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Mission: Build the PERFECT Flight Attendant Lunch Bag.

September 29, 2010

I’ve been flying for about 3 1/2 months now, 4-5 days a week… the honeymoon period that I was clearly in when I wrote my last post has worn off.  I still like my job (most of the time) but, well…

Hey, wait–I did have a sweet 14-hour layover in Portland two weeks ago!  I took a train downtown and ate “crab” rangoon at Vegetarian House and bought cotton yarn at Knit-Purl and sat in Pioneer Courthouse Square and started knitting a scarf for my mom!

And for my birfday on Sept. 7, Andy and I flew first class to Las Vegas!  We ate at Bartolotta (which was expensive and not-so-good) and saw the Lion King and played penny slots and drank far too much!

But my schedule on Labor Day, Sept. 6, was as follows:

Rapid City to Denver.
Denver to Colorado Springs.
Colorado Springs to Denver.
Denver to Montrose.
Montrose to Denver.
Denver to Colorado Springs.
Colorado Springs to Denver.

…And that’s partly why the honeymoon is over.  Usually I only do 4-5 flights in a day maximum, but still.

Being away from home is difficult, and having home-cooked, fairly healthy food has been such a source of comfort.  Every time I tell a flight crewmember that I’m a vegan, they say: “That’s too hard!”  Why? There’s vegan food everywhere.  I guess that being a flight attendant means I have to surrender not only my social life and sleep, but also my dietary needs/preferences.  I’m supposed to be completely at the mercy of the airport/hotel restaurants.  Sorry, but that’s not happening.  Besides, I’m glad to have an excuse to stay away from the revolting “food” that many crewmembers choke down.  Continental breakfast, anyone?  Sure, let’s get up at 5am to eat slimy scrambled eggs from a carton!

If I fly five days a week, approximately 71% of the meals I eat (yeah, I did the math) come from inside my lunch bag, a StrongBags Canadian Ice Flight Crew Cooler.

It’s a bit pricey but I know it will last a long time because…it was made by Canadians?  I dunno.  But it is a very roomy bag with nifty compartments.  Oh yeah, and it does a great job of keeping my food cold.

Some things you’ll find in my bag:

  • A flask, filled with vodka.  Isn’t it pretty?  I used to have a bigger one that says “Vodka is Vegan” but can’t find it.  I don’t bring booze for every trip, but if I know I’ll have a long layover, I do enjoy a cocktail with my dinner.  Party in Alecia’s room!  :)
  • A can opener.  Don’t ask me why.
  • Cereal, both cold and hot.  The cold cereal is useless to me unless I remember to bring soy milk, but I can make “cup-of-oatmeal-soup” on the plane if I get desperate.
  • A bag of sea salt that looks a little like coke, and small bottles of condiments that I got from ordering room service one time.

What about the FOOD?  Well, when I first started flying I used to make these cute frozen dinners for myself.  Whatever I made for dinner at home, I’d make extra, dole it out into Gladware, and freeze it.  I felt so damn organized.

BUT many of the hotels in which I stay don’t have microwaves in the rooms.  How dare they?  So I’d have to take my little frozen meal down to the lobby and ask to use the microwave down there, which is usually in the staff break room/office.  This leads to a lot of awkward conversation with the front desk staff, which I really can’t deal with when I’m tired and hungry.

My airline does keep a database of all our hotels, so we know which ones provide microwaves, which ones have a gym, which ones offer complimentary breakfast, etc., but since I’m on reserve and often don’t know where I’m going until the day before (or the day of) the trip, I don’t have time to do much research.

Also, sometimes I get stuck in an airport away from my base for a few hours, and finding a nuker is too challenging.  What do I do with my frozen bricks of food then, huh?  Huh?

So lately I’ve been packing a lot of meals that I can easily enjoy cold, but would taste good hot if there happens to be a microwave around.  Couscous has been a lifesaver.  I can cook the stuff in my sleep, mix it with lots of slightly-thawed frozen veggies (broccoli, zucchini, carrot), add some quartered artichoke hearts and olives, chopped kale, olive oil, garlic powder, red pepper flakes…nom nom nom!

I also enjoy pasta salad and beans ‘n rice.  It all tastes good but it’s starting to get a bit old already… I need to crack open the cookbooks and branch out a bit.  Any suggestions?

Snacks/desserts offer more variety in flavors and textures.  My favorites are soy pudding, sliced pineapple, applesauce, cheez and/or seitan and crackers, avocado and crackers, and hummus and pita chips.

As you can see from my last post, I was on a broccoli-cauliflower-baby carrot-dipped-in-vegan-ranch-dressing kick for a few weeks but I can’t take it anymore.  I seriously can’t.

But enough about that.  (What is this, a food blog or a food accessories blog?)  My favorite thing in my bag (besides the vodka) is my To-Go Ware bamboo utensil set.

I love it!  I got so sick of running out of plastic utensils.  Though I tried to make them last for at least 2 or 3 uses, they would break so easily during transit.  Once I started using this sturdy, TSA-friendly bamboo set, which includes a fork, spoon, knife, and chopsticks, I realized that avoiding plastic is better for the environment and makes for a more home-y dining experience.

Speaking of bamboo–if I may digress–recently I’ve decided to be more eco-friendly.  If you’ve seen me in person and noticed my hair was less frizzy, the curls more defined, it’s because I’m using more natural beauty products.  Just washed my hair with baking soda the other day and it was awesome.  No more sodium lauryl sulfate-laden shampoo for my tresses!  1/2 cup of molasses and 1 tablespoon of olive oil–a simple recipe I found in the book EcoBeautynot only moisturizes my hair but also makes it smell like cookies.  On the other hand, the same book had a recipe for clove mouthwash, which tasted like ass.  Lesson learned.

Andy sold his car a few weeks ago and we use e-Go Carshare for big shopping trips (with our shopping bags made of recycled bottles, of course).  I take the bus to the airport which is a drag sometimes because the bus only runs once per hour, but I use the commuting time wisely: sleeping, reading or knitting.

I still haven’t quite gotten around to recycling, but I’ve been saving jars/bottles/tubs for reuse.  And reuse is better than recycling, right?  Yeahhh.

Anyway.  I’d like to get rid of plastic in my lunch bag, but the siren song of Ziploc was too difficult to resist.  How do I make the transition to cute cloth sandwich bags when I have soooo many Ziplocs?  Sigh…I’ll just wash and reuse the plastic baggies until they fall apart.

I don’t know enough about plastic to know what makes one type more earth-friendly than another, but I’m pretty sure Gladware is bad.  It just has to be.  Unfortunately, I can’t use the sexy stainless steel food containers: how would I microwave my food (when there’s a microwave available, that is)?

Maybe I should completely abstain from microwave use altogether…?  Nope, I’m just not on that level yet.

I also want to start using cloth napkins, maybe even embroider them myself.  Screw you, paper napkins!  I’ve always wanted to learn embroidery.  Pimpin’ my lunch bag!!

What?  Oh yeah, the food… where are my cookbooks…?

11 Comments leave one →
  1. March 15, 2011 10:47 am

    You are so inspiring! I too am a flight attendant, a struggling environmentalist, and used to be a healthy eater. I was searching online for something to further inspire me to do the right thing (s) and you are it! I wanted to share with you a new item I just got to try to help myself and the environment be a little healthier. I LOVE the bamboo utensils btw. I have had my eye on them for a while now. I also have the strongbags food bag. It is the BEST! So check out they are for kids but so cute and fun. (no, I don’t work for the company :) ) I purchased one set to try it out and see if I like it then maybe purchase a second and ideally a third set. I thought I would put a day’s worth of healthy foods into each box. (I do three day trips, one per week.) It fits perfectly into the lunch bag, with space on each side for ice or ice packs. I know it’s plastic, but reusable and durable (and BPA free!). I love the photo gallery of meal ideas on their website, and I think you will too, most are vegan/vegetarian. Hopefully when I open the top of the laptop lunch and see a colorful and healthy variety of foods presented in a pleasing manner, I will want to eat it instead of just carrying it all around with me for three days! Have you tried Quinoa? It is soo easy and healthy and good, and travels extremely well. Much more nutrition than couscous which is basically pasta. Anyway, thanks for your inspiring ways!

  2. Father Edwin permalink
    May 1, 2011 12:00 am

    I’ve been flying for over ten years now, but I HAVE to go all plant-based, power-plant food for health reasons. Read The Best selling ‘The China Project’ for why. I just finished an all day symposium with the top docs in the field from the
    Cleveland Clinic and Cornell here in Tucson and I was blown away.So I’ve barely started research, tho my kids and grandkids are vegan, so I’m familiar. Two things tho: you can microwave in steel, just not old style microwaves and not thin metal. Google it and try. Second, for something different cook a red yam till done to your style, then fold in some cooked, leftover steelcut oatmeal, dried cranberries and a splash of maple syrup. Don’t make it too dry. Yummy hot or cold. I’ll be hoping to pick up some tips here.
    And where can I buy the bamboo utensils?

  3. Kelsie permalink
    July 18, 2012 7:39 am

    I am looking for a flask just like that! Where did you find it?!

    • July 18, 2012 8:09 am

      Hey Kelsie, I got the flask at Urban Outfitters, however this was a few years ago! Just looked at their website and they don’t have the same one but they do have several other cute ones. :)

  4. Cat permalink
    December 2, 2012 1:54 pm

    WOW!!!! Burned out after 3 1/2 months!!! YOU’RE IN TROUBLE!!!! That usually comes around the 7th year and quickly fades after a nice long vacation or time away from the airplane! As a 30 year flight attendant I suggest you suck up those long days and be thankful that without your career you’d be PAYING for those nice layovers and time to explore new places!!!!! GOOD LUCK!!!!

    • Babs permalink
      February 6, 2013 11:43 am

      Nothing like a little empathy and kindness from a fellow FA! Kelsie, Your on the right track and impressed your taking control over the challenges of your health in our profession. Also, not allowing it to rob you of your health and enthusiasm! You go girl and stay strong!!!

  5. Ebony permalink
    February 13, 2013 10:13 am

    I’m so glad I found your blog. I am a flight attendant for Delta and I have a lot of food allergies. Namely can’t eat wheat, corn, or dairy. I want to eat mostly my own food while traveling and your have inspired me to know that I can. It just requires hard work and good planning.

  6. April 23, 2013 12:55 pm

    Hi, also a F/A and looking for a lunch tote; I think I’ll do the Canadian after all. Thanks for the bamboo utensil link. Also, a vegan/vegetarian, I know how important packing for a trip is. Add some Bragg’s spray (290 g’s of protein and amino’s). ~chris c.

  7. Cathy permalink
    October 29, 2013 9:07 pm

    Also a flight attendant , one of my favorite foods to pack ( love me some protein) are chicken souvlaki skewers, they don’t take much room, I wrap two in a tin foil pak, Either I make my own, or I cheat and buy the pre made ,tziziki sauce on the side Delish and healthy , gives bit more long term energy that all the carbs . It’s tough to eat on the road. Can someone tell me why we have rooms with no microwaves and mini fridges at all???

  8. February 3, 2014 3:35 pm

    Also an FA…my Canadian lunch bag arrived in the mail today…can you believe they tacked on an extra $40 to the price to ship it to Canada??? Definitely not Canadian-made but I’m so excited to put it to good use anyway. We have a lot in common. I’m also a knitter and I am vegan, gluten-free, dairy, corn and soy free as well. Needless to say, it’s tough having to manage our dietary restrictions while flying. Thanks for the great suggestions. Love the flask idea! Ditch the gladware and try glass mason jars and storage containers. I find it keeps food fresher. In any case, the more we can avoid nuking our food the better, in my humble opinion. Thanks again!


  1. Vegan Travel Meal Ideas From a Former Flight Attendant! (Part 1) « Bang-Bang's Quest for Yay, Yum, and Yes

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