We’ve been rambling for two years now. We’ve gotten pretty good at arranging our temporary kitchen at each stop in order to maintain a whole food plant based diet.
Our first task in a new place is to figure out just the right amount of food…and no more. If our stay is only a day or two without a kitchen, we shop once - for breakfast. For a longer stay we shop about every fourth day. We never waste food and we really don’t want to carry it forward. Although we do carry coffee, tea, and a couple of spices. Occasionally nuts, but not much more.
In Europe, we’ve learned to search Google Maps for “bio near me” to find a likely source for the kinds of groceries and supplies we prefer. Usually we find an interesting out of the way neighborhood too. In Germany and Austria we were surprised to find that the Dm-drogerie markt offers foods like tofu and nuts at very reasonable prices. Of course, if we happen upon a local market day, we’re quick to pick up any seasonal fruit or vegetable that looks especially appealing.
Aside from reading French and German labels (Google Translate helps), finding plant based groceries hasn’t been a problem. Our challenge has been preparing tasty and wholesome whole food plant based (WFPB) meals in minimalist kitchens. Without many of the basic kitchen tools or a well-stocked pantry we have had to simplify, simplify, simplify.
How do we do it?
It all depends on the kitchen. In this article you’ll discover how we eat when we have a well equipped kitchen, when we have a partially equipped kitchen and even when we have no kitchen at all. It also depends on how long we are staying. We do allow ourselves more choices in our pantry when we are staying a month. For example, we might stock up on both quinoa and brown basmati rice and alternate. Such luxury.
The Daily Dozen is made up of nine food groups (beans, greens, cruciferous vegetables, other vegetables, berries, other fruits, nuts and seeds, flaxseed, and whole grains) plus herbs and spices, beverages,and exercise. Outside of the Daily Dozen is a B12 vitamin supplement. Shopping is easier when you realize you need a certain number of servings from all nine groups EVERY DAY. This prompted us to really make some changes in our eating habits. For example, we now add walnuts, pumpkin seeds, flax or chia seeds, cinnamon, and berries to our daily oatmeal to reach six of the Daily Dozen. And just like Popeye, we have our daily dose of spinach.
So, in order to live, not vacation, we need a kitchen. Sadly, some places barely qualify to use the word “kitchen” in their description. That’s why we began hauling our own little cutting board, knife, kitchen shears, one cup coffee cone, hot pad holders, corkscrew, and multiple spices and condiments from place to place. That lasted about three months before we decided to lighten our load in both the kitchen and apparel department.
Because we travel by train and bus, we really had to lighten the load in order to lug our suitcases up stairs or lift them up to overhead luggage racks. Even a four-wheeled suitcase is heavy when you’re on cobblestones going up a steep hill.
Today we are down to two plastic storage containers with screw on lids, a potato peeler, a paring knife, a metal tea ball, a set of sporks, washable sandwich wraps, and a ⅓ measuring cup. And too few shirts, but that’s another story.
What works for us?
The Ideal Kitchen
The ideal kitchen is when we have a refrigerator, cooktop, oven, microwave, coffee maker, kettle, cutting board, and a decent knife. We treasure little things like mugs, serving bowls, cooking utensils, colander, a big skillet, and a soup pot. I remember one place that had one tiny teacup and one mug. I’m the last one to wake up so I got my coffee in the teacup. That was as bad as it gets. In France, no less.
We’ve had kitchens stocked with salad spinners, juicers, immersion blenders, glass baking pans, espresso machines, bread knives, and dishwashers, but that’s not common.
What can we do in a well equipped kitchen? We can introduce much more variety into our diet on longer stays but find it possible even on a short stay. Here’s what we have to buy at each destination:
Breakfast: oatmeal, plant milk, berries, other fruits, walnuts, pumpkin seeds, chia or ground flaxseed, and cinnamon. Lunch/Dinner: We fit in servings of beans/tofu/tempeh; a whole grain like brown basmati rice, bulgar, or quinoa; cruciferous and non-cruciferous vegetables; greens; fruits and almonds.
Having some go-to dishes makes it easy on us. We often make a tofu paneer, a Spanish garbanzo and spinach dish, Hungarian goulash with white beans, mushroom and tofu stroganoff, pasta e fagioli, or my very favorite and easiest dish: mujadara - a combination of lentils, basmati rice, and carmelized onions.
We can saute veggies on the cooktop but we’re in heaven when we have an oven. Baked potatoes with chili is a real favorite on those days. Plus, we don’t stop at loaded potatoes. We do loaded salads. Nuts and seeds and raisins from our breakfast stash enhance a salad as do fresh fruits, red cabbage, carrots and cucumber. The Daily Dozen plan really helped us see where we could increase our nutrition without adding excess calories.
The less than Ideal Kitchen
The less than ideal kitchen has a microwave and a small fridge. Fortunately, we can still have our full breakfast. We can also have our fruits and salads but most of these kitchens don’t have cutting boards or salad bowls so we have to optimize what we do have. We cut on parchment paper and we use a cooking pot for the salad bowl!
What we tend to do for our main meal is steam veggies in the microwave and add them to a steamed potato or bed of beans. Not fancy I know, but it does meet our nutrition needs. Fortunately, we only have to do this occasionally. In the bio stores (these are the health food stores in Europe) we’ve also found some decent “processed” food such as plant based patties or soups that can be prepared in a microwave. Nutritionally, it beats anything offered to vegans in a restaurant.
Days with “NO” kitchen
We really try to keep these days to a minimum, but we’ll book a hotel when we just need one or two nights to bridge a gap. That often means we rely on restaurant meals knowing that it’s not a restaurant's job to focus on what’s nutritionally good for us.
The goal of a restaurant is to add enough fat, salt, and sugar to fill us up (and out) and get our brain wanting more so we will return. It’s claimed that Anthony Bourdain said that restaurants use a whole stick of butter per meal. I don’t know if that’s true and I was never one of his fans because he was the furthest thing from a WFPB eater, but I’m not surprised about the butter quote.
In the summer of 2021 we traveled in the U.S. and suitable restaurant meals were more difficult to find than in Europe. The salads on offer were a weak sister to what we make at home and it’s impossible to get a whole grain pasta or rice. But, Asian restaurants will offer tofu and veggies and there’s always vegetable fajitas in the Mexican restaurants. Unfortunately, even these meals have enormous amounts of fats and salts.
In Spain, we always had luck with Chinese, Indian, Thai or Lebanese restaurants. We continued that search as we traveled through Portugal, Italy, France, Germany, and Austria. Unfortunately, smaller towns are less likely to have that diversity. Most of the countries we’ve been to are presenting more vegetarian items on their menus, devoid of meat but full of dairy. And we had an amazing experience in Rothenburg ob der Tauber, Germany. We went to a community wine festival and they offered a gluten free/vegan dish that contained lentils. We’d never seen a single bean or legume offered on a restaurant menu in Germany so this was a real surprise.
So, what do we do? For breakfast we’ll have soy yogurt (if available) and berries. We buy good, whole grain bread and make sandwiches. Our latest favorite is Vollkornbrot, a hearty whole grain bread in Germany and Austria, and avocados. Even peanut butter and jelly or peanut butter and cucumbers taste good on quality bread.
Sometimes we’ll find vegan salads in the deli section of a supermarket. If not, we make our own salad of canned corn and kidney beans. That’s why we carry our own plastic containers. Carrot sticks, cherry tomatoes, radishes, and apples round out our meal.
It's all worth the effort
Do we wish we could buy WFPB options in restaurants? Yes, of course. Having that option would be a treat. Until that becomes as standard as mashed potatoes with butter and cream, we’ll just make the extra effort to eat healthy.
It’s really not that hard. In fact, some things - like shopping - are easier. Once we identify a great store (which is a little harder when we are constantly on the move), it’s really speedy to pick up what we need. Especially since 90+ percent of the products in a standard supermarket can be ignored.
Clean-up is also something that is easier which proves to be a good thing in these tiny holiday rentals. There’s no spattered grease or stinky garbage that has to be removed each night. What’s even better is avoiding plaque filled arteries.
I can’t emphasize enough how much the Daily Dozen program by Dr. Michael Greger simplifies meal planning and wish I had found it years ago! Thank you, Dr. Greger.
Susan writes about the things that make life meaningful for her. This includes places we’ve been and what we’ve experienced as nomads these last several years. And now, includes finding a place to call home.
As we come closer to a “settled” life, Susan will begin to emphasize aging gracefully with a plant based diet, plenty of yoga, and physical activity. She is certified to teach Hatha, Vinyasa, and Yin yoga. Adaptive and Senior yoga certification is coming soon.