Taking Off on Airline Meals

Airline food, long the subject of travelers’ jokes, is under fire from a doctor who says the risk of sudden death aloft is slight compared with “the in-flight dangers we place on our coronary anatomy” from airline meals.

Dr. Mark R. Milner, assistant director of noninvasive cardiology at Washington Hospital Center, used a standard nutritional reference book to evaluate two meals served him on a cross-country flight.

He found them both “lipid-laden,” he said in a letter published in the Journal of the American Medical Assn.

His breakfast included scrambled eggs, pork sausages, a muffin with butter and coffee served with artificial creamer. Lunch included a ham-and-cheese sandwich, chocolate-covered macadamia nuts and bread sticks.


The two-meal breakdown: 2,600 calories--66% from fat--and 900 milligrams of cholesterol. The American Heart Assn. recommends that only 30% of calories come from fat and the daily cholesterol intake not exceed 300 milligrams, said a spokeswoman.

“The only safe food was two bread sticks and Dijon mustard,” Milner said.

Airline representatives replied that they face unique constraints in serving meals. “Limited amounts of galley space sometimes minimize choices,” said Diane Colville, United Airlines food and beverage planner. “And some meals don’t heat and hold.”

The airlines said they are trying to make their food healthier. Besides standard fare, many offer special meals: low-cholesterol, hypoglycemic, bland, diabetic, kosher, low-calorie, low-fat, low-sodium and vegetarian.


United offers a fresh fruit plate on its Travelers’ Lighter Choice menu, said Colville. The other Lighter Choice option is a seafood platter with shrimp--which can be high in cholestrol depending on the variety.

American Airlines has a menu developed under American Heart Assn. guidelines. It includes a seafood platter, with lobster, a half tomato, raw vegetables and shrimp, said spokeswoman Mary O’Neill.

Special meals usually must be ordered at least six hours in advance of departure by calling airline reservations numbers.

But until airlines offer a nutrition-perfect meal, travelers can take steps to minimize the damage, said Mary Lee Chin, a Denver registered dietitian and American Dietetic Assn. spokeswoman: “If you have a choice, order chicken or fish and scrape off any sauces. When sandwiches come with meat and cheese, take out one or the other to cut down on fat. . . . Bypass the salt packets. Remove the egg and cheese from a salad. Use minimal amounts of salad dressing. . . . For dessert, carry along your own apple. . . .”


School Bell Blues

Older children also suffer first-day school anxieties, though their concerns differ from those of younger children, reports Dr. Barbara Ferguson, medical director of the Child Study Center at St. John’s Hospital and Health Center, Santa Monica.

Eight- to 11-year-olds most often fear peer rejection and worry about academic performance, she said. Fear of failure may affect straight-A students as much as poor performers. “High achievers have been the fastest gun in the West and feel they have to do it again.”

Anxiety can be worse for students making the transition from elementary to junior high and for those experiencing major changes such as a parental divorce or a move, said Ferguson and Dr. Spencer Eth, acting chief of psychiatry at the Veterans Hospital in West Los Angeles and an assistant professor of psychiatry at UCLA.


Behavior problems often are a temporary side-effect of pent-up anxiety, Ferguson said. Some children also ridicule their peers as a way to relieve their own anxieties.

How can parents help quell school anxiety? They should not let their youngsters duck problems by staying out of classes. They should “talk with the child about the kind of worries he has and respond,” Eth said.

Ferguson added: “Remember what it was like for you. Tell the child of a similar situation and how you resolved it.” And if anxieties don’t subside in a few weeks, think about seeking professional help.