Roasted and sautéed vegetables are combined with long grain white rice, herbs, cheese, meat, or beans, and a tangy homemade salad dressing for a delightful dish to take on a trip.

Airplane trips present a challenge to eating well — from a culinary perspective and if you want to keep any sort of standard for how nutritionally you eat. I am speaking from experience here as I am literally writing this on a plane. (Oh the things technology helps us do! Not only am I awed by the fact that we are encased in a metal contraption hurdling through the sky at high speeds while calmly eating food, but I am also writing to the world about it at the same time!)

While trips can be full of compromise foods (that is foods we don’t eat on a regular basis at home), everyone in my family will feel worse for the wear if I don’t attempt to keep some nourishing food in us as well. When you are gluten-free, packing well for a full day of traveling is even more important.

Despite that we have had to travel at least once a year for a family wedding or reunion or the like, I don’t always do the same things, but the main principle I’ve found to hold true for myself (as someone prone to motion sickness) is packing light and refreshing foods. And for my children? I pack snacks, as we wouldn't survive without them.

Our trip home, based entirely on what we could grab last night at a local Whole Foods, isn’t quite as fancy but still delicious — organic cold cut meats, goat cheddar, gluten-free crackers, fruit (organic strawberries!) and the like.

But a method I just found that I really liked that both fed us well the night before our departure and on our trip on the way out is this: Make a bunch of your favorite vegetables the way you like best. For us that meant roasting broccoli, sautéing mushrooms and zucchini, and then making extra rice. I made chicken for the “hot meal” the night before we left, and then chilled the leftover rice and vegetables (chopped into small bite-sized pieces). These were gathered together along with some thinly sliced Applegate salami (to add flavor and protein without too much heaviness), baby arugula, raw vegetables, and then I tossed it with a homemade salad dressing. It was perfect for a light meal that keeps you satisfied, but without overly taxing a churning I-got-up-too-early-and-am-now-flying-at-high-speeds stomach.

But of course, it also makes a wonderful lunch or picnic item and is an excellent way to use up leftovers too!

The other thing I did this time which we really enjoyed was using an inexpensive melon baller to make melon balls to take with us, which are the perfect bite-sized snack that helps keep you hydrated and refreshed. Just be warned, if you aren’t used to eating a lot of fresh produce, over eating it on a plane trip is a bad idea as it can end up giving making you run to the bathroom a lot. Thankfully, we are well used to enjoying fresh fruit on a regular basis, so no problems there for us!

Rather than giving a super-specific recipe, this time I am going to give you a method and hopefully help you create your own flexible rice salad that fits what you have on hand and what you like.

Italian Rice Salad


  • Grain base: cooked and chilled white or brown rice, or quinoa (or, for a heavier grain, but which isn’t gluten-free, barley, or even cooked wheat berries)
  • Vegetables: Grape tomatoes, baby greens (I especially love really flavorful greens in grain salads, such as arugula, or endive), roasted or sautéed broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, broccoli, onions, garlic, shredded raw carrots, peeled and seeded cucumbers, diced raw or roasted bell peppers, or whatever else catches your fancy.
  • Protein: Milder cheese, such as cheddar or feta. Beans such as chickpeas, white beans, or lentils. Leftover shredded pork or chicken, diced ham, bacon bits, salami, or other Italian cured meats. Boiled eggs, peeled and diced, or leftover fish bits, or canned tuna or salmon.
  • Salad dressing: I prefer a really light salad dressing, such as our “Everyday Salad Dressing,” a raw apple cider vinegar based dressing, from "Fresh: Nourishing Salads from All Seasons." I have also enjoyed a red wine vinegar vinaigrette. While balsamic vinaigrette is a personal and family favorite, we generally don’t use it for grain salads simply because it can overpower the dish too much. Think fruity, refreshing vinegars, rather than deep or super sweet dressings.
  • Herbs: generous amount of fresh basil and/or Italian parsley, small amounts of thyme and oregano, or favorite herb of choice.
Instructions: Mix together desired ingredients up to 12 hours beforehand, and bring a little extra dressing, if needed, as rice tends to absorb the dressing.

Related on MNN:

How to make a great Italian Rice Salad (a travel worthy dish)
This refreshing salad is perfect to pack for a picnic or to bring along on an airplane trip.