How to eat vegan while traveling: When you are only counting on a dorm-sized hotel fridge and microwave, how do you maintain a plant-based diet? Here are a bunch of ideas for breakfast, lunch & dinner to keep you full while on the road (including a bed picnic!)
This week David and I traveled to Grand Island, Nebraska for a work trip. The name is a bit of a misnomer as you couldn’t get more landlocked than this particular island. As for grand? Well, you may have to adjust your expectations…
We stayed in a chain hotel that was surrounded by fast food places and cookie cutter restaurants. That is to say, we knew we wouldn’t be overflowing in amazing vegan options. (Although, we did luck out one night at a restaurant called The Chocolate Bar.)
How to eat vegan while traveling
It was the perfect opportunity to work on a post that’s been requested a few times – how to eat vegan while traveling. When you are only counting on a dorm-sized fridge and microwave in a hotel room, how do you maintain a plant-based diet?
Depending on the chain, room service is not always an option. Even if they offer it, the price and selection may be less than inspiring. However, I have cobbled together meals from room service in the past.
One time I ordered an omelet without the eggs. On the menu the omelet came with potatoes, onions, garlic, spinach, and bell peppers. I simply asked for all of those fillings sautéed in oil and not butter, plus a fruit bowl, toast and jelly. It wasn’t the best breakfast of my life, but I’ve had worse.
Many hotels offer continental breakfasts with your stay. Most of the time I don’t even bother going down to see what’s there. However, there have been some pleasant surprises on the times I’ve ventured out.
Most offerings include bananas, apples, and oranges. Some chains have roasted potatoes. Potatoes are pretty substantive on their own, and if you have anything in the room to add with them, it can become a pretty decent breakfast.
Make a grocery store run
Whenever we’re traveling, the first stop is always the local grocery store. If they have a natural grocery store like a co-op, Trader Joe’s, or Whole Foods, the options are going to be better. However, even if you only have a Target or Walmart, it can be done.
We were road-tripping it this time around. So we stopped in Omaha at Whole Foods before continuing to Grand Island. However, there is a Hy-Vee in Grand Island with a health market, and a small natural grocery store. So we could have made it work if necessary.
I picked up a container of banana & chia oatmeal and just added water, but if you have non-dairy milk, that’s an option as well.
There are all kinds of shelf-stable oatmeal options. Some are packaged in little bowls for serving, and some come in packets. The packets are easier to throw into your carry-on if you won’t have time to stop at a grocery store at your destination, but the ones that come in bowls are awfully convenient. It means you won’t have to run down to the hotel’s breakfast area to grab a bowl.
If you have a refrigerator, containers of non-dairy yogurt are an easy breakfast or snack. That’s always David’s preferred choice.
Bagel or Toast
David often buys a sleeve of bagels and tub of peanut butter while on work trips. Bread or bagels in the room makes for a quick breakfast, lunch, or dinner. While most rooms don’t come with a toaster, there’s usually one in the hotel breakfast area that’s available for hotel guests.
Depending on your time and space constraints, you can pair it with individual packets of shelf stable nut butter or hummus. Or natural grocery stores usually have freshly ground nut butter for sale by weight near the bulk bins. That way you can just get the amount you’ll need for the trip and not have to commit to a whole jar. Hummus can also be found in shelf stable packets, or you can get a tub for easy snacking or spreading. Luckily, these days hummus can be found in almost every grocery store.
Cold cereal & non-dairy milk
I have a friend who happily eats cereal for breakfast, lunch, or dinner. So this can really be an anytime meal. Pick up your favorite dry cereal or granola and just add non-dairy milk.
If you don’t have time to go to the grocery store in your work trip destination, I have actually packed shelf stable packs of non-dairy milk in my checked luggage. It can feel like a bit of a risk with your clothes, but I have gotten through okay. Several brands make small, lunch-sized boxes of non-dairy milk. Then if you don’t have a refrigerator, you can just use each one singly on cold cereal or granola in the morning.
Of course, if you have time to run to a grocery store for non-dairy milk, that’s better. You can find non-dairy milk all over the place now – even places like Target and Walmart.
I count on baked tofu slabs as a really substantive and filling option. They are good for breakfast, as a sandwich filling, as an addition to a bed picnic (more on that in a bit), or as a quick snack that will keep me going until mealtime. They’re also great to throw in the cooler on road trips. You can find them at almost any natural food store. Trader Joe’s sells their own label of them, and so does Wildwood.
Lunch & dinner:
Stock up at the grocery store deli
When I make my natural grocery store run, the deli usually offers a wealth of vegan options. I especially like substantive salads like wheat berry-based salads, bean salads, tofu salads, or kale salads with chickpeas.
Since those are protein-rich options, they keep me full for a lot longer than a salad that’s exclusively vegetable-based. You can get individual containers for the amount of days you’ll need them, and then throw one into your work bag each day.
While you’re there, see if any of the daily soups in the deli are vegan.
Hit the salad bar
Many grocery stores also have salad bars. Obviously you can make a salad, or you can pick up slices of raw vegetables to eat as a snack on their own, with hummus for dipping, or as a sandwich topper. Also, check out the pre-made salads for vegan options.
Make a sandwich
Grab some vegan deli slices and make a sandwich with the aforementioned bread. While you’re at the grocery store, pick up some packets of mustard by the napkins and silverware. Hummus or nut butter also works as a sandwich topper.
Have a bed picnic
I never feel sad about a bed picnic. It’s basically the same as the nibbly nights we love at home. In fact, I’ve shared some of my bed picnics from Oklahoma, Omaha, and makeshift hotel nachos from just outside of Denver.
Here’s how to do the bed picnic like a pro. Pick any or all of the following:
- Tofu slabs
- Vegetable slices from the grocery store salad bar
- Pre-made deli salads
- Vegan deli slices
- Vegan cheese
- Vegan queso for in-room nachos
- Tortilla chips
- Olives (jarred or from the grocery store olive bar)
- Dolmas (canned or from the deli)
- Pickles (jarred or from the salad bar)
Shelf stable meals
If you won’t have a refrigerator in the room, check out some of the shelf stable meals sold in the center aisles of grocery stores. I’ve seen a lot of people take metallic packets of Indian curry on camping trips, and that would work well in this scenario too. They come in microwavable pouches that you can just heat and eat.
Dry or canned soup
If you don’t mind packing a can opener, cans of soup are a simple microwavable choice. Even easier, McDougall’s makes vegan dry soup mixes. You just have to add water.
Don’t forget the snacks
Finally, no long work day is complete without snacks. Think trail mix, fruit, or snack bars.
I hope this gives you good starting point how to eat vegan while traveling. What are your favorite vegan options when you’re eating out of a hotel refrigerator?