Flying Gluten Free

Traveling gluten free can be so depressing. I'll never forget the layover I had in Seattle when flying from San Francisco to Anchorage. 2008 - our first full year gluten free. We had eaten the gluten free wraps and fruit I had packed for the first flight, and still had a slew of bars and dried fruit & nuts we were saving for our vacation. The terminal had a few eateries- Starbucks, Pizza and Burger King. Of all those places guess what our options were? A banana at Starbucks. Even the prepared salads had croutons sprinkled on top. Fruit cups topped with granola.

Fast forward a few years- now most airports have plenty of offerings although you still have to do your homework. I've had Greek salad in Phoenix, soup in San Francisco. But I still pack a slew of food our flights and trip. The only airline I've seen offer a gluten free snack box is Alaska Airlines (although I have not flown with them in over a year so they may not now). I've done a few International business trips and each time I've packed many pounds of gluten free food to keep me fed throughout the trip. I recall a business lunch where the company I was visiting pre-ordered delicious salads for everyone - but every single one had macaroni salad in the middle. Thank heavens for the Go Picnic! box I had packed that morning. It's important to plan ahead and always have more food than you think you will need.

Fortunately my company allowed me to fly business class to Europe- and in each case I pre-reserved and was successfully served gluten free food.

This post includes pictures of the gluten free meals I was served in International Business class on British Airways, Lufthansa, SWISS Air and United.

I hope this is useful to others who are planning their trips re: figuring out how much gluten free food to pack as well as picking an airline should gluten free food offerings weigh in your decision.

If you couldn't care less about the airline meals, at the bottom of this post I also include what my go to foods are for gluten free travel.

Happy Travels!

SWISS Air- San Francisco to Zurich, June 2012

SWISS Air gets an A minus in my book - lots of variety, lots of flavor - the only reason for the minus is the rice cakes. Upon takeoff I was served some grilled chicken with roasted vegetables, greens w/ dressing and a fruit salad. Oh, and the rice cakes. I thought that was a decent meal given I had no expectations whatsoever.
 Then I was surprised to learn that was the appetizer- this was the main course:
 wow - even more grilled chicken (or it could have been turkey), over rice with some more vegetables. I was stuffed after this meal.

Prior to landing I was served a nice breakfast as well - more vegetables with some rice noodles and 2 fruit plates, some yogurt, and, oh, another rice cake. At least I had some jam to spread on it - this is where I first started to look out for individual packets of peanut butter and other spreads like Nutella which I could bring on future flights.

SWISS Air - Zurich to Stockholm, June 2012

The connecting flight to Stockholm also did not disappoint - more fruit, more vegetables, more lean protein, and a fresh gluten free roll as well! Very impressive and very tasty.

Lufthansa - Stockholm to Frankfurt, June 2012

Breakfast on Lufthansa was surprisingly good - some sliced meat w/ vegetables, yogurt and some friend polenta over stewed apples and berries. Lufthansa gets a B plus overall as the food was not quite as flavorful, not quite as many fruits and vegetables and that horrible Rice Bread. As much as I hate rice cakes, at least they are edible. Rice bread is (RisBrot) is not. It's like eating concrete.

United - Frankfurt to San Francisco, June 2012

United gets a solid B - although I have a feeling the same kitchen in Frankfurt handles both United and Lufthansa. Lunch was some bland chicken with some tomato sauce, diced vegetables, a little fruit and yes, RisBrot. Blech.
 Later I was served this appetizer- also kind of light on flavor (I was not a fan of the 3 flavor mousse thing on the left).
 But the main course was OK - fish with boiled potatoes carrot and broccoli. The flight attendant took pity on me and offered some MozartKugeln (candy) which was leftover from the prior trip.

British Airways - San Francisco to London, September 2013 - same as the "bland" special meal

Flavor and calories - oh that would have been so nice! Each meal had a lot of vegetables, some protein, rice cakes, but no flavor. I suggest packing some individual packets of gluten free sauces as well as peanut butter. One of my favorite meals on that flight was salvaging the rice cakes served with dinner by spreading peanut butter on top.

Meals on this leg deserve a C although I'll give British Airways a B Plus as they made  up for it on my final flight -if all flights had been like that one, BA would have been A Plus.

Here is the first course for dinner- very nicely prepared and fresh, but almost no calories or flavor.
The roasted tomato on the salad was yummy but a little garlic and parmesan would have gone a long way!
The main course was a bit more substantial but still left me hungry:
Chicken with mashed potatoes and sautéed vegetables.
Dessert was a beautiful bowl of berries, fat free. Delicious on its own but I did have to dip into some bars an hour or so after dinner.
Prior to landing in Heahtrow I was served a plain omlet with grilled tomato and mushrooms as well as some fruit on the side, and more rice cakes. The egg filled me up but again, I would have loved for some salsa or other spice to add.
Once I landed in Heathrow I spent some time in the British Airways lounge. I was amazed to find all food was labeled with allergens it contained. I was able to have eggs, beans, chili and curry over rice, in addition to the usual fruit and salad. They also had a sign near the cookies which said to "ask for gluten free biscuits" so I did and this is what I got:
it was delicious! Very fudgy, just the way a brownie should be!

 British Airways - London to Stockholm, September 2013

The meal on this flight was filling and pretty tasty. Fish atop tomato rice with sautéed vegetables with a gluten free roll!
Here is the label from the roll. It was kind of dry but tasted OK smothered in butter.

 British Airways Stockholm to London, October 2013

Another satisfying meal - eggs, bacon, sausage, tomato, fresh gluten free bread and juice.


British Airways London to San Francisco - October, 2013 - Excellent

The food on my return trip to San Francisco was excellent and filling. The first course included a very tasty lentil salad, fresh bread and mixed greens. This time I was able to flavor the salad with some lemon olive oil, salt and pepper although I would have loved a pre-made dressing or some garlic powder.

The main course was chicken breast with stewed tomatos and broccoli over rice. Not the most flavor but far better than the first flight.
Dessert was a delicious piece of gluten free cheesecake with raspberry sauce!
 Prior to landing, lunch was served - a gluten free sandwich, more bread (which is still in my freezer) and a piece of decadent flourless chocolate cake.
All in my food strategy worked as I came home with some extra bread, chocolate I bought in Stockholm and even a few bars. Had the final flight been as bland/light as my first flight I probably would have eaten all of my travel stash.

Bringing Your Own Gluten Free Stash

Here is a summary of what food are my go to items when traveling and preparing my travel stash:

Outbound Flight:

  1. Turkey, Cheese & Spinach Wraps. My favorite wrap is Sandwich Petals, followed by Sonoma Teff Wraps and Rudi's Spinach Tortillas. If I have an early flight, I make these the night before, wrap in foil, seal in a large Ziploc and refrigerate until I leave for the airport
  2. Peanut Butter & Jelly Sandwich on Canyon Bakehouse bread. This bread is the real deal and holds up.
  3. Fresh Fruit (Apples, Bananas, Oranges) in a Ziploc, berries when in season. I keep berries in Munchie Mugs (originally purchased for when my daughter was a toddler but now we use them all the time). Pick up some fresh fruit for your return flight as well.
  4. Cheese Sticks (if bringing wraps, fruit and/or cheese I usually bring a lightweight cooler bag along with 2 Ziploc bags - after clearing security I fill one bag with ice from a restaurant or bar and then double bag. I've never had a problem with this request if I mention it's because I have food allergies.

 Other stuff for the flight and during your travels:

  1. Dried fruit and nuts
  2. (for the Giggler - a special treat she does not get usually) Annie's Gummy Bunnies Fruit Snacks
  3. Go Picnic Meals (these come in very handy at amusement parks and when you want some variety of food choices when snacking) - I would never say these fill me up like a meal though - they are strictly for snacks IMO. Tip: sign up for their email list and like them on Facebook to be notified of special deals although be warned- they send out way too many emails. Once a week would be fine but they are more like daily.


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