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I often face the problem that my diet becomes very bread and cheese centred whenever I do trips to cities where eating at restaurants is expensive.

In a city I sleep mostly at youth hostels where there is no stove or microwave to warm ready made meals or cook. At best, there is a water kettle.

It should serve as a full and healthy meal (so no snacks like fruit and raw vegetables, fastfood or ready-made meals) and portable so one can prepare it in the morning and eat it during a day trip away from the lodge.

An idea would be as example couscous with sweetcorn and beans (tinned).

Do you have any other ideas for preparing meals in western cities which can be prepared without cooking equipment, the ingredients one can find in a regular grocery store, and which are nourishing and tasty?

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These days many supermarkets sell 'ready to eat meals'*, salads and food that can be heated with just the simple kitchens that are available in almost all hostels.
*These are often not cheap filling unhealthy options but very good meals, of restaurant quality.
(Just a pan of water kept just under the boiling point with a sealed packet of food will be fine, and you can do that with just a kettle by refreshing the hot water.)

Also you can do a lot with simple fresh food, little of which needs cooking, as long as you know how to do basic cooking.
Cold cuts of meat, fresh vegetables, many kinds of bread and bread substitutes like wraps and ready made toast, ready to eat rice, pot noodles (often called differently in different countries) and much more.

Also look for lunch deals when out in the day, at (the end of) lunch service, many places have very good deals on one hot meal, often cheaper than sandwiches would be, eat then and a simple sandwich at night or make a salad from some cucumber and yoghurt with some grains or pasta.

With a good selection from a supermarket, but also from small traditional shops you can either prepare lunches that can be eaten cold, or you can take the makings and eat the food as is when ready to eat.
Salads if you have a container that closes properly, vegetables that will stay fresh during the activties of the day and some grains you can add cold, or fresh bread and whatever the shops have to add. (I am a meat eater and will often get a meat for lunch rather than cheese.)

City sightseeing is often not good for home-made lunches, as you have to carry it along, have nothing to cool it before eating, nothing to heat it up with when ready to eat. When in a city, buy your food when ready to eat, but buy creatively, not just the first ready made sandwich you find. And try out local produce, not just of the country but also of its immigrants who often run small lunch shops or even carts and vans.

When you are in a hostel with others, offer to share a meal, help with the cooking and learn from what they do.
If most hostels you stay do not have a kitchen, consider to spend a little more on the hostels and get one with a good kitchen.
Those often come with the basics for meals as others leave them behind, pasta and rice.
And breakfast grains in many shapes and ways.

That will give you a good base to balance some weaker lunches.

  • The tip with looking for hostels with kitchens is a good idea. At my next trip, I will search for accommodations with a good kitchen. Maybe the savings from not having to eat out, but cooking at a hostel could be estimated in advance and allow for a higher budget on lodging without increasing the overal trip budget. – Alexander Gogl Jan 9 '17 at 21:08
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While on vacation it really seems that bread dominates cheap meals. While in Europe last year where we spend a little over 3 weeks in 6 countries, my daughter called the morning meal breadfast!

To get good value in most countries, head to supermarkets but be aware of prices. In some places, street food or fast-food can be even cheaper. In Denmark for example we often ate hot-dogs which are sold rather cheaply from street vendors. Getting tired of bread, we found it was just as cheap to buy sausages on a stick, plus fries when we were extra hungry.

Now, since you have access to a kettle, there are a few easy things you can do: both Couscous and Ramen noodles only need boiling water to be cooked. You can also buy premade seasoning to add flavor to both those dishes. Many Ramen noodle or Alkaline noodle packs have small bags included. They are meant to cook the noodles into a broth but if you are not making soup, you can save half the pack and put it your couscous the next day. This should take care of starches for your meals.

From the supermarket, look for single-serving canned food. Many of those have a tab you can pull to open, so that a can-opening is not needed. Local market dictate what is cheaper, could be canned chicken, tuna and even things that would be expensive at home such as squid. We ate plenty of the latter in Spain where we can use the sauce, usually squid ink or tomato, to flavor other things.

In many super-markets you will also find pre-made salads, potatoes and veggies sold by weight that can some quite cheap. Again, be mindful of which you take. The counter may have expensive smoked salmon salad right beside extremely cheap polock salad.

Since you will something prepared in the day latter one, aim for foods which are still tasty cold. I would not go for cold rice for example but that is just my preference. I do recommend you buy yourself some kind of small thermos to keep your couscous or noodles warm. Some have dual compartments with one for cold items and even a place that hides a folding spork.

Carry water to avoid buying drinks outside which are usually relatively costly. Buy yourself a large 4L or so water bottle at the supermarket since those usually cost not much more than a small 0.5L one and refill a small bottle to take with you each day.

  • Or check whether the tap water is safe and just use that, an other bit of money you do not need to spend. +1 for all the tips. – Willeke Jan 9 '17 at 16:29
  • Good point about the tap water. Are locations such as Italy with plenty of public water fountains. – Itai Jan 9 '17 at 16:39
  • @Itai Yes that is true. I liked the public fountains in Rome. Especially the way how one could easily drink from the fountain water by just holding back the water coming from the main outlet (see image). – Alexander Gogl Jan 9 '17 at 21:15

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