How to make a great Italian Rice Salad (a travel worthy dish)

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 – both culinary speaking and if you want to keep any sort of standard for how well 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 our trips can be full of compromise foods (that is foods we don’t eat on a regular basis at home), we all 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 refreshing foods. And for my children? To pack snacks.

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 is this: Make a bunch of your favorite vegetables your favorite method. For us that meant roasting broccoli (from Costco), sautéing mushrooms and zucchini, and then also making extra rice, some for our meal that night, and some for the rice salad.
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, 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 you the runs! Thankfully, we are well used to enjoying fresh fruit on a regular basis, so no problems there for us!

You can also see another “nourishing” travel meal that I posted about here. 

How to make a great Italian Rice Salad (a travel worthy dish)
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.
  • 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 ideas: 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. Leftover seafood, cut into small pieces, or canned tuna or salmon. Hard boiled eggs, peeled and diced.
  • Salad dressing: I prefer a really light salad dressing, such as our “Everyday Salad 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.
  1. Mix together desired ingredients up to 12 hours beforehand, and bring a little extra dressing, if needed, as rice tends to absorb the dressing.

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I love beautiful and simple food that is nourishing to the body and the soul. I wrote Fresh: Nourishing Salads for All Seasons and Ladled: Nourishing Soups for All Seasons as another outlet of sharing this love of mine. I also love sharing practical tips on how to make a real food diet work on a real life budget. Find me online elsewhere by clicking on the icons below!


  1. Val Naegele says

    How do you get food through the security at airports? I am going to a wedding in Australia in September and the flight is extremely long. I checked and they do not have gluten free. Everytime I have tried to go thru security with a container of food or a sandwich, they have told me now. It could be a disguised bomb! Tell me your secret, I am not looking forward to a foodless flight!


    • KimiHarris says

      Are you going out from the U.S. to Australia? Because I’ve never, ever had any issues with taking food on flights. I wonder if you went when it was super duper strict?

    • Dawn says

      Good friends of mine just went on a Disney cruise. The whole family is GF. They brought grass-fed beef sticks (Nick’s off Amazon), GoRaw snacks & cookies, bars, etc. with no problem. I suspect that if it is commercially packaged, it is more trustworthy in the eyes of security.

  2. Marlo Hughen says

    Val, kids are my secret. It seems they let you through with anything when you have kids in tow. That said, I don’t know why you would have issues with food that is not liquid?

  3. Mary Kay says

    Travelling with a small container of food is not a problem depending on which airport one going through.

  4. Ed says

    Australia and New Zealand have strict regulations regarding food crossing their borders. You must declare ALL food even sealed packaged items or ingredients. The Quarantine Inspectors will make an assessment of any food you have and decide what you can or cannot have. Failure to declare an item of food may result in an instant fine of NZ$400 and a similar amount in Austalia. If you declare all your food you will not be fined.

    These rules are strict but you may still bring many foods. Both countries have good information on their websites:


    New Zealand:

    Don’t be afraid to take food be informed and declare all food and you will have no problems.

    • KimiHarris says

      Thanks so much Ed, for the helpful information! I think that it will help fellow readers here. 🙂

  5. says

    Normally salads don’t travel very well at all and you end up with a very wilted looking mess when you get wherever you’re going. The idea of using rice instead of a lot of lettuce however takes care of that problem. That means I can take a healthy meal for my family along on a trip. I also love the ingredients and this is the perfect time for them.

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