6 Tips for families wanting to eat in while on vacation.
For families like mine who manage multiple food allergies, eating three meals a day in restaurants is tricky, to say the least. When we’re traveling, preparing most of our own meals in our hotel room or rental is a lot safer and less stressful (not to mention cheaper). We always try to book accommodations with kitchens, but sometimes the best we can do is a room with a mini fridge and microwave. So we’ve learned to adapt, creating a makeshift kitchen with what we’re given and what we can bring with us. Keep reading to find out what we eat and how we make do when we don’t have a full kitchen at our disposal.
1/Packing a portable kitchen
The biggest benefit of road trips is how much stuff that you can bring, especially when it comes to cooking. If you’re unable to book lodging with kitchenettes, plan your menus and then customize the following list to create a portable kitchen.
Crock pot and/or rice cooker
Crock pot liners for easy clean up
For prep work and serving
Paring or chef’s knife in a sleeve or carefully wrapped in a towel
Whisk or metal fork
Microwaveable containers with lids for heating and storing any leftovers
Salad spinner which does quadruple duty as a salad spinner, colander, extra mixing bowl, and serving bowl
Microwave-safe plate and bowl per person
Paper and plastic plates
Small resealable bags
Small bottle of liquid dish soap
Good dishcloth for drying dishes
Wet wipes which are great for washing hands on the road and cleaning tables and other eating surfaces
Plastic bags for disposing of food waste, if your hotel waste baskets are not lined
To organize it all
Cooler for cold food
Sturdy boxes, baskets or bins to hold everything else
Don’t forget the food! Each time we check into a hotel, we put all the cold food that we can into the mini fridge. Our cooler holds the rest and stays cold, because we replenish the ice every 12 hours or so. Store fresh veggies in your cooler instead of the mini fridge; we’ve ruined plenty of produce that was accidentally frozen by mini fridges that got too cold.
Kidtripster Tip: Fill large Ziploc-like bags with ice instead of dumping the ice directly in the cooler, making cleanup easier. Or try out an electric cooler that can be plugged into the cigarette lighter in your car or outlet in your room.
2/Kid-friendly breakfasts that you can make in your hotel room
My kids love these easy-to-prepare meals that are free from dairy, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, and seafood. Add some juice and fresh fruit, and you’ve got six different and (mostly) healthy breakfasts.
Pancakes: use electric skillet or reheat frozen pancakes in the microwave
Bacon: Kroger’s Fully-Cooked Traditional Bacon crisps very well in the microwave
Banana bread, blueberry muffins, donuts or cinnamon rolls: bake before leaving home
Breakfast bars/granola bars
Bagels, English muffins or toast with jam
Cold or hot cereal
Pop Tarts: a special “vacation-only” treat for our kids; they devour them right out of the package.
If your kids can eat dairy and eggs, you've got even more choices including yogurt, omelets, and French toast.
If your family manages food allergies and your hotel offers complimentary breakfast, don’t automatically assume that there’ll be nothing safe to eat. My son can’t have hotel pancakes, waffles, pastries, eggs or yogurt, but there is often cereal, bacon, fresh fruit, and juice that he can have. We ask to see ingredients labels and then fill his plate directly from the kitchen rather than risk the buffet where allergens may have made their way into a dish via shared serving spoons or spills.
3/Kid-approved dinners that you can prepare using a microwave
These family favorites are quick and easy to throw together, and they are free from dairy, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, and seafood. You can make them gluten-free, too, by choosing gluten-free buns and tortillas.
Sloppy Joes and green salad or fresh veggies: cook meat/sauce at home, reheat in room
Beef and bean burritos with avocado, chips, and salsa: bring frozen burritos to reheat
Chili and baked potatoes: bring frozen or canned chili and reheat after baking potatoes in microwave
Hot dogs/brats, baked beans, watermelon, and corn on the cob: wrap shucked corn in wax paper and microwave on high for 4 minutes each
Pulled-pork sliders: cook pork at home, bring frozen, and reheat in room
Kidtripster Tip: Make meals that you've served before and know your kids like. Hungry kids mean cranky kids, and the only thing worse than cranky kids at home are cranky kids on vacation.
4/Cook some meals in advance
When spending a leisurely week at the beach, making three meals a day as usual is no big deal. But if you’ll be busy sightseeing or riding roller coasters all day, save yourself some time and energy by doing as much cooking as possible before you leave home. Choose meals that freeze and reheat well. Portion out a bit more than you think you’ll need (in case of spills or extra large appetites) and then freeze them in resealable freezer bags. If traveling by air, make sure the bags fit in your soft-side cooler before freezing them.
5/Etiquette for cooking in hotel rooms without kitchens
Be courteous to other guests and housekeeping staff by following these guidelines:
Avoid hotels with “no cooking in the room” policies.
Don’t make a mess that you can’t completely clean up.
Avoid preparing meals that give off a strong odor which could bother other guests.
Keep the bathroom sink clean and unclogged. Before washing the dishes, scrape every bit of food waste into a plastic bag.
Wash, dry, and put away dishes as soon as you use them. You’ll scrub less and keep your bathroom counter clear for its intended use.
Kidtripster Tip: Many hotels with restaurants, breakfast buffets or room service will let you borrow plates, cutlery and cloth napkins. Ask before you go.
6/What to leave at home
There are some items that are better left at home:
Frozen food that must stay frozen, like ice cream
Drinking glasses/cups (your hotel has these)
Prohibited agricultural items: check with the Department of Agriculture of the states that you’ll be traveling in. Some states have agricultural inspections at their borders and will confiscate prohibited items. For example, drivers are not allowed to bring out-of-state citrus into California.
Click here to read trip planning tips for families with food allergies and here for air travel-specific tips.
Elizabeth Ely Moreno is the mother of two children with anaphylactic food allergies to peanuts and tree nuts. Her youngest is also allergic to dairy, eggs, fish, shellfish, and more. Even though they manage food allergies, her family still loves to travel. So far, her kids have visited the Bahamas, Korea, Mexico, Florida, Hawaii, Idaho, New Jersey, New York, Washington D.C., and up and down the West Coast from San Diego to Seattle. Next stop, Alaska!