When you don't have regular fridge access, can you still buy groceries and make decent meals? Many staples fare well for a few days without refrigeration - bread and even eggs. If you enjoy breakfast, you can easily buy nonperishable foods that keep okay in your backpack. I'm moving apartments, and my fridge access is spotty, so I bought small amounts of foods that keep well at room temperature.
Buying fresh fruits and vegetables in bulk and cooking everything from scratch is obviously cheaper, but you pay for convenience. The extra dollar you pay per serving of oatmeal is worth not lugging around a giant canister all day, and the two dollars you spend on making oatmeal is worth not eating out.
I happened to have almond butter on hand. Here's what I bought at the grocery store to make easy travel meals for one.
- 1/2 gallon almond milk
- 2 sweet potatoes
- 5 bananas
- 2 pounds of clementines
- 12 packets of instant oatmeal
- 4 tablespoons of almond butter
- 4 granola bars
Of the groceries, the almond cashew milk is the heaviest and most perishable. Plant milks make your oatmeal and coffee creamier and so much better, and I can store it at my work fridge. If you don't have any fridge whatsoever, you could try tinier cartons of milk or powdered dry milk. To be honest, ultra-pasteurized shelf-stable cow milk gives me the willies, and I'd rather make do with water in my oatmeal and creamer cups in my coffee. You could argue that creamer cups are just shelf-stable cow juice, but the cute containers make this more acceptable in my book.
Some other notes about the groceries:
- The bananas are of different ripeness, so I still have perfectly ripe fruit in a few days.
- You can substitute potatoes or any color of sweet potatoes for the orange ones.
You could find cheaper and healthier snacks than granola bars - carrots and hummus, bell peppers and guacamole, apples and cheese. You could wake up early every morning to pack your snacks for the day and layer a beautiful mason jar salad for your lunch, but these options take so much time and don't fare well in the bottom of a backpack. Paying $1.50 for 200 tasty and convenient calories squashes my hunger. I pay $1.50 for a snack instead of $10 for a meal, and that's a big win in my book.
As for recipes, you can combine them to make many different travel meals. After you learn to think about each ingredient, cooking and buying groceries is easy. For each cheap and shelf-stable ingredient, consider "Do I have to apply heat to make this edible?"
- No. Almond milk tastes great at any temperature.
- Yes. Raw sweet potatoes are not chewable.
- No. Room temperature bananas make great snacks. Cooked bananas make wonderful muffins or pancakes.
- No. You only cook citrus if you are being fancy.
- Maybe. Instant oatmeal (aka quick oats) are soft enough to be chewable, but unfortunately easy to overcook. If you soak them in hot liquid, they'll be perfect in about 5 minutes. If you soak them in cold liquid, such as in overnight oats, it'll take 1-2 hours.
- No. You only cook nut butter if you are being fancy. If you do feel fancy, you can make these 3 ingredient peanut butter cookies or curried peanut squash soup.
- No. Who even thinks of cooking granola bars? You could crumble them up and assemble yogurt parfaits.
If you don't have any means of cooking sweet potato, don't buy any. You can tell that this vegetable takes a long time to cook because the raw form is so so inedible. Apparently, people eat it anyways, but apples or pears would be much less crunchy. If you have a microwave, you can easily make peanut butter sweet potato in less than 10 minutes for a warm and filling meal.
You can soften quick oats without heating, so it doesn't matter if you have a microwave or a stovetop. If you act like a horse and nibble some raw oats, you can tell that quick oats don't need tons of heat or liquid to soften.
As for everything else, put some almond butter on your banana, drink a cup of almond milk, or peel a clementine. Dine on your cheap, healthy, backpack-friendly travel meals, and enjoy breakfast at any time.
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