Healthy eating is a hot topic these days, and with good reason. But it somehow seems to slip down the priority list when you’re travelling – especially when you’re a budget backpacker and you’re trying to cut costs by staying in hostels.
Don’t get me wrong, hostels are fantastic. Pick the right one and you’ve got a great place to meet people, a cosy spot to relax after a full day’s sightseeing, and a place to stay that’s a heck of a lot cheaper than any hotel you care to name.
However, they can have their drawbacks. Because of their communal nature, the common areas are often crowded. Particularly the kitchen. And this can make cooking more of a chore than a pleasure. All too often, backpackers fall victim to the draw of a cheap takeaway (especially where Domino’s is only $5.95), or a super-quick microwaveable ready meal.
Or pasta… endless pasta.
Now that’s all well and good (and who among us can honestly say that we don’t enjoy a Pot Noodle from time to time?) but after a while, your body will hate you for it.
And I know: being healthy while travelling is hard. And sometimes it can be pricey, too. But don’t panic: I’ve come up with five healthy backpacker meals that are easy to prepare even in a crowded hostel kitchen, AND they won’t break the bank.
Read on, budget backpackers…
Notes on healthy eating in hostels:
- All of these meals can be made without an oven (as a lot of hostels don’t have them), and most with just a microwave
- These recipes are all designed for two people (or two portions) because that always makes things cheaper!
- Useful things to carry with you are salt, pepper and oil (or preferably cooking spray because at least that won’t leak all over your bag…)
- In some places, especially in Australia and New Zealand, hostels will sometimes either provide these for you, or people will leave them behind, so you might just get lucky and not have to buy them!
Recipe 1: Egg-fried rice
Faff level: 2/5 Health rating: 3/5 Value for Money: 4/5
- 1 packet microwaveable rice (I use brown)
- 2 eggs
- 1 red pepper
- 1 small onion
- Handful green beans
- Fry the onion and pepper over a medium heat, until tender.
- While these are cooking, microwave green beans in a microwaveable dish for 90 seconds on high.
- Add green beans into the pan, and microwave rice according to packet instructions (usually tear 2cm strip at top of packet, then cook for 90 seconds on high).
- Add rice into pan, and mix together.
- Whisk up eggs in a separate container, then use a spatula to move the ingredients in the pan to one side. Pour egg mixture into the gap.
- As eggs cook, stir them up and scramble them using your cooking utensil.
- Once set, mix the eggs into the rest of the dish. Season pan with plenty of salt and pepper (and chilli flakes, if you’ve got them), and serve with soy sauce (or whatever else you happen to have).
Recipe 2: Jacket sweet potato & spiced chickpeas
plus optional red onion and tomato salad
Adapted from this recipe by Minimalist Baker
Faff level: 2/5 Health rating: 5/5 Value for Money: 3/5
- 2 small sweet potatoes
- 1 tin chickpeas
- 1 tub hummus or Philadelphia/cream cheese
- 1 small red onion
- 1 tomato or handful cherry tomatoes
- Juice of 1 lime
- Wash and scrub sweet potatoes. Prick all over with a fork or sharp knife, then microwave on full power for 5-8 minutes, until soft inside.
- While sweet potatoes are cooking, drain and rinse the chickpeas. Fry on medium heat for few minutes, until hot. Season with salt, pepper, and whatever else you can find on the free food shelf (cumin, paprika, cayenne pepper all work well). If short on time, just skip the frying and season them cold.
- Finely chop red onion and tomato, and toss together in a bowl with lime juice.
- Cut sweet potato in half, chuck on some hummus or Philly, poor chickpeas on top. Serve with salad on the side.
Recipe 3: Chuck-together salad
Faff level: 2/5 Health rating: 5/5 Value for Money: 2-4/5
Note: this recipe can be adapted and altered easily depending on which fruit and veg are seasonal (or cheap!) and your personal taste. Ingredients are all suggested – use as many or as few as you like!
- 1 tin lentils
- 1 tin chickpeas
- 1 tin black beans
- 2 tins tuna
- Small red onion
- 1 carrot
- 1 apple
- Handful spinach/other leaves
- Handful cherry tomatoes, or 1-2 normal tomatoes
- 1 avocado
- Feta cheese
- Small courgette
- Hummus/salsa/pesto/sweet chilli other sauce of your choice
- Prep your chosen veg: finely chop tomatoes/onion, shred spinach, grate carrot/courgette, chop apple/avocado.
Note: you can also use a vegetable peeler to make strands of courgette, which works quite well
- Drain and rinse any beans or pulses you will be using.
- Assemble ingredients onto plate or into Tupperware. Add tuna onto one side if using.
- Crumble feta on top, along with any nuts and seeds you are using.
- Drizzle your sauce or dressing on top, and add dollops of hummus/salsa/pesto to one side. Voila!
Recipe 4: Burrito bowl
Faff level: 3/5 Health rating: 4/5 Value for Money: 2/5
- 1 avocado
- 1 tomato
- 1 onion
- Handful spinach leaves
- 1 tin black beans
- Cheese, to taste
- Sour cream and/or salsa
- 1 pack microwavable brown rice (or regular rice if you can be bothered)
- Set out two bowls (or one bowl + Tupperware if doing meal prep).
- Add to each half of the spinach leaves. Microwave the rice and split between bowls.
- Finely chop tomato and onions and fry until onions are soft. Add in the black beans to warm them up, then add half of mix to each bowl.
- Cut avocado in half, remove stone and slice. Layer on top of bowl.
- Grate cheese on top, and serve with generous dollop of sour cream and/or salsa.
Recipe 5: Aubergine and chickpea Thai red curry
Faff level: 3/5 Health Rating: 2/5 Value for Money: 3/5
- 1 aubergine, chopped (that’s the same as an eggplant, by the way…)
- 1 tin chickpeas
- 3 tbsp Thai red curry paste
- 1 small onion, chopped
- 1 tin coconut milk (full fat tastes best)
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- All the spices you can lay your hands on
- Small piece root ginger, minced
- Heat oil in a pan. When the oil is hot, add onion, garlic and ginger if using, and fry on medium until onion is soft and tender.
- Add chopped aubergine into the pan and fry.
- Add in the curry paste and fry until fragrant.
- Pour in coconut milk, and stir the mixture until combined.
- Drain and rinse chickpeas, then add to the pan.
- Add in any available spices: cumin, coriander, paprika, chilli flakes, and of course plenty of salt and pepper.
- Serve as is or with rice, or for an alternative, pair it with some toasted flatbreads.
Hopefully these ideas for budget backpacker meals have given you the spark of inspiration you need to prevent the ever-tempting trip to McDonald’s! Because even backpackers can’t survive on fried food alone…
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