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  1. #1

    Default Hotel room gourmet: Saving money by cooking on the road

    DH and I are planning a road trip next spring with our two kids and are trying to keep it budget and health friendly. In that effort, I'm planning on breakfast and dinner in the hotel room, and only lunches in restaurants, and I'm coming up with a menu that is easy to put together with minimal supplies. Your suggestions are welcome!

    I currently have a few easy breakfasts in mind:
    cereal with milk and fruit
    instant oatmeal packets with milk and fruit

    Dinners:
    We'll have a cooler and possibly mini fridges in hotel rooms. I'm assuming that I can get access to microwaves at all of our hotels and use the microwave pot that I'm practicing meals in.

    Lentil soup with salad and rolls (cooked ahead and frozen in quart sized bag; canned would work but we're watching the sodium level)
    Pasta with tomato sauce and frozen meatballs, salad and rolls
    Hummus, pita, falafels, veggies
    Coconut curry tofu and veggies, rice
    Chicken cacciatore, egg noodles, salad (cooked ahead and frozen in quart sized bag; reheated in microwave cooker)

    What kind of things do you make with minimal supplies? Any suggestions for the hotel room gourmets among us?

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Mar 2005
    Location
    Washington state coast/Olympic Peninsula
    Posts
    3,319

    Default I'm not a travel gourmet

    But I do eat out of my cooler a lot while traveling for health and dollar-savings. Here are some of the things I typically bring/buy along the way. Hope this will help a bit.

  3. #3

    Default

    We cook in hotel rooms all the time. Actually, thinking way back, I was quite the gourmet in my dorm room, though all I had then was a coffee pot, a toaster oven, and an electric frying pan -- you can really do a great deal with that when it's all you have. In my opinion, the cooking isn't so bad, but the clean-up is awful. Not having a "real sink" is a detriment. We plan easy things, and we use lots of paper plates and other disposables. Throw in some Lysol wipes for the kids' messes.

    One thing we try to avoid is "smelly meals"; you don't want to be discourteous to your neighbors, nor do you want to alert the hotel management to your plans -- everyone, of course, isn't particularly careful with cooking, and many hotels discourage (or even ban) cooking for fear of fires. Obviously, you're not foolish enough to fry things in oil, nor do you want to cook things like hamburgers that'll splatter; that could be dangerous without a proper cooking surface. I'd also avoid things like spaghetti -- unless it's prepared stuff that just has to be re-warmed -- and instead I'd keep to one-pot meals.

    For the real meals you're describing, I'd suggest that you bring along a crock pot. You'd end up with an easy one-pot meal, and all you'll really need is the crock pot and a big wooden spoon. Most crock pot meals will cook on high in four hours, which means you can start the food when you check in, and after the kids have been in the pool a while, you can have a late dinner. Have you ever used the plastic liners? They make clean-up a snap, which will be important in a hotel sink.

    To avoid having too much stuff in the cooler, I'd plan on bringing along the first two days' worth of food (frozen to help out the cooler), then pick up frozen things from the grocery store that can be popped in to the crock pot. For example, Super Target puts together rather expensive "everything you need" meals in their deli area, and I buy them when they're reduced for quick sale. Last weekend I had one of their pot roast meals (which was reduced to $5 and fed the four of us) that included little red potatos, carrots, and celery. The meat was already marinated, and the result was quite good. Banquet makes frozen meals ready to dump into the crock pot; I had a get-one-free coupon once, and though it was definitely a frozen meal, it was good enough for what you're describing. Add a bagged salad and some store-bought bread, and you have a meal.

    You won't be able to cook in a hotel room as cheaply as you can cook at home. Why? Because at home you have a whole array of items that make it easy for you to cook: a supply of spices, good knives and cutting boards, and appliances. On the road, you tend to pay more for pre-cut veggies and convenience foods. So don't beat yourself up for not being able to match your at-home budget -- instead, realize that your time is worth money too.

    You can make real oatmeal in the crock pot, and it's much better than instant packets. We have a small crockpot at home that's essentially dedicated to oatmeal.

    Try this blog: crockpot365.blogspot.com It's written by a woman who made a New Year's Resolution to use her crock pot every single day. I've tried quite a few recipes and have enjoyed the great majority of them. Who knew Lobster Bisque was sooo easy? I had no idea you can cook baked potatos in the crock pot!

    If you're against the crockpot idea, do pick just one appliance to bring along. You need to minimize what you drag in and out of the car every day or so. A steamer would be okay or a Forman Grill would do IF you're going to cook outside on the balcony. Don't forget that many hotels have grills provided for their customers.

    An observation: You're assuming that you will have a microwave at your disposal. In my experience, you'll find microwaves /mini-fridges in hotels like Holiday Inn, Holiday Inn Express, Residence Inn, and Best Westerns -- moderately priced places that cater to families; you won't find them in cheap, cheap places like Red Roof Inn or Super 8. If you're bidding on Priceline, you're most likely to get a microwave / mini-fridge in the hotels advertised as 2 or 2.5 stars. I would not assume that a microwave'll be available everywhere. If you don't have one in your own room, do check to see whether there's one in the "breakfast room".

    If indeed you have a microwave (and I bet you will half the time), remember those new Ziplock-type cooking bags. You can steam things like shrimp or vegetables in them, and there's no clean-up. Though I think you want to minimize the cooking utensils you bring, a ziplock bag is as small as it comes.

    The hotels are the same ones that tend to include a free breakfast with their rooms. Once you make reservations, you'll need to check on that. There's no need to plan breakfast if it's going to be provided. Often these are really pretty good breakfasts with much more than just juice and doughnuts; expect things like fruit, make-your-own-waffles, etc. With four people in a room, a free breakfast is a great budget option. For example, in Washington DC (where food costs a fortune) we had a $50/night room that included breakfast; we filled up on eggs-and-sausage and other "free food" every morning, and that allowed us to snack instead of having a real sit-down lunch.

    And one last thought: Even with simple meals, I'd suggest that you make cooking in the room a once-a-day activity. It's cumbersome, and it gets old in a hurry. If your budget is really tight, make one of your meals sandwiches; you'll still save money, and "fixing" is easier than "cooking".

  4. #4
    Tony J Case, Super Genius Guest

    Default

    I'd steal a page from Rick Steves and go sandwich crazy. Buy lunchmeat, cheses and bread on the spot and keep your condiments with you. High protein stuff like peanut butter and various nuts and the like would probably fit the bill too. And to keep the grind of sanwiches from getting to you, eat out occasionaly, when you find a cool mom-n-pop diner of somesorts.

    With my upcoming I might give this a spin - since the point of staying domestic this year is going with a low budget trip instead of an overseas splurge.

  5. #5

    Default

    Thanks for all of the great replies!!

    We tend to stay in places like Best Western that have microwaves in the room or available in the lobby. We've also had good luck with included breakfasts at Best Western and the like; I'll definitely keep it in mind as I book our rooms.

    I have a microwave rice cooker that does a nice job with pasta and such, and is perfect for reheating meals. Talking to DH about the idea of dinners in the room, he suggested bringing the frozen make-ahead-meals that I have done here, like the chicken cacciatore or lentil soup. They'd be frozen in ziplock bags until defrosted and reheated in the microwave cooker, and that would make just one pot to clean. It also makes dinner reheated rather than cooked, and that takes a lot less time and effort!

    Clean up is a real issue to keep in mind since doing dishes in a hotel room doesn't sound like fun! I read on another travel forum the idea of spreading a thin layer of dish soap on a new sponge, letting it dry completely, then cutting it into quarters. Then you have four pre-soaped sponges ready to do the dishes. I'm going to add a to the packing list a mesh drain cover and a plastic bin that can be used for doing dishes as well. Everything should be able to easily stay in the plastic bin while we're traveling.

    The crockpot is an excellent idea, but wouldn't it make the room smell like whatever you're cooking? I do steel cut oats in the crockpot, too! Delicious!

  6. #6
    Join Date
    Oct 2008
    Location
    Joplin MO
    Posts
    7,391

    Default

    For cleanup, bring a dispenser of Dawn Direct Foam and regular sponges. Dispense the Dawn directly onto a sponge to use. This way, you don't have to soak the dishes.

  7. #7
    Join Date
    Apr 2009
    Location
    South Central Orange County
    Posts
    242

    Default

    I like to keep things simple.

    I sometimes buy instant curry pouches that can be reheated in boiling water (I believe "House" and "S&B" are two brands). Glad and some other brands sell disposable, microwavable bowls. A simple meal is to bring a small bags of precooked frozen rice, place them in the bowls with the instant curry, and microwave until hot.

    I agree with the others who are big on sandwiches. I'll lug the cooler along with sandwiches, cheese, fruit, etc. and eat lunch along the way. Even for dinner it makes a less expensive alternative to Subway (although $5 for a foot-long sandwich is a deal). You can always grab a sandwich from a shop and save big by bringing your own drinks and sides to enjoy at the park or back at the hotel.

  8. #8

    Default

    What I have in mind to save a few bucks while we're on the road is to pick hotel/motels that give a free breakfast. Get a plug in cooler (I have regular coolers of various sizes as well) and buy easy lunch things that don't need to be cooked or heated for lunch. Then either a restaurant dinner or pull out our travel table top bbq and make dinner that way. I'll have a supply of paper plates and things like that.

  9. #9
    Join Date
    Mar 2009
    Location
    Colorado
    Posts
    169

    Default

    I keep meats, cheese, and other sandwich makings in a cooler along with cold drinks. A separate box has bread and other foods that don't need to be kept cool. Paper towels, a few utensils and a small plastic cutting board are also in the box. Lunch is just a matter of finding a picnic spot and grabbing the cooler and the box. Most small towns have a city park with tables. If the weather is bad, the cutting board provides a work surface for building sandwiches in the car.

    If you put ice for the cooler in a one gallon Ziplock bag, the food will not get wet. It's easy to take the bag out, drain the water and add more ice.

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