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Cooking in a hotel room

I'm going to be stuck living in a hotel room for eight days with four kids and a husband on a very limited dining budget. We will have a microwave and small refrigerator in the room, and since we're driving there instead of flying, I can pack a rice cooker and (I suppose) a crock pot.

Here's the real challenge...we do NOT plan to eat out once we arrive. I am a chef but I was subjected to nasty crock pot stuff as a child and I think I was scarred for life...so although I do own a crock pot, I never use it at home. We will be traveling from CA to the midwest, so I will need to use ingredients readily available in a standard, run-of-the-mill grocery store in Nebraska. I can take some ingredients with us, but would prefer to purchase all perishables and most non-perishables there.

So -- any ideas?! Breakfasts are available at the hotel, so I only need dinner ideas. The kids have been raised on every kind of gourmet food imaginable, and they have very eclectic palates...so I don't need food that is particularly "kid friendly" or anything. I just need ideas for what in the world you can cook in a crock pot/microwave that is not in any shape or form similar to pot roast.


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  1. If I were stuck in your situation, I'd also bring along an electric skillet. That way you could do the really easy stuff like hamburgers, hotdogs, pancakes, fried eggs, etc. Even without it you could easily make pulled pork, chili, sloppy joes, etc. in the slowcooker. With an electric skillet you could also make paella, cassoulet, again, just about anything short of something that needs a deep kettle. (What's wrong with pot roast?)

    I don't know what the rules are about cooking in a motel room, but the management will certainly figure it out what with the cooking odors emanating from your room not to mention the housekeeping staff.

    2 Replies
    1. re: John E.

      Thanks...pot roast and I just don't get along. Holdover from when I was pregnant ages ago, I guess, but the smell of cooking potroast is not something I can handle :)

      The hotel includes many units with kitchens, and cooking is definitely allowed...we just didn't make our reservations early enough to get a full kitchen.

      1. re: tsfirefly

        Smells are something to consider in a hotel room. You won't have a vent and the windows in your room probably won't open which means that you (and likely your neighbor) will be stuck with those smells for a long time.

    2. -sandwiches
      -veggies that you steam in their bag in the microwave
      -rice (cook in microwave)
      -can you bring a hot plate? if so, fry/hardboil eggs
      -nachos with melted cheese and canned beans
      -boxed soup that can be heated in microwave (trader joes makes really good ones)
      -bring pre-made meals with you that u can reheat in the microwave (pasta, etc)

      1. America's Test Kitchen' Family Cookbook has some great c/p recipes - NOT nasty at all. They are not "open and dump," though. You can get a trial subscription to their websites, and they should be there.

        Consider taking a little barbeque, and some aluminum pans from the dollar store. to cook in. I can do anything on one of those. Consider "hobo packs;" meat and veggies cooked in an aluminum foil pouch.

        An electric skillet isn't a bad idea, either.

        1. KSyrah is right about the small bbq. I have a small gas one that I love. I was at a horse show with my trainer in the middle of nowhere and after the first night's dinner at a local restaurant we realized 'pickins were slim'.

          I could microwave baked potatoes, get a "salad in a bag", and grill meat and veggies. Sometimes we'd find a local park and dine there, or back at the motel, or when we'd dine at the horseshow we were the envy of everyone!

          Since it sounds like you are traveling in the summer, you should be able to find good local produce. Grill corn on the cob, or any other veggies. I love asparagus, squash, mushrooms, etc. on the grill. Try to find some interesting dry spices or jar marinades before you leave and use them to spice things up since you may not be able to find them locally.

          Another spinoff option would to buy a good 2 burner camp stove and then that combined with the grill would be your "portable kitchen". I'm sure you could cook to your heart's content in the pool area and no one would mind. And you could dine al fresco.

          2 Replies
          1. re: Barbara76137

            Thanks for the input...I actually run a backpacking camp for girls, so for five weeks following this Nebraska adventure we'll be eating food from camp stoves and campfires...so avoiding the camp stove is sort of a priority :) Same with the foil meal packets.

            Will be picking up an electric wok, something I've been loathe to do before now (not a big fan of excess electric cooking stuff here, and we already have a couple of very nice regular woks), but it sounds like it'll come in handy. I can take my bamboo steamers and use them as well.

            1. re: tsfirefly

              I don't know where you live or much about Nebraska but I have seen electric woks for less than $10 at Goodwill, usually their the red West Bend electric woks. So if you really are not eager to use later at home Goodwill or another thrift store might be the way to go.
              (I recently bought a tri-ply Tramontina 5 quart saute pan for $20 at Goodwill).

          2. Beware of hotels that promise a fridge and a microwave and call it a kitchen. Very often there are no plates, forks, spoons etc. You're thinking of big fancy equipment. Make sure you get plates and utensils.

            1. Some sort of steamed Asian dumplings and simple stir-fried veggies or simple fried rice

              I made a Thai sweet potato curry today in my crockpot, chicken, chicken broth, curry paste, bamboo shoots, red bell pepper, sweet potatoes, and coconut milk. I turn it up high for a short time to boil the chicken, add the rest, and cook on low until dinner time.

              Also this might be a useful resource: http://crockpot365.blogspot.com/

              3 Replies
              1. re: alitria

                Why not book in another hotel with a kitchen? I travel a lot and I usually stay at suite hotel like Homewood suites and Staybridge suites. They usually have outdoor large gas grills, free breakfast and from Tuesday thru Thursday they have some kind of free dinner, often with wine and beer. Plus you might be able to get a 1 or 2 bedroom suite so the kids won't drive you crazy.

                Candlewood suites is another one, it's a little cheaper than the other ones I mentioned. America suites is cheaper too but the beds are hard as a rock.

                1. re: cajundave

                  Another vote for Homewood Suites. Every room is an apartment with separate bedroom and living room, two TVs, and a completely furnished kitchen. Plus they include breakfast and an evening meal they call the Manager's Reception but in my experience it is a complete dinner. My niece stayed in our local one with three teenagers and saved so much on meals they took the kids to theaters and ballgames with the saved money.

                  1. re: Querencia

                    Another vote for the Homewood. Fabulous.

              2. A bit late to this, but I posted a query last fall about cooking in motels with a small rice cooker. Here is the thread:


                1. I'd love to know how this turned out. In about six weeks, I'll be cooking for approximately 120 out of a hotel room via crock pots and a couple of quesadilla makers. (I'm feeding the security detail at a comic book convention.)

                  2 Replies
                  1. re: slackferno


                    I hope you have run your plan by the hotel management. It could be in violation of a few codes not to mention just plain dangerous.

                    1. re: slackferno

                      As Fowler suggests, you might get shut down by management. That being said, I would not attempt to do what you are with the equipment you mentioned. I would at least have at least three roaster ovens. http://www.amazon.com/gp/aw/d/B000G0HPEI

                    2. (knowing this is old)
                      I would not do the electric wok. One of those burners that uses a can of propane would be good. A toaster oven might come in handy, too. With those two you can make a lot of great stuff!

                      4 Replies
                      1. re: travelerjjm

                        Why would you prefer a combustible source of heat as opposed to electric?

                        1. re: John E.

                          It is easier to control. Most chefs have them. I do not know about what current load hotel outlets support. When they are off, they are off. With chldren in the room, an electric burner might be difficult to keep away from them (rather keep in a safe place where nobody could accidentally touch it)..

                          1. re: travelerjjm

                            I understand how they work. They do cost quite a bit more than an electric skillet however.

                            1. re: John E.

                              Yeah, I know. But they work with a wok and many people already have them. An induction burner might be good too. Oh, and a George-Foreman-style grill press is very handy, too - waffles, pancakes, eggs, burgers, hotdogs, hot sandwiches, bacon(!)., fish,... And it can be closed to keep little hands out.

                      2. I don't know what sort of motel/hotel you are staying at, but generally they frown on guests using extra electrics. If I had to bring an electric, I'd bring only one and keep it under wraps when not in use. The crock pot uses so little electricity, and is so safe, that would be my first choice. And sometimes you can find a hotel room with a small cooktop. I'd try for that, if it isn't too late to book or change a room.

                        Other than that, I think sandwiches are a good choice. You should be able to bake potatoes in a crock pot. And you should be able to buy microwaveable veggies in the frozen food section of a typical grocery. (Steamers) Cottage cheese and fresh fruit, or cut up veggies would be a good lunch fare. There might even be some local cheese for snacking and lunches. You can cook hot dogs or sausages in the crock pot for supper.

                        When you start talking about really good cooking in a motel room, I just wonder about cleanup. I mean I've never had more than one small extra sink. Usually you have only the bathroom sink.

                        Many moons ago, when money was tight and children were small, we traveled by car with a cooler and a "pantry" of food in a box of some sort. I carried crackers and bagels, some fresh fruit, some beverages, a few staples. We ate 2 meals from our stores (replenished at a local grocer when needed) and one meal 'out.' I did not cook unless we stopped at a place that had a barbecue pit or grill. When we started camping, we continued the same procedure.

                        I wonder if having every meal in the motel room for eight days is wise? I do think it will be a LOT of work for you.

                        3 Replies
                        1. re: sueatmo

                          While part of me also wants to warn the OP that it's gonna be a lot of work and mess, the selfish part of me (I call her SchadenFraulein) eagerly looks forward to the stories OP will tell (hopefully here!) after the trip.

                          1. re: sueatmo

                            Cleanup without a kitchen is a difficult mess as the bathroom sink is IT. Same thing whether you are motel-cooking or at home getting your kitchen remodeled. Use paper plates, plastic utensils, lots of paper towels, and big plastic garbage bags to hide your sins. Remember the KISS rule (keep it simple, Stupid). Viva cold cereal. Viva sandwiches, raw carrots, bananas. Your life will be easier if you don't set the motel management on the warpath.

                            1. re: Querencia

                              Your life will be easier if you don't set the motel management on the warpath
                              Totally agree there. You'd hate to have to leave the place mid week. I am imagining the crock pot set on low, with something cooking, and the reaction of the maids coming in to clean. Or, the reaction when they find a lot of paper plates, utensils and other sorts of trash, not normally found, in the trash. A few days of that, and everyone is going to know you are cooking in your room.

                              It might be that doing so is a violation of the fire code.

                          2. I'd also strongly recommend a butane burner. They seem to be quite reasonable now and I've found they are terrific for an impromptu meal. They are perfectly safe indoors and I used mine to supplement my electric cooktop so I can attest to its functionality.

                            One suggestion though, if anything you may find the bar fridge to be your biggest challenge. They don't hold much and in my experience, their freezers are pretty useless. Given that you have 4 kids w you, it may be worthwhile bringing a cooler to ensure you have enough space for beverages and food.

                            I'd also bring a good knife and cutting board. Many suite hotels have outdoor grills now so you may want to check that out in advance as you may have another cooking option.

                            Here's a link to Amazon's butane burner (I have this one):


                            3 Replies
                            1. re: Breadcrumbs

                              BC, have you cooked in a wok on this burner? I have electric stove at home and cannot get a wok hot enough - any wok cooking turns into steaming and I have given up.

                              1. re: herby

                                I haven't used it for a wok herby but, I did attend a cooking demo where the chef was using one. For the price, you may want to give one a try. If nothing else they're excellent to have on hand in the event of a power failure.

                              2. re: Breadcrumbs

                                One thing I've learned about motel fridges, which don't really have freezers to speak of, is that they are usually turned up when you arrive. Turn it down first thing when you arrive. that is, lower the temp setting; otherwise stuff could never properly chill.

                                Use the ice cube trays to freeze those blue ice thingies, if you need them. (You might for the trip back.)

                              3. deli-counter roast chicken and frozen meatballs can be your new best friends :)
                                Depending upon the appetite of your children, and the size of the chicken, one chicken may be enough for a dinner meal plus some snack/sandwiches the next day. Frozen meatballs and a jar of good salsa can meld together in the crock pot, then onto a plate with rice and some fresh veg, or into tortilla wraps.
                                As for clean-up in the hotel room, may I suggest taking some old towels from home, which can be discarded if they become too messy to rinse out in the hotel bath. Definitely second the suggestion of lots of garbage bags :)
                                A friend of mine lived and cooked in hotel rooms, with two pre-schoolers, for months, while her DH worked in a different town every week. They had a coffee maker, electric skillet, microwave and bar fridge supplied by the hotel, and a cooler chest and kettle from home. Very tough, but doable. Saved a lot of $$ compared to eating take-away and fast food.

                                1. WOW! I posted this two years ago and apparently the thread has resurfaced with lots and lots of comments...

                                  Just to set the record straight...sorry, I should have been clearer in my original post. I'm a chef, fully food safety certified, and I obviously know and care about what is allowed and disallowed in hotels and other establishments. Combustible fuel, while I'd obviously prefer it (being the backpacking family we are...see my backpacking posts!), is definitely out of the question and electric is my only option. Also, because we're traveling to smallish-area cities where many, many people are also going (a national sports championship), there was NOTHING with a kitchen available by the time I tried to make our reservation. Oh, and we don't eat hot dogs. Ever.

                                  Because we do this every summer, and because so many people chimed in, here's what we did in 2010 and 2011 and what we will be doing yet again...

                                  1. The trip in 2010 by car meant I could take whatever equipment I needed. We took a rice cooker and I ended up purchasing a double electric burner stove that fit the hotel electrical limit requirements (yes, I checked first...knowing we were stuck in that city with very few other hotel options, I did NOT want to piss off any sort of management by doing something shady!). We also took a very large live basil plant that the kids nicknamed Victoria or some such thing, but that's another story (before anyone freaks out, we finished off the last leaf before coming back over the CA border :) ).

                                  I don't remember exactly what we cooked that year, but since I broke down and bought the electric burners, we ate very well. Cleanup was not an issue because a) three of the four kids were teenage boys which meant no leftovers, and b) the management of the hotel was more than happy (after seeing my finally-useful food safety manager and instructor card. Who knew?) to allow me to use one of their industrial sinks because it sure beat the risk of me clogging up a room sink.

                                  I turned an old but very lovely bead sorter (tiny aluminum jars with glass lids, 30 held in a small aluminum case about 8" square) into a spice and herb travel container. We used paper products, obviously. I packed my usual travel assortment of knives/cutting boards/other small implements. And a pair of REI backpacking wine glasses just in case things got ugly.

                                  What I DIDN'T count on was the grocery store issue. An entire large freezer section devoted to non-dairy whipped topping, something I'd never seen before. Holy cow. Finally toward the end of our trip we discovered a store that was more suited to our tastes, lots of fresh fruit, dairy and such.

                                  We camped our way to Nebraska and back, so we took the double burner backpacking stove to use along the way...we just didn't use it once we arrived at the hotel.

                                  2. Moving on to 2011, I was able to get us a hotel room with an actual kitchenette, lucky because we flew that year so taking the double burner was out of the question. We took the same knives/cutting board/spice arrangement. We took only two kids this time, so financially we were in a slightly better place. We did not have any fish or seafood that week because a) I didn't want the smell to linger, and b) I'm a little weird about eating locally as much as possible.

                                  No oven and a busy schedule meant everything was sauteed, seared, or poached. We steamed vegetables in the microwave until I figured out how to rig a steamer on the stove with a roll of foil and some barbecue skewers. I remember a very nice poached chicken with sauteed mushrooms, a lime curry pork chop, and to celebrate one kid's national championship title, filet mignon with bearnaise sauce. Sure beat what we would have had to spend had we eaten equally as well in restaurants.

                                  I realize many people here think I'm nuts for doing this instead of eating out. Aside from the fact that we simply can't afford it on top of the other travel expenses we can't avoid (hotels, airfare, rental car, blah blah blah), we find that while it's simpler, it just isn't feasible for us. The places we can afford to go, with two to four kids in tow, usually serve food extremely over salted and full of other things we choose not to eat. Plus we're traveling with national caliber athletes who need foods that IHOP just can't provide. Finally, as a family we have actually grown to really love the challenge and the fun that cooking together in a tiny, tiny space provides. No stress about reservations or parking or deciding where to go or whether we'll be in traffic or if there will be time to get back to the hotel to rest or change clothes for late night practice sessions or whatever...it brings a little bit of home to a very intense week, something the kids (and adults!) really do need and enjoy.

                                  So we're going to Nebraska again this year. I made reservations 13 months ago so I actually have a kitchenette again! Thanks for your replies...I hope for the best for slackferno's challenge in a couple weeks :)

                                  1 Reply
                                  1. re: tsfirefly

                                    "I realize many people here think I'm nuts for doing this instead of eating out."

                                    Not me! You worked with hotel management to make sure what you were doing was allowed and safe. And from what you described, your meals were more healthy than eating at McDonald's or Big Boy every day. Good job for making do with what you had to work with.

                                    Which sports were your kids playing in the tournament? That must require some pretty large portions to keep teenage athletes fueled up!