Exactly what not to order at meal time on a plane.

Going on holiday is one of the great joys in life. There's the booking part, then the excited anticipation of packing and then getting to the airport.

However, once you're on the plane, the glow of vacation buzz may start to fade. It might be the tightly packed seats, that *particular* smell coming from the lavatories, a dangling foot in your face or the realisation that, for the next few hours, you'll only be eating plane food.

Unless you're one of the lucky ducks to score an upgrade, flying economy comes with a selection of pre-packaged in-flight meals to choose from. And depending on the airline, these can range from actually relatively tasty to... downright inedible.

Now, it's important to note whether you're flying or just going about a regular day, you should definitely eat whatever floats your boat! This isn't about restricting eating, or telling anyone what they "should" or "shouldn't" eat. (I'm honestly partial to a good in-flight meal and am quite intrigued by the various combos each airline comes up with — each to their own, I guess!)

But if you've always grappled to make a choice when asked "would you like the chicken or the fish?" when the cabin crew coming strolling down the aisle with their trolley of delights (?!), there are actually some handy tips that will make sure you get the yummiest option.

Before you lock in the beef stroganoff or the butter chicken, dietician Lyndi Cohen (aka The Nude Nutritionist) says that it's important to note that, when you're flying high up in the air, there's a scientific reason the food might not taste so great.


"The reason people do not like the taste of food at altitude is because at 30,000ft the air in the cabin can actually become very dry," says Cohen. "This lack of moisture means that our sense of smell can be reduced. This is going to impact the sensitivity of our tastebuds."

Huh! Who would've thought?

So with our flavour profiles in a tizz when we're miles high, what can we do to counteract those biological shifts that happen? 

Well, the great thing about food is that it's all pretty scientific and there's a way to mute or disguise certain flavours.

Avoid salty; go for umami instead.

A few years ago, German airline Lufthansa conducted a study to try to get to the bottom of why people were so put off by their in-flight dining options. 

They were presented with some pretty compelling results in their findings, which have since helped dictate a number of other airlines' catering options.

@maxklymenko Unexpected reason why airplane food tastes bad ✈️ what do you think? 😋 #learnontiktok #travel #airplanemode #foodtiktok #interestingfacts ♬ original sound - Max Klymenko

Scientists found that meals that had strong umami flavour profiles seemed to be unaffected by the high altitude and were actually quite tasty when consumed. So it makes sense then to choose an in-flight meal that is rich in umami to ensure you get the tastiest option on the menu.

ICYMI, umami is one of five basic flavour profiles, along with sweet, savoury, salty and bitter. It's a tricky one to describe, but the Japanese word translates to "delicious savoury taste", and is often described as a complex "meaty" flavour — although it doesn't have to be meat.

Foods that contain umami flavours include tomatoes, mushrooms, fish, beef and cheese — so if you spy any of those on offer, they'll be your best bet to treat your tastebuds to a sky-high delight.


Also with that study in mind, along with what we know about how the pressure affects moisture and our tastebuds, it also makes sense to avoid foods that are high in salt, because this is likely to taste worse when you're cruising at an altitude of however many thousand feet.

Skip the booze.

I know, I know. One of the joys of jumping on a plane is taking a sip of something bubbly to get you in the holiday spirit. But dietician Lyndi Cohen says that indulging in too much booze will dehydrate you more than it would if you were on the ground, and will continue to have an adverse affect your tastebuds.

"Particularly alcohol can make you dehydrated by being in the cabin," she says.

That, paired with the dehydration from the cabin pressure, will alter your sense of smell and taste even more. So skip the third champagne and go for a tomato juice instead — umami all the way, baby.

Go for the airline carrier's national food option.

A quick squiz on TikTok will show you a bunch of savvy travellers giving their reviews on in-flight catering. What we noticed? Almost all of them will give five-star reviews after choosing the meal option specific to the airline carrier's nationality.

@awansauce Everything I ate on my flight to Japan on Japan Airlines ✈️ Very cool experience as this was my first time! Such a wide variety of interesting foods were served with my favourite being the miso soup! It tasted like a 90 year old grandmother boiled it for 3 days then brought it on the plane for all of us to try! 🥣 For all you Hamburg steak lovers, the Hamburg was surprisingly good as well! I expected it to be dry and hard but it turned out to be the complete opposite of that. Juicy, moist beef shaped in a cute little hamburg. I’m excited to go back to Japan next time and try all of the amazing food options Japan has to offer as this time I only had 4 days and my itinerary was super packed. So until next time, Japan I love you 🤍 #japanairlines #japanesefood #misosoup ♬ たぶん - YOASOBI

It looks like Japan Airlines gets major points in this department. Miso soup on tap? Yes, please!

If you're looking for the tastiest meal option, we suggest going for the cuisine native to the airline carrier's home country.

Trust the process.

Given the notoriously rep plane food has, you'll find that a lot of airline carriers are now investing in switching up that narrative. Decha Mingkwan, Culinary Development Manager at Qatar Airways Catering Services, says they've implemented a process to ensure their in-flight offering is always striving to deliver on taste.


"We conduct daily 'taste checks', where inflight meal samples from all over the world are sent to us to be taste-tested by our team of chefs to ensure we maintain the highest standard," he told Mamamia.

"On top of that, we also do what's called the 'offload checks', where we dig through the passengers' meal trays upon landing to see the meal consumption pattern of that flight. 

"We look out for what's untouched or under-consumed and if we notice a dish is under-consumed by most onboard, we'll launch an investigation to find out why and make the necessary adjustment."

I mean... that's dedication to a good meal.

Pack some snacks.

When all else fails and the umami isn't hitting, Cohen says that you can always come prepared for a flight with some tasty snacks from home to see you through the journey.

Among the best ones to pack, suggests Cohen, are things high in fibre (to help combat that post-flight, er, clog-up) like dried fruit, seed mix, protein balls, popcorn and even chia pudding for the adventurous.

Happy flying (and eating)!

Feature Image: TikTok/@awansauce, @maxklymenko

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