Thrifty Travel: Cooking on the Go

by Jessica on March 26, 2011

It's Cooking Time!

Dining while traveling, especially if you have a larger family, can be a budget buster. With a little pre -planning you can drastically reduce your dining budget and increase your time for fun on the road. What is this magic money saver? Instead of eating out, cook all your meals at home, package for the road, and enjoy home cooked meals in your hotel. Let’s get started.

You’ll need:
1. Half a day to cook and prepare
2. A hotel with a microwave, and maybe a refrigerator
3. A few supplies for packaging and preparing meals
4. A little culinary research to find meals your family enjoy that will freeze well

For a recent eleven day road trip, we had budgeted to eat out two nights of the trip (usually a more expensive meal) and two lunches for the trip. This left nine lunches and dinners that I planned to prepare just like at home. On average, I feed our family for a little over six dollars per meal, or one dollar per person. On the road, a fast food lunch will run us $30 and a meal at an average sit down restaurant will be about $45. That’s roughly $600 in savings for our family for this trip.

To prepare, I first watched the Sunday ads for meat sales. As soon as I found ground beef and chicken on sale, I bought 10 pounds of each. The weekend before our trip, I checked out some videos for the kids to watch all afternoon and I started cooking. My goal was to prepare nine hot meals to freeze for the trip.

My menu included:

• Chicken tacos with Mexican Rice (leftovers will be cubed and served in pita pockets for lunch)
• Grilled chicken with Macaroni (leftover chicken will be chopped and used for a chicken salad lunch)
• White bean chicken chili with White Rice
• Chicken noodle soup
• Mexican Stack with Beans and Rice
• Sloppy Joes (leftovers will be added to a jar of sauce for spaghetti sauce)
• Spaghetti and Meat Sauce
• Ham and Macaroni & Cheese (leftovers will be sliced for sandwiches and chef’s salad)

I started with the chicken. 12 breasts of chicken were prepared to go on the grill, half seasoned for chicken tacos and half seasoned with lemon pepper. While my dear husband watched the grill, I set to work cubing another couple of pounds of chicken, one pound for chicken noodle soup and white bean chicken chili. I started a double batch of white bean chicken chili in the crock pot (we would be eating one batch for dinner that evening). Then I started a batch of chicken noodle soup on the stove and I was done cooking chicken. I sliced up the chicken tacos and then packaged everything into freezer bags, labeled, and stuck them in the freezer.

Next it was time for beef. Cooking the beef involves sautéing the meat in a pan with different spices. Two pound of beef was prepared for Mexican stack with taco seasoning. More beef was seasoned with onions and garlic and put into two separate bags for Sloppy Joes and Spaghetti Sauce. For an easy last meal, I bought a small sliced ham which was frozen in its original packaging.

The last step was preparing the rice side dishes. Rice can be cooked in a hotel microwave, but it freezes just as well, so I like to cook it ahead of time. I made three helpings white rice, a big batch of Mexican rice, and a batch of chicken rice. All were bagged, labeled, and frozen.

To make all the meal prep possible in a hotel, we travel with a litany of kitchen tools.
• A large microwave safe bowl with a vent
• A can opener
• A large serving spoon
• A plastic pitcher (for drinks)
• Plastic cutlery
• Paper plates and napkins

Some random details to make it all work:

• Package all the food frozen in a cooler. Food can be transferred to a refrigerator in your hotel, or you can keep your cooler stocked with ice if a refrigerator is not available.
• Plan ahead if you will need to make pasta in the microwave, as it will take longer to cook.
• Think about your destination when you do your shopping. I live in a very economical area, so depending on where I am going, it is usually more budget friendly to do most of my shopping at home. I usually plan to pack an entire suitcase full of food and use that suitcase for dirty clothes on the way home.
• Heat your main dishes in their freezer bags, so that they can be sealed and thrown away easily.
• Add fresh bread and produce from a local grocery store bakery to complete your meal.

~Want to see how others are eating on the road?  Check out Wondering Wednesday at Living on the Road.

{ 1 comment }

Amy October 18, 2011 at 6:17 pm

Eating out sounds like it's less expensive there than it is in Australia even.  We find with four kids that it's usually about $30 – 40 for a fast food restaurant, a sit down is between $80 – $100 … cooking ourselves is so important!

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