Friday, February 7, 2014

How to Cook in Your Car

You're cheap.

Like barely have enough gas money for this trip, cheap.

Four hours into your weekend warrior adventure, and you're just now realizing you forgot all about eating.

It's ok, we've got you on this one. This is the definitive guide to eating (cheaply) in your car.

Starting off, fast food is definitely the wrong way to go.

If you ate out for 3 meals a day that would cost you at least $15 (and that's being conservative). Multiple that by 7 days and you're already spending $105 on food. That doesn't even include snacks and drinks along the way! We can't be efficient Travelers on a Budget if we keep spending so much money.

They are various ways to save money on food, some are more extreme than others.We'll break them down into 3 categories of extremeness: Amateur, Intermediate, and Advanced.  That way you can choose how crazy you want to go.

This is the classic example where buying food early rather than for convenience will save you money. If you're the snacking type buy all your goods at the grocery store before your leave. Common cheap snack items include:

-Chexmix (don't be afraid of off brands)
-Granola bars
-Sunflower Seeds
-Trail mix
-Peanut-butter Crackers
-Fruit (you can buy a whole bag of apples or oranges for cheap that lasts you for a week)
-Dried fruit
-Cereal (works double as breakfast and a snack)

One thing to watch out for is the amount you snack on the road. Driving can be boring, and idle snacking leads to not unnecessary eating and spending. Try to keep the snacks to every couple of hours.

If you really like to drink soda, buy a 12 pack beforehand. The $3.00 for 12-12 ounce sodas is a much better deal than $1.50 for every 20 ounce at the gas station.

A well seasoned road warrior and camper always brings water with them. It's a good idea to buy a couple gallon jugs of water before you leave, and then fill them up as you need too. That way you don't waste too much plastic and are more likely to have enough water with you. Its easy to forget to drink enough water while driving. That morning coffee and afternoon soda are only going to make it worse. To incentivize drinking water, I buy powdered Gatorade. For about $4 you can buy enough Gatorade to make gallons of Gatorade. Just use a fraction of what it suggests, and you'll find yourself drinking more water and wanting soda less.

If you're traveling a lot, don't forget to buy ice. Just having a cup of ice with whatever your drinking makes you feel more satisfied and happy. Cutting costs at the expense of comfort can start to put a toll on someone mentally and  emotionally. Little creature comforts, like ice, can help cut that cost.

The middle ground is where you strike the balance between saving money and not coming off as crazy. Good ideas are to bring your own food fixings for meals, and make them at rest stops.

We love rest stops. To the savvy traveler they are like mini hotels on the road. You should feel just fine bringing your peanut butter, jelly, and bread to the picnic tables to make lunch. What you may not know is most place are fine with you cooking on a small cooking stove. As long as they're up off the grass and on a surface you're fine. Which means your favorite cooking friend can now be your favorite travel companion!

Some stoves like these coleman are fairly bulky but pack up well
Others like this MSR are great for backpacking
These stoves come in various types including ones that are more compact than others. Once you start using camp stoves a whole world of food opens up. Good items you can mae with minimal effort include:

-Hot dogs
-Mac and Cheese
-Ramen (add a can of veggies for a cheap and easy soup)
-Oatmeal (dress it up with peanut butter, chocolate chips, fruits, nuts, or honey)

As summer approaches we'll be highlighting good traveling recipes, and a section on camp stove.


Make sure to bring a can opener
This is the hobo level of eating cheap. Here you stop caring about what others think, and even what you feed yourself. Economy and efficiency are key.

Canned foods like tuna and chili don't need to be heated up and don't sacrifice too much in taste. The key I found to eating canned food cold is bringing spices and hot sauce. One quick dab of hot sauce can upgrade any food to a higher pallet. Adding other items like bread add variety and texture to an otherwise boring meal.

Many foods out there just require water, they dont necessarily even need hot water, just luke warm water and enthusiastic mixing. These items are great because they require very little cooking and preparation. These include powdered mashed potatoes, eggs, and basically anything dehydrated

Some items specifically require hot water, which can be hard to get a hold of. For this it's great to buy a cheap mugwarmer. Many of these models will plug into a usb outlet or car port. They're great at maintaining a beverages temperature but vary in their effectiveness of heating up lukewarm water. Plug one in about 30 minutes before you need hot water. Once it's a little painful to stick your finger in it's ready to use. The lower temperature usually require at least twice as long of cook time.

It's good to remember they're not designed for boiling hot water. There's a battle between making something that heats up to a high temperature and being a fire hazard. Don't get too frustrated if it heats up slowly.

Gas stations usually have a special spout on their coffee machines that just dispense hot water. They'll charge you for the cup (~$0.25) but you get steaming hot water for your tea and oatmeal in the morning.

Some items you can make with just a little warm water:

-Ramen (cup of soup)
-Easy Mac


God put caffeine on this earth for the same reason he made saturday morning cartoons, to force man to wake up early.

Making hot tea in the desert
The problem is most cheap forms of caffeine require hot water. While it would be hard to call tea and coffee 'expensive' the trend in the last 10 years is to charge as much possible for someone else to make it for you. For the travel less worried about this, truck stops usually do a good job providing coffee, and many places will charge you less if you're bringing in your own mug. The larger truck stop are usually so stuffed full of coffee types and creamers you'll feel down right spoiled.

If you're looking for a cheaper way you can make your own coffee and tea. Tea is an especially great traveling item. I would highly suggest switching over to tea while travel. It's cheap and always easy to make.

Unfortunately many of us refuse to switch to tea, so we're stuck trying to make do.

Instant Coffee-

Natural Austerity does not condone the use of instant coffees, except one: Starbucks Via. You pay for the better taste (~12 for a $10), but they're pretty delicious. The way they make it is sort of a secret, but from the description their process is legitimately different from  instant coffee creating a unique taste almost like real coffee. The price per unit (~$.83) is cheaper than a cup of a coffee at a gas station, but only marginally so. But they're indispensable for camping trips!

Make your own-

Wikicommons: Leland
The best way to make your own coffee is with a french press. You mix coffee and water together, wait a couple minutes, and then 'press' it, separating the coffee grounds from the water. The great thing about french presses is you can always add strength by letting it sit in the carafe longer. This is actually one of the better ways to make coffee, the problem is lugging a french press around can get a little annoying. They're usually made of glass and can break easily. REI sells a traveling mug/press. You have to pour it into another container after pressing it, otherwise the ground at the bottom with make the coffee more acidic the longer ti sits.

If you want to make iced coffee, put less grounds in, and let it sit overnight. In the morning, add ice and you've got tasty iced coffee.

**Protip: For easy tea without hot water, put 2 tea bags in a your water bottle and throw it up on the dashboard. It may take an hour, but eventually you'll have sun brewed tea! (Not so ironically this works well in the desert where there's an abundance of heat coming in your windows)**

The Numbers
So we sacrificed junk food for more miles, what did we really save here?
Lets say in the morning you made instant oatmeal in the morning ($0.30) and drank a cup of tea ($0.50) plus ($0.25) for the hot water to make it.  For lunch you made a peanut butter and jelly sandwich (we'll say that you can make 20 sandwiches for $10 of materials) that's $1 for 2 sandwiches. After lunch you snacked on an apple($0.75) and a granola bar ($0.50). Then for diner you ate a hearty meal of chili ($1.50) and mashed potatoes($1). All together you spent $5.80 the entire day.

Compare that to the $15 you were spending earlier, and you saved ~$9. That's almost 2 days extra worth of food or 100 extra miles!

Thats it for now.
So stock up on food, start driving, and don't forget the coffee!

1 comment:

  1. Matt Boone, like others, is not a human being prior to ingesting coffee. Uncaffeinated Boone is in fact a dwarven monster, sent by the gods of the underworld, to torment all of mankind.

    Thank God for coffee.