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The plane has reached its cruising altitude, and the flight attendants are beginning their drink rounds. “Additional snacks are available for purchase,” says a voice over the speaker. And I realize: I so want additional snacks. I flip to the back of the in-flight magazine to drool over my options. It has everything I so carelessly strolled by on the concourse but at a sky-high markup. The $10 price tag on top of a $400 flight and a $25 bag fee feels like a twist of the (TSA-approved) knife.
The in-flight snack box, usually composed of five or six treats nestled in a small, pleasing container, is as alluring to me as a well-packed suitcase. But here’s a secret: you can make your own snack box at home for cheap. I’ve been doing it for years, following the example of my thrifty, brilliant mother. Buy the security-friendly ingredients of your choice in bulk, and pop them in a segmented storage container—like this Sistema Bento Cube To Go ($8) or a BentoHeaven Bento Box ($21), if you’re feeling fancy—and, for about $4 a box, you’re flying in style and saving money. The leftovers don’t have to go to waste: snack boxes are great for any adventure, including hiking, biking, and skiing. Most of the components are shelf-stable, so the possibilities are endless. Here’s how to build your own and never go hungry on a flight again.
Trader Joe’s Soft and Juicy Mandarins ($3, about $0.75 per serving)
I don’t know how TJ’s achieves this dried-fruit magic, but the outer part of the orange segment is almost crispy while the interior stays jammy, gooey, and delicious.
Oloves Natural Pitted Olives Variety Pack ($24, about $1 per serving)
Hey, look, technically olives are fruit. And I love them. When some genius started making single-serve packs, it revolutionized my airplane-snack game. Now I can basically inject salt straight into my veins at 30,000 feet.
Duke’s Hot and Spicy Smoked Shorty Sausages ($29, about $1.50 per serving)
Jerky is the most expensive item on my list, and I’m trying to cut back on my meat consumption, so I often skip it. But when I splurge, I go for these peppery links. The self-contained meat sticks are less messy to eat than traditional crumbly jerky, which is key when you’re hunched over a tray table.
Blue Diamond Smokehouse Almonds ($13, about $0.30 per serving)
A cheaper (and vegan) protein option are these smoked almonds. The savory flavor makes them addictive and just as satisfying as jerky.
Mini Babybel White Cheddar Semisoft Cheeses ($3, about $0.50 per serving)
These cheese pucks are a classic to-go snack. They hold up without refrigeration through security and boarding, and there’s something so satisfying about peeling off the wax coating. I like the white cheddar (there are five other flavors), but you do you—all cheese is good cheese.
Keebler Cheese and Cheddar Sandwich Crackers ($5, about $0.40 per serving)
If you’re not into lukewarm dairy, there’s always this shelf-stable playground staple. And, yes, they do stand the test of time.
Carrot Chips ($1.50, about $0.38 per serving)
Is it a little bit ridiculous to buy carrots that look like chips? Yes. But they make me believe I’m eating wavy potato chips when I’m really just munching on vegetables, so I think it’s worth it.
Harvest Snaps Green Pea Snack Crisps in Caesar ($20, about $0.55 per serving)
I know—these processed, baked pea bites, in a shape vaguely reminiscent of their origin, barely count as a vegetable. But they do have less fat, fewer calories, and higher fiber than your average potato chip. So you can feel (relatively) good about them.
Trader Joe’s Chocolate Coconut Almonds ($5, about $0.55 per serving)
If an Almond Joy and an M&M got together and had a love child, you’d have these tasty morsels. Good for bribing your neighbor to give you full ownership of the armrest.
Sahale Snacks Maple Pecans Glazed Mix ($24, about $1 per serving)
A pecan pie in a single bite and much less messy. They’re salty, sweet, and crunchy. What more could you want?
Orbit Sugarfree Gum ($15, about $0.05 per serving)
I haven’t regularly chewed gum since middle school (when it was against the rules and therefore cool), except on planes. It helps depressurize my ears and clear up any residual olive breath, to the relief of my fellow passengers. And you can’t get it in any airline snack box that I know of, so there.