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Home Cooking Away from Home

By Erik on Jul 23, 2010 10:00 AM in Dieting & You

Preparing your own home-cooked meals and snacks is one of the best ways to maintain a fresh and nutritious diet.  And with the use of Calorie Count’s tools like the Recipe Analyzer, it’s possible to precisely control ingredients and serving sizes to accurately stay within daily calorie limits.  But access to a proper kitchen isn’t always possible or practical – like when traveling, living in a college dorm, or scavenging around a cubicle at work.  Luckily, there are a number of tools and “hacks” you can use to continue preparing your own healthy and economical food in a pinch.

Tools of the Trade

Investing in a few simple items will allow you to assemble a mobile kitchen you can take anywhere and use to cook and consume many different meals.  Generally, this means you’ll need instruments to cut, slice, pour or scoop raw ingredients, a way to combine them together, and utensils to eat the end product.  Optionally, a heat source – anything from a toaster oven to an electric water kettle - can be used to make more complex hot meals.

As a budget-minded traveler with limited space in my backpack, I’ve boiled this down to a small utility knife, a collapsible bowl/plate (which doubles as a cutting board), a light-weight titanium spork, and a 1 liter large-mouth canteen.  A few simple tools like this can be carried anywhere and used to enjoy everything from a quick snack at the fresh produce market to an entire meal cooked out of a handbag.

Chill Out

While many foods require refrigeration for prolonged freshness, quite a few remain perfectly fine if left unrefrigerated for hours or even days.  For example, whole eggs, many hard or processed cheeses, yogurt and UHT pasteurized boxed milk are all available options.  If required, a small insulated freezer bag, wrapped in heavy clothes or a towel, can keep refrigerated foods preserved for a couple days.  To save space, use water or juice bottles as freezer packs – simply drink the liquids after they’ve melted.

Versatile Ingredients

The best ingredients can be reused and combined again and again, while storing and transporting easily.  Some favorites include rice, beans, pasta, couscous, peanut butter, canned tuna or chicken.  Combined with fresh, canned, or dried vegetables, you can make a number of “one pot” meals such as soup, stir fry, or casserole.

For a quick sandwich, carry pitas, tortillas, rye crisps, or some other flat bread.  In addition to saving space and lasting longer than cut bread, you’ll save a dish by using an “edible plate”.

Finally, a small stash of seasonings such as salt, pepper, bouillon, hot sauce, and single-serving salad dressing or condiment packages can be used to spice up and keep your meals interesting.

Your thoughts…

What are your favorite recipes or hacks for cooking without a kitchen?

Calorie Count co-founder Erik Fantasia and his girlfriend, Heather Curtis, are currently traveling through Central America as part of a trip around the world.  You can follow their adventures online with Facebook and their blog.


The first time my husband and I backpacked, we decided it would be worth carrying a couple extra pounds on the hike in to bring frozen steaks, sweet potatoes, and some fresh veggies.  Foil is very lightweight and we have a small set of spices for backpacking as well.  Simple enough - salt and pepper to season everything, wrap tightly in foil, throw into campfire and bring it out unwrap and YUM.  Meat and veggies took about 20 minutes, potatoes longer of course.  What a great meal after a 3 mile hike in with a 40 pound pack!

Really good article, It is always fascinating to cook outside but the concept of Home Cooking Away from Home is really awesome. Thank You

When we get fast food, we rarely use all the salt sachets they give us!  Save them for occasions like these.  (Please don't take the mick and take loads though).

When we do long day-hikes, we often take pizza (slices, bagel, or pita) because it stays well at room temps, travels nicely in a backpack, and as any college kid knows, tastes fine cold. I just wrap individual servings with plastic. Add an apple or orange and you have a lunch with fat, protein and carbs in a good balance.

Good for air travel, as well, btw.

When we lived out bush in Australia and going into town for supplies was a 3-day round trip, we learned a lot about what foods keep well outside the 'fridge and survive packing. Flatbreads are tops; hard to find tortillas in Oz, but lots of other ethnic flatbreads were available and survived crushing just fine. Cabbage and carrots can be thrown in the bottom of a bag for 10 days or more, just keep them as whole as you can until using (i.e. take whole leaves off the cabbage to use instead of slicing the head). We discovered a meal we ended up having often in the last few days before a town trip: flatbread spread with curry paste, sprinkled with grated hard cheese (grate at the last minute, Parmesan lasts forever unrefridge'd unless you let it get so hot it starts to weep fat), finely grated carrots and finely sliced cabbage, all rolled up. We still make these rollups for to-go meals, and sometimes for an at-home lunch, though we found we like the creaminess of a soft cheese even better and will use cream cheese instead of Parm if making at home. Beets are a popular veggie in Australia b/c they travel well when whole and unrefridge'd, and we also found radishes survived fine. Potatoes are good, too, and sometimes we prefer them for the first day or two of desert camping even though they are heavy, because they have their own moisture (unlike uncooked rice).

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