If you haven’t been able to tell by reading most of the my other posts so far, I’m a bit of a foodie. I like trying new foods, and regional foods, and off the beaten track restaurants. As a family, we like pretty much every type of food. While there might be certain foods one of us doesn’t like, such as mushrooms, there’s not one restaurant we’ve ever been in that we didn’t all get something we like. We’ve been to small hole in the walls and large fancy restaurants, Greek, Brazilian, Thai, we like it all. But there’s a few reasons why we try to limit eating out.
1. It’s hard on your budget. For example, in order to eat sushi for our family of 6 in a half way decent sushi bar, it’ll cost us about $150 after tax and tip. If I make sushi at home, it will cost us roughly $20, and we typically end up with more than we can eat at that meal.
2. General health reasons. Eating out is unhealthy. Period. Full stop. People tend to eat more. Eat more fat and more sugar. And just eat more in general. We often leave with that “stuffed” feeling. Further, the chefs at any restaurant tend to add more calories in the way they cook so that the meal tastes better. For example, if you would add 2 Tbsp. of butter to a recipe at home, they will add 8. What about higher class eateries? Yes! Them too! If you go to the Macaroni Grill and get Chicken Marsala, it will be a whopping 1,100 calories! That’s more than half the average daily amount in one meal! And it doesn’t even include the bread before hand, the olive oil you’re dipping it into, the wine you’re drinking with it, or a dessert or salad. When I make Chicken Marsala at home, it comes to just over 500 calories, which is a whole dinner plate size, and yes, I use real butter! And just for the record…..mine tastes better anyways!
3. Personalized health reasons. Most of us will go through at least a short period at some point in our lives of having a restricted diet. In many cases, it makes eating out incredibly difficult. In my case, I’m currently on a low-protein, low-sodium, low-potassium, low-phosphorus diet. I know what you’re thinking. So what exactly DO you eat? Well, a lot of things. But eating out is almost impossible. For me, I can’t have any sauces, because of the way most restaurants make them. I can’t have any salt on anything. No potatoes, tomatoes, avocados, and my meat/protein has to be limited to about 2 oz for the whole meal. No soy products, which discounts most “vegan” options. Think about that. We recently went to a small truck stop on I-10 Louisiana on the way to get Gabe off the boat. We’d gone too long without food and there wasn’t another town for awhile. So we walk in and I order, no salt, no potatoes, no cream based salad dressings, and no sauces. In a southern diner. HAHAHAHA!
On some diets, splurging is ok from time to time. If that’s you, then traveling becomes a bit easier. Currently, if I break my diet, I end up with four hours of intense cramping, vomiting, and diarrhea. So, currently, it’s not worth it to me to break the diet.
Alright, so what do you do? How do you do the touristy thing on the go and not eat out? Or what if your regular schedule at home is busy and you find yourself having dinner at Tae Kwon Do practice, or soccer practice, or Ballet?
First things first. You have to plan things out. I find it’s generally easier to under schedule a trip because you don’t end up exhausted and you can enjoy things better when you’re not feeling rushed to get to the next thing. The perk of this is doing things like eating lunch at home, going to see a site, and then coming home for dinner. A few times this week, since we are about 30-45 minutes away from most sites, I’d make lunch with breakfast, we’d leave about 11, tailgate when we first arrive at the destination, and then go in to do the tourist thing. We typically get home around 5-6 and have dinner then.
So when you plan things out, think about timing. Will you have enough time when you get home to fully prepare a meal? If not, what are some things you can do in the morning to prepare it so that it’s basically ready to bake when you get home? What’s the weather like? Planning for a simple soup is a great idea unless it’s Texas and August. Further, while freezer meals is great, if you are traveling in an RV, you will likely not have enough room in your freezer for a week or two worth of meals. In general, simple meals for the most part, with more open days having more complicated meals.
Things to keep on hand:
Salad and sandwich supplies.
Bread, lettuce, carrots, celery, tomatoes, shredded cheese, croutons, sliced cheese, deli meat, pickles, and condiments/dressings. You can make ahead salad in bulk. Don’t add dressing and place in a gallon sized ziploc, zipping it most of the way, pushing out as much air as possible, and zipping the rest of the way. Salads made like this will keep in the fridge for up to 14 days. The main idea is to make sure you eat out of one bag at a time, and that each time you use some salad, you get out as much air as possible.
Sandwiches can be made easily enough, and with a few bucks, you can get a small cooler and bag of ice from the local grocery store to cart around with you during that week you’re on vacation.
If you’re planning on getting home right at dinner time and want an easy meal, you could also add warm sandwiches. Panini’s can be made of about anything. Grilled cheese is always a quick easy favorite…..with colby jack and tomato. Meatball subs can be made ahead of time and popped into the oven for ten minutes. And open faced baked sandwiches/bruschetta are also good and easy to make/make ahead.
There are also some pasta salads that do very well in a cooler. Most of them are made to sit for awhile and let the flavors melt into each other anyways. So making it in the morning and eating it for lunch or dinner is actually preferred. Sushi is a good take along. The only problem is that it’s only good for a few hours afterwards, in order to eat at the peak of flavor, but it takes awhile to make. I’ll use sushi when it will be eaten during Tae Kwon Do, so I can make it in the afternoon and we can eat it within a few hours of making it.
Some of these make for more mess on the go than others. Obviously, most pasta salads are eaten better in a bowl. So now you’ve got dirty bowls and forks. Well, bring along a few plastic grocery store bags and a roll of paper towels. Wipe the bowls, throw away the paper towels, and put the dirty dishes into a bag and tie it at the top. When you get home later, you can just bring in the bag and wash up those few dishes easily enough. Also, when bringing sandwiches or salads, I bring them in a ziploc bag. That way it’s easier to fit into the cooler and there’s less dishes to clean. We’ve tried putting saran wrap on a large mixing bowl, but it’s hard to be mobile with a huge mixing bowl and other bowls to eat out of, etc. So, ziploc is your friend! Oh, and you can also bring it home and wash out the bag and reuse it. No need to throw them out daily.
There are some hot meals that actually travel well. Any type of casserole works well. If I make a lasagna, it will have aluminum foil on the top already. Then I take one or two towels and wrap the whole thing. Because it’s so solid in the casserole, and it’s wrapped, it will stay warm for at least four hours. I’ve never had to have it stay warm for longer, so I’m not sure past then. But, lasagna, enchiladas, wet burritos, anything like that will work well.
A slow cooker is also a nice way of having a good meal. 1. You can set it before you leave and it’ll be done when you get home. If you do this, I recommend taking all precautions such as not leaving it on a flammable surface, making sure the cord isn’t torn anywhere, or is in water, keeping curtains away from it. That being said, leaving a slow cooker on an open counter for a few hours has never burned down my house. Another way you can use a slow cooker is cooking your meal on low all night long. When you wake up, it’ll be done. You can either wrap it up like the casseroles and eat it for lunch, or leave it to reheat when you get home for dinner.
Lastly, the number one reason for splurge eating out is bad judgement on how long we’ll be out and not bringing snacks. So, even if you eat lunch at home and plan to be home for dinner, bring some fruit or veggies, crackers or cookies such as fig bars, or even some chips. Bring along enough to drink as most tourist attractions mean a lot of walking. This way, by the time you’re done seeing an attraction, you’re not starving and exhausted and prone to “just stopping for some burgers and fries” instead of coming home to eat a delicious meal of Chicken with cherry-apple stuffing.
I will post some tried and true recipes that we all like and that are regulars for our busy, on-the-go lifestyle in Part Two.