We’ve all taken that vacation where we get really caught up in our scheduling and plan a long day full of activities. Only to find the last hour is nightmarish, with children melting down left and right and you are just dreaming of the hotel and praying that it’s Harry Potter Weekend. Sweet cable, SAVE ME NOW! So as you drive towards your salvation the adults are rolling their eyes about pizza and wincing at every drive through place you pass, while one child screams the name of every logo they see, another adamantly refuses THAT choice, and another just cries pitifully about their hunger. This is, of course, after you had carefully and lovingly packed a large cooler of food and snacks that has been ravaged into tattered wrappers and crumpled foil. You, being a sane individual, decide that no one can make a decision in such a ruckus and make the decision to get to the hotel and then decide what to do. You arrive, and one of you frantically looks at the hotel information book, while the other parent starts channel surfing for Harry Potter or at least a cartoon that isn’t Sponge Bob. Meanwhile the children have started rotating “AREN’T WE GOING TO THE POOL” in the midst of all the dinner themed whining. Finally you just start making peanut butter and jelly sandwiches until the noise subsides. About an hour later, when you are just unwound enough to start missing wine, the first child peeps “I’m still hungry,” triggering a chorus of food demands because no one wants to eat PB&J for dinner. We took three of these trips. Then I started packing my crockpot. YES, I totally do.
We tend to travel two ways, either many days in a row across the country, or last minute drop of the hat 3 day weekends. Both of which have their own budget constraints as I try to keep us eating on our normal weekly budget during last minute trips, or I am conserving resources during an 11 day trek across country for 5 people. I have mostly cooked on the first kind of trip. When we went to Great Smoky for the eclipse I knew we were going to be too tired to take a 2 year old to a restaurant if we spent the whole day at the park, which we wanted to do. So I made a meatloaf, and froze it in a bowl, which gave me a lovely half sphere meatloaf and tucked it in the cooler solidly frozen. When we arrived at the hotel I stuck it in the tiny in room freezer when I unpacked the cooler. The next morning I stuck whole potatoes in the slowcooker and made little foil straps to place above it in an X, I rested the meatloaf on the straps, added a half cup of water and walked out the door. This left us completely free to explore the park as long as we wanted to, and on the drive back we could pass out some snacks and assure them that INDEED, we would be returning to the hotel to eat, and that we would then go TO THE POOL. Walking into the room was great, it smelled homey like dinner, I heated some broccoli and served it up. Everyone flopped, and enjoyed a hearty dinner and we didn’t have to remind anyone about their manners or reprimand them to sit properly!
Cooking in a hotel room is pretty easy, I have a milk crate that I pack my slow cooker in for transport. I place a dish dish tub into the bottom, and set my cooker in.I can put my utensils, baggies and a roll of foil in the inside of the pot. As well as bowls and plates, dish soap and dish cloths. I slide a cutting board in and a knife, though I do try and pre-cut as much as I can. Some dishes can be modified fairly easily to require no cutting, like this stew with baby carrots, baby multi color potatoes and pre seasoned stew meat. Others can be fully prepped and frozen in ziploc bags, Often rest the bags in a bowl that fits inside the crock for freezing. I usually take an eating cooler and a grocery cooler that contains all the frozen meals, sandwich makings and chilled snacks like yogurt and cheese. I prep lunches most of the time in the mornings and transfer them to the “eating” cooler, which is often a large thermal lunch bag or sometimes a insulated shopping bag, along with any cold snacks and drinks. We have successfully cooked chicken creole, carne adovada, green chile pork burritos, chili, foil packet dinners and many more recipes in a hotel room. If you aren’t a slow cooker fanatic like I am you can find many great (Kid Approved) recipes at http://www.ayearofslowcooking.com/ . I have been following her for 10 years and have never had one of her recipes fail. I have also cooked overnight when we arrived for quick overnight stay, and packaged everything for the road. Properly secured, the crock pot will keep things warm for hours as you drive towards your next destination or you could roll up burritos and wrap in foil, sliding them in a thermal lunch bag with a microwaved hot rice sock. On our next cross country trip I am tempted to bring my instant pot, though I am slightly put off by the extra weight of the pot. The idea of throwing the same meal in, and taking the kids to the pool and having it done in 1 hour instead of 9 hours is tempting, plus it will make cooking during the “driving” trip, more convenient.
We love to eat regional food and eat at renowned local places and tiny dives. We try to research some local places before our trips. The reality is we can’t always find them, they are too far off the beaten path, or child behavior constraints make us reluctant head into tiny crowded restaurants. Like the time we were passing through Kansas City and found an amazing BBQ place that ran out of BBQ, so we tried to find another and when we did there was a wait. We were finally headed towards a table and as we sat down Wild Thing opened his mouth and just shrieked, I panicked and said to the waitress “FRIES, AS QUICKLY AS YOU CAN” and she literally stole a basket off of a passing tray headed to the table. Instantly silenced he began munching fries, and she ran to the kitchen to get a replacement for the pilfered fries. Other times you drive, and drive, and your choices end up being highway food like Applebees or McDonald’s, neither of which are appealing many meals in a row. And having children has really increased our desire to have VALUE. When it’s just two of you it’s no big deal to pay for a few lackluster meals, but when the bill for 5 of us comes, I always feel like I should have liked it more. One of the ways we successfully travel with our children is to do our best to work around their “Childness,” and not relying on restaurant meals helps us. Because fighting it is futile and it’s not like they can stop being children just because we are traveling. By consciously taking into account their inability to be emotionally stable, reasonable people we are often able to stretch their abilities and ask more of them allowing us the freedom to travel like this. Besides, nothing perks you up like a home cooked meal when everything else is askew.