5 Frugal Foodies Secrets to Affordable Eating on the Road

Life on the road is a total blast. You get to see new places, meet new people, and have new experiences. No two days are alike, and it’s the perfect recipe for adventure.

I’m no stranger to living out a suitcase and hitting the road. In 2019, I performed in a national tour of the production Christmas Wonderland that involved traveling nearly 6,000 miles on a bus starting in Myrtle Beach, all the way up to Warren, Ohio, and ending back down in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida. In 2021, my fiancé and I ditched our apartment and hired a camper van to travel up the coast of Queensland, Australia for two months (https://thefrugalfoodies.com/2021/02/17/our-next-big-australian-adventure-van-life/).

From hitting the stage to hunting waterfalls, there’s one big challenge that’s hard to overcome when living on the road:

Maintaining a balanced diet that won’t blow the budget.

Particularly on tour, getting in the proper fuel to allow peak performance of a 2-hour show following an 8 hour bus ride can be tough. Ensuring said fuel costs less than your per diem is even tougher. While there are decent macro-friendly options to be found at fast food spots (check out THIS resource from DWL), those options tend to be more expensive. Plus, I can’t say the McDonald’s grilled chicken sandwich tantalizes my taste buds or makes me feel ready to jazz hand and bevel.

Once you arrive to your hotel, cheap nutrition is even harder. Eating out and ordering in will probably set you back at least $15 a meal, and before you know it, your salary can’t even get cozy in your bank account before being transferred right to your credit card bill.

Don’t stress!!!

Over my  time on the road, I’ve picked up  a few tips and tricks on how to eat well without blowing your nutrition goals or your budget.

Before diving into the 5 Frugal Foodie’s secrets to affordable eating, let’s kick things off with your startup costs.

Start Up Costs

These items cost more upfront, but they facilitate smart food choices and will save you money in the long run:

  • High quality, stackable Tupperware that won’t leak all over your bag.
  • If you’re a coffee addict, I’d recommend an aeropress. It’s easier to clean than a French press and makes better coffee. Plus, it’ll save you from spending $4 on Starbucks every day or, even worse, drinking hotel coffee. HERE is a demo of how to use an aeropress (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Yd6MvZLTO-w)
  • A fellow cast mate had a blender, which I thought was genius. If my future holds another tour, I will certainly get one.
  • In the camper van, we bought a cheap sandwich press that made boring sandwiches much tastier. Funny how much better cheese is when it’s melted…
  • A blanket, pillow, and noise cancelling headphones/ear plugs. Never underestimate the value of sleep for your total health and wellbeing!

Now that you have the basics, let’s dive in!

1. Become a hotel room chef

Just because you are living in hotel rooms doesn’t mean you should approach each meal like you’re on vacation. Going grocery shopping and becoming a hotel room chef is essential for facilitating frugal and smart choices.

Here are some of my go-tos:

  • A bag of spinach and a bag of frozen veg
  • Hummus or some other type of dip/dressing
  • Microwaveable rice pouches
  • Rotisserie chicken (TIP: take all the meat off when it’s warm!)
  • Oats: Make ‘em hot or throw together “overnight oats” to eat later on the bus. I personally love proats with banana and honey as pre-show fuel
  • Cans of soup, Greek yogurt, frozen dinners, and instant noodles are solid frugal options as well.
  • Sriracha… because it makes everything taste better 🙂

If a simple protein, rice, and veg has you yawning, get creative! Microwaves are surprisingly versatile cooking appliances.  You can make omelets in a mug, quesadillas, loaded potatoes, single serve lasagna, and various egg casseroles.

I’m no Rachel Ray,  but I love trying slightly outrageous things in the kitchen. I read online that a hotel room iron could be transformed into  a cooking appliance. Sold! I whipped up a  grilled cheese (https://thefrugalfoodies.com/2019/12/15/hotel-hacks-iron-grilled-cheese/) and some S’mores (https://thefrugalfoodies.com/2019/12/17/hotel-hacks-iron-smores/). Let’s just say success is the eye of the eater….

Be sure to put that Tupperware to work and meal prep for tomorrow’s bus ride lunch!

Bonus Tip!!! Pick up a bottle of wine, 6 pack of beer, or spirits of choice.

Let’s face it, you’ll want a post-show drink. Having something on hand will save you from paying $$$ at the hotel bar.

2. Stock Up a Small Pantry

Having a “pantry” (aka a food bag) that you can take from hotel to hotel is a life saver. Sometimes the bus will pull into a service plaza that only has one food option. Or you might not get to your hotel until 9pm after the grocery stores are closed. Or maybe your hunger is on it’s own timeline. Having quick, easy food on hand means you don’t have to spend money at Burger King if you don’t want to and that you have the ability to eat on your own time. Plus, a peanut butter sandwich and protein shake are 1/3rd the price of a grilled chicken sandwich.

 My staples:

  • Protein powder
  • Protein bar
  • Peanut butter plus some sort of item you can put it on (bread, wraps, rice cakes, etc.)
  • Fruit and crunchy veg  
  • A can of  baked beans (I opt for the low added sugar variety): I didn’t jump on the baked bean bandwagon until living in a camper van, and now I’m obsessed! It’s a cheap, filling source of protein and carbs. Plus, if you have Tupperware full of steamed veg you made in the hotel the night before, the sauce is a great dressing.
  • Tuna: DO NOT I repeat DO NOT open a tin of  tuna on a bus. Your cast will not appreciate the lingering aroma, guaranteed.  However, it’s a great source of protein when on the go.

Bonus Tip!!!:  Have a treat on hand!

It can be hard to resist splurging on food when everyone around you is dipping waffle fries into thick chocolate milkshakes. Food envy can demolish your budget and upend your health goals if you aren’t careful. As a Dancer Who Lifts, you know you can 100% enjoy a Chick-fil-A milkshake or an order of fries. You also know that neither will set you up for feeling and performing your best. Having a treat on hand is a weapon against the splurge. I LOVE chocolate. Having a couple squares usually puts my food envy at bay while saving major $$$ in the long run.

3. Take advantage of the breakfast buffet

Nothing is more frugal than free! Free hotel buffets can fuel you up all day with a little strategy and Tupperware action.  Fill up in the morning on the hotline eggs, sausage, bacon, oatmeal and whatever else that is best served warm. Snag a couple yogurts and mix them with protein powder for lunch or a snack. Whip up a PB&J sandwich for your Tupperware to have on hand.

Don’t forget about the bananas, apples, and cereal boxes!  Fruits and dry cereal are easy snacks that are perfect for long stints on the highway. 

Bonus Tip!!!  I love having breakfast salads. On tour, I would often steam up  some broccoli in the microwave, throw in a handful of spinach,  then take it to the breakfast buffet to add hardboiled eggs, salsa, and  perhaps some sausage if I was feeling frisky.

4. Pick and Choose When You Eat Out

Going out to eat is  fun, and it’s something you should enjoy!  Budgeting your macros is a great strategy for enjoying that Chick-Fil-A chocolate shake. Budgeting your dollars is  great way to afford a dinner out. Opting for Tupperware meals over fast food on the road allows the financial freedom to check out a cool local dining spot. You’ll remember that epic burger you got at a trendy craft brewery. You won’t remember that Panera panini.

Pro Tip: A money and macro saving strategy that works me on the road and in life is choosing between getting a drink out or getting a meal out. Splurging for a margarita and tacos is a recipe for a $50 tab (you’ll want the guac… let’s be honest.) Having a plan on choosing one or the other cuts that bill in half. Another strategy is to share an entrée or appetizer and to pregame dinner with a snack 🙂 

5. Have an online coach!

Making smart, frugal food choices is important for ensuring  peak performance, but so is sticking to a gym routine. Being on the road means you probably won’t have access to a normal gym. Having an online coach makes it possible to keep up with your fitness goals. Obviously, I’m biased towards Dancer’s Who Lift  🙂 On tour, not only were my workouts designed to help me get through the demanding show injury free, but I could just snap a photo of the (usually crappy) hotel gym and Amber would help me adjust the workouts accordingly. Is having a personal trainer frugal? Well, would you pay, let’s say $200, to reduce your risk of spraining an ankle or tearing your ACL? I know my answer!

Life on the road is fun and exciting, and you can 100% maintain a balanced diet with adequate nutrition without breaking the bank. These 5 tips will set you up for success !

Hungry  for more Frugal Tips? Check out Katie’s previous guest post with DWL HERE, https://dancerswholift.com/2020/04/10/inexpensive-eats/

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