My husband and I will be driving around the country for about 5 months. We will be staying in hotels mostly, as we are traveling for work, but I would like to find ways to eat healthy and save money on food while we are out there...any good books and/or tips would be most welcome!
The best way to eat healthy as possible is to prepare your own stuff out of a cooler. Of course you have to go to the grocery more often but it's definitly worth it since the United States (with a few exceptions) seem more like a factory of fast food joints to me (a big juicy cheeseburger is great sometimes though:o).
On my latest roadtrip to the States, I brought a butane camping stove and a cooler that you can plug in the cigarette lighter, it was just great! I think butane is better than propane because it costs less (the stove is about 20-30$, the butane cans are 1$ each in dollar stores, and you don't even need matches with them), it's more compact and not heavy at all. A great mid-size cooler costs about 75-100$ depending on the size you want to have and it is very practical in any occasions (weekend trips, Sunday pic nics with family) plus you don't have to buy ice all the time and find out later that your sandwich has taken a bath while you were driving.
I usually tried to pick quiet spots in motels, I brought a table from the room near the window or opened door to cook my stuff. I had a small camping fan that works with batteries, I placed it in a certain way so it blew the nocive propane emanations outside and I just cooked my stuff right there : pastas, rice, soup, panninis, chicken, vegetables, coffee, eggs, chili, ...
Some people looked at me like I was crazy:-), but most of them were friendly, sometimes making jokes on what I was cooking or about opening a restaurant in the motel:-) I met some nice folks during my cooking hours:-) : a trucker from Tennessee, a couple from Amsterdam:-)) I was trying to be discreet though, I didn't want to be noticed by the manager and get a warning. I didn't have any problems doing that and I've done it many times, but be careful about the butane, it may be dangerous if it gets into the room, leave the window/door opened at least half an hour after you finished cooking.
When I was on the road, I usually stopped at rest areas or nice parks, cooked my stuff and had lunch on a pic nic table, but it is much more simple to prepare a sandwich when you know you'll spend the day driving, because cooking takes a lot of time plus you have to do the dishes (unless you like having bugs and strange odours in your car). If you're the sandwich kind, knock yourself out, but to my opinion, it is much more rewarding to have a full hot meal after a long day of driving.
If you're a fruit/veggie lover, buy small bags of washed and cut carrots, salad in a bag, apples (last very long if they're not bruised), grapes, cherry tomatoes, oranges, cauliflower, peppers, brocoli. Don't bring bananas, they get bruised easily, raspberries (dangerously appealing for a white shirt and likely to fill your cooler with bright red juice), in one word don't bring anything that is easy to spill and not easy to eat with one hand.
Be careful with milk, yogurt, eggs, sour cream and mayonnaise, you might get sick in no time if you don't keep them at the right temperature. As soon as it looks/smells strange, dump it in the trash before your whole car smells like that (and it doesn't take long trust me!:-)! You can get small packets of ketchup, relish, mayonnaise, peanut butter, jam, coffee creamier, sugar and other stuff like that in Wal-Marts or grocery stores. Bring olive oil (with a tight lid) instead of butter to cook your stuff.
Bring lots nuts, raisins, dried fruits to eat on the road instead of chips. You can do your own mix : cereals, nuts, fruits, dark chocolate,... Mix yogurt with that, add fresh fruits (and a spoon of maple syrup if it's plain yogurt) and you have a great healthy desert.
Good luck and have a great trip!
I buy zip-loc freezer bags to store foods in -- including sandwiches that seem inexorably drawn to bathing, as aforementioned! They work very well and I've never had a problem with leakage. Bob
This is great advice! Thank you so much for your time!
Great job, Gen
Gen gave you good advice.
I travel with a small cooler that plugs into the cigarette lighter (size that holds 9 pop cans). I got it for $30 at WalMart. I also travel with a small backpacking-style camp stove that takes up little room in the car but works well if needed, and I also have it for when I go hiking so it's a dual-purpose item. However, unlike Gen, I rarely cook and rely more on sandwiches but it is nice to have a hot meal once in awhile. So I don't want a stove that takes up a lot of room. I might splurge someday on the type of butane stove she has as it is very easy to use and packs well.
Other food prep/storage items include: a small regular cooler (holds about 12 pop cans), zip-lock storage bags in various sizes, a couple of tupperware-type containers, can opener, small set of pots & pons (I have a boy scout style set like backpackers use), spatula, knife, turner, and whisk. Then dish soap and scrubber but I don't pack a wash basin. I simply use the largest pot in my little cooking set. I rely on paper plates/bowls and plastic utensils for the rest. I hate the waste but I don't want to fiddle with too much cleaning when I'm on the road.
Like Gen also mentioned, the individual little packages of cream cheese, ketchup, mayo, mustard, salad dressing, etc. are much handier for traveling than full-size jars as you don't have to worry about refrigerating them, spoilage, or breakage.
I stock up at WalMart or Costco with items that don't spoil and then I then stop at grocery stores to restock with items that need refrigeration every couple of days. If they have a deli section, that area can be your best friend and make it easy to have a nice variety of healthy options.
My food mainstays: bagels and cream cheese, any kind of sandwich (you can use bread or bagels for your bread choice), cheese and crackers, fruit, veggies, granola and/or protein bars, instant oatmeal (you can heat the water on your stove or, if staying in a hotel with coffeemaker, just heat your water in that), and some snacks that are a bit more healthy (Wheat Thins and the like, instead of chips, for example).
Unlike many travelers, I find that I usually lose weight while on the road. I tend to eat healthier than at home and, since I'm on the go so much, I don't come home all bloated. The nicest thing about fixing meals yourself is that you can enjoy the outdoors intead of sitting in a restaurant. It's far more enjoyable to find a great park or scenic rest-stop in which to eat than it is to sit in a restaurant. This way you can enjoy the view while cooking and eating, be on your feet stretching your legs and getting the old circulation going after sitting in the car for hours, and then gett back on the road feeling refreshed and energized.
Eating this way costs about the same as eating at home as well so you don't need to factor in extra costs for food while traveling. After all, you'd have to eat at home too, right?
While I've never cooked at my motel, this is because I usually camp. Next time I stay in a hotel, I'll have to give Gen's idea a try.
Gee, I really don't think I added anything new to Gen's excellent ideas, did I? Well, maybe it will help you to know that many of us do this type of stuff regularly and it really takes no more time than sitting in restaurant waiting for meals but is really more enjoyable and keeps you outside enjoying the scenery more.
I welcome all advice--thanks for your message as well! I am getting so excited for our time on the road!