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Hotel Dining

Eating while traveling is always a problem. You either wind up spending way too much money to eat three meals/day out, eat nothing but junk food and other snacks during the day but a full dinner, or you try to make food in your hotel room.

Some hotels offer rooms with kitchenettes (self-catering) consisting of a fridge, stove, sink, microwave, toaster, and coffee maker. With these at your disposal, all you need to do is make a trip over to the closest grocery store and stock up. Most self-catering hotels offer you all of the kitchen utensils, pots/pans, and dinnerware you will need either in your room or at your request. Some places even have a closet full of condiments and spices you can gain access to. While self-catering is the cheapest option for food while traveling, it does require that you spend some time doing the actual cooking. Trying to have Lunch at your hotel could become problematic if you were staying outside of the city center and needed to travel back and forth. Depending on how long the commute is, you could wind up wasting several hours each day just trying to save a few dollars. Your best option at a self-catered hotel is to eat Breakfast and Dinner at the hotel, and Lunch out.

Many hotels now offer rooms with an empty minifridge instead of the traditional minibar. You can use the fridge free of charge to keep food and drink cold. This could come in handy for bringing back leftovers from a restaurant, keeping some fruit or cheese for a snack, even for chilling a bottle of wine to enjoy later in the evening. If the hotel also offers a microwave, you’re in even better shape. Think back to your days of college dorm cooking when all you had was a microwave, coffee pot, and fridge and I’m sure you can come up with plenty of ideas. If the fridge has a freezer section you could even pick up frozen entrees from the grocery store.

Some hotels that do not usually have fridges or microwaves in the rooms give you the option of adding one to your room for an additional fee. Also, check the breakfast area of your hotel. If it’s out in the open, sometimes the microwave and toaster are available for use all day. Of course, if you have a medical condition that requires keeping medicine refrigerated, most hotels won’t hesitate to put a fridge in your room free of charge, and there’s nothing stopping you from keeping other food/drink in it with your medicine.

The above options are great if you can find them, and if you don’t mind paying extra for the amenities, but if it is not an option, you’re usually left with two things: a coffee pot (or kettle) and a bucket for ice.

Recently, my friend posted the following to her journal. Her husband sent her the link after she informed him she would be packing along food for their trip to Dragon*Con to help offset the cost of food.


Link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wMhQc8T7tqQ

My only response to this is “wow”. I personally would never dream of cooking something IN the kettle because someone else will always have to use it and you don’t want to be the jerk who makes their tea taste like pasta. But dehydrated pasta you add hot water to? No problem. As illustrated in the video, it was pretty easy to get a bowl and utensils from the hotel. Some convenience foods even come in a container you add hot water to, such as instant oatmeal or Pot Noodle.

Another example of extreme hotel cooking was found via this link:


Link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YEZ2aIQhVSU

Again, this is something I would never do. Though a very clever idea, you really could do damage to the hotel’s iron if you tried this. Some hotels have sensitive smoke detectors in the rooms, and attempting to cook with your iron could result in setting it off.

So what can you do in a hotel room with few amenities? Like I said above, look for food you only need to add hot water to – soup, oatmeal, and pasta are three popular choices. For a quick vegetable soup, dissolve a vegetable bullion cube in some hot water and then add a can of mixed vegetables. The hot broth will heat up the vegetables. Many soups come in powdered form and you can jazz them up with some simple ingredients. For example, you might not be able to make that grilled cheese sandwich to go with your tomato soup, but you could sprinkle some Parmesan cheese on top of your soup and dip pieces of bread in it.

Another option is turning the sink into a wet bar, though this will mean brushing your teeth and washing your hands at the bathtub. Simply plug the drain on the sink and start filling it with ice from the hotel’s ice machine. Submerging your food in the ice will create the same effect as if you had things in a cooler and you can keep loads of food cold this way. I would still stay away from items that are overly perishable, but string cheese or Babybell cheese, yogurt, cream cheese, and lunchmeat are all items that would stay cold on ice. You might have to change out the ice every day and leave a note for housekeeping not to clean the sink.

If you’re driving to your hotel, you could pack a small crock pot and use that in your room. Plug it in in the morning and by the time you get back to the room, you’ve got a hot dinner. If you have your own electric kettle (we called them hot pots when I was in college) you could bring that along to cook soups or pasta in. Electric sandwich presses also could come in handy. I would avoid bringing along an electric skillet or grill due to the aforementioned smoke detector problem.

If your hotel doesn’t even offer an ice bucket and ice, you’re better off finding a new hotel if you really plan on trying to eat in your room. Either that, or you’ll have to stick to nonperishable and snack foods. When I used to go on road trips, I would pack a jar of peanut butter, a jar of jam, a loaf of bread, and a knife. It got a bit monotonous, but it was always filling, and nonperishable.

Some hotel food options include:

*Peanut Butter and Jelly
*Tuna fish in the can (use packets of mayo to avoid mayo going bad)
*Sandwich Paste (UK item)
*Hard cooked eggs
*babybell cheese or cheese in a can
*Fresh fruit and vegetables
*cup of soup/pot noodle
*instant oatmeal

The list could go on and on. What do you take along to eat in a hotel?

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4 comments

4 Comments so far

  1. Sarah Rainsberger September 11th, 2009 13:28

    The story of our lives!

    We’ve stayed in just about every kind of hotel. Fortunately now we’re in a Homewood Suites (kitchenette included) that offers included buffet breakfast and a “manager’s reception” (free small, limited selection dinner buffet with wine/beer from 5pm – 7pm). If you are concerned about eating on the go, a place with a manager’s reception is helpful. The food is usually only mediocre at best, but it’s enough to keep you from being starved at the end of the day so you can make a sensible “real” dinner choice.

    Other food items to keep in a regular (non-kitchenette) hotel room:

    -trail mix/nuts/seeds/dried fruit
    -cereal (a kind you enjoy snacking on without milk, like a granola or Shreddies)
    -granola/cereal bars
    -healthier snacking food like veggie chips, rice cakes, pita chips
    -good chocolate (not candy bars) – a little goes a long way and can satisfy cravings for other foods

    While you won’t want to make a meal out of any one of those things, having them on hand can satisfy a late-night craving (and stop you from ordering a pizza) or fill you up enough that you don’t make hasty (poor) meal choices because you’re starving.

  2. Rebecca September 11th, 2009 17:00

    Thanks for all the suggestions. I know you and Joe rely heavily on staying in hotels and eating at hotels so the information is appreciated.

    Homewood was where you were staying in Paoli one of the times I visited, wasn’t it? I remember the manager’s reception – I think it was hamburgers and hot dogs the day I was there. I think if someone was really on a tight budget, they probably could make the reception food into their dinner, as long as they didn’t mind “industrial” food.

  3. Sarah Rainsberger September 11th, 2009 17:09

    Yes, and in fact last night, the manager’s reception was our dinner. We like the Homewood because they (chain-wide) provide a calendar on your fridge telling you what the meals will be for the month. In addition to routinely having salads (lettuce and potato or coleslaw), snack mix, nachos/salsa and some kind of dessert (carrot cake, brownies etc.) they have rotating meals. Last night was taco night and while we avoided the “meat” we stuffed tacos with Mexican spiced rice, refried beans, shredded cheese, lettuce, tomatoes, onions, sour cream and guac. we also nabbed a take out container full of sliced cucumber, tomato, and green peppers for munching.

    Other nights the meals have been “deli” (sliced cold cuts/cheeses), “Italian Market” (chicken parm/pasta/garlic sticks), Chinese (sweet and sour chicken, rice, egg rolls), Pizza, etc. It’s very much cafeteria food, and I sometimes forget how often people (students, employees) are forced to eat in cafeterias. Not everyone can live 5 minutes from a farmer’s market, eh?

    And don’t forget, beer and wine! If you get a chance to stay in a Homewood Suites, it’s well worth it for the food options and at least cutting down on your eating out by offering breakfast, an early dinner, and the kitchenette. We happen to be about 4 min. away from a Trader Joe’s right now, so we’re doing just fine with the food budget!

  4. Rebecca September 11th, 2009 17:16

    I’m so jealous of the Trader Joe’s! We still don’t have one in Lancaster and it doesn’t exist in the UK (AFAIK, though there might be a store in London).

    That’s awesome that they give you a calendar so you can plan right away which nights you want to eat at the hotel and which nights out right away instead of having to check the lobby each night. Those tacos sound fantastic.

    I spent many years eating cafeteria food at college. It’s tasteless, but it “fills a corner” as Tim would say.

    Something else I wanted to point you towards (though you’d need access to a printer) – http://clippermagazine.com/ – you can search by Zip code for restaurant coupons, and it’s usually for the smaller, local mom and pop type places as opposed to chains.

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