Essential Onboard Catering Supplies for Flight Attendants – Part 1: Basic Requirements

PT 4 M minute read
Essential Onboard Catering Supplies for Flight Attendants – Part 1: Basic Requirements

This is a post by author Roger Leemann. Roger is the senior vice president of Culinary Operations for Air Culinaire Worldwide, headquartered in Tampa, Florida, with kitchens in Aspen, Colorado; Boston, Massachusetts; Chicago, Illinois; Dallas, Texas; Denver, Colorado; Las Vegas, Nevada; London, U.K.; Long Beach, California; New York, New York; Paris, France; San Francisco, California; Seattle, Washington; Van Nuys, California; West Palm Beach, Florida; and Washington, D.C. Also, Air Culinaire Worldwide provides in-flight catering services at hundreds of airports around the world via hundreds of catering partners. Roger is an expert on catering menu development and training for business aviation operators and can be contacted at

This is part one of a two-article series on in-flight catering onboard supplies.

Business aviation aircraft operate all over the world. Whether your destination is a remote location or a major international hotspot, you can expect catering issues to arise from time to time. In the interest of being as self-sufficient as possible – and to deal with any catering error that may arise – flight attendants should consider onboard catering "tools" and back-up catering supplies.

The following is an overview of what you need to know:

1. Consider in-flight catering accessories and onboard food supplies

A typical in-flight catering checklist for a general aviation flight includes both onboard catering supplies and assorted food staples. Different levels of onboard catering accessories will be necessary depending on the size of your aircraft, galley capabilities, presence or absence of flight attendants, number of passengers, and length of flight.

2. Have the basic tools on hand

Just as a fisherman has a "tackle box," and a chef has a "knife box," there is a basic set of tools that will help you perform the "catering mission" on board the aircraft. Most chefs carry their "tools" in a toolbox so the tools are accessible, and only the chefs are responsible for the tools’ care and cleaning. It should be no different for the on-board "culinarian" (flight attendant or pilot). A "kit" and all the tools included should be able to be easily carried, sanitized, and ready for re-use on and off the aircraft.

The following are some common "tools" that should be carried in the box:

  1. Bottle opener: one that opens beer bottles and also includes the "punch" to allow you to puncture beverage juice cans
  2. Can opener: for those "just-in-case" scenarios
  3. Corkscrew: Remember there are different kinds of corkscrews (depending on your expertise and whether or not you open wine in front of your guests). This is an important tool to have so you don’t end up "punching" the cork into the bottle to access the wine, which is always the last resort.
  4. Peeler: great for peeling lemon or orange rind to either dice or cut into strips for beverage garnish
  5. Chef’s knife: You should have one that is no longer than the space you have to work with; an 8-inch blade is great. Keep in mind the harder the steel, the harder it will be to sharpen. I recommend a "stamped metal" chef’s knife from a well-known cutlery maker. Stamped knives are typically lighter, easier to sharpen (even though you might have to sharpen them more often), and cost less than half of the forged hardened steel knives.
  6. Paring knife: This is a small knife for doing little tasks. It’s recommended to get something light, comfortable, and sharp.
  7. Serrated knife: Allows you to cut crusty bread (as well as thick-skinned fruits and vegetables) without crushing them
  8. Scissors: an indispensable item. Use them for everything from "clean cutting" bags to trimming lobster shells. Be sure to get heavy-duty kitchen shears, as opposed to those commonly used for fabric.
  9. Blade sharpener: recommend getting the kind that fits into your "grip" and contains two tungsten steel blades. You will simply "pull" your knife through this, and it will reshape the cutting edge back to its sharpest point. Works for scissors and serrated knives as well.
  10. Kitchen gloves: In addition to their obvious use for preventing cross-contamination, multiple layers of gloves can also help you pick up and manipulate hot food items without burning your hands
  11. Small tongs: essential for moving meats. You do not want to "pierce" a whole muscle meat unless absolutely necessary because this becomes a conduit for the loss of juice and flavor.
  12. Food prepping/plating towels: These are simply "pre-treated" towels that, when added to water, activate the quaternary solution inside of them to help you keep your galley clean and sanitized.
  13. Spoons: lots of spoons (either disposable or not) for tasting, portioning, and mixing
  14. Meat thermometer: a handy tool to have, depending on your need. I don’t recommend the mercury type but rather the "stick" type. Be sure it gets periodically calibrated as well.
  15. Other items can include: zester, olive pitter, garlic press, pastry bag and tips, round cutters, small whisk, small strainer, rubber spatula, "fish" spatula, small squirt bottles, and pastry brush.

3. Have basic stock of "disposables"

You might also consider having a basic stock of "cooking" items for your galley. Depending on your galley configuration, these can include: aluminum tins/lids, microwave containers, aluminum foil, plastic wrap, and back-up plates and cutlery kits if needed for shorter flights or where washing is not available. "Redundancy" is an aviation term that applies to the catering mission as well.

4. Keep adequate stocks of shelf-stable items

The three types of onboard food-related items essential to have on hand are pre-packaged shelf-stable foods, spices and flavorings, and day-of-operation fresh garnishes. Pre-packaged items could include specific brand beverages or wines difficult to obtain away from base, as well as shelf-stable soups/broths/sauces, protein bars, granola, canned fish, non-refrigerated milk products, and perhaps beef jerky-type protein snacks. In terms of portable flavorings, consider items such as dried herbs and spices, hot sauces, mayonnaises, and mustards, as well as pre-packaged capers or olives. Your caterer can also help you replenish your stock. This should be limited to major "industrialized" locations where there is a better choice of brand and selection, which also translates to better pricing.


In addition to having basic catering "tools" at hand, it’s important to always have a range of back-up food items and garnishes onboard. Work with your in-flight caterer in order to put together the most effective catering supply kit.


If you have any questions about this article or need catering assistance, contact me at

Stay tuned for Part 2 where we will discuss aviation in-flight catering checklists and back-up plans.

Got a question for Roger about this article?