Feeding Time: Tips and Tricks from the hungriest FA Alive
A lot of people will tell you it’s difficult to be healthy when you’re always on the go. When I started my job senior flight attendants were always telling me this. For some it can be, but I’ve had the complete opposite experience. I find it easier to eat healthy when I’m on the road than when I’m at home.
At home there are cabinets full of food. There are friends to go out to dinner with. And don’t even get me started on when I visit my parents. Junk food central. On work trips, I’ve got a 12×8 lunchbox and I basically just eat whatever is inside it. Do I go out to eat with my crews on layovers? Sure I do. I eat deep dish in Chicago, mofongo in San Juan, fish tacos in San Diego. Eating local grub is half the fun of exploring a city! But when I’m on the airplane or in a hotel room I eat the (mostly healthy) things I’ve brought with. Life is about balance. Eating like a king and still being able to zip this polyester blend dress.
Now before you go thinking I’m judging your eating habits, let me say loudly and clearly: I don’t care what you eat. I don’t care what anybody eats. Keto, gluten free, vegan, fast food only. I’ve seen it all and quite frankly, not my mouth, not my problem. I’m asked about this topic A LOT when people find out what I do, and flight attendants love sharing tips with each other. The advice here is only my take on keeping healthy and well-fed while airplane hopping, so take what you want and leave the rest!
And without further ado, here they are.
My top 5 tips for eating healthy, in the sky and on the road:
1. First thing’s first: you need to pack a damn lunch.
You’ll notice, walking through an airport that most flight attendants will have a lunchbox stacked on top of their suitcase. The ones that don’t? I really have no idea what they’re doing. If we only ate airport food—or worse, food found on the airplane—we’d all be broke and busting out of our uniforms. An airport salad will run you in the $10-15 range and probably isn’t made with the freshest ingredients. When you bring your food from home it’s a fraction of the cost and you can ensure that it’s actually healthy. (I see you, fast food salads).
For my non-airline people, a trick many of you don’t realize is you are allowed to bring food to the airport. Bring your apples, your bananas, your sandwiches and snacks. It will save you a bunch of money and I’m willing to bet is better for your body than anything you’re buying in the terminal. Plus who wants to stand in line after security? As long as it’s not liquid food (no soup, sorry!) you should be all set to pass through TSA checkpoints with your treats.
2. Set yourself up for success.
I fill my lunchbox with fruits, vegetables, and healthy snacks like nuts and hummus. When I open it up and apples and celery sticks start toppling out, coworkers will often comment about how healthy I eat. Let me acknowledge here that pizza is my favorite food, and tacos are my second favorite, and chocolate is delicious. Am I psychotic about only eating salads and nuts like a wannabe supermodel? No. And those who know me can vouch for my appetite. If I have a layover and my crew is cool I’ll meet them out for dinner and drinks. If I walk by some hipster cupcake shop, Imma go ahead and get me one. Brunch? I won’t be that person subbing fresh fruit for my greasy home fries. But for the most part, in regular day-to-day, I’m going to try to stick to healthy options.
My theory is this: If I want “bad” food badly enough I can find it and I can get it. There’s no need to set myself up for failure by packing and bringing it with me.
What I pack vs. Layover food
3. Aluminum foil is life.
Alright this one is so not allowed, but please don’t tell on me and just revel in my McGyver-esque creativity.
Sometimes you just need to put something warm in your belly. And this can be tough when your plane doesn’t have an oven. I wrap everything in aluminum foil and use the coffee burners in the galley to heat up my food. Egg whites and broccoli, rice and beans, baked sweet potatoes, veggie burgers, the occasional slice of leftover pizza (rare because I usually don’t have leftovers when I eat pizza). Any solid food can be heated quickly this way. It’s a great hack, but be warned that this is for crew use only. Don’t bother asking a flight attendant to heat your leftovers. They’ll only tell you no.
This hack can be used in hotel rooms with a hot iron or the coffee burner if there is one in-room. If the coffee maker brews single cups you can brew a cup of hot water and use it to steam your food. Just place the foil pack on top, wait, flip, and wait some more.
A lot of crewmembers use Hot Logics. These are warming devices that hold your container of food and heat it slowly and evenly. The downside is they require an electrical outlet to work and it can take quite a while. I have one I have yet to try, but the flight attendants I know who use them—one being my mom—swear by them.
Breakfast is served! Cinnamon oats with banana and walnuts, heated in a foil wrap.
Just don't try this with food that's wet.
4. H 2 the izzO
I can’t talk about eating healthy on airplanes without bringing up this very important thing. The recycled oxygen on airplanes is dry. It will leave your skin crackly and your face in need of rose water and that’s just on the outside of your body. You need water. More than what you drink in day-to-day life. Flying, especially on long-hauls or overnight flights, is hard on your body. I work a lot of red-eye flights and I see person after person get up to use the bathroom and pass out, falling to the floor. Most of the time they’re dehydrated and once they drink some water they feel a lot better. If you’re one of the people who just hates using airplane lavatories and doesn’t want to drink anything, I really have no good advice other than get over it and drink some water. (But please, if you’re going to use the lav, always wear your shoes.)
I carry a 64-ounce monster water bottle with me on long work days. A Yeti my parents got me for Christmas that looks like some type of missile. My goal is always to finish it over the course of my two flights, and often I surpass that goal and have to drink supplies from the airplane. It’s not a practical thing for everyone to carry around, but investing in a nice reusable water bottle is not only good for your health, but good for the planet too. And there are so many different types, even soft, fold-able water bottles which are great for travel.
I've been drinkin', I've been drinkin'
5. Stick to the staples.
I bring the same things to eat over and over and over again. This saves me time in the grocery store and thinking about what to pack. At any given moment you can find the following in my lunchbox:
- Salads. Tip: use baby spinach instead of romaine, which can brown, or spring mix, which wilts and liquifies in two days. It stays the freshest the longest.
- Carrots, Celery, Hummus. Current favorite: Cedar’s zesty lemon or za’atar.
- Veggie burgers. Not sure if I mentioned I don’t eat meat.
- Baked sweet potatoes. Cut in half and wrapped in foil. #carblyfe.
- Avocados. Great healthy fat for us non-carnivores. Eat out of rind with a spoon or put it on literally anything to increase deliciousness.
- Fruit. Apples, cherries, bananas. Whatever you like!
- Powdered peanut butter. A flight attendant introduced me to this and I always keep some in my lunchbox. Peanuts are pressed, essentially to dust, and in the process the oils are expelled. This means all the flavor and all the protein of peanut butter with way less fat. Just add water and dip some apple slices or celery sticks! There are different brands, but my favorite so far has been PB2.
- Nuts. Better than chips, right?
- A reusable straw. I don’t hate turtles.
- Smoothies. I’m lame and use the same ingredients every time. Kale, Spinach, banana, vanilla protein powder. It’s just a sweet vessel for getting some extra protein and my daily servings of veg.
- Any and all leftovers, wrapped in foil of course.
There are tons of other things I’ll throw in my lunchbox, but these are some of the staple items that are easy, healthy and satisfying when I’m on the road.
What I buy vs. What I eat
Grocery shopping is a breeze (when you buy the same things over and over again.)
Fish tacos- my #1 reason for visiting San Diego
I should note here, before I’m accused of making packing a lunch sound easy, that it’s actually not as easy for some people. I live about 40 minutes from the airport I work out of. But some people live in other states and fly to work. We call them commuters. A good friend of mine commutes from Los Angeles to Boston for work. Crazy right? For commuters, packing healthy food can be a tad more difficult. Because they live so far away, they often have to fly in to their base (the airport they work out of) the day before they start a trip. So not only do they have to keep their food cold for the whole ride to the airport and maybe a six hour flight, but then the food is a whole day older when they start their trip. It can be harder for commuters to keep fresh food for the simple fact that they’re traveling with it for longer. They also tend to have more baggage than the average in-base flight attendants, and it gets heavy dragging around a grocery cart in addition to all your other belongings.
With that being said, it’s still really important to try as much as possible to bring your own fresh, healthy food. We want our wallets fatter and our waists slimmer. Amirite?
Hopefully some of these tips help someone else—be it another FA or a frequent flier of the general public. Pay it forward by sharing your top tips for keeping healthy on the road. What’s in your lunchbox? Your favorite healthy options in airports? A staple food you couldn’t live without while away? Comment below, I’m all ears for your idears!
And have a happy, healthy weekend.