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How to Eat Healthy and Affordable During Long Hotel Stays

03/24/2015 02:59 pm ET | Updated May 24, 2015

What are your best hacks for eating healthy and affordable while traveling, especially when options are limited?: originally appeared on Quora: The best answer to any question. Ask a question, get a great answer. Learn from experts and access insider knowledge. You can follow Quora on Twitter, Facebook, and Google+.

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Answer by Ben Mordecai, Fast food junkie turned health food snob

Basically, the goal is to convert grocery store ingredients into tasty meals without the convenience of a kitchen full of appliances, utensils, and seasonings. You want to be able to go to the grocery store and get ingredients in small enough portions that you can use them all, without having to buy a million little things.

So, temporarily become a hoarding, pilfering, MacGyver. Leftover resealable bottles, plastic cutlery, salt and pepper packets, honey packets, lemon juice packets, butter packets, bags, napkins, and fresh fruit (at the continental breakfast). These are all things you can get for basically free if you keep track of them.

Find a microwave. If your hotel room does not have one, the lobby or breakfast dining room probably does. You can make an unbelievable amount of great meals here. The only thing you have to figure out is how to get a microwave-safe container. A ceramic coffee mug is perfect, but they don't travel well. Otherwise, paper is your safest bet. You might get lucky and have the paper cereal bowls available, but if not, just pick up a set of microwave safe disposable bowls.

Now, find a refrigerator. If your room doesn't have one, no worries. Pick up a foam cooler for $2 and fill it up with ice from the ice machine in your hotel.

Now, a sample shopping list:

  • Butter. Most meals require a good fat to be edible, so don't be shy. Grass fed if you can. Almost every Walmart carries either Kerrygold or Organic Valley, and even small towns have Walmarts.

  • Baby carrots (hint, they are already peeled). They can be eaten raw or steamed in the microwave.
  • Any frozen vegetables (microwaving them = steaming them. Add salt, pepper, and plenty of butter).
  • Frozen pre-cooked shrimp (microwave them in a bowl of butter and salt).
  • Microwave bacon.
  • Raw eggs (Can be prepped in two ways, we'll get to that later).
  • Canned (with pull tab) salmon, or pouches.
  • Cheese.
  • Microwavable rice pouches.
  • Cherry tomatoes.
  • Spinach (Microwave to steam, or just make a salad).
  • Clam-shell salad.
  • Sweet potato (poke holes, microwave both sides for two minutes each).
  • Nuts.
  • Applegate brand grass-fed hot-dogs.
    1. Remove the basket the coffee sits in. You don't want to steep it in stale-coffee water.

  • Open the lid of the pot. Otherwise it will drip from the top down the sides of the pot and boil on the hot plate.
  • Add eggs first, then water from the faucet. That way you know you don't get too much water.
  • Pour the water into the basin, leave the eggs in the pot and turn it on.
  • Once it is full of hot water, cycle the same water through a second time.
  • Let it sit on the hot plate for about 40 minutes. This isn't boiling water so it takes longer.
  • Drain the water, and dab with cold water to make them able to handle. Then shake them. If they are solid, you are done. If they sound like fluid is shaking, do it again.
  • How to Make Super Fluffy Scrambled Eggs in a Microwave

    1. Ceramic mug works best, paper bowl if you need it. Microwave empty container with a dab of butter for a couple seconds only. Stop it and smooth it around.

  • Crack 1-3 eggs in the container and stir them thoroughly.
  • Microwave for 30 seconds.
  • Remove from microwave and stir thoroughly.
  • Microwave for 30 seconds.
  • Remove from microwave and stir thoroughly.
  • Repeat until all is solid. Salt and pepper afterward to taste. I like mine plain though.
    1. Pour pre-cooked frozen shrimp in a bowl.

  • Add at least a tablespoon of butter.
  • Microwave 2 minutes, then test to see if warm all the way through. The water in the shrimp mixes with the butter and the shrimp is not over cooked. The broth is tasty enough to drink. Salt and pepper to taste. If you have a lemon packet, you know what to do.
  • Microwave the broccoli for 2 minutes. Salt and pepper to taste.
  • More Sneaky Tricks

    • You can take 1 o.z. liquor bottles (the kind sold for $1) on your carry on in your quart-sized zipper bag. While this is a trick in itself (Hey, $1 cocktails in flight!) you can also re-use these bottles to smuggle that which your culinary palate desires. I often travel with olive oil and apple cider vinegar. Instant salad dressing. Instant heart-burn relief (a dab of vinegar in your water).

  • The best drinking water you will find in a hotel is in the fitness center. Usually there is a bottled water cooler for free.
  • If there is a cooking utensil you're really aching for (like a sharp knife), ask your front desk (you never know), but then look for a thrift store or dollar store. You can probably get one for just a dollar.
  • Bring lotion and lip balm. You won't find it free and if you do it's not worth using. The air plane will dry you out and your skin won't be used to the weather.
  • Be mindful of your caffeine addiction. If you can't handle hotel coffee, plan ahead and find somewhere that has bottled cold-brew coffee or green tea. I tend to just pound this in the morning rather than try to manage the hotel stuff.
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