Food intolerance-friendly airline meals

Hello again after a long break! I have been away and will be travelling again soon so have some possibly helpful travel tips for anyone flying by Singapore Airlines.

The last time I went overseas by Cathay Pacific, I prepared an elaborate set of bento boxes to last me halfway round the globe, as I described here. This time, it was just a short 5-hour flight and I decided to order one of Singapore Airlines’ special ‘Medical Meals’.

Here is the amazing list of ‘Medical Meal’ choices:

  • Bland Meal: No “irritants” (e.g. black pepper, chilli powder, caffeine, cocoa, alcohol)
  • Diabetic Meal: No sugar; limited salt
  • Fruit Platter Meal: Fresh fruits only
  • Gluten Free Meal: No wheat, rye, barley, oats in any form
  • Low Sodium, No Salt Added Meal: Avoid naturally-salted, sodium-added processed foods (e.g. Baking powder, soda, MSG); no salt added during preparation
  • Low Calorie Meal: Limited fats, sauces, gravy and fried items; limited sugar-rich items
  • Low Fat/Cholesterol Meal: No animal fats but poly-unsaturated fatty acids allowed; limited fats, sauces, and gravy fried items; no butter, cream, whole milk cheese; only lean meat allowed
  • Low Fibre/Residue Meal: Limited fibrous items (e.g. fruit, legumes, vegetables, wholegrain products)
  • Non-Carbohydrate Meal: No starch and carbohydrates in any form
  • Non-Lactose Meal: No lactose and dairy products (e.g. milk, milk solids, casein, cheese, cream, butter, margarine)
  • Soft Fluid Meal: Mainly sieved, soupy items
  • Semi Fluid Meal: Mainly pureed, minced, easily digestible items (e.g. pureed vegetables, potatoes, fruits, minced, homogenized meat, porridge, congee)
  • Ulcer Diet Meal: Contains easily digestive plain poached/broiled foods (e.g. white meat, fish); no acidic food and fruits
  • Nut Free Meal: Please contact our Reservation Office for the necessary arrangement

After a short discussion on the phone with the airline staff, I chose the ‘Low Sodium, No Salt Added Meal’. On my return flight, the meal label was in Chinese, which said “無調味料”, which actually means  no added seasoning. I found out there is a option of Asian or Western versions, and I chose Western. It was a chicken breast with side vegetables and rice on the outgoing flight, and a very tender beef steak with side vegetables and potatoes on the return flight. There were also no sweet desserts. I loved the way they were all totally plain with no sauces or spices/herbs etc. yet the ingredients were flavourful enough on their own. Fabulous! Amines in the meats and salicylates in the vegetables aside, this is a pretty safe choice for me. No need to starve on long-distance travel anymore! (As long as I fly on Singapore Airlines, that is.)

P.S. Don’t forget Singapore Airlines offers also offers Religious Meals, Infant & Child Meals, a Seafood Meal and a range of Vegetarian Meals:

  • Raw Vegetarian Meal: Only raw fruits and vegetables
  • Vegetarian Oriental Meal: No meat or seafood of any sort; no dairy products; cooked Chinese-style
  • Vegetarian Indian Meal (non-strict): No meat of any sort; can contain dairy products; cooked Indian-style
  • Vegetarian Jain Meal (strict; suitable for Jain): No meat of any sort; no onion, garlic, ginger and all root vegetables; cooked Indian-style
  • Western Vegetarian (non-strict; ovo-lacto): No meat of any sort; can contain dairy products; cooked Western-style
  • Vegetarian Vegan Meal (strict): No meat of any sort; no dairy products; cooked Western-style

Bento primer part 1: foods for bento

Although this is primarily a food intolerance blog, quite a lot of readers end up here whilst searching the term ‘bento’. It was because of increasingly complex food sensitivities that I was motivated to learn more about cooking and bento culture, so as to be able to adapt recipes and to make my packed meals from home more appetising. The principles of bento culture go a long way in making our food-intolerance-friendly lunchboxes more tasty and attractive. Learning to be creative in those two areas is particularly important when one is faced with the limitations of food restrictions.

So it’s about time I articulated my approach to making bento and this will be the first in a series of posts with my top tips.

Foods for bento

Food intolerances and special diets (including vegetarian, vegan, halal, kosher etc.) vary greatly from individual to individual, so only you know best what you can or can’t eat. Even if you do not have food sensitivities, one of the great advantages of making your own bento meals is having the opportunity to provide yourself with healthy, nutritious, fresh food that is free of processed products, preservatives and artificial additives.

Bento don’t have to be filled with Japanese food, as Lunch In A Box demonstrates. My main suggestion to managing food intolerances would be to seek out ingredients and cooking methods from a broad range of food cultures. For example, many gluten-free flours are commonplace in Indian cooking, so I head to an Indian supermarket to stock up on flours for western-style gluten-free baking, and also have the option of making Indian snacks from these same ingredients. Trying new foods and new tastes may take some getting used to but the more cosmopolitan your palate is, the wider your options for finding foods within your restrictions.

When it comes to unfamiliar cuisines, it’s worthwhile doing some background reading on the properties of ingredients and how to handle them, the principles of cooking methods, as well as to understand how tastes & textures are combined. For example, you might want to find out which dishes taste good at room temperature if you don’t have the opportunity to heat up your bento. Also, don’t forget that some ingredients turn rancid quickly, especially in hot weather, including coconut milk.Once you understand the fundamental principles of cooking across different food cultures, it will open up many possibilities for almost limitless experimentation. I’m not a purist when it comes to cuisines and tastes — one can’t afford to be when faced with wide-ranging food sensitivities — I’m only interested in creating a dish that is palatable to myself.

Enjoying life?

Recently, I was invited to dinner at a fancy Chinese restaurant and as usual, I came prepared with a packed meal from home. The other guests were mostly people I’d never met before and as always, there was much curiosity about my food.

One exchange went like this:
“Are you on a diet?”
“No, I have food intolerances.”
“To what?”
“MSG, additivies, preservatives, colourings etc. among other things.”
“You’re not enjoying life to the fullest then!”
“I’d enjoy life even less if I was feeling sick!”

A perfect example of why there needs to be more public awareness and understanding of food sensitivities. The person obviously couldn’t understand that it was not that I had chosen to go on a diet because of say, excessive vanity, but that I was trying to avoid unpleasant food reactions. 

I’ve also decided that on days when I have enough energy and am prepared for a verbal battle, I should stop sneaking my own food in restaurants and eateries which have a ‘No Outside Food’ rule, and talk to them about allowing me to eat my own food whilst I accompany my friends who are placing orders. This is one very important means of raising awareness and Singapore has a long way to go in this respect. Many F&B staff don’t seem to have ever encountered food sensitivities, give me an incredulous look. If I decide to take the risk to order something, I’ll ask ‘please tell me ALL the ingredients that are in this dish’ but many times they’ll either forget to mention even major ingredients (much less the seasonings and toppings), or have absolutely no clue what goes into the powder/liquid/packaged-something.

I’ll repeat the phrase – ‘take a risk’ :P. No thanks, most of the time, I’d rather play it safe, stick to my homemade food, stay well and enjoy life.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 27 other followers