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Posted on Sep 26, 2007 in Beans, Bento, Curry, Gluten Free, Meat, Salad, Sandwich or Wrap | 35 comments

Disposable lunches for airplane

Disposable lunches for airplane


I packed a couple of bento lunches in disposable containers for my in-laws’ airplane flight home after their visit. They’re a little busier than our normal lunches, but I’m pleased with the diabetic version for my father-in-law because of the limited food options for diabetics on airplanes. They tell me that they were the envy of the other passengers and flight crew. I usually appreciate the reusability of proper bento boxes, but this is the rare case when a disposable box was a better option — when the boxes won’t be coming home to me at all.


Disposable airplane lunch

Contents of my mother-in-law’s lunch: Ham & cheese sandwich with mustard sauce on low-carb bread, TastyBite Jaipur vegetable curry, red bell pepper strips and poppy seed dressing, Swiss and Cheddar cheese slices, pink beans with sofrito, blueberries and pineapple, wrapped cheese triangle, and corn chips.

Prep time: 0 minutes the morning of, 15 minutes the night before (mostly spent staring at our assorted leftovers, trying to figure out what could go where and fill the gaps). The beans and pineapple were leftovers, as was the ready-made curry from a shelf-stable pouch.

Box lunches wrapped in dish towel

Packing: Everything is disposable except the sauce container with salad dressing for the bell pepper. To keep the bread from getting soggy, I first toasted the bread and used cheese as a moisture barrier next to the bread so that the mustard sauce didn’t come into contact with it. The curry went into a disposable lidded condiment container. I rubber-banded the containers (3 for about $1 at Ichiban Kan in San Francisco), wrapped the two lunches together in a spare dish towel, then tucked two plastic forks into the flap on the top. I used the traditional bento box wrap shown on this illustrated how-to wrapping chart (Otsukai Tsutsumi). This kept the flimsy containers contained compactly so they could be thrown into carry-on luggage, and the dishcloth could be used as either a placemat or napkin.

Disposable airplane lunch for diabetic

Contents of my father-in-law’s lunch: This is the diabetic version of my mother-in-law’s, but with ham and mustard sauce solo (not in a sandwich), a salad with low-carb ranch dressing (by Eating Right), and Bengali smothered cabbage with mustard oil.

Packing: I used cheese slices as an edible divider to keep the ham away from the corn chips, and put the moist cabbage and mustard sauce in disposable lidded condiment containers. I now realize I wasn’t thinking enough about the restriction on liquids and gels when I packed this; my in-laws were probably lucky they didn’t have problems with the mustard sauce in airport security.



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  1. What a great idea! Thanks for the link to the wrapping chart. I’m so brand new to all this so I need all the links I can get! lol!

  2. I just realize I will need to pack food for my flight next Wednesday. The flight time on the ticket is 2 p.m. to 6 p.m., but I’m going from Washington, D.C. to Seattle, WA. The actual flight time in 7 hours!

  3. I am officially in love with your blog. I am now going to peruse the entire thing to find out what I have been missing!

  4. Your website totally inspired me. I’ve been toying with the idea of doing bentos and did a google search to find out more. Up came your website and I’m now hooked! Thanks!

  5. It is completely worth the 15 minutes to pack your own food for flights these days, especially if you have any food restrictions (allergies, Celiac disease, etc). The stuff that the airlines sell on board is so unhealthy and processed, and don’t get me started on the taste!

    These look great!

  6. I have to pack myself an airplane lunch in a few months when I go visit my friend out in Seattle, so thanks for the tips! What did you use for the boxes themselves? I’ve been worrying over jellied and liquid content in a lnuch for the plane for a while, and I’m still not sure what would be considered okay.

  7. Where do you get the little disposable plastic cups with lids that you used for fruits and dips? These lunches look wonderful and tasty to me!

  8. I had no idea they would let you bring food on anymore. Last time I flew which was last Thanksgiving I watched them tell formula feeding mothers they couldn’t take full baby bottles on the plane! Thank god I have it on tap ;). If I knew you could bring food it would have made my travels with my 3 children by myself go much smoother!!!!!

  9. Ooh, I loved your idea, I linked to it initially when I did one a few weeks ago (airplane bento). :) I am still a newby though- I don’t tilt my bento, but am wondering if I’m not packing it right because I still feel if I do tilt it, everything will get everywhere and I’m not packing much if any wet food…??

  10. They allow baby formula now - but obviously you need to have the baby with you!

    Also, most airplanes that fly over 5 hours have ovens on board. If your flight is longer, and you’re willing to wait until the flight attendants are done their regular drinks & meal service, they won’t mind putting it in the oven for you. (Please don’t ask when they are in the middle of the aisle with the cart!!!) Just you pack everything in disposable aluminum containers and paper dividers that can be heated up, or take the plastic sauce cups out before handing it to the F/A. ^___^”

  11. wow, thanks for the tip. I knew you could bring little snacks like snack bars or chips-what have you-but I didn’t know you could bring such a meal! In 3 weeks I have a flight from St. Louis to NYC, NYC to Seoul, and Seoul to Beijing! So this will be GREAT for me since I’m not big on airplane food-thanks soooo much! So helpful!!!

  12. What a great tip! I can always make do with airline food (when it’s available) but it’s been difficult to get an airline meal that my toddler will eat (health issues aside). I always end up with a bunch of cobbled together ziplocks full of dried fruit and crackers rather than a proper lunch for the kids. This is the perfect alternative.

  13. Beautiful lunches - as always!! Glad the sauce made it through. Last time I packed lunch for my flight it was as it went through the x-ray machine that I remembered the side container of gooey, creamy yogurt. Luckily, the woman who hand-searched my bag was so distracted by my fish-shaped hard boiled egg that she didn’t even notice the yogurt! Here’s to meals that stop other people in their tracks.

  14. @1 from jenny-up the hill: My pleasure on the chart — it’s really quite well done (simple yet informative).

  15. @2 from LaVidaMD: Ugh, 7 hours of airplane food — definitely worth trying to bring your own. I like bringing a refillable cup or bottle as well, so we can fill it with water after clearing security and have something to drink without paying extortionate airport prices. That’d be a good time for those little packets of mix-in drink powders as well.

  16. @4 from Catherinette: Welcome to the fold, Catherinette, and thanks for reading! As you read old entries, please feel free to ask any questions you like or add comments — I keep up with comments on older posts via the “Recent Comments” in the sidebar to the right.

  17. @5 from Sara: Thanks for the kind words, Sara, and welcome! Looking forward to hearing your thoughts and feedback.

  18. @6 from Archangeli: I agree 100%. I first started lunch-packing for my husband when he was (mis)diagnosed with celiac disease — airplane food was just not really an option when he took trips. Back to the old bentos, and now it feels like we’re really spoiling ourselves to pull out a nice meal on the plane.

  19. @7 from AnnaOnTheMoon: I used disposable bento boxes that I got at Ichiban Kan (3 for about US$1 — don’t remember exactly how much). They’re a little flimsy, which is why I made sure to wrap them in the cloth and put anything moist in those disposable condiment cups with lids. When I’m on my game for airplane bentos, I err on the side of caution and don’t pack anything liquidy at all — but I was a little scatterbrained when packing these.

  20. I picked up a big sleeve of 2-ounce condiment cups and lids from Smart & Final, but Amazon also sells them here as “jello shot cups”.

  21. @9 from stitchblade: Airport security can be pretty weird about how strictly they enforce rules where they have discretion. We bottle fed (adoption), and I was always wary of the bottle problem in airports, so I’d bring along a bottle with formula powder and just fill up a refillable bottle with water after passing through security.

  22. @10 from Yvo: Japanese bento cookbooks all advise carrying the packed bentos as level as possible, but ensure that it’s packed compactly (using gap fillers) so that if it does tilt in transit you don’t wind up with a mess. Our family is really rough with our bentos, so I’ve just accepted this and pack them to withstand that kind of treatment. Bento cookbooks also advise against wet food (unless it’s in a thermal food jar, Mr. Bento, etc.) for that reason as well as food safety when the bentos are stored at room temperature prior to eating. Sounds like you’re doing just fine — it’s just something you’ll get the hang of as you pack different things and see how they survive transport.

  23. @12 from Jenna: Well, at least on long international flights they’re bound to feed you something hot (as opposed to those nasty US$5 “snack boxes” on short to medium domestic flights). But I really do like packing my own — food’s usually better and I’m not reliant on the airline for timing, service or selection.

  24. @13 from Debbie: Yup, food independence is great when you’ve got kids in tow! I found that my diaper bag was starting to get overtaken by little Tupperware containers as Bug started eating solid food, which is why I went back to the bento boxes. Compact and efficient!

  25. @14 from dawn: I’ll toast that (meals that stop people in their tracks)! Sometimes you just get lucky (or the opposite) with the airport security folks about what they notice/mind and what they don’t.

  26. @15 from TrekkieGrrl: Good point. You CAN bring liquids/gels under 100ml, but it needs to go into a separate 1-quart plastic baggie and presented to security. If I’d taken the mustard container out and packed it like that, maybe better?

  27. Great ideas, Biggie! Thanks to Kango for directing me to your awesome site. I’m flying from SFO to Bali in a couple of weeks and I was told Singapore Airlines has decent food, but it never hurts to be prepared. These look delicious.

    And yes, if you put your liquids in the plastic baggie for security clearance, you can bring them. Wow, I feel safer already!

  28. @30 from Travel Betty: Ooh, Sing Air! That brings back memories — I haven’t flown them for years (but they were so lovely and spoiled us, big contrast at the time from the U.S. carriers like NorthWest). Anyway, welcome to the site; I hope you get some good ideas!

  29. The last time I packed disposable airplane bento I had veggies but didn’t take a dip b/se I was nervous about security scan. On the other side of screening I found a little deli that has Newman’s Own dressing packs. I asked if I could buy one and the lady said “Just take it.” So now I know that is an option! Also you can usually get ketchup, mustard and mayo packs at the restaurants after security.

  30. @32 from snappiness: Ooh, nice frugal tip! Thanks!

  31. I know this is an older post, but I reference all of your older posts.

    Anyway, I’m using your airplane bentos as a guide for my upcoming long flight (to China). My question is have you had experience with foods that do NOT travel well on plane? I’m packing a bento (or 2) for my mom and myself (each). She’s on doctor ordered low carb diet and I’m just looking for my own choices.

    I’m already thinking clemetines and some black beans and that’s all I came up with so far - lol.


    (And I love your site…still!)

  32. @34 from princess_design: Offhand, I’d say I’d probably avoid heavy containers (i.e. food jars, thermal lunch jars, etc.) that’d clunk around in your bag and you’d have to lug around in China. I’d probably also avoid stinky food such as tuna, kim chi, etc. so you don’t have a smell explosion when you open your lunch.

    This reminds me of a funny story: I was once on a Northwest flight from Japan to Hawaii, and an American flight attendant actually SPRAYED a passenger with air freshener when he opened a package of dried squid as a snack (pretty common in Japan), telling him with exaggerated tones and hand motions: “Eww, no, STINKY!!! Put it AWAY!!!” Unbelievable.

  33. Thanks! Yeah, I saved some disposable, black take out containers for the trip and I have my disposable chopsticks, fork and spoon. And those plastic cups with the lids.

    And I already realized stinky foods would be bad.


  34. I am taking a trip with a long layover. I want to pack a breakfast and a lunch.
    How do I keep the lunch sandwich [ham, turkey, etc] at proper temp till later in the day when I eat it? I don’t want to tote extra reusable gel ice pouches my kids take to school.
    Do you have alternates to a sandwich?

  35. Can you take on a lunch nowadays? With all the TSA restrictions concerning liquids and foods? I mean, didn’t they throw away a cupcake the other day?


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