I ordered a 'low calorie' meal on a transatlantic British Airways flight for free — here are all the special meals you didn't know you could order in the air

Alison Millington
  • I ordered a “low calorie” meal on a recent transatlantic British Airways flight for free – and I’ll never eat the standard economy food again.
  • There are a number of special meals you probably didn’t realise you could order.
  • Ordering a special meal also means you get served first.
  • Scroll down to see BA’s full list of special meals – but you can get them on most major airlines.

From booking a seat in the exit row to paying to use an airport lounge, there are a number of things you can do to make your economy flight experience more bearable.

On the return leg of a recent roundtrip flight from London to Toronto with British Airways, I decided, for the first time, to actually pay attention to my booking options and order a “special meal.”

No, I’m not vegan or vegetarian, and I don’t have any allergies – I simply wanted to test out something other the standard fare I’ve always wolfed down.

As it turns out, there are plenty of options you may not have realised exist – and they’re free to order online as soon as you’ve confirmed your booking.

Going ‘low calorie’

I opted for the “low calorie” option, since, as I do the London to Toronto flight often, I always land feeling like I’ve eaten far too much with hours of the day still to go.

According to BA, this option should be “low in fat and sugar with a reduced portion of protein.”

The dinner, pictured above, was noticeably more fresh than the standard economy meal, which is always “four-course” on a long-haul flight.

I was given “Chicken Fillet with Spinach Crust,” served with a bit of pasta in a plain tomato sauce and broccoli, along with a bean salad, some fruit, a whole grain roll, and a bottle of water.

The pasta dish may not look like much, and was relatively bland, but it tasted surprisingly fresh and didn’t make me feel ill shortly afterwards.

British airways low calorie meal optionAlison Millington

On a long-haul economy flight with BA, you get a “light meal” – breakfast, basically – before you reach your destination.

While everyone around me received a slice of sugary-looking cake, I was given some more fruit, apple juice, and a small muffin.

British airways low calorie breakfastAlison Millington

Another low-calorie option might mean a breakfast like turkey rashers, mushrooms, spinach, and baked beans, according to the airline.

Your food arrives first

While I was glad I’d ordered the slightly healthier food for the sake of my body, the best part of ordering a special meal is the fact that your food will always arrive first.

Cabin crew hand out pre-ordered food before they start with regular meal service – meaning you’re often finished eating and already asleep before your neighbour has even been giving their choice of “chicken or beef.”

And, if you book an exit row seat, the drinks service will also start in your row – meaning you can get your complimentary wine ahead of everyone else, too.

There are plenty of other options

If low calorie doesn’t sound up your street, BA provided me with the full list of other special meals available on most long-haul flights – or on short-haul flights if you’re flying business class.

Here are your options, with some example dishes:

  • Lacto-ovo-vegetarian

    • Does not contain meat, fish or seafood. May contain dairy products such as milk, butter, cheese and eggs.
  • Vegan vegetarian

    • Does not contain meat, fish, fowl, eggs, honey, dairy products or derivatives.
    • Example: Vegan Thai curry.
  • Asian/Hindu vegetarian

    • A meat-free, spicy meal. Does not contain fish, shellfish, meat, poultry or eggs.
  • Muslim

    • Does not contain pork, by-products of pork, or ingredients containing alcohol. All meats come from ritually slaughtered animals.
  • Kosher

    • Prepared to comply with Jewish dietary laws.
  • Child meal

    • “Familiar and fun food” for children. May contain beef and pork products.
    • Example: Five Spice Butternut Squash Frittata
  • Diabetic

    • Does not contain sugars, syrups, jams, cakes and chocolate, unless they’re specific diabetic varieties to help you manage your blood sugar levels.
    • Example: Chicken Ciabatta
  • Gluten intolerant

    • Does not contain wheat, wheat flour, barley oats, rye, bread, cakes (unless wheat free), pastry, sausages or any flour-based products.
    • Example: Chicken Basquaise
  • Low fat

    • A high-fibre meal with reduced fat.
    • Example dish: Poached Cod & Herbs
  • Low salt

    • Does not contain salt, MSG and baking soda/powder. Instead, the meal is flavoured with herbs and spices.
    • Example: Lemon and Sultana Pancakes with Maple Syrup
  • Low lactose

    • Does not contain cheese, dairy products and their derivatives, lactose or milk products.

You can pay to go gourmet

Taste of BritainBritish AirwaysThe Taste of Britain meal from British Airways’ exclusive menu.

If you can’t afford to splurge on a first class ticket, but appreciate the finer things, you can also pay to order from the “exclusive” online menu between 30 days and 24 hours before your flight.

Ranging from £15 to £18, the meals include the likes of a “Gourmet Dining” option featuring poached king prawns, braised Herefordshire beef cheek, and a chocolate ganache bar with passion fruit coulis and crushed, toasted hazelnuts, or a “Taste of Britain” meal featuring Loch Fyne smoked salmon, slow-roasted Wiltshire pork belly, summer berry pudding with Cornish clotted cream, and cheese and crackers.

It’s not just on British Airways

Don’t be fooled into thinking BA is the only airline with so many meals on offer – most transatlantic carriers also give you a choice if you look for it.

Delta and Qatar Airways have “bland meal” among their lists of options, while you can order a fruit platter on Emirates.

NOW WATCH: Briefing videos

Business Insider Emails & Alerts

Site highlights each day to your inbox.

Follow Business Insider Australia on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Instagram.