Eating Better When You're in the Air

Airplane meals get a bad rep, but with a little planning it’s possible to eat very well indeed.

Even in economy class.

Consulting chef for Virgin Australia business class Luke Mangan believes airline food has come a long way in the last decade.

"There was definitely that perception and stigma around airline food, and everyone’s got an experience of a bad meal on board, so this was why I wanted to change that perception,” he said.

“The process for creating our Virgin Australia meals involves a lot of trial and error and knowing what foods will work better than others on board. This comes with a lot of tasting and keeping in mind that at some degree you do lose your tastebuds at high altitude.

"We also put an emphasis on using strong, bold flavours – incorporating lots of fresh herbs and acidic fruits to our dishes."

You’re obviously far less likely to get a bad meal in business class, whether or not it’s overseen by a high-profile chef such as Luke Mangan for Virgin or Neil Perry at Qantas. But what about those of us stuck at the back of the plane? One tip is to adopt Mangan’s love of bold flavours on your own steam.

Mangan is BYO fan.

“If I could take anything on board for a picnic it would be a small selection of cheeses and light crackers, some nice charcuterie maybe and definitely a bottle of rose or chardy," he said.

If you’ve left it until the last minute and you need to stock up on onboard tucker at the airport itself, Natalie Thomas of The Sydney Picnic Co suggests taking some fresh fruit and nuts.

And if your only option onboard is the standard offering, Mr Mangan suggests the lighter options.

“Definitely try to go on the lighter side when it comes to meals, especially on long-haul flights where you’re sitting for hours on end. Nice, light protein dishes are your best bet.  Steamed fish, grilled chicken or nice soup or salad.”

The manager in charge of menu development for Qantas at Neil Perry’s Rockpool Consulting, David Speck said, “Depending on the time zones, spicy food is great to keep you awake, carb and a little protein if you would prefer to sleep.”

A thorough perusal of airline websites before you book a flight can improve your chances of eating well. You might be surprised at the choices available. For example, Singapore Airlines has six vegetarian options to choose from.