Guide to Cooking and Eating Healthy in Hotel Rooms
There is no doubt about it. Traveling is expensive. Travel, food, and accommodation account for the bulk of costs. Using your skill as a competent cook you can drastically reduce the costs of road trip meals.
The average cost of a family vacation for food can easily be upwards of $60 for an adult and $45 for children per day! And if you are in a particularly touristy area the food could be unhealthy and lacking quality.
When staying in a hotel room, you will more than likely have access to a few appliances that can help give you a kick start, saving you from having to bring them. Of course, hotel safety rules vary from one hotel to another and it is extremely important to ensure that you maintain those policies. However, if you choose to ignore them, be safe and do not put you, your family, or other guests in harm’s way.
This means not attempting to cook under the influence of drugs or alcohol, under the effects of jet lag or exhaustion. Utilize the in-house facilities as they were intended under these circumstances!
Table of Contents
- Which Hotels Allow Hotplates
- Trip Planning
- Breakfast Club
- Lunch Program
- Dinner Plan
- Cleaning & Logistics
Eating Healthy in a Hotel Room
The temptation to treat yourself when on vacation can be tough to say no. Pizza, dining out, and fast-food restaurants are built in opportunistic locations to take advantage of the weary traveler. For a family of four, it can add up quickly. There is nothing wrong with indulging in take-out while on vacation, but too much of a good thing can be bad.
A big focus in this guide is to help you eat healthier than the usual choices. With proper planning and understanding of the work involved, it is incredibly simple to eat healthily and cheaply while on the road in a hotel room.
Cooking in a hotel room has its own unique challenges and requirements. There is a high likelihood that some of the equipment you currently own may be ineffective for hotel cooking. I have taken the painstakingly tedious task of finding the proper equipment that best suits your needs. Because of how large and trusted Amazon is, we use their affiliate links. When you click through from one of our links, you will be directed to Amazon and if you make a purchase, The Culinary Cook will earn a commission at no cost to you!
I would like to thank you for your support if you decide to use our links and I hope you find our guide useful.
Which Hotels Allow Hot Plates?
We called around several hotel chains to find out what their policy on hot plates would be. Almost all said there is no problem with bringing a hot plate into the room and they have no specific policy regarding the use of hot plates. Some varied based on individual hotel policy.
|Hotel Chain||Hot Plates Allowed?|
|Choice Hotels||Call Ahead|
|Motel 6||Call Ahead|
|Super 8||Call Ahead|
Planning Your Trip
One of my favorite activities to do with my family is planning out our road trip meals ahead of time and where we want to stop to enjoy them. We live in a particularly beautiful part of the country and we love the outdoors. More than that, we love to save money while not compromising on quality or time.
Cooking on the road is a labor of love and must be something to be excited about. It brings the family and friends closer, shares responsibility, and gives you a feeling of fulfillment and achievement.
There are a few assumptions we are going to make when it comes to planning and cost-saving estimates.
- Two Travel Days (One leaving, and one returning)
- Five Hotel Days
- Three Meals a Day
- Four People to Feed (2 adults, 2 kids)
- Seven Days Total
In our example, there are 15 Hotel Meals and 6 Travel Day Meals for a total of 21 meals to plan for. Further breaking that down, we have:
7 Breakfast, Lunches and Dinners (7 x 3 = 21)
The Different Levels of Hotel Meal Planning
Balancing your vacation or trip with a good mix of time and effort is an important factor to consider. Jumping in expecting to nail down full 7-day, 3-meal plan can put undue stress and work on you and your family if you are not prepared.
The first thing we will cover is some of the logistics surrounding hotel cooking. There are some minor and major limitations that a hotel room cook will have to overcome and prepare for.
When things go awry, the first instinct is to abandon the plan and go back to the easiest path. This is especially true on vacation trips when you have a duty to enjoy yourself and relieve stress.
Expect there to be some hiccups and understand that absolutely your first priority should be to enjoy yourself and spend time with those you love. This is a labor of love. A love for cooking, a love for reallocating saved funds into better vacation activities, and a love for spending time together. As you get better at hotel room cooking, you will start developing strategies that can help you increase the number of meals you commit to this plan.
The Breakfast Club – $630 Potential Savings
Best plan to start with if you are new to hotel room cooking or if you are looking for something that is hotel-friendly and still cost-effective. This plan revolves around eliminating the costs of breakfasts, which can be upwards of $30-$90 per four-person household.
I recommend starting with this hotel room meal plan to help ease you into the idea with simple meals, prep and clean up. This is one that the whole family can get behind and is enjoyable for all.
Easy, Simple Meals
- Cold cereal with Fresh Fruit
- Hot cereal (Oatmeal, millet)
- Toast & Chopped Hardboiled Egg
These are your simple meals where there is not much prep at all. Cold cereal and fresh fruit can be an amazing cost-saver that can run from $1-2 per serving.
- Low-Watt Toaster (Recommended Product)
Most hotel rooms will provide the mini-fridge and microwave, but to be sure its best to call ahead to ensure these amenities are included.
PRO TIP: Even without any appliances, you can still prepare cold cereal. If your room is equipped with a kettle, you can make hard-boiled eggs by placing your eggs into the hot water and leaving for 10 minutes. Then, dump water and re-add hot water from the kettle and wait for another 10 minutes.
- Scrambled Eggs
- Breakfast Burritos
- French Toast
Intermediate meals are those that require a bit more experience in the kitchen and preparation. These are low-heat meals intended to be safe, silent and inconspicuous. For these meals, you will need to bring with you a proper hot plate, preferably an induction hot plate to be as efficient as possible
Scrambled Eggs are a simple dish, and can be created on low heat. Adding ingredients such as cheese, chives, mushrooms, ham, etc., can bring this dish to life. Just be careful not to produce smoke as this can set off the smoke alarm.
Breakfast Burritos made from scrambled eggs, vegetables, and more can be a deliciously simple dish to make that is fun for the family. Stick to cooking eggs only for this dish as bacon and/or sausages can create smoke. If bacon is required, cook in the microwave for 3 minutes.
Pancakes can be made if you prepare the batter ahead of time (perhaps before you leave) or if you pick up the instant mix/just add water or milk variety. Very simple and easy to make with low heat.
Omelets are another good choice and can be as easily prepared as scrambled eggs. Keep the dish relatively simple and this can be a deliciously healthy breakfast with fresh fruit on the side.
French Toast can be a bit trickier, as you will need a bit more prep but nothing too difficult. Another great low heat food option that can be healthy.
- Induction Hot Plate (Recommended Product)
- Non-Stick Fry Pan (Recommended Product)
- High Temp Spatulas (Recommended Product)
- Sauce Bottles (Recommended Product)
- Chef Knife (Recommended Product – Get the knife guard as well here)
- Utility Knife (Recommended Product)
- Cutting Board, small (Recommended Product)
The Lunch Program – $560 Potential Savings
Lunches can be a time-sensitive meal, especially when on vacation or on extended trips. Quick, simple, and convenient lunches are the way to go if you want to make this a successful alternative.
Instead of being in the hotel room, you will likely be out and about so preparing beforehand is the goal when looking to save on lunch meals. You do not want to be preparing large, cumbersome meals or have to return to the hotel room during the day if you can avoid it.
Meals that can hold up at room temperature without spoiling is a good choice, else be sure to pick up a backpack cold pack to help keep the temperature at food-safe levels.
Easy, Simple Meals to Go
- Simple Closed-Face Sandwiches
- Ready-Eat Food (Nut mixes, cured meats, cheeses, bread, dips)
These lunches are about quickness and efficiency. They are inexpensive, easy to make, and can satisfy hunger on the go. These meals can also be a collection of snacks to help ward off hunger over the day. This can help avoid the post-meal lethargy or carb-coma that can arise with full, heavy lunches at restaurants.
Intermediate Meals to Go
The more intricate these meals, the more thought, and effort go into their execution. Like mentioned before, lunch meals on trips or vacations need to be portable and ready to eat. This makes it a bit more difficult to prepare more intermediate recipes without spending a good amount of time.
That being said, there are some meals that you can prepare before you leave the hotel room that can be much more filling than the simple easy meals.
- Precooked Meals & Leftovers
- Bound or Farinaceous Salads
- Burgers Made on Public Grills
- Search ahead of time to see where these are located
- Easy to purchase stuff on the go
Precooked Meals & Leftovers can be made ahead of time from breakfast or the previous night’s dinner. Planning ahead the night before has its privileges and can provide for you and your family a nutritious, inexpensive, and filling meal.
Bound or Farinaceous Salads are a good option as well. The biggest difficulty in this choice is the tendency to spoil so picking up a good ice pack to help mitigate spoilage is a must.
Burgers on public grills is a great way to have a hot meal. Although not as fast and quick as most lunches on vacation tend to be, it does offer a great opportunity to visit a park or beach while at the same time enjoying a nice, hot meal.
TIP: You can also take this opportunity to cook up additional meals you couldn’t in the hotel room.
Soups would have to be enjoyed cold unless you have access to a microwave. If so, they can be a filling and healthy meal to have on the go. A proper BPA-free plastic container or glass would hold well and a few minutes in the microwave can make it toasty warm.
- Chef Knife (Recommended Product)
- Cutting Board (Recommended Product)
- Collapsible Salad Bowl (Recommended Product)
- Tongs (Recommended Product)
- Spatula (Recommended Product)
- Cooler, Cold Packs (Recommended Product)
- Backback (Recommended Product)
The Dinner Plan – $840 Potential Savings
When it comes to dinner, there is a high expectation. But dinners can be fun, healthy, and enjoyable. As always, we want to be sure we’re not altering the environment. This means ensuring there is no smoke emitted during cooking, overheating, or extremely fragrant cooking.
Dinners are some of my favorite meals to cook on the road. Bringing that home-cooked meal on the road can help alleviate homesickness. Cooking dinners in a hotel room can save a ton on vacation costs as well.
There are some great life hacks for cooking dinner on the road you can utilize as well to help reduce costs. This includes picking up pre-cooked items such as roast chicken or salad from the grocery store. Whatever you can do to help reduce your costs can be helpful to your bottom line.
Simple & Intermediate Dinners
- Mixed Rice
- Slow-Cooker Meals
- Buy-In & Cook
- Hearty Salads
Mixed Rice is a fantastically simple meal. A rice cooker is essential for bringing with you on your trip. Low energy, set and forget. You can also steam some vegetables, throw in some eggs and add your favorite sauce (Soy sauce, hot sauce) for a healthy, cheap, and filling dinner.
Slow Cooker meals are a favorite around the house and they can work well for you on the road as well. The important thing to remember is to keep things simple. Cleaning can be cumbersome, so you will want to be prepared to store leftovers in containers immediately so you are not stuck trying to dispose of a large quantity of food.
The big thought about using a slow cooker in a hotel room is to keep your portions small. Leave the cooking for a day you can forgo cleaning with a Do Not Disturb sign. Aim for two meals maximum. But this is a great way to taste the flavors and foods of the area.
As a cook myself, half of my enjoyment is being able to enjoy the food of the area I am staying in. Do some research on what food is affordable and of high premium to help reduce the costs of your dinner while keeping things fresh.
Buy-In & Cook is your standard dinner fare. Take the opportunity to pick up some fresh local produce and see what can be brought home to prepare. One of my favorite memories of this was in Hawaii where we picked up some Poke and ate it with fresh vegetables and fruits.
For the most part, the selection of food items that are available hot and ready can be limited. I have typically seen things like roast chickens, pot pies, and other items of varying degrees of healthiness.
Buy-In means to pick up a protein on the way home and cook the rest at the hotel room. Things like rice, steamed vegetables, or potatoes can really help bring a meal together.
- Rice Cooker (Recommended Product)
- Sauce Pot (Recommended Product)
- Slow Cooker (Recommended Product)
- Fry Pan (Recommended Product)
- Strainer (Recommended Product)
- Portion Containers (Recommended Product)
Combination Meal Plan – $1500++ Potential Savings
By combining the options above into your meal plan, you can pick and choose your own meal plan. A lot of the options I have listed play very well into each other. For example, leftover dinners make for fantastic lunches the next day.
Meal planning on vacation is an extension of your meal planning at home. What I have found is that as much as I had wanted to be better than I was, I always ended up being about as good as I was at home.
If you and your family are not leftovers type of people, that is absolutely ok. This is a guide to help you understand the opportunity available. Be flexible with it.
Safely Cooking in a Hotel Room
There are some hurdles that you will need to understand before you engage in any intermediate level recipes in a hotel room. It is extremely important that you follow all safety precautions.
Your appliances that you have at home may not likely be useable in a hotel room because of their power usage. High watt appliances can trip the breaker of your hotel room, leading to a call to the front desk and an explanation as to why it tripped. Hotel rooms typically have a 20 Amp breaker and exceeding this can lead to tripping the breaker.
Try not to use many appliances at once. An easy formula to determine watts is:
Volts x Amps = Watts
The appliances we recommend through this post are all low-watt appliances to ensure that the probability of tripping a breaker is reduced as much as possible.
If you are in need of access to a high wattage outlet and your room is equipped with a microwave, you can see if the outlet used for the microwave is easily accessible. Most microwaves tend to be around 1000 watts and could give you the power you need.
Air Circulation & Ventilation
Another major consideration point is how well the air is circulated and ventilated. Avoiding high heat cooking that could lead to oil or fat smoking is very important. Setting off the smoke alarm can have serious implications for your stay.
On top of that, hitting the smoke point with fat in a hotel room is a fire hazard. A hotel room is not a kitchen. The use of a hot plate is as far as I would go and even then I recommend an induction hot plate for safety reasons.
The number one concern on your mind 100% of the time should be around fire safety. Please follow this list and ensure you are not about to risk yourself, your family, and other guests by being careless or reckless.
- Cook with an open flame
- Cook using high heat
- Deep fry
- Use gas of any sort (Propane)
- Use any ovens (Toaster ovens)
- Cook while intoxicated
- Cook while exhausted
- Leave cooking unattended (Slow cooker exception)
- Use common sense
Cleaning and Logistics
One of my favorite moments was realizing that after I had cooked something amazing for dinner in our hotel room, that I had no place to properly clean my dishes. One of the bigger limiting factors, aside from safety, is cleaning up. Most of the time you will have to use the bathroom sink to do most of the cleaning. This can be very limiting and cumbersome.
Using soap and water while disposing of any leftover food bits in the garbage is important. Do not try forcing food down the drain as this can clog it up.
Be sure to bring your own towel and dish soap to make cleaning as easy as possible. For larger items, use the bath or shower to clean out the dish. It can definitely feel awkward cleaning in this manner, however, as long as you do your best to ensure that no food particles go down with it you will do fine.
There is no doubt that if you are packing everything I have listed here it the equipment would require a suitcase of its own. Maybe that works for you and you have the space to accommodate. If not, look at bringing a lighter load that uses less space.
If you are flying, then your options can be quite limited. Look at reducing your food costs at the destination as much as possible with what you can find and bring only the small hard-to-replace items such as chefs knife, utensils, plates/bowls.
For driving, your options can open up a bit as the limitation is only as much as you want to bring. This means hauling your slow cooker or rice cooker isn’t out of the question. Just keep in mind of all the items that those appliances will require. There is no feeling like forgetting your strainer when you want to cook pasta.