If you’re military, chances are you’ll someday spend a couple of days (or months) living in temporary lodging. One way to save a lot of money is to prepare meals in your hotel room/apartment/cottage/wherever you are staying. But when you’re swamped with your situation, it can be hard to think of what to eat. So I’ve compiled a list of ideas to fit every meal and kitchen situation.
No Way To Cook At All
What do you eat when you have no kitchen, no microwave, nothing? You can eat pretty well even if you’re sitting in the grocery store parking lot.
- Charcuterie. It’s just a fancy term for grown-up Lunchables. Cheese, meat if you eat it, veggies, crackers. My husband likes olives, I like little sweet pickles. You can buy them pre-made in some stores.
- Salads (bagged or homemade) topped with lunch meat, cheese, and hard-boiled eggs (purchased boiled). Or top with rotisserie chicken or prepared grilled chicken (found in the meat section or the freezer section). Rotisserie chicken and bagged salad is our “go-to” emergency dinner, even when we’re living in a house with a whole kitchen. I have a friend who buys a bag of salad, a bag of precooked chicken strips, and eats the whole thing out of the bag. All she needs is a fork.
- Those little packets of tuna and crackers, where you mix the mayo and relish in yourself. Surprisingly good but not terribly filling. I’d throw in a bag of carrots and some hummus on the side.
Just A Coffee Maker and an Iron
You’d be surprised how much you can make with just a coffee maker and an iron. It’s a little bit of work for anything that requires the iron, but it can be done. The general idea is to use the coffee maker to make hot water and use the iron to heat foods wrapped in aluminum foil.
- Instant oatmeal, grits, or cream of wheat. Heck, you can slow cook real oatmeal in the coffee pot if you don’t mind a little mocha flavor, but it takes forever.
- Fish and vegetables. You want a clean coffee pot for this one, but put frozen vegetables in the coffee basket and a piece of fish in the coffee pot. Run the water as usual. Cook until the fish is opaque.
- Pretty much anything that requires boiling can be done in a coffee pot if you have enough time. Wrapping the carafe in foil helps maintain the heat better. Pasta, hot dogs, corn on the cob, rice … as long as you make pieces small enough to fit in the pot, you have dinner.
- Miso soup
- Instant ramen in the cup
- Grilled cheese (with meat or tomatoes if desired) sandwiches
If You Also Have A Microwave
If you have access to a microwave, the biggest problem is going to be what other tools you have. There’s almost nothing you can’t make with a microwave and the right dishes: pork chops, bacon and egg sandwiches, lemon curd pie, risotto. But if you don’t have tools, let’s stick to the basics:
- Prepared taco meat (usually in the meat department) with taco fixings from the salad bar.
- Prepared pulled pork served on buns with prepared coleslaw.
- Soup and sandwiches (prepared sandwiches are even simpler).
- Frozen macaroni and cheese with chicken strips, or topped with buffalo popcorn chicken.
Depending on where you are staying, you may or may not be allowed to use kitchen appliances. Instant Pots and air fryers are great tools for feeding yourself in a hotel room or empty apartment. Slow cookers and electric skillets are also popular. We keep a plastic tub with our oldest dishes, silverware, and some kitchen tools that we call the camping box, but, realistically, it’s only ever used when we PCS. Those tools plus an Instant Pot make it possible to make most foods.
Many hotels and other temporary accommodations have access to grills. It’s hard when you don’t have the right tools, but it makes for a nice change from makeshift cooking. I’ve even done an entire Stouffer’s frozen lasagna over a grill. (Pro tip: this will take a lot longer than you expect. Possibly 5 or 6 hours. Plan accordingly.)
Eating out can be a huge expense, especially if you are in temporary lodging for a long time. Knowing how to feed your family using the tools you have available can keep costs down, plus it’s often just easier to eat in. With a little creativity, you can prepare a wide variety of meals without leaving your room.