We have found it quite easy to eat delicious, nutritious food on a very tight budget as we travel Europe. We have been especially conscious of it this year since gas prices are higher than last year, so it is a way we can keep our budget lower and also feel good about eating right.
It is important when traveling on a budget, especially doing extended travel, to make sure that one is eating well and making sure the family is eating high quality food. Often people on a budget make compromises with food, but it can backfire in the long run and make you more susceptible to illness.
Our life is one big vacation, so it is also easier to be bombarded by expensive and poor food quality temptations that are everywhere that tourists go and especially tempting to children. We gave into a few too many ice creams last year for Mozart and wanted to be more conscious this year with our eating.
My goal is also to lose weight as I travel or at least not add any back after my hard work at getting a good portion off in Spain last winter. Luckily, some knowledge that I gained in that battle of the bulge, gave me some ideas for quick, nutritious, cheap meals on the road. The Fat Smash Diet introduced me to the wonder of beans, so I got a lot of ideas and recipes there. I had never really eaten many beans before, nor had my family, but I have become a convert to their value, price and ease. Mozart even loves them!
We are not vegans, but have moved to a more vegan approach in our eating as I was also impressed with Dr. Fuhrman's theory that a calorie is not a calorie necessarily and that nutrition-dense meals are the way to eat and makes all the difference. He thinks that eating the same amount of calories from say a potato chip is much different than that of some fresh kale and that makes sense to me. He even has a chart based on the most nutritious foods and beans are near the top of the list along with other fresh fruits and vegetables with kale having the top amount of points. His Eat to Live diet is too strict and restricting for us, but I do like his approach and thinking, so have incorporated the things that work for us.
We are not ready to be full fledged vegans, but we see the value in eating less meat. We have long only eaten poultry and fish primarily ( with very rare occasions for beef, preferably grass fed and organic), thus it is not a big change to just eat less of that and have many healthy meals without any meat. It saves money and supports our middle age health, Mozart's growing body and the planet.
I have read that today's generation of kids get so much junk food that they are the first predicted to have a shorter lifespan than their parents. In today's fast paced world, it is difficult to keep good nutrition in mind and to fore go processed food or junk food which is every where. Add traveling as a family on a budget and it gets even harder.
Plus Mozart is extremely thin and not a big eater, so it is important that everything that does go into her has good nutritious value. We are not so strict as to never have any processed or junk food, but we do try hard to have as little of it as possible and to also educate her on how and why to put high quality, delicious food into her body.
This year we have done even better than last year and are quite pleased with our new discoveries, so thought we should share some of it with you, in case it might be of use to others planning extended travel. Some of these ideas can be used at home too. Our biggest change has been beans because they are so cheap, nutritious and can be very fast and easy as well. They have become our new best friends and we have eaten a ton of them of many varieties.
The cheapest of course are the kinds that you soak and make yourself and we have plenty of those, but we do not always have time for that on the move. We find that there are canned beans everywhere and they are also very cheap ( although not as inexpensive as the dried beans). They make wonderful bean salads which can be made by just rinsing the beans thoroughly ( they use too much salt in the canning process) and adding balsamic and virgin olive oil and whatever other veggies and spices that are handy.
Beans with the proper mix, like with whole grain rice or bread, make a perfect protein and are full of fiber and nutrition. Different spices and combinations can also give variety, thus we all find them delicious and satisfying. Eating beans four times a week can lower cholesterol levels by 22 percent or more and decreases risks for heart disease considerably by lowering blood pressure and cholesterol naturally.
It is no wonder that people from around the world have used them as a mainstay meal and we are happy to say they can work great for travelers too. They work especially nice for us in an RV and rental, but I could see eating them often no matter what mode of transportation or housing that one uses while traveling. Beans are in every store and very cheap, even in expensive countries, so they can save you a bundle while giving you good nutrition!
We often use beans as a main course either in a salad, as soup or pinto beans for tortillas, but we also use them as a side dish either warm or cold. We sometimes also add canned peas or corn. A simple, quick side dish which is a favorite of Mozart's and DaVinci's is just a can of red beans, a can of green beans rinsed and then a little basalmic and olive oil with a dash of spices. Takes only seconds for a tasty, filling meal or side dish.This is our kind of fast food after a long day of touring!
Home made soup is our other big choice which saves us money, gives us great nutrition and we love it. We tend to be in salad moods when it is hot and soup moods when the weather is cooler or rainy and often have one or the other. Mozart especially loves a home made, simple chicken soup. We usually use bouillon as a base and just add a small amount of chicken, lots of vegetables and a often a little spelt pasta.
We also travel with a wok and love cooking up quick vegan based meals in it. We have found though, that it works best if we are in one place for a while, rather than fast paced travel ( similar to the barbecue). They are both just a little more work intensive than the bean salads, pastas or soup which we can do easily, even when moving fast.
We buy more veggies for a longer stay and have a three tiered collapsible basket that we use to store them outside in the shade when we have more time in an area. Our refrigerator is small, but works well for us. Sometimes on DVD nights, we make up some organic popcorn ( which we have from home) & cuddle up for a movie ( preferably one that takes place in the country we are visiting).
We do shop in health food stores sometimes which can be more expensive, but we usually make several meals with more expensive items so that they too become budget items. If we are stopped long enough, we will buy some chicken from a butcher and barbecue it for several meals. Sometimes we buy a whole roasted chicken which is a more expensive item, but sometimes more convenient for us. We usually get three, four or more primary meals out of that chicken, so that makes it much more economical.
We also get four or five meals out of one package of spelt pasta ( we often chop spaghetti up into small pieces for the soup) so that too becomes very economical. We have gone to butchers and fish markets all over the world and they all work pretty similarly and gives us another chance to connect with locals.
Fresh fruits and vegetables are not very expensive and we eat a lot of them.When we can, we buy them from farmer's markets or we also shop a lot at big hypermarkets which are very popular all over Europe. Mozart is a carrot and apple fiend and would rather have them as a snack than most anything. We usually carry them with us and maybe pears, bananas, raw walnuts or almonds, and dried fruit when we tour. We also have an insulated pack as one of our pouches in DaVinci's backpack which is handy.
If at all possible we use goat milk dairy products for cheese, yogurt and milk since it is better for us than cow's milk. We like the UHT style milk that is easy to find in Europe because it does not have to be refrigerated until it is opened. This is extremely handy for an RV because we can stock up on it at hypermarkets and do not have to worry about running out at an inopportune moment.
We also have found that the UHT goats milk actually tastes better and more like the regular American milk that we are use to. At home we tended to eat all organic products whenever possible and grew lots of our vegetables in an all year garden. I am not sure that UHT is the best milk, but it is often all that is available at the best price. Europeans tend to use less space and are more energy aware, so the UHT works for them.
DaVinci is the big milk drinker in the family and I am the one who eats most of the delicious goat's ( or sheep's) yogurt which tastes like sour cream to me. I have been told not to ingest cow's milk dairy products for health reasons, so have converted the whole family to the joys of dairy products not made by cows.
We often eat oatmeal or Cherrios for breakfast, usually with fruit, because they are quick and nutritious. Organic peanut butter is a staple for DaVinci and occasionally Mozart will eat that too.( Regular peanut butter is one of the highest pesticide foods so we avoid it). Sometimes we will get fancy with pancakes ( mix from home), french toast, boiled or scrambled eggs, quesadilla, grilled cheese sandwich, fresh picked berries,avocado or bean burritos, fresh squeezed orange juice and such, just to mix things up.Fairly frequently DaVinci makes his famous potatoes and eggs brunch or sometimes we have it for dinner if we don't find a lazy morning to get our families favorite comfort food in. DaVinci and Mozart are the pancake lovers and Mozart has switched her allegiance from Maple syrup to European style Nutella since we started this journey.
Nutella and it's copycat's are everywhere in Europe which they tend to use it like we use peanut butter and jelly. Mozart did not like it in the beginning, but today she is a fan and likes her pancakes European style, smeared with Nutella ( and on rare occasions then topped with whipped cream). We have met backpackers who have lived on Nutella and bread, but Mozart has limited access. It is made out of a mix of hazel nuts and chocolate and is always in our cupboard although not used that much because of the high sugar content. It does come in handy from time to time as a desert, spread upon "intergral" ( whole grain) bread.
For lunch, we usually pack a picnic and have that down to a quick science of making them and finding perfect spots.It takes us only seconds to pack it before leaving in the morning and we find great spots to picnic in style whether it is a city, near the sea or in the woods. I have enclosed a few of our recent "pique -nique extraordinare" location shots to give those who are not use to this option, an idea about how special it can be.
We put the cheese, lunch meat chicken or smoked salmon in DaVinci's insulated pouch. We bring ryvita crackers usually because they take up so little space and add whole grain goodness. Or sometimes we grab a baguette of French bread instead, if that is handy ( often they are baked fresh daily at campgrounds). We have found some wonderful goat and sheep cheeses this year and funnily enough, I usually just pick the cheapest at the hypermarket ( often just 2 euros for a big chunk that will make a few meals). We add in some of the fruits I named above ( apples and carrots travel the easiest), raw nuts and seeds, maybe an avocado, small can of olives or pineapple, maybe dried apricots and voila a yummy, nutritious meal that hardly costs anything. We always have a bottle of water with us, but on rare occasions we might add a bottle of wine.
I am not sure what we spend on food on an average day, but we eat very well on very little money, even in expensive countries. It is hard to figure out precisely by the day, as we tend to buy things in bulk when we can when prices are good at the hypermarkets, farm stands, or markets. We estimate that our average daily food costs about five to seven dollars a day total for a family of three. Not per person, but for all of us. Sometimes it's probably only two dollars a day for our family and possibly up to ten dollars on days where we make lots of exceptions and indulge in extras.
This allows us to splurge once in a while on a great meal out, although we usually do that at lunch time when it is a better deal and we try to eat where the locals recommend and not in the touristy areas where many restaurants are rip offs and the food is lousy.
We cherish these meals because they are special and try to partake in some of the local specialties. Mozart tried her first escargot in France and her first lobster in Galicia, Spain and will never forget these unique, yummy meals. She loves to eat out, but if we did it every day, I don't think she would have the same appreciation.
We also give in sometimes to Mozart's love of fast food, although we prefer to do that at a Subway, we end up with a pizza here and there and something at McDonald's is always tempting when we smell the food when we are using their free wifi. We also try to make healthier choices there and get things like their salads, carrot and fruit packs, but I can not say that we have gone two years without a Big Mac, Kid's Meal or Whopper. Sometimes if it is late or we are tired we succumb. We just take our vitamins daily and do our best to eat well on a shoestring budget and avoid junk food as much as we can.
Yes, ladies and gentlemen, it really is still possible to eat well in Europe on five dollars a day or less! We do have advantages because we have a vehicle and can go to the larger stores where prices are lower ( European campgrounds are often near these stores) and have room to store more food than most in our RV or rental, but these methods can be adapted to any kind of stay, to some extent. The big key is picnics ( even extravagant ones are cheaper than the cheapest restaurant foods) and fixing your own. You will find it healthier, more fun and the easiest route for a traveling family!
What are your favorite ways of "living large on little" when it comes to food and travel?