One of the most annoying parts of traveling (besides the long check-in lines and laughable number of different boarding zones) is that it can throw off your digestive system. There are a lot of reasons for this, like jumping time zones, not drinking enough water and being strapped to a tiny seat for hours on end, to name a few.
Dealing with bloat and other digestive issues while traveling is annoying for anyone, but imagine having to work the entire time with a smile plastered on your face. How the heck do flight attendants do it? As travel pros, they have the insider intel on how to actually feel great while traveling. Here, four flight attendants share the eating and drinking habits that keep them feeling their best.
They start out small
Ask any flight attendant what an average day looks like for them and you’ll be met with the same answer: There isn’t one. The hours are also long ― really long. “My schedule varies, but on a typical day I’m working one to three flights, which is between seven to 12 hours on duty at work,” said Chicago-based flight attendant and The Daily Departure blogger Noelle Cors. “Many days, I’m waking up at 4 a.m. and am at the airport for 6 a.m. flights.”
Brianna Kaplan, another flight attendant based in Chicago, said she’s on reserve (i.e., “on call”) so often she doesn’t know where she’s flying to until either the night before or up to three hours before the flight. In either case, the flight attendants all say their schedules make meal prepping pretty difficult. But once they do get going, they start their days much like many of us do: with coffee or tea.
For their first meal of the day, all four flight attendants say they keep their breakfasts small and simple. “I’ll eat something like a Nature Valley bar before starting work. Then, if the first flight is long, I’ll have time to eat what I packed for breakfast, which is usually after noon,” said Jamie Ruble, a San Francisco-based flight attendant. “For breakfast, I pack scrambled eggs mixed with bacon and sometimes sausage, spicy guacamole and gluten-free pita bread or corn tortillas,” she said. (OK, that sounds way tastier than anything on the in-flight menu.)
Rachael Sullivan, a Charlotte, North Carolina-based flight attendant, has a similar morning eating routine. She said she typically grabs something light, like an Rx bar, before the workday starts. “With so much inconsistency in my schedule, I also try to eat my meals around the same time every day, so if I have a 4 a.m. showtime, I’ll try to wait a few hours to eat breakfast to keep my internal clock aligned,” she said.
They keep their meals balanced
Besides starting the day with something small that won’t overload their digestive systems, all four flight attendants say they make sure to eat meals that are balanced with protein, healthy fats and fiber. This helps to keep them full and also supports the digestive system.
For Kaplan, this means a mid-morning meal of avocado toast or a smoothie, either of which she brings from home. And for lunch, she opts for a salad or burrito bowl. “Most of the time, flight attendants don’t have set breaks, so you just eat when you can. Usually this happens after service and trash pickup,” she said. Ruble says a typical meal she brings on board is chicken, broccoli or asparagus, and rice.
Sullivan has a gluten intolerance, which can make figuring out what to eat tricky. “Some airports specify dietary restrictions on their website, which is super convenient. I also know I can always rely on Farmer’s Fridge, my all-time favorite airport food, Panera Bread or Chick-fil-A for gluten-free food options,” she said. She adds that her husband also likes to cook for her, packing lunchboxes she can bring on her trips, which he documents on Instagram.
While passengers usually can purchase a hot food option on long flights, Cors said flight attendants don’t always have the luxury of a warm meal. “Often, the day gets really busy and it’s hard to find time to sit down and eat a meal,” she told us. “We don’t have microwaves on the planes but we do have ovens, so that is a way many flight attendants heat up their food, if they have time.” But she likes to bring food that can be eaten as-is since using the ovens is time-consuming.
Dinner is typically eaten at the hotel and all the flight attendants say they try sticking with the same balance of protein, healthy fats and fiber, though their last meal of the day is typically a little bigger than their pre-packed breakfast and lunch. “One of my favorite brands to pack for dinner is Loma Linda,” Cors said. “They have tons of microwave meals that are vegan and really delicious ― and they only take one minute in the microwave.” Her other go-to dinner is veggie stir-fry, which she loves because it’s easy to make and packs well.
They pack healthy snacks that are low in sodium
While most airlines have no shortage of chips or salted nuts, all four flight attendants say they like to bring their own snacks on the plane. (PSA: Sodium can be bloating and dehydrating.) Cors said blackberries, blueberries and grapes travel well, so she likes to bring them on her flights. They also have fiber, which helps support the digestive system. “Another snack I like to bring is roasted hummus and carrot sticks,” she said, calling out another fiber-rich snack.
Here’s what they drink — and don’t drink
While it may be tempting to skip liquid so you don’t have to pee on a flight, all four flight attendants stress the importance of staying hydrated — key for not getting traveler’s constipation. Kaplan says she avoids drinking soda on flights, which can cause bloating.
They enjoy the local cuisine
One of the most obvious perks of being a flight attendant is that you get to travel all around the world, something all four flight attendants say they make the most of when they have time to explore a city. “I love getting out and exploring what makes each place special,” Ruble said. “For example, I’ll eat fish in Florida, and in Wisconsin I’ll always split some cheese curds with someone. And I like to have a cocktail or two.”
The bottom line is that the food and drink rules flight attendants follow to keep their digestion on track while traveling are really good tips to follow anytime: Staying hydrated and eating balanced meals. Oh, and having fun. That’s key, too.