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Credit: Brooke Fitts
The Way We Eat

The Flight Attendant Taking Meal Prep to New Heights

updated Feb 3, 2020
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NameEmily Kutzler
Location: Wenatchee, WA (most of the time) and Seattle, WA (part of the time)
How many people regularly eat together in your home? 2 (My boyfriend and I)
Avoidances: None.

Emily Kutzler calls Washington state home, but is rarely there for more than a few days at a time. She’s a flight attendant, which means at at any given point in time, it’s pretty hard to pin her down on a map. When Emily is home though, she takes full advantage by cooking all the foods she craves when she’s on the road (er, in the air). In fact, when we picked a time to chat, Emily was in the midst of tackling a time-consuming food project: Homemade sourdough bread. “Can I put you on hold for a second? My hands are covered in flour!”

Her main gripe? “Flight attendants (or any person who live in several places part-time) live a hard-scrabble existence when it comes to eating fresh or fresh-tasting prepared food.” To make her on-the-go lifestyle work, Emily learned to love the art of meal prepping, airport fast food, and slow cooker soups that save the day after a long stretch away from home. Here’s the way she eats.

Credit: Brooke Fitts

As a flight attendant I imagine you’re always on the go. How often are you actually home?
Some weeks I’ll have been home for less than 48 hours in a 14-day period. I am a commuter flight attendant, which means I have to fly into Seattle from my small town airport, usually the night before I have to start work. My crew does North America — I stick to West Coast and Canada. We get our full monthly schedule ten days in advance. That’s when you find out all the flights you have for the next month. I got really lucky with my schedule last month. I was on for five days and off for five days. But it’s different every month!

Credit: Brooke Fitts

What’s it like to feed yourself if you’re always on the go?
I do so much meal prep! Costco is my Disney World. When I head out for a shift, I bring plastic Ziploc bags of food that I’ve made and frozen like little ice packs. I keep them in my suitcase, and put them in the plane refrigerator. They have ice buckets on the plane that we keep passengers beers in and I’ll put my food ice packs in there too. (Another flight attendant taught me that.) There are lots of little tricks like that that circulate throughout the aviation community. I’ve resorted to Ziploc bags because I’ve lost so much Tupperware from forgetting to take my stuff out before they clean the plane.

Oh man, that is a smart tip! So what are some things you’ve found that travel really well?
I can tell you what does not travel well! Pasta. When you freeze it and unfreeze it, it has a chewier texture. If i’m in the mood for that then that’s okay, but rice and quinoa dishes are usually better.

Credit: Brooke Fitts

What’s your in-flight snack of choice?
In general, I’m a sweet over savory snack person. Right now, Delta is handing out Cheez-Its which I’m a fan of. People get upset we’re not handing out pretzels, but little kids love Cheez-Its. Kids recognize them and all of a sudden they get calm. The granola bars are also good. But out of everything on the plane, I’m surprised more people don’t go for bananas. They’re the only fresh thing we have!

Do you have any brilliant airport food secrets you can share?
I would say, don’t turn your nose up to fast food in an airport. It’s totally true that airport food is over-priced. Things that don’t cost that much in a regular restaurant will cost twice as much at the airport. I go to McDonald’s more often than not. They have an app with Daily Deals on it — which I use a lot! Also, I’m surprised more people don’t bring snacks. You’re allowed to bring a gallon-sized bag of snacks!

Credit: Brooke Fitts
  • Biggest challenge in eating?  I am a commuter flight attendant, which means that some weeks I’ll have been home for less than 48 hours in a 14 day period. Also, my boyfriend is real calorie/grams of protein/carbs/whatever counter (he was a nutrition major originally in college), while I will eat leftover pie for breakfast if it’s in the fridge.
  • How much do you cook at home every week? When I am home I like to cook as many meals as I can! Sometimes it’ll have been a week or two since I’ve been home (and I might only be home for one night!), so at least one afternoon of home-time will be me watching a whole season of a Bravo show and batch cooking breakfast quesadillas and slow cooked chicken breasts. 
  • 5 things on your grocery list every week? Everything on this list is from Costco: Eggs, tortillas (most of my meal prep is breakfast burritos), organic chicken breasts, their giant containers of spinach and/mixed greens, and then whatever staple we’re about to run out of next (like olive oil).
  • Where do you shop, primarily? Right now my boyfriend and I shop at Costco almost exclusively, because it keeps me from buying small snack items, but this also keeps us from getting single-meal fresh produce, like eggplants and tomatoes.
  • Last grocery item you splurged on? Something we absolutely did not need but I bought anyway was birch tree syrup when I had a layover in Fairbanks, Alaska. It’s awesome — much lighter in sweetness than maple syrup.
  • Top 3 default dinners?  A pasta-veggie mix, hot or cold, with a sprinkle of Parmesan or some kind of cheese and slather of butter or some kind of yummy oil. Slow cooked chicken with some kind of sauce served over rice with some kind of veggie like spinach tossed in during the last minute of cooking. My personal favorite, however, is cabbage pancakes! Literally whatever leftover you have in your fridge, dice it and throw it in a bowl with cabbage, flour and some egg and pan fry it!
  • Favorite drink?  I buy Costco’s flats of canned condensed milk. I take two cans, add 1/2 cup of sugar and 45-ish minutes later I have about a months worth of sweetened condensed milk.
  • Most genius cooking tip anyone has ever taught you? Anything that’s done to add flavor, do more of that. More salt. More butter. More spice. More roasting. More frying.
  • Best budget tip? If you’re worried about lack of control over your spending habits, grocery shop as few times a month as possible.
  • Cookbook you actually cook out of? I have an Irish pub cookbook that makes me feel nostalgic and inspired every single time I look through it. It’s how I learned about the cabbage pancakes!
  • Who does the dishes? My boyfriend washes the dishes before we put them in the dishwasher and we’ll probably bicker about this tonight!
Credit: Brooke Fitts

Do you have any brilliant tips that you’ve picked up from working in a tiny cabin kitchen?
You’d be surprised at how many meals we can fit in our ovens. Our ovens are a foot by a foot and I can get maybe eight or nine dinners shoved in there plus all their rolls. As long as you’re okay with it not looking very organized.

That’s the way the sausage gets made! Okay, biggest airplane food pet peeve?
One that I have off the top of my head is when families let their kids destroy their snacks and crumble and cram these grainy things into the ground. Somebody has to clean that afterwards! It’s also a bummer when you’ve been eating granola bars all day and someone comes on the plane with this delicious-smelling meal that they eat while everyone boards. It makes me so hungry!

Credit: Brooke Fitts

You must have so much self control! I am dying to know: What’s the best thing you’ve ever eaten on a layover?
One time my crew had 30 hours in Kansas City in August. (So humid.) We took a $60 Uber and went to this one barbecue place. They were so excited that we found them and they brought us out all these burnt ends. Everyone got a sampler plate. It was incredible and really fun.

That sounds like a great team-building activity. Now, when you get home, what’s the first thing you make?
I’m always craving things I can’t bring with me, like soup. When I’m finally home, I’ll pull out the Crock-Pot at midnight, put stuff in, and now I have a soup. I love Kitchn’s slow cooker beef stew.

Thanks so much for sharing (and the shout-out), Emily! Everyone, go follow Emily on Instagram.

The Way We Eat is a series of profiles and conversations with people like you about how they feed themselves and their families. We’re actively looking for people to feature in this series. You don’t have to be famous or even a good cook! We’re interested in people of all backgrounds and eating habits. How do you overcome challenges to feed yourself? If you’d like to share your own story with us, or if you know of someone you think would be great for this series, start here with this form.