This post is sponsored by Embassy Suites.
I love traveling with my kids, especially now that they can walk, eat, and go to the bathroom by themselves. But even when they were little we traveled every year — as much as time and budget allowed.
That’s not to say it was easy. When traveling with kids, away from your usual routines and conveniences, you need all the hacks you can get. (Which is why I devoted an entire chapter of the Parent Hacks book to travel with kids.)
One of my favorite parent hacks was to cook simple dinners in our hotel room. After a busy day running around, there was little energy left for restaurant manners. Eating in the hotel room gave us all a chance to kick our shoes off and save a little money. Hotel room cooking is also perfect for families with dietary restrictions and allergies.
These hotel room dinner ideas are all widely available, warm, filling, quick, and easy to clean up.
Cooking with a hotel room coffeemaker or iron
Many budget roadside motels are equipped with little more than a coffeemaker and an iron, so when I say “cook,” I really mean heat or rehydrate with hot water or dry heat from the iron. (If your hotel room has a microwave oven, your dinner choices expand to include most of the frozen food section.)
Note: you can find plenty of recipes that suggest cooking food directly in the coffeemaker, but I can’t get behind that. If I were the next guest after the guy who steamed cauliflower in the coffeemaker filter basket I wouldn’t be very happy.
Instant Noodles with Add-Ins
Our favorite go-to meal was instant noodles in a cup, pumped up with frozen vegetables and cubed tofu. You can buy the standard options at the grocery store, but if there’s a local Asian grocery nearby (ask the front desk), your choices are greater.
If your family eats gluten-free, look for packets of instant rice noodles.
Tip: Dehydrated vegetables work well and double as a crunchy snack.
Sometimes we just needed something light and warming before collapsing into bed. Instant soup in a hotel room coffee mug does the trick. Most stores stock a variety of instant soup packets — our favorites are chicken noodle and miso.
Tip: Search the soup-, pasta- and natural food aisles of the grocery store. I’ve found good soup selections in each.
After a day in unfamiliar surroundings, a bowl of buttered pasta is universally comforting for most kids. Pre-cooked pasta can be warmed with a couple good hot water soaks.
Tip: Ask the grocery store deli for a few pats of butter and some salt to toss with the warm pasta. If you really want to get fancy, pick up a small container of parmesan cheese and add some cubed rotisserie chicken and fresh vegetables from the salad bar (they’ll heat with the pasta).
Grain/Bean/Vegetable Bowl or Burrito
Couscous + instant refried beans + warmed frozen vegetables + a little salsa. It’s not fancy but it is filling, nutritious, and cheap.
Tip: Add a little instant soup mix to the hot water to flavor the grains (or get flavored couscous). Pour hot water over the vegetables to warm, then drain and toss with a little butter and salt.
Tip: Swap out the beans for a vacuum-sealed package of Trader Joe’s Indian Fare (I like Punjab Choley). Warm the package by submerging it in hot water (the bag’s made for boiling).
Tip: Or, warm plain tortillas and fill with beans to make a burrito (read on for warming instructions).
Tightly wrap flour tortillas and shredded cheese in foil, place on a towel-topped ironing board, cover with a washcloth, and warm with a hot iron press.
Tip: Make sure your quesadilla is well-wrapped in foil. No melted cheese should ooze onto the iron or the towels.
Sometimes only breakfast for dinner will do. Instant oatmeal to the rescue! Great for a warming snack, too.
Tip: Raisins, fresh fruit and hard-boiled eggs from the salad bar will complete your “meal.”
More hotel room cooking tips
- Grab plates, bowls, cutlery and napkins from the grocery store deli.
- If you need to keep food chilled but your hotel room doesn’t have a refrigerator, use the in-room ice bucket lined with a grocery store produce bag.
- Glad Press’n Seal plastic wrap works as a makeshift eating surface, drip-proof food sealer, and stick-on bib.
- Line the sink with a napkin before draining food to catch stray bits before they go down the drain.
- Clean up drips and spills, and throw your garbage into a grocery store shopping bag to make it easier for housekeeping staff to clean up. I leave a generous tip if my meals create more mess than I expected.
Have you got more ideas for hotel room dinners? I’d love to hear them! Share your tips in the comments.
My thanks to Embassy Suites for sponsoring this post. All Embassy Suites rooms are two-room suites equipped with a refrigerator, microwave, and coffeemaker. Also included: a free hot, cooked-to-order breakfast, and a nightly reception with snacks, drinks, and fun activities for the kids.
Christine and I devoted Episode 33 of the Edit Your Life podcast to family travel hacks. Subscribe to Edit Your Life wherever you get your podcasts.
Another reason NOT to use the coffeemaker is that a flight attendant friend once told me that she and her coworkers often use the coffeemakers in their hotel rooms to clean their pantyhose…
I can’t imagine they put their pantyhose INTO the coffeemaker.
Of course you know the hotel! I just loved that photo.