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Learning, Sharing, and Teaching => Ask a Mustachian => Topic started by: SaveALLTheThings on July 16, 2013, 03:08:50 PM

Title: Healthy Eating without access to Refrigeration or cooking heat?
Post by: SaveALLTheThings on July 16, 2013, 03:08:50 PM
Hey all.  I've been reading the MMM blog and forums for a few weeks now.  I just graduated college 2 months ago and I'm so happy to have found this blog early in my career!

I have an interesting dilemma to work out:  My food situation in the coming months.

I'll be starting a traveling consulting job in September that's mostly excellent for saving money.  I will be traveling 80% of the time and my permanent residence will be the attic at my parents' house, so I don't have to worry about rent and get to visit cities all over the country.  The company pays my travel expenses, including flights and rental cars.  In addition, they give me $50-100 cash per diems on each day away from home.  It's intended as gas/food money, though I was told directly that whatever I don't use is mine to keep.  Obviously, I want to save as much as I can if that's true.

The dilemma here is that since I'll be sleeping in hotels much more often than my own home, I often won't have proper food preparation tools.  Only some hotels have a mini fridge in the room, and microwaves/stoves are rare.  I also don't know how much choice I'll have in where I stay.  Surely some of my workplaces will have pantries where I can store and heat snacks or lunches, but similarly there's no guarantee of this.  I want to be prepared for the worst case scenario where I have no fridge or microwave at the hotel or at work.

How can I eat healthy and relatively inexpensively without these appliances?  I already don't eat meat.  I'm also so used to refrigerating my fruits and vegetables that I don't really know how long many of them last on a shelf (first world problems, I know).  Are there any good resources for finding this out on a per-item basis?   As much as I love going out to restaurants, I certainly don't want restaurant food every day!
Title: Re: Healthy Eating without access to Refrigeration or cooking heat?
Post by: TLV on July 16, 2013, 03:33:49 PM
This previous thread on a similar topic may help:!-living-out-of-a-hotel-on-per-diem/ (!-living-out-of-a-hotel-on-per-diem/)
Title: Re: Healthy Eating without access to Refrigeration or cooking heat?
Post by: olivia on July 16, 2013, 03:34:34 PM
Will you be flying or driving or both?  If you're driving they make coolers that you can plug into a cigarette lighter in a car. 

Fruits and veggies don't need to be refrigerated at all if you're going to eat them quickly.  Lettuce might get wilty but stuff that's usually refrigerated like carrots, cucumbers, etc. can all be stored without refrigeration if you eat them quickly enough.  And I personally don't refrigerate the majority of fruit, so I know that can be stored without refrigeration.  I'm thinking all berries, apples, avocados, etc.  Nuts are a good snack, very filling. 

Do you eat fish?  Tuna fish is a quick and easy snack.  I eat it in the afternoons before I go to the gym with Frank's hot sauce, which also doesn't need to be refrigerated.  Not sure if you're checking your bag, but you could always bring that along for a quick source of protein and put it on top of a salad.  If not, ignore that comment! 

Also you could always hit up salad bars at the grocery stores in the areas you go to if you're sick of restaurants.  Whole Foods has a killer hot/cold bar.  Probably still not as healthy as cooking yourself, but sounds like that's not going to be possible fairly often. 
Title: Re: Healthy Eating without access to Refrigeration or cooking heat?
Post by: Samsam on July 16, 2013, 03:37:07 PM
Sign up for a hotel reward membership and then stick with that hotel.  I chose Marriott and I almost always get at least a fridge.

+1 for hitting up the Whole Foods hot/cold bar for dinner.
Title: Re: Healthy Eating without access to Refrigeration or cooking heat?
Post by: CupcakeStache on July 16, 2013, 03:46:10 PM
Hello SaveALLTheThings,

I did the traveling consultant 80% of the time thing for almost 5 years, so I hopefully understand your situation. :)

In general - you should be allowed to choose your own hotel. So definitely do a little research when you are assigned to a project and figure out if one is nearby that has a kitchenette. The drawback to this might be that other people on your project will be staying elsewhere - though I suppose it's only a drawback depending on how social you are.

If you are put on a long term project, you can inquire about the possibility of corporate housing. Basically this means instead of a hotel you will stay in a furnished apartment. This was always my favorite option, because you will have an actual kitchen. It's definitely not always possible.

If you have a kitchen or a kitchenette it's easy to hit up a local grocery story and stock up on salad items, mixed nuts, fruits, etc.

If you don't have access to any kind of heating or refrigeration for your food - I would probably choose to eat out one meal per day, and make it a large, filling meal. And then have fruit/nuts/other snacks for the rest of the day.

Don't underestimate the fact that meal times will probably be a very social occasion with your co-workers. It's likely that you will be working with other people who are also away from home, and so going out to lunch and dinner and drinks etc. are often group events.
Title: Re: Healthy Eating without access to Refrigeration or cooking heat?
Post by: Russ on July 16, 2013, 03:56:48 PM
Fruits, nuts, and veggies. Also, grains and wheat products that you think of as needing cooked really just need un-dried. Heat speeds up the process, but things like oats and pasta can be "cooked" just by letting them soak for a good while.
Title: Re: Healthy Eating without access to Refrigeration or cooking heat?
Post by: Rural on July 16, 2013, 03:58:47 PM
Pretty much every room has a coffee pot, so you can heat water. This means oatmeal for breakfast, and it doesn't have to be that sugary mess in little packets. Plain rolled oats are good with just hot water poured over them, and they're even better with raisins and a spoonful of peanut butter. None of these have to be refrigerated. You can also use the coffee pot to make coffee, of course!

Couscous is also a good option with just a coffeepot. And while you don't want to keep jelly on hand for PBJ sandwiches without refrigeration, peanut butter and honey is very good, and honey doesn't need refrigeration. For that matter, peanut butter and banana is good. The bananas and the bread will keep for a week or so, and the honey will keep forever.

Even if the room has no refrigerator, it likely has a minibar. Check the rules carefully to be sure you're not charged for something stupid like shifting things around, but if you're not, then you can take out things like water bottles to make room for your own small refrigerated items.
Title: Re: Healthy Eating without access to Refrigeration or cooking heat?
Post by: stevesteve on July 16, 2013, 05:12:30 PM
I don't know about healthy, but beyond a kitchenette also look for places that have a continental breakfast.  Cereal, glass of juice, and some fruit isn't particularly unhealthy and you can snag an apple for the road.

Also, some places without kitchenettes might have some shared facilities or leave out a microwave in the breakfast area that you can use.  Be on the lookout for those and keep easy things like oatmeal, peanut butter, etc. around.
Title: Re: Healthy Eating without access to Refrigeration or cooking heat?
Post by: rubybeth on July 17, 2013, 07:45:53 AM
I don't have a lot of experience with this, but did take two trips in the last few months where I stayed in hotels and managed to keep food spending pretty low by doing a combination of things (some already mentioned). Mini fridge in the hotel is super helpful, but if it's not available, you can keep your room cooler (you're not paying the electric bill, after all) and/or put things on ice in an ice bucket or cooler if you can bring one.

Finding the nearest grocery store is key, esp. if you can find a 24 hour place that has something like a prepared food bar. Soups are usually really cheap and made with lots of veggies. Salad bars are good, too. Breakfast can be fruit and muffins or something simple. Hotels with continental breakfast are good if you can get them; they often have fruit and you can grab a few pieces for snacking later in the day if nothing else. Not sure if you are consuming dairy, but harder cheeses and some softer ones don't need to be refrigerated, either. My sister and I bought those Laughing Cow individual cheese things and some crackers high in fiber and had those for snacks, which was surprisingly easy and filling. I also like buying pepperoni to put on crackers with cheese--mini pizza on a cracker!

Another tip is to avoid restaurants, but cafes are your friend. Sitting down with full service from a waiter is expensive. Going to some place where you order at a counter, find your own seat, and they bring out your plate or call your number is typically cheaper than a comparable meal at a restaurant, if you can't avoid eating out. I like to find local places, but ones following the Panera/Chipotle/Noodles & Co. model of service can be healthier and cheaper than fast food. If you ever need to eat with a colleague, I think this is a good option. You don't get pestered about sitting there for a long time, either, and will likely have places to plug in your laptop or whatever so you can get some work done, too.
Title: Re: Healthy Eating without access to Refrigeration or cooking heat?
Post by: Gerard on July 17, 2013, 08:36:33 AM
A few thoughts:
1. You don't have to cook/refrigerate everything. Eat a lot of breads, peanut butter, canned fish, nuts, raw vegetables and fruits, crackers, rusks, etc. I hitched around the US for a month, years ago, and ate no cooked food except one splurge wedge of pizza. It was fine (it was summer, too, which may have helped). I came home healthier than I left.
2. You don't have to eat everything in your hotel room. Relax a little and get something warm and/or meaty from a restaurant (maybe an "ethnic" cheap one) every day or two. And/or hit a buffet for lunch, then have very small meals the rest of the day.
3. Consider travelling with an electric kettle instead of a hot plate. It's lighter and less "hey, I'm cooking in my room!"
4. If you're frequently staying at the same hotel, once they know you ask if you can leave a small suitcase full of food and food prep items behind the desk somewhere.
5. Cook salmon in your room: I actually do it differently, by putting the salmon in a ziploc, removing the air, and popping it in a sink full of hot tap water for five minutes or so (you can refresh the hot water partway through if you want).
6. Consider travelling with a tiny food-improvement kit -- olive oil, salt, pepper, sugar, single-serving mayo or soy sauce, garam masala or chili spice, dried basil, etc. This lets you turn plain stuff into something that feels more like a meal.
EDIT 7. Get a thermos and bring your own tea/coffee with you for the day. That's one of the biggest markup items that a per diem covers.
Title: Re: Healthy Eating without access to Refrigeration or cooking heat?
Post by: SaveALLTheThings on July 17, 2013, 09:03:25 AM
Wow, lots of great advice here!  I will definitely be on the lookout for hotels with kitchenettes, I just assumed they were more expensive than a standard room and might be out of my allotted hotel budget.  I've never really done grocery store salad bars so I'll also have to check that out.

Olivia, I believe it will be a mix of both.  I think if the job site is within X miles of my hometown, I'll be driving or taking public transit, otherwise I'll be flying to the project city and then driving a car they rent.  They really wanted to sell me on how great the per diems are during the recruitment process.  However, there was no official documentation on how it works in my acceptance packet, and when I asked about it they said they didn't have any docs like that since there's variation between projects.  I'm keeping conservative expectations until I know exactly how it works.

 They said there's a company travel website where I make the reservations myself, though I don't know what the price/hotel chain limits might be.  I was also told that I have the option of flying home each weekend, or of flying to another city as long as the ticket is the same price or less than going home.  I bet this applies to just staying put too, though I don't quite remember if that was mentioned specifically.  I'm curious whether I would get per diems on weekends where I stay put.

CupcakeStache, or anyone else with experience in a heavy travel job, how did they usually distribute the per diem?  Does it just get added to the paycheck corresponding to that week?
Title: Re: Healthy Eating without access to Refrigeration or cooking heat?
Post by: CupcakeStache on July 17, 2013, 03:04:11 PM
I feel like I can visualize your schedule and the type of company you work for just by reading your post. :) It's like deja-vu!

There is generally a fairly generous hotel price limit - I never had trouble choosing a hotel that I wanted. YMMV, of course!

You will have to submit a periodic hours and expense report. So for your expenses, you will enter the amount for your hotel each night, the mileage you drove on your own car (depending on where the project is in relation to your home) or the cost of the rental car, any other expenses, and days of per diem. And then when you get your check, you'll get your salary amount + expense reimbursements.

The per diem amount will usually vary based on the city you're located in. You'll receive a higher per diem in San Francisco than you will in Tulsa.

As for per diems on the weekends - you can try and negotiate that on a project by project basis. If they aren't paying for a plane ticket home, they might be willing to pay for per diem and/or hotel nights. Often that kind of thing depends on the project and client.
Title: Re: Healthy Eating without access to Refrigeration or cooking heat?
Post by: spider1204 on July 17, 2013, 04:16:08 PM
You can also go the backpacker route and buy a light camp stove, that you can easily transport with your luggage.  Obviously the hotel might have a problem with you cooking in such a way but you can either be sneaky (make sure you have an open window/balcony) or cook outside at a local park.  You'll have to pay for fuel but it'll greatly expand your options.
Title: Re: Healthy Eating without access to Refrigeration or cooking heat?
Post by: Katnina on July 17, 2013, 09:01:04 PM
+1 for heating water in the coffee pot. 
Bring some of the cup of soup things (not the crappy ramen noodle ones, but healthier ones, like this:
They are lightweight, cheap, and nutritious.
round them out with veggies that don't need to be refrigerated, fruit, bread, oatmeal, and peanut butter.
good luck!
Title: Re: Healthy Eating without access to Refrigeration or cooking heat?
Post by: No Name Guy on July 17, 2013, 09:14:22 PM
What Spider said.

Look into a Pocket Rocket (or similar) compressed gas stove (be sure when you google it, you put in "pocket rocket stove" and don't just stop at "pocket rocket".....shudders.).  Its more or less odorless when you're cooking with it.  A cheap, small pot or nestled pot set is enough to heat water, cook pasta, etc.  We'd cut up kielbasa, pan fry the slices, warm some pasta sauce over the slices, then cook the noodles, for example.  Salad in a bag, and some dinner rolls and there you go for a pretty fair dinner. 

Combine with a cooler / ice chest and you're set for cooking and fridge.  Every hotel I've stayed in just about has an ice machine, or for a couple bucks, a sack of ice from the quickie mart will last for days.

If you are flying, you will NOT be able to bring the fuel cannisters for a pocket rocket with you (pressurized gasses are no-go on planes), however if you're going to a place with any kind of "granola" outdoor activities, they should be easy to find at the local REI / MEC or equivalent. 

You could also find a stove that runs on the standard 16.4 ounce disposable propane canisters, which are available in just about any large grocery store or outdoor store that caters to any crowd - granola or redneck.  See this one for an example:

The GF and I did a road trip over the winter this last year and we mostly ate what we cooked in the room, plus sandwiches for lunch.  It saves a huge amount of time and money versus a greasy spoon for breakfast and sit down joint for dinner.

+1 on spices, as mentioned earlier.  Small containers can be found at REI to put together a small spice kit you can take with you.
Title: Re: Healthy Eating without access to Refrigeration or cooking heat?
Post by: Micheal on July 17, 2013, 11:17:20 PM
An electric kettle is your best friend on trips.  It can boil water in minutes, I have made hard boiled eggs in them no problem.  You can also get a gel campstove, they are alcohol based and leave no smell, its why they are used in hotels and restaurants to keep food warm for banquet applications.
Title: Re: Healthy Eating without access to Refrigeration or cooking heat?
Post by: geekette on July 18, 2013, 02:06:17 PM
Instead of a "pocket rocket" and buying your own fuel, why not an electric skillet?  There are some pretty small ones out there.