Several years ago, I labelled myself a “dance mom”. Both of my daughters wanted to try competitive dance. This meant our springs and summers were filled with dance competitions and conventions, and that we were living for 3-7 days out of a hotel room.
To make things harder, the schedule at these events was never accurate and never on time. The girls were required to be in the audience to watch their teammates’ dances when they themselves weren’t on-stage. There was little time to go out for a nice meal, and sometimes even a quick run to Wendy’s was more than we could manage.
By the time we made it to “Nationals” – a summer event that lasts for an entire week – I felt I had this down. I was a pro dance mom. Not in the sense that I made the best buns or excelled at applying fake lashes on a 10-year-old. But I could live and eat from a hotel room like a pro.
The goal here wasn’t to eat gourmet meals each night. It was to eat something fairly healthy (not pizza) and to stay within a reasonable budget (no room service).
Make sure there’s a mini-fridge and microwave
The best scenario for something like this is obviously a full kitchen – full-size stove, full-size fridge, microwave, and maybe even a dishwasher. We got this lucky a couple of times. But more often, the hotels where we had to stay didn’t offer a full kitchen.
At a minimum, you need two things to eat in your hotel room for a week: a microwave and a refrigerator. So I always tried to get a room with at least a mini-fridge and microwave. Twice this wasn’t available and we had to use a lobby microwave (once) and bring our own portable microwave (once). We managed.
As long as you have these two things, you can follow the rest of my list.
Pre-cook and freeze rice
For our week in Myrtle Beach, SC for Nationals, I had to bring a microwave and we only had a mini-fridge…for a whole week. I planned 5 meals that we could eat in the room, and figured the other two nights we would get take-out or, time permitting, actually eat at a restaurant.
Each of those meals needed to be one that could be cooked in a crock pot. To add starch and volume to the meal, I planned to serve each one over white rice. If you want more variety you could do the same with brown rice, pasta, or probably quinoa.
Then I separated the rice into 5 1-gallon bags and froze them.
Bring a crock pot and frozen dump meals
Next, I premade some meals that could be added to a crock pot and cooked in the room. I tried to find crock pot meals that didn’t require any precooking, because I felt that might not stay as fresh. One example I like is salsa chicken – boneless chicken breasts, salsa, a can of cream of chicken soup, and taco mix. I dumped all the ingredients into a 1-gallon freezer bag, then stuck it in the freezer until time to leave. Note that the recipe calls for sour cream, but that’s just as a serving suggestion; it doesn’t go into the crock pot. So if I had time to run to the store while I was there, I could get some, but we could also eat it without the sour cream.
I found four other recipes that could be done the same – made ahead in a bag and frozen.
The other important thing here is to bring slow cooker liners! These are bags specially made for use in a slow cooker. When I was ready to cook a meal (in the morning), I simply moved the ingredients from the zip-loc bag to the slow cooker with the liner already in place. The liner is important because it makes clean up so much easier, especially if you don’t have a large sink for cleaning the crockery.
Use a cooler
Before hitting the road, I packed all the frozen bags of rice and all the frozen dump meals into a large cooler. It was a 10-hour drive from our home, so I knew it would be somewhere between frozen and 100% thawed once I arrived. The room only had a mini-fridge, so I planned to use a combination of the fridge and the cooler for storing food for the week.
To do this, I brought extra gallon-sized zipper bags that I could fill with ice from the ice machine. That way the food wasn’t subject to getting wet when the ice melted, but everything stayed cold enough.
Pack other food that doesn’t need refrigerating
For breakfast and lunch and snacks, I tried to include as much food that didn’t need refrigerating as I could. That way it could be stored elsewhere in the room and wouldn’t go bad. I included cereal and pop tarts for breakfast, and I knew I could get small containers of milk from the hotel store in the lobby.
Lunch was peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, leftovers from the night before, or quesadillas that I made on a quesadilla maker I also brought along. The tortillas don’t need to be kept in the fridge, only the cheese does, and we’re all fine eating them plain for lunch or a snack.
Granola bars and fruit are great snacks to bring along that provide lots of energy for girls who are dancing all day long – and moms that are sitting in the audience all day long, too.
During the week, we managed to carve out one evening at a Mexican restaurant, and another at a pizza place, which allowed us to enjoy the Myrtle Beach scene and scenery, and to feel like we had something a little special. We also picked up snacks a couple of times, including ice cream and of course, salt water taffy.
Have you ever needed to do something similar? I think many dance moms, cheer moms, baseball moms, and probably even some dads 😉 get practiced at eating on the road. If you have your own tips, I would love to hear them. Drop a comment below!