Delta’s diabetic meal


I recently took a Delta flight where I decided to try its diabetic meals (DBMLs). I had tried Delta’s DBML before and I wanted to know if it has improved.

First meal

This was the first Delta DBML meal I received.

My diabetic meal

My diabetic meal

My DBML consisted of chicken breast with some sort of sauce (still not sure what it was) on a bed of a lot of rice, with carrots and snap peas, bread, vegetable oil spread, green salad consisting mainly of lettuce and cucumber, balsamic vinaigrette, and pineapple, cantaloupe and honeydew for dessert. My jaw dropped when I saw my tray. Delta should fire its dietitian for serving a DBML that will crank up any diabetic’s blood sugar level. Rice, bread, pineapple, cantaloupe and honeydew?! And vegetable oil spread?! Was Delta trying to kill me?

In addition, the meal was bland and unappetizing. The chicken breast was tasteless and dry, although it was served really wet as if someone poured water over it. The salad was in such a state that only a famished rabbit would have touched it. Delta was obviously also trying to starve me.

Compare my food tray to my husband’s.

My husband's regular meal

My husband’s meal

He also had chicken breast but with ale sauce, cheddar mashed potatoes and broccoli, shrimp cocktail, green salad (that looked better than mine), bread and dessert (cookie or brownie). I tasted the chicken, and it was so, so much tastier and juicier than mine. He had shrimp cocktail, which was absent from my tray. He had butter! I never thought I’d say this, but I looked at his airline meal with blatant, unconcealed, obvious, make-no-mistake-about-it envy.

Second meal

Before we landed, we had a smaller meal. Mine consisted of a cold zucchini with onion sandwich (yes, bread!), green salad (thankfully, no lettuce), and grapes and pineapple (yup, high sugar fruits again). Again, whoever designed this meal should be sacked pronto. The only redeeming thing I can say about that meal was that it was marginally better than my husband’s egg, tomato and cheddar cheese breakfast croissant (trust me, it sounds better than it tasted or looked). That’s small consolation though.

My requests to Delta

Based on this enlightening experience, as well as similar experiences reported by fellow diabetics online, I ask Delta (and all other airlines which offer DBMLs similar to Delta’s) to please just stop serving diabetic meals. Just give us regular airline chow, which may be as high-carb as a DBML but at least tastes better. We’ll just pick what we can eat.

But if airlines insist on offering DBMLs, then these are my requests – please:

  1. Serve a low carb meal. Regardless of a diabetic’s everyday diet, a low carb meal is the best bet on a long haul international flight. If a traveler is crossing several time zones, his body and hormones will most likely be out of whack and stressed out, both of which contribute to an elevated blood glucose level for diabetic travelers. Help us minimize this elevation by not stuffing us with a high carb meal that is guaranteed to drive our blood glucose even higher. We diabetic travelers, like other passengers, are strapped to our seats and are in a confined space that severely limits our physical activity.  This means that we cannot lower our elevated blood glucose levels through exercise.
  2. Serve us delicious food. All right, it may be too much to ask for delicious food since even regular passengers do not get delicious meals on Delta (or many other airlines for that matter). But, don’t serve us something worse than your regular meal. We may have diabetes, but our taste buds work just fine and can tell the difference between bad food and really bad food. We do not deserve the really bad food.
  3. Give us butter. Why would you give regular passengers butter and us vegetable oil spread? Yuck! Many diabetics do not need to avoid butter. At least, give us the choice.
  4. Do Not Announce to Everyone that We Are Being Served a “Diabetic Meal.” No one needs to know what special meal diabetics are having. In fact, no one needs to know that we are diabetic. Please tell your attendants to just give us our DBMLs quietly, or at least use a low voice. Plus, you do not have to serve us way ahead of other passengers. There is no reason for that. The flight attendants have an idea which seats they are serving – come on, it’s not as if 4 people are serving the entire plane. Hence, there should be no reason why my DBML cannot be served at the same time as the other passengers’ meals.

To my fellow diabetic travelers

Skip DBMLs. You are better off with regular meals. The carb contents of a DBML are not that different from a regular meal, but at least regular meal has some semblance of taste. DBML just means bland, no-salt, no-fat, high carb meal. It seems to me that the airlines’ idea of a DBML is just to serve a lot of carbs albeit in smaller portions. But there is no doubt in my mind that a meal of bread, rice, grapes and pineapple, even at small portions, will drive our BGs up, especially with limited physical activity during the flight.

Also bring your own snacks. On the way to the US, I had eggs with me in case I became hungry. On my way back to Japan, I had cheese which kept me from starving after being served untouchable DBMLs. My own snacks also made it easier for me to say no to mid-flight snacks of brownies and ice cream.

I also usually eat before getting on the plane, so I’m not that hungry. If I there is a menu of flight meals, and I decided to skip a meal, I sleep through meal time. These may help you avoid (or eat only a little of) high-carb airline meals.

Final thoughts

Traveling is fun, but traversing several time zones can be harsh on the body, especially for diabetics. If an airline claims to have the interest of diabetics in mind, then it should do more to serve true diabetic friendly meals.  On the other hand, for us people with diabetes, if we want airlines to serve us food that our body can process during the flight, then we should be more vocal in letting them know what we need to eat, because no food expert will know our bodies and our needs better than us.


10 thoughts on “Delta’s diabetic meal

  1. doublewhirler

    Wonderful post! My mother who developed type 1 in her 50s, hated travelling for this reason. She had very brittle diabetes too, and after living with diabetes for 15 years, happened to go on the Atkin’s diet with my father, and found cutting out carbs really helped stabilize her blood sugar. She mentioned this to her doctor who simply said, “Yeah, that makes sense.” 15 years and they had only told her to avoid sugar! This was back in the 80s, but every child is taught in elementary biology that the body turns starch to sugar…I guess he forgot that in med school.
    Great blog!

  2. hannahmcdwrites

    Dropping in for the #dblogcheck. Thanks for your comment today! Why does everyone equate a “diabetic meal” with a terribly bland meal? They gave me the special meals when I was in the hospital a couple of years ago, and everything was bland, pretty terrible, and even if I ordered ice cream, it was always sugar-free, low-fat, and vanilla. I’m trying to feel better, if you’re giving me a snack option, let me indulge in a portion-controlled manner! Sheesh.

  3. Scott E

    I’m going back a ways here… probably to 1989 or so, when meals were standard on flights, and they were half-decent. My mother, father, and cousin each ordered a regular meal. I had the “diabetic meal”.

    I don’t remember what theirs was, but it was pretty standard airplane food. When mine arrived, it was a big bowl of fruit. And when I say BIG, I mean B-I-G! And a fork and a napkin. That’s it. I guess they avoided anything that could be remotely controversial, and that’s what was left.

    Fortunately, my cousin was willing to switch meals with me, and I was able to eat. But my parents had a few choice words in a letter to the airline (which I won’t name, but recently merged with another). I haven’t ordered anything but standard fare since.

  4. Jane

    Thanks everyone for sharing your experiences. I think a second career for me is to be a “diabetic consultant”. I may not always get it right, but I sometimes think that I can do a much better job than many “consultants” out there today.

  5. Written by Connie Packard Kamedulski. This content is a service of NexPet Retailer Co-Op.

    I had the diabetic meal experience yesterday on Delta. Two inedible meals. High carbs. No protein to speak of. I am relatively newly diagnosed, but managing my blood sugar levels pretty well. I got these meals — and was about to cry. The first was some sort of tofu and curry sauce with a wilted salad and a rice cake. A RICE CAKE? The second was a cold soggy sandwich with cold soggy roasted vegetables. I sent both back and requested real food. Which was pretty damn good. A nice juicy piece of chicken breast with spinach and a cheesy potato side (which I tasted but did not eat all of …). A fresh salad, as opposed to the identical wilted version. And a dinner roll with butter that I didn’t eat.

    Thanks for posting this — I was sure that I couldn’t be alone in this experience.

    And despite this sig — this content is NOT a “service of NexPet retailer coop” but is my own personal experience and opinion!

  6. Felicia

    Just ran across your post today since I’m planning on travelling Delta. Thanks for writing this and posting pictures. They haven’t changed the diabetic meal since you’ve written this.
    I decided to eat prior to the flight and bring my own snacks.
    P.S. Clever blog name!

    1. runningwithoutsugar Post author

      Just go for the ordinary meal. At least you’ll have a tastier (even if marginally) meal, and you don’t need to spend time and effort asking for a diabetic friendly meal. That said, I hope you enjoy your flight.

  7. jlcjohnson

    I always chose gluten free over diabetic. The food is always something light that I can eat. I just give away the dessert.


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