Friday, June 20, 2014

H is for Hotel Picnic

H is for Hotel Picnic: Eating on Vacation

Normally, when we come home from Disney World, we attempt to drive straight home, get hung up in traffic, and by mid-Georgia are trying to figure what's a realistic stopping point for the night.  Several times we have made hotel reservations via the Marriott hotel app; one time I actually had to text my dad to make reservations for us because we got stuck in an area that didn't have a strong enough internet or phone signal to do it ourselves.  This spring, we decided to just make a reservation ahead of time.  Normally, we choose suite hotels that have at least a mini-kitchen; with seven people in our party, we need two bedrooms.  The hotel we preferred to stay at did not have any suites, and comparing other local hotels,  it was cheaper to just stay there and get two hotel rooms.  We figured we'd eat dinner on the road before stopping.

Our timing was off much of the day, and by the time we pulled into the hotel, nobody felt like hunting out a restaurant.  I had packed a cooler with leftover food from vacation, so I figured we could cobble together some sandwiches with fruit and call it good enough; Neal offered to go across the road to a gas station and grab a few drinks and bags of chips to round things out. When we got settled into our room, I realized we had a microwave.  Jackpot!  Not only were we able to make basic cold sandwiches, but I had a leftover pound of bacon that we cooked up plus a hot dog for Jude.  Squished into one room to eat, people spread out on every flat surface -- most of us were on the floor to try to keep the beds clean.  Jude declared our dinner a "Hotel Picnic."

Hotel Picnic

This summer, the kids and I are going on a five-day mini-Civil War battlefield tour. (Neal's business is in season and he can't be gone that long in July.)   We're planning on going to Harper's Ferry in West Virgina, and then up through Antietam (Sharpsburg, MD) to Gettysburg (PA).  Because I want to limit the expenses and we only have one official grown-up plus one "big-enough" person to herd smaller people,  Luke was charged with planning picnic meals for the week.  Although I opted for suite hotels to keep everyone together, the ones that were most convenient and reasonably priced do not have kitchens - just a mini-fridge and microwave in each. His job was to plan reasonably balanced lunches and dinners that could be stored & prepared with only those two appliances. (Our hotels include breakfast, though we will take a box of cereal in case somebody wakes up picky or there isn't enough safe-for-our-allergies food.) I told him that while we could pick up some more snacks or pass a farm stand for more fruit, or I would prefer not to have to go grocery shopping mid-week for the rest of dinner.

Luke's plans:

Picnic Lunch Ideas Sandwiches are going to be the mainstay of our lunches out. They’re simple to prepare, easily portable, and the fixings won’t take up a lot of room in the fridge. We’ll bring a few kinds of fillings - meats, cheeses, Sunbutter and fluff - to keep from being bored. Before we leave the house for the trip, we will freeze most of the juice boxes. They’ll work as ice packs in the cooler, and then will defrost over time to be used later in the week. Plus, once we drink the juice boxes, we can dispose of the containers, and not have to drag ice packs home. Some potato chips, fruit, and cookies or something else sweet will round out those meals. I thought about yogurts, main-dish salads, and other similar ideas, but they either take up a lot of space in a lunchbox, need utensils, or are more elaborate to prepare. Packing for six people means space is limited, and streamlined is best. Plus, it will make packing easier in the morning - it won’t be so crucial to remember to pack forks or spoons. If we were leaving from home, or someplace with a full kitchen, we would be able to consider some of the fancier options, but they won't work for this trip because of our limited kitchen resources.

With lots of activity planned for each day, we’re going to have simple, heat-and-eat dinners. This way, we can come back to the hotel and get everyone fed quickly. Instead of having to cook things while we’re there, we’ll mostly rely on previously cooked foods and reheat them in the microwave. I’m planning on cooking ground beef before we go, and using it for two meals - nachos on one night (we’ll pack tortilla chips, cheese, and salsa) and for pasta (pre-cooked pasta can be reheated with tomato sauce and meat). One of our favorite “hot lunches” at home is chicken nuggets, so one night we’ll microwave them and some veggies. We’ll even have breakfast for dinner while we’re away - pre-made pancakes, fruit, and freshly made bacon. (The bacon takes up less space uncooked, and can easily be cooked in the microwave.)

We’re hoping to be heading out on our day trips by about 9 am, and do not expect to be back to the room until dinnertime. However, planning just lunch isn’t going to keep tummies full all day, and everyone is used to having a snack before bed. While we need to plan enough food for meals, we’re also going to need some snacks. We are planning on bringing extra of some of the meal items (fruit, chips, desserts, etc.) to have for between meals while we’re out, and then other small items such as yogurt and gelatin cups for in the hotel.

There is also other non-food supplies we will need to pack. We will also need paper products, as well as something to put our trash in both on the road and at the hotel. On our “picnic bag” list are:
-Paper towels
-Paper plates
-Plastic silverware
-Plastic cups
-Zip-top Bags
-Trash bags
-Lunch boxes/picnic cooler to carry food & snacks for the day
-A tablecloth/picnic blanket for if we eat outside

At home, we mainly use plastic containers to store spare food or leftovers. However, we are planning on mostly using zip-top bags for the trip (the brownies will be crumbs otherwise). Because they conform to the shape of the food, it will help fit more in the cooler, so we can pare down how much luggage we are cramming into the car. After we use the bag, it could be rinsed out and reused, or just discarded if it’s really messy. Plastic containers take up a static amount of room, no matter how full they are, and we could wind up with a lot of empty space inside a container. The other major benefits to bags here is they are disposable; we can use sandwich bags as individual trash bags after we eat lunch, plus won’t have to keep track of container pieces until we get home. 

Coleman 36 Quart Xtreme 5 Cooler
Coleman cooler similar to ours
A mini fridge probably won’t fit all the food we need for the week. We’ll put the stuff we want frequent access to in there, and keep the “for later in the week” food in our main cooler. This way, we’ll be able to keep the cooler cold and preserve the food that is in there. As food is eaten, we can fill the empty space in the cooler with bottles of juice or other items to help fill the empty space. The new items will help fill the cooler and keep things cold longer (too much empty space does not help insulate), and when we switch hotels we will have less to carry in and out.

A “hotel picnic” is an easy way to provide less-stress meals for your family while on vacation. Simple lunches and snacks will keep people filled up during the day, and with a little planning and cooking ahead, even spartan kitchen facilities can produce a hot and filling dinner. Zip-top bags help keep packing tight. Disposable tableware, while a bit more expensive than bringing regular plates and cutlery, is a worthwhile expense that makes packing easier. Don't forget larger trash bags; in the day you will be able to picnic and "leave no trace" while back in the room you won't have teeny trash cans overflowing. Bringing food allows us to save a few dollars, eat healthier meals, and will lead to less herding children in and out of busy, tourist-filled restaurants.

Homeschooling Home Ec: Real Men Make Quiche   Photobucket

©2012- 2014 Adventures with Jude. All rights reserved. All text, photographs, artwork, and other content may not be reproduced or transmitted in any form without the written consent of the author.


  1. Great ideas! I often wish that all of my kids would eat sandwiches when we're traveling.

  2. Antietam! We lived near there before moving to Hawaii and are not to far away now! What a great trip plan! Have fun! Thanks for sharing at FTF! Looking forward to seeing more about it!

  3. We'll be doing a road trip soon. Thanks for the tips!


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...
Pin It button on image hover