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Making Meals in a Hotel Room: Easy Food Ideas for Travelers

Getting out of your hotel room to find fresh food regularly isn’t always an option. Whether you are settling in for a manuscript-writing-binge, quarantining due to getting sick while traveling, hunkering down for a few days in a hotel room, trying to avoid eating alone in a restaurant or the high prices of room service or food delivery, it’s not unusual for people to find themselves looking for easy-to-prepare food to make in hotel rooms.

Today’s grocery stores have a huge variety of foods that can be easily prepared with the basic appliances found in most standard hotel rooms (for this article, we will assume a mini-fridge, a microwave, and a coffee maker)

In this article, I’ll discuss a few ways to hack a hotel room into a kitchen. With a bit of smart shopping on the front end- and some ingenuity in preparation- you can eat well even in a basic hotel room.

The following ideas can help you prepare meals that are satisfying, delicious, and will provide sufficient energy for your day.

Does your Hotel Room have a kitchen? Jump to my post on easy Airbnb recipes or my grocery list for a 5-day Airbnb meal plan designed for preparing meals in the limited kitchens of Airbnbs and Hotel Suites.

Easy to Make Meals in a Hotel Room without a Refrigerator

Almost any food can be prepared in a microwave – although it may take some creativity and Google searching. Some of the most popular meals to prepare in a microwave with minimal ingredients, which are perfect for a hotel room include:

Oatmeal – Oatmeal is satisfying and comforting, perfect for breakfast and snacks.

Ramen noodles or Cup of Noodles – A classic staple of college dorm kitchens, instant noodles are an easy meal that can be made without any cooking appliances other than basic hot water. For variation, choose a rice noodle soup packet.

Scrambled eggs and scrambled omelets – using short 10 to 20 second bursts of microwave power, plain eggs and eggs with cheese or vegetables added can be prepared in a few minutes. Simply alternate brief zaps in the microwave with removing the bowl to stir the eggs. (FYI: cooking eggs in the microwave has an uncanny ability to fuse eggs to cookware)

Macaroni and cheese – macaroni and cheese in both its prepackaged forms and the “OG macaroni and cheese” (elbow noodles with melted cheese on top) can be prepared in a hotel microwave using water and a microwave-safe bowl. Be sure that your bowl is large enough to contain boiling water, and be very, very careful when straining the pasta.

Rice – A few years ago, after reading this food network recipe for making white rice in a microwave, microwaving became my go-to method for preparing rice at home. While most people in a hotel room will opt for packets of cooked rice, you can save money by preparing uncooked rice purchased in bulk.

Canned soups or chilis – Canned food has fallen dramatically from favor since its peak in the 1950s, but if you haven’t checked out the canned soup aisle at the grocery store lately, you’re missing some great hotel food options. In particular, soups, stews, and chilis packaged in Tetra Pak packaging offer all the convenience of a canned meal without the tinny flavor. Often, shopping brands with a higher price point pays off when it comes to canned foods – you’ll notice a difference in quality, texture, and flavor if purchasing canned soups and chilies that do not need to be diluted before serving in a hotel room.

Pouch-packed tuna – for folks who don’t mind tuna (that’s not me, for sure!) Packaged or canned tuna can be a great meal for a hotel room. Grab a kit that includes crackers and mayonnaise or add your own condiments for a personalized tuna salad or even microwave tuna melt.

Microwaveable grain packs – just like heat-and-serve rice is now available in shelf-stable packets around the world, a number of different grains can also be purchased in heat-and-serve packaging, these make it easy to add variety and interest to your hotel room meals if you find yourself preparing meals in a hotel room without a kitchen often.

Ramen noodles on a pink background.
Think beyond ramen. Even without access to a kitchen, great meals can be prepared in a hotel room.

Beans and Rice – Beans and rice are a classic combo that provides essential nutrients to maximize energy and clear thinking. Combining heat and serve rice packets with canned beans is an easy way to make an easy meal in a hotel room. If you’re able, add some chopped onion, garlic, or herbs to make it a more flavorful meal – all without needing a kitchen to prepare it.

Sandwiches with cured meats – There are a number of meats in grocery stores and convenient stores around the world that are shelf-stable. Whether it’s Vienna sausages in a can, salami in a vacuum pack, or even pate,* shelf-stable meat products can be combined with bread, crackers, or tortillas to make sandwiches in a hotel room. (While “fancy” in the USA, pate is a budget grocery staple in many European countries)

Chicken salad from canned chicken – Like tuna, chicken from a shelf-stable can or pouch can be used to make a number of meals in a hotel room. You can even use it to add protein to microwave quesadillas or Ramen noodle cups.

Salads and vegetables –  Just because you are preparing meals in a hotel room without a refrigerator doesn’t mean that you can’t plan to have salads and vegetables for some meals. Remember, for many millennia before refrigeration, humans simply kept food at room temperature until it went bad- there’s no rule that lettuce left out of the refrigerator for 24 hours is bad. Rather, purchase small quantities of vegetables, and check the color, texture, and smell before preparing food in your hotel room with unrefrigerated vegetables and greens. Having shelf-stable oil and vinegar on hand can make a quick dressing that doesn’t need refrigeration.

Sauces & Spices – In my last few grocery runs before we all went indoors in 2020, I followed the advice of a friend and loaded up on spices and sauces. See, when food gets monotonous (as it’s bound to do when you’re preparing meals in a hotel room or avoiding restaurants due to safety concerns) it’s hard to get excited about cooking and eating food.

Spices make it possible to flavor the same meal in multiple different ways, keeping food interesting and making it more feasible to prepare meals in a hotel room. When planning to prepare meals in a hotel room consider adding to your shopping list bbq sauce, tomato-based marinara sauce, pesto, chili flakes, balsamic, miso glaze, or other flavors that you like.

Easy Grab and Go Breakfast Ideas for Hotels

Whether you are traveling for work or play, chances are when you wake up in the morning of a travel day- you’ve got somewhere to be. Maybe it’s a flight to catch, a meeting to attend, a tour group to meet, or an itinerary to get cracking, most of us don’t really want a large breakfast typical of restaurants that serve breakfast.

In these cases, it can be helpful to have breakfast ready to go in your hotel room. With a little bit of preplanning, you can have easy grab and go breakfasts ready to go for you, your travel companions, or your kids as you wake up and get ready.

Here are a few ideas for grab and go breakfast that adapt easily to a hotel room with few or no appliances.

  • Single Serve Instant Oatmeal (commercially prepared or prepped at home in mason jars)
    *don’t forget spoons! I’ve definitely been caught in a hotel room with warm homemade oatmeal and no spoon!
  • Breakfast Bars (commercially prepared and packaged or baked, cut, and bagged at home before your trip)
  • Avocado + Crackers (a la avocado toast)
  • Banana + Peanut Butter
  • Peanut Butter & Jelly Sandwich
  • Yogurt Cups + Granola

Final thoughts on cooking food in a hotel room

Eating in a hotel room can be challenging! It can also easily become monotonous if you eat the same thing night after night.

With these tips above you can keep your hotel room prepared food interesting, appeasing, and affordable. For more tips on eating well while traveling, check out my road trip food ideas, mealplan for week in a Vacation rental or my list of easy meal ideas for making in vacation rentals