instead of throwing a tantrum on the plane because they don’t have Wendy’s.

Make sure they eat well before the flight
Make sure they’re fed and full and maybe they won’t get hungry on the flight. This one seems like an easy solution, but it can be tricky. If your kid is anything like mine he’ll be hungry again in 4 hours or so. So actually this one might not work if your flight is longer than their regular meal times. In which case you might need to have option 1 as a back up.

Fly during their sleep times
If you fly when they are sleeping then they won’t need to eat.


This one may or may not work, but it’s worth a try. My kid immediately goes for the monitor to play games or watch movies, so he’s not always ready to sleep. However, I’ve trained him that after the meal service, he takes a nap. This also sometimes works.

If you’re flying with small children, flying during what is usually their nap times or sleep times is always a good rule to follow anyway, but if they are picky eaters then they won’t need to eat during the flight and will be asleep before the meal service begins. Who knows?

Encourage them to try new foods before the trip
This one seems a bit more reasonable. By encouraging your child to try new foods before a trip (which is a good thing in general) it motivates them to be more accepting to new foods in other aspects of their lives. I mean, do you really want a kid who only eats bananas and crackers? Trust me, you don’t. It’s no fun.

The earlier you do this, the more developed their palate will be and more tolerant of another culture’s foods while you are traveling. If you’re a picky parent, this can help encourage you as well.

Food is one of the ways we love to explore new places. Food is so intimate to our individual cultures, the traditions that surround it, the love and care it takes to create a meal – it’s the thing that unifies us and helps us relate to one another despite all our differences.

We have all have had a picky little one on our hands. Hell, we ourselves might have been picky once upon a time (or even still). But by challenging ourselves to explore the limitations we’ve had on ourselves regarding the foods we eat or even try, we are opening ourselves and our children to an entirely new world. Which is really the point of all this traveling, isn’t it?

What are some tips and tricks you’ve used to get through a long flight with a picky eater? Share them in the comments!

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