How To Eat Healthy & Cheap Traveling Europe!

September 11, 2008


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.

My online friend Squawkfox has a neat article on great meals for five dollars  with great photos that remind me of the type of meals we cook. We often tease each other over our passion for beans and frugal living.  I thought you might also like these related articles at Brave New Traveler , Get Rich Slowly and Cheap Healthy Good.

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?

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bravo!! this is great. and it is so important, and difficult at times, to eat well while traveling. excellent article - inspiring!

Debbie Dubrow

Great article. I will include it in this week's link roundup

You have me lol about the beans. E is a very picky eater & beans are one of the few proteins he likes, so I have about 1000 variations on rice & beans!

Another favorite for us is "pancake sandwiches" They're a great hack when I'm out of fresh bread & for a toddler they are about 20x more fun than a regular sandwich

Annette Klassen

First I must say that I love your blog and look forward to new posts.... My husband and I envy your lifestyle and wish we could travel more...let alone a extented travel across Europe. I love this entry as it inspired us to cook better....and we don't live in a motorhome!

Kerry (formerly from Monterey, but now in CT, and heading to Austria next year)

I haven't comment in ages, but I promise I'm keeping up!!

This was a wonderful blog post. I'd love for you to share some of your bean recipes and I wondered if DaVinci was willing to share the recipe for your families "favorite comfort food," the breakfast eggs and potatoes?

Are you guys in Scandinavia yet?


JessieV-Thanks! It is a challenge & I am proud that we have done even better than last year!

Debbie-Thanks so much! Glad to hear E has made you a bean expert too! ;) Gr8 pancake hack, but hard to find good pancake batter here, so they are a rarer treat for us as we import from home. ;)

Annette-Thanks a lot, glad to hear you are enjoying following us!! We took 9 years to conceive, so know a lot about that frustrating "journey". Hugs to you! I think eating really well & losing weight is what helped me get pregnant so old! ;)

Kerry-Always glad to hear from you, thanks! We will try to get those recipes out in another post...good idea!

Yes we are in Sweden since Aug 15th, just finished Finland, Norway tomorrow for a few days, then down to Denmark, Germany and a rest in St Tropez. Starting to get cold, so need to head south soon! Twitter & twitpics give clues to upcoming posts & real time! ;)

We are taking some disadvantaged school kids w/us virtually now thru a non profit, so that adds to my work load. Excited about meeting them in NYC in late October!!


Just checking back in with you guys after finally getting settled here in Alaska. I love reading about your adventures! And what a wonderful post! So many neat ideas to ponder. I am definitely going to try out some of your ideas for eating cheap and nutritious. Thanks!


OMG. I want the recipe for the bean salad in your photo! YUMMY. This is an awesome article. Your story of frugal travel is stunning. I love following you on Twitter and in my reader. Thumbs Up! love love love

Also, I did not know about the high use of pesticides in peanut butter. Do you completely avoid nut butters? Or splurge and get the organic variety. I really love my nut butters.

I'm intrigued with Joel Fuhrman M.D. thesis on nutrient dense foods over calories. Very interesting. You've given me some food for thought. :D

Beth Blair

What a fabulous post. Now my mouth is watering for those delicious looking dishes. I love to eat "like that" but gosh, for me, it is so hard while on the traveling. I admire your efforts!


I need to start on a diet now. All that meat and cholesterol is getting to me. Thanks for this post! I'd like to try some similar recipes.


Great article! I found this link from Squawkfox's regular update. I really enjoyed reading it. I am always interested in cheap, healthy meals, and we're doing a lot of vegan meals too.

It seems such a dream to travel Europe for awhile. I have visited Denmark twice to visit my husband's family. I do look forward to seeing it and other parts of Europe someday!

Thanks for the tip on the peanut butter. I didn't realize it has so many pesticides. I have been alternating between the cheaper unsalted (non-organic) natural stuff from one store and the slightly more expensive, salted and organic from the other. I think I'm just going to make the switch to the organic.


I have a great recipe for Black Bean Brownies which can be found here:
They're awesome for a special treat if you have access to an oven!


Theresa- Thanks! Nice to see you here again! Glad to hear you have settled in now.

Squawkfox-Aw,thanks for your enthusiasm and love! Hope your knee heals quickly- I know that one! We actually looove almond butter & I will be picking some organic up when we visit home soon after NYC! Thanks for including this in your links!

Beth-Hey traveling mama! Yeah it is harder while traveling, but we are always on the road, so have to learn how. It is easier than I imagined though, once we made up our mind.

Jenny- Thanks! Yeah, this kind of eating is really great for lowering cholesterol!

Marcia-Thanks! Looks like we have a lot in common! Funny, we are in Denmark right now.

Elizabeth-Wow! That looks like a great and unusual recipe. I wonder how stevia would work instead of sugar? I will definitely try this when we get back to Spain & have an oven. Some RV's have them, but we don't on the road, but will in Spain. Can't wait to try it. Thanks so much!


Could you please tell me what is in the bowl for image 1085 and the recipe if possible. It looks delicious!


Thanks Jeannine! I don't really have a recipe because it is the kind of thing I just make up with what is on hand.

It is basically a bean salad with lettuce ( what best kind was around in what ever country I made it in), a couple of cans of different kinds of beans ( looks like red kidney beans & garbanzo beans), can of corn ( all cans rinsed well due to salt), chopped carrots, onion, tomato, maybe a little avocado chopped too, a little virgin olive oil, basalmic vinegar, spices to taste. Toss! ;)

That's it! So glad you liked it!


Lots of good tips for eating well anywhere here!

I'm not so high on beans (except green beans), but I do try a lot of the other tips you've mentioned here.
Trying to reduce processed food in our diet will be a big one this year. I'm already a big fan of fish...and try to get Tim to do more fish and chicken when we eat at home.
Among our favorite stores here is a small chain of local produce stores and Trader Joes. TJs especially has some cheap eats and lots of their packaged choices don't include all of those ingredients you can't pronounce!


thanks so much for your article.
It has definitely given me more confidence about traveling europe


we're traveling to Europe in a little while, and I'm wondering where the cheapest places to buy bottled water are? How much can we expect to pay (in Euros)?

Fanciful Alice

It was amazing reading this post because oh how it made me think about our 18 months of travel around Europe ... we ate like kings! with just two rings and a small grill in our camper - and obviously limited utensils.

We found that due to money we cut down on meat and fish an awful lot while travelling - it was just an expense that we didn't miss or feel we needed, but we too realise the importance of still putting a lot of good stuff in. We virtually lived on beans! bean salad, chick pea curry, bean burgers, beans beans beans in anything. They are SO nutritious and versatile and yummy too. In the end we decided to buy a pressure cooker and when we were staying somewhere for a while, we would cook up our own. Now we are actually vegetarian and find that in general, we all feel so much better since becoming so.

Great post! and great to see you are still on the move ... I'm afraid we needed a rest from the lifestyle and are currently 'static' for six months in the UK ... although sometimes I think I'm already getting itchy feet again and we're only a month or so in! watch this space ;-)


Thanks for sharing these great tips!!


Why not make your own pancake batter? It's very easy... I'll make you crêpes if you ever come back to Brittany.

(Still reading on and catching up on all your adventures ;-)

Love this post, great ideas & reminder...

It's inspired me to opt, as much as possible, for a daily beach pic-nic dinner during the month of July. No fuss, simple, fresh food eaten facing the sea... it doesn't get much better than that! (plus the added bonus of no dishes, table or kitchen to clean up afterwards !).


Gabrielle- Funny you should say that as we did start to make our own pancakes after I wrote this. The road makes one adaptable and I actually could write a few posts on this top as we keep changing and learning as we go.

When we began they wanted their special pancake brand from home and maple syrup which is our custom and just not available in Europe. But now kidlet actually likes nutella on pancakes better ( didn't like nutella at first) and we've adapted to just making our own from scratch.

A long trip in foreign lands morphs one into a different person with different tastes and we find ways to make our own versions from home that we miss. Hubs has just gotten very good at making a delicious sushi out of brown rice, salmon, avocados and seaweed wraps that has become our fave Friday night meal.

"No fuss, simple, fresh food eaten facing the sea."

Yep, that is the way to go!


Alice - It's amazing what one can do with beans! We have not gone totally vegetarian and are actually eating less beans this summer ( now I can't eat them right now much because of my Candida from the surgery I had last year) but still eat healthy and cheap!

Hope to see you back on the road soon. We enjoy our static winters.


Oooooh, a little video about making sushi on the road?

I LOVE crêpes, pancakes, whatever the style or the topping!

Nutella is quite addictive... I'm trying to wean my lot from it as it is supposed not to be very good for you (+ they won't garantee no GMO - don't know if it's an issue you care about ;-)

Still, it's like everything, just a bit now and then is probably harmless.

There are some quite good alternatives in health food shops here in France. Although a bit pricey...


This is great news. I am a total foodie and worried about blowing our budget in Europe on food. But we are camping so we will be making a lot of our meals. Also I wanted to tell you about a recipe I came up with years ago. I put it on my website and here is the link:

I am a vegetarian and eat a lot of beans. This one combines black beans, avocados and a few other fresh items. It is REALLY good so you might want to try it out. I make it now for family gatherings because everyone loves it so much. I call it: Holy Beanacado Super Yum. Hope you get to try it and like it!


Bethany - I don't think you will have any problem. Thanks for the recipe! Enjoy!

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