What foods to eat when flying while pregnant?

Navigating which foods to eat when flying while pregnant is challenging. Not only does the body need more nutrients (and therefore a varied and nutritious diet) to support the growing baby, there are a range of foods that should be avoided due to the risk of causing harm to the baby. And on top of that, many pregnant women find themselves suffering from nausea which means they don’t feel like eating and can ‘turn off’ many foods. These factors can make eating a nutritious and varied diet difficult during pregnancy, even when you have access to a range of foods, let alone when you don’t have much choice in foods on offer like flying on a plane.

And I know how challenging this is, not just as a travel dietitian, but from first hand experience. I flew a number of times while pregnant, including long haul international Australia to Europe during the omicron Covid wave in January 2022. There were times when I couldn’t eat any foods served in the lounge or on the plane. This was because all the foods served where not recommended to be consumed while pregnant.

So why is this? And if you are pregnant, how can you eat safely while travelling on a plane?

Why eating while pregnant and flying is challenging

There are foods that should be avoided when pregnant due to the risk of foodborne illness, which can have dangerous consequences for both mother and baby. The main concerns are foods carrying Listeria, Salmonella or Toxoplasmosis. While getting food poisoning generally isn’t life threatening for the general populations, when pregnant it can carry serious risks for the baby, with the most serious being miscarriage.

When pregnant it is important to avoid foods that have a high risk of causing foodborne illness. This can be incredibly difficult when travelling, especially flying, as food choices are largely out of our control and are limited.

Common foods served when flying to avoid during pregnancy

Here are some common foods served in airline lounges, on planes and in airport food courts that should be avoided when pregnant:

  • Cold/chilled seafood such as smoked salmon and prawns.
  • Salads and cold vegetables such as bowls of salads at buffets, fruit salads, vegetable crudites.
  • Soft cheeses such as blue cheeses, Brie, feta etc when served cold.
  • Hot dishes that are served warm or where you don’t know how long they been heated for e.g. hot foods served at buffets, or precooked foods kept warm in bain maries in food courts.
  • Unpasteurised cheeses i.e. those made from unpasteurised milk.
  • Salami and other cold meats such as ham.
  • Prepackaged sandwiches no matter what the filling, or premade sandwiches kept chilled in glass counters in food courts.
  • Soft cooked eggs or partially raw eggs.
  • Foods with raw eggs such as aioli and mayonnaise, mousse, pancake batter
  • Hummus dip
Finnair salmon and prawn starter
Smoked salmon and cold prawns in a business class starter meal. These chilled seafoods are not recommended to be eaten during pregnancy.
Chopped fruit in Singapore Airlines lounge
Chopped fruit salad in an airport lounge. Cut up fruit that is refrigerated is not recommended during pregnancy.
Beef dish Air New Zealand lounge
Beef dish in an airport lounge. Hot dishes served at buffets are not recommended during pregnancy.

NOTE: some country’s food and pregnancy recommendations can differ slightly so check the dietary guidelines in your country or the country your are travelling to. This is because the food supply may differ between countries, including how foods are made and processed which may affect whether foods are suitable for pregnancy. Please see here for information on Australia’s guidelines on foods to avoid while pregnant.

Suggestions of foods to eat when flying while pregnant

Here are some examples of foods to eat when flying while pregnant. These foods can be commonly found served in airport lounges and on planes:

  • Freshly cooked, hot vegetables.
  • Hard, pasteurised cheeses such as Cheddar.
  • Wholegrain or sourdough breads with spreads such as nut butters.
  • Nuts or roasted legumes.
  • Eat from A la carte menus serving freshly cooked foods in lounges.
  • Freshly, fully cooked eggs such as hard boiled eggs.
  • Whole fruit such as a banana.
  • Wholegrain, low sugar muesli (granola) bars.
  • No added sugar yogurt.
  • Muesli/wholegrain cereal.
Foods to eat when flying while pregnant
Cheddar cheese and crackers in an airport lounge. Hard pasteurised cheeses such as cheddar are considered low risk during pregnancy

Packaged foods such as chips (crisps), rice crackers, lollies etc are also suitable to eat, however I have not listed them as suggested foods as generally they are not very nutritious.

Tips for eating when flying while pregnant

Ask lots of questions from staff to understand more about whether foods are safe to eat. Sometimes it is not possible to avoid eating while travelling, but understanding more about how a food was prepared and where ingredients came from can help you make a safer, more informed choice. Here are some of the strategies I used to reduce risk of foodborne illness while flying when pregnant:

  • In an airport lounge asking where foods came from can make a big difference. For example asking if vegetable crudites served at a lounge buffet are sliced fresh by chefs on the day, or are from an external company that come prepackaged (meaning they have been in storage for days). This difference in processing can change the risk a food poses while pregnant.
  • When on a plane, ask if hot meals can be heated for longer to ensure they are served hot throughout the whole meal. While this might not be possible in economy, it may be possible (depending on your meal choice) in business/first class.
  • Let the staff on the plane know you are pregnant as even if they aren’t able to reheat your meal for longer, they may be able to ensure you are served first. This may help ensure your meal is served hot and straight to you from being reheated. This helps to minimise time for the food to cool down, which may reduce the risk of any bacteria present having the chance to grow and multiply.
  • Speak up and ask for different meals or foods, whether they are on the menu or not. I did this while pregnant and most staff I talked to were very accommodating, especially on planes. Some examples when I traveled:
    • When travelling on a domestic flight in Australia they were serving a prepackaged chicken sandwich. I explained I was pregnant and I wasn’t able to eat it and asked if they had any other foods. They returned with a bag of nuts which was suitable for me to eat.
    • When travelling on long haul international to Europe from Australia I explained to the staff on board that I was pregnant and asked if I was able to have two main hot dishes (appropriately heated) instead of a starter and main. This was because the starters were cold dishes such as smoked salmon.

Please note this is general information. For more specific and individual advice on diet and pregnancy please contact your healthcare professional. If you are pregnant and would like tailored dietetic and nutrition advice please contact me to make an appointment.

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