The Year In Food » Fine Seasonal Eating

Masthead header


Eating well on the road, part 2

You’re probably going think I’m a little nuts after reading this. Eccentric, at least. One of my greatest allies on road trips is a rice cooker. I figured this out a number of years ago: It was the dead of winter and I was headed to a motel in nowheresville, deep in snow. I’d stocked up on some fixings for a meal – because who wouldn’t want a hot meal when it’s super cold out? But there was not only nowhere to cook that meal, there was also nowhere to eat out. So I bought a rice cooker. And it has become perhaps the most useful impulse purchase of my life.


I started experimenting cautiously: rice or quinoa with a few vegetables thrown in. Then I attempted pasta. That worked. And from there, everything was fair game: eggs, pastas, sausage, stir fries. I have made popcorn in a rice cooker! The crowning achievement in my rice cooker escapades, though, was making blackberry jam in a motel in Idaho. There have been some failures as well: a regrettable attempt at making pancakes with an oatmeal pack and an egg. Don’t try that. But that’s how you get to the wins.


(Seriously, mac and cheese with broccoli after a long day of hiking/driving/adventuring is absolutely the best. Make sure to add lots of black pepper.)

Using a rice cooker in a motel room is kind of awkward and bound for a few mishaps. But it’s also an amazing little contraption: you do all of your cooking in one pot, and it’s super lightweight and cleans easily. You throw a couple bowls in there while not in use, a spoon for cooking and a small knife and a dish towel, and you’re almost all set. It really is the best.

Rice cooker experiments on the road

The rice cooker across America, in all its unglamorous glory. (PS: There was no cooking done in a bathroom! For the record.)

These recipes work equally well for camping, too, because there is ease in both prep and clean up. Just don’t put that rice cooker over an open fire. Use a travel stove.

Here’s the winning formula:

1. Choose a grain (this is where those lovely boxes of pilaf or pasta that are already seasoned come in really handy!)

2. Match it with a vegetable that travels well (list below)

3. Always travel with a small container of olive oil, salt and pepper, and maybe your favorite spice blend

You add the vegetables at the same time as the rice/pasta/quinoa to a pot of boiling water. When it’s ready, carefully drain it – that steam vent on the lid of the rice cooker doubles nicely as a drain. Use a towel. Add some sauce or some salt and pepper or some hard cheese. You’ve got the best meal in your motel complex.

Produce that travels well:

1. Broccoli
2. Kale
3. Cucumbers
4. Firm avocados (they’ll ripen while traveling)
5. Cherry tomatoes (big tomatoes don’t travel so well!)
6. Melons of all types
7. Carrots
8. Apples
9. Celery
10. Corn on the cob

Have fun! Get experimenting.

  • Shanna - Inventive! I like this idea.ReplyCancel

  • Eileen - This is a really great idea! Super healthy/budget-friendly roadtrip food, Batman! Now if I could only find a rice cooker tiny enough to fit in a standard carry-on bag… :)ReplyCancel

  • amelia - Awww, you’ve just endeared yourself to me even more!!ReplyCancel

  • Yossy | apt2bbakingco - You rule. This is such an awesome, practical, ingenious idea!ReplyCancel

  • Louisa - Ace! Love it! Just wish you could take one on a jet plane…ReplyCancel

  • Sharyn Dimmick - This is brilliant! I never would have thought of it. Thank you.ReplyCancel

  • Katherine Sacks - Ha! I love the peak into your traveling lifestyle and I’d love to go on a road trip with you :) I just managed to pull everything out of our storage unit, including our slow cooker, and we’ve been making good use of that. But a rice cooker is much faster. So smart!ReplyCancel

  • Brian @ A Thought For Food - Freakin’ fabulous, Kimberley! I think this is so cool! And I will be sure to stay away from making “pancakes” in my rice cooker. Sounds terrible :-)ReplyCancel

  • Riley - I love my rice cooker! It’s such a versatile kitchen essential.ReplyCancel

  • Angel @ Cooking with Paprika Angel - Love it! Far more mobile than a crock pot – I’ll have to try this when traveling next.
    Here is my own post on what I call guerilla cooking

  • SG - This is amazing and so smart! I can’t wait to try this.ReplyCancel

  • Sasha - I’m amazed. Simply amazed. Who knew that the humble rice cooker could make so many different and inspired on the road meal. Applause!ReplyCancel

  • Andi - My hubby and I always bring a kettle for soups and oatmeal and tea but never thought about this – what a fantastic idea!ReplyCancel

  • sara - loving these tips, kimberly! You are so resourceful. I have been wanting a rice cooker for awhile too, just haven’t quite bit the bullet. You make it look like it’s worth the money!ReplyCancel

  • Linda - How awesome. I’ve never made anything besides rice in a rice cooker. Although, come to think of it, when I was younger and my family would go on car trips, we’d bring one along and have hot pot in our hotel room. Handy!ReplyCancel

  • Elizabeth A. - I love this! How did I not think of it :) Do you have any problems with sticking in the bottom and losing half your meal? In those early days when I owned a rice cooker, and just cooked rice in it, it almost always stuck to the bottom.ReplyCancel

  • Kathryne - This is genius, Kimberley! Genius! Thanks for sharing all your tips. My rice cooker just got so much more useful.ReplyCancel

  • Amanda@EasyPeasyOrganic - This is LIFE-CHANGING! Seriously! :)ReplyCancel

  • SarahB - That is pretty awesome and I wish I had known this when I started traveling for work and living in hotels. I even danced with the idea of recipes you can cook in your hotel coffee pot. But your bottom two pictures capture my biggest issue: cooking in your bathroom. As clean as we claim to be, it’s still a place that other business goes down. Luckily, most of my hotels now are extended stays which provide a mini stovetop and pots and pans.ReplyCancel

  • The Wimpy Vegetarian - What a terrific idea! I need to remember this for my travels. Love it.ReplyCancel

  • Beth {local milk} - Wow. This is inspiring. It makes me want to take a road trip just so I can be all Macguyver like with a rice cooker!ReplyCancel

  • Nori - I love this!!! I need to experiment with my rice cooker. Quinoa and millet are great protein packed alternatives too. :)ReplyCancel

  • Kimberley - Hey everybody! Reading your comments has made my day. I’d love to clarify two things: 1) This only works for road travel, not flying. 2) The last image above is not a bathroom. :)ReplyCancel

    • Ricky - Hi Kimberley,

      When you say this is only for road travel is that because you can’t bring a rice cooker on your carry-on when flying?


  • la domestique - This is a revelation! Very clever, lady.ReplyCancel

  • Noche - Nice! I haven’t used my rice cooker in ages. (I make it on the stove.) Now I have a great reason to bust it out. I’m really curious about making popcorn in a rice cooker.ReplyCancel

  • Elisabeth Ryan - what a great idea! it’s so hard to eat well when traveling, and searching around for a restaurant/ sitting around in a restaurant can be such a drag. having the option of cooking for yourself is great. i am surprised at how versatile those things are. i use a crockpot to make risotto and also steel cuts oats (much easier than on then stove).ReplyCancel

  • ileana - Brill. I love my little $12 rice cooker, still doing well six years later, but never though to bring it with me like this!ReplyCancel

  • Kelsey - badass.ReplyCancel

  • Diana - GENIUS!!!ReplyCancel

  • Me, you, and everything we eat: Does food righteousness hinder systematic change? | Grist - […] the slime/glue/corn by-products that are so cheap and easily available to most of us. (Here’s a recent favorite from a friend who brings her rice cooker on the road and makes impressive meals in…!) But let’s pat ourselves on the back and then move on to see what else we can […]ReplyCancel

  • sarah - You are amazing. Really. I haven’t used my rice cooker in months – I’m going to have to dust it off and start experimenting.ReplyCancel

  • Isa-Marie - Trop drole et excellent !

  • kickpleat - I love this idea! We just came back from a 3 week road trip and we camped half the time and one of my favorite meals was making Amy’s mac & cheese with some chopped broccoli at our campsite in Yellowstone. We bring a little stove attachment that screws onto a small propane canister. But I can definitely see the appeal for those motel stays – especially in out of the way places where there are only fast food places. We usually just head to a grocery store and buy crackers, hummus & carrots and call it a meal, but sometimes a hot meal is called for.ReplyCancel

  • Ashley - Definitely agree about mac n’ cheese with broccoli or spinach for a delicious + satisfying meal. I go back and forth on wanting to buy a rice cooker…but popcorn in a rice cooker? I may be sold.ReplyCancel

  • crab - Indians have been doing this for ages because we cannot live without our dal-chawal(rice and lentils). By schlepping a rice cooker, at the very least there is Kichidi – rice, lentils, dehydrated veggies(optional), chili powder, a dab of butter…hot steaming Kichidi is on the table to scarf down with chips and yogurt. And then there is oatmeal, barley soup, quinoa pilaf…the world is your oyster.ReplyCancel

  • Diane, A Broad - That? Is one of the most brilliant travel tips I’ve ever seen. Heck, I kind of want to make meals in a rice cooker at home now, to see what I can come up with. It’s a restraint that flexes your creativity — like partner dancing with only one hand.ReplyCancel

  • Diane, A Broad - This? Is one of the best travel tips I’ve ever seen. Heck, I’m tempted to go buy a rice cooker to try some experiments just at home. It’s one of those things that can flex your creativity by limiting your resources — like partner dancing with only one hand.ReplyCancel

  • Amber Jones - I did this a few years ago and it was a great idea. I made some pasta w/veggies and even some popcorn in it. :)ReplyCancel

  • Weekly Top 10s | 80twenty - […] healthy on the road. Totally […]ReplyCancel

  • Alison - Genius. SO very genius. I wish I’d thought about this while doing so much traveling this summer!! Incredible.ReplyCancel

  • Dayna - This is SO awesomely brilliant!! I am so telling this to everyone I know! It is so true – who doesn’t want a delicious, affordable, easy, HOT meal after traveling all day?!ReplyCancel

  • prasad - This looks gorgeous! I love the idea of grilled bread salad – and love the beautiful colors! Thanks for pariticipating in this!ReplyCancel

  • diary of a tomato - Pure genius, thanks for sharing how to keep eating well while on the road! I have friends who planned their entire cross country trip according to where Whole Foods were located. This makes it so much more doable, as well as enjoyable!ReplyCancel

  • Alanna - AWESOME!!ReplyCancel

  • chefnat - i have my best dish look a like ;;;
    i call Thai Hot -Pot Or Tom_yum TalayReplyCancel

  • Links Round Up! « Kaleidoscope Brain - […] being honest with your work. GEM, it is a gem. 11. This is so brilliant. Eating well on the road = One-Pot Meals and the Magic of the Rice Cooker ! 12. I’m pretty sure everyone has seen this already, but still really good:Simon Sinek: How […]ReplyCancel

  • Tina - Hey, I’m loving the rice cooker idea but I’ve also got to say, I just love the photographs here. The colors here are so perfect and well-balanced. Amazing job!ReplyCancel

  • shelley - This is a book. Please write it!

    Here’s the order of operations:
    1. You write it.
    2. I buy it.

    ‘Kay thanx in advance!ReplyCancel

  • Reading List | Savvy Eats - […] 9. Who knew you could cook so much in a rice cooker? […]ReplyCancel

  • Maddy - OOoooohhh… I guess this means me and the rice cooker will have more good times together. Ha! Great post and BRILLIANT IDEA i will definitely try!!ReplyCancel

  • for the love of pie: kimberley hasselbrink / Herriott Grace - […] don’t already, you’ll keep coming back too. And well, I figure that anyone that likes a rice cooker as much as I do is someone I’m meant to be friends […]ReplyCancel

  • Bonjour Juliette - Haha my brother lived with *only* a rice cooker for years on -until he met an oven. The rice cooker and the oven got married, my brother too (but with a charming lady!), and they’ve been living happily altogether…ReplyCancel

  • Nellie - Wow! We’d heard of people cooking our mac in hot pots before, but rice cookers are a totally new thing. We re-pinned this on Pinterest on our “Fun in the Kitchen” board. Do you boil the water first in the rice cooker then add the shells?ReplyCancel

  • shukurat nuhu - I learn more about kitchen.ReplyCancel

  • best rice cooker - “One pot milk and the magic or rice cooker” this line has caught me and I have read it out; all idea and tips of this writing is easy and easily applicable. Other than image, bullet form instruction is also excellent tricks. Thanks authorReplyCancel

  • Shankar - I have a Hotplate + Cooking pot + container, all of which fits together measuring 6″x6″x3.5″. The cooker is only 250 Watts & will not overload the hotel circuits. Being lightweight at 850 gms I am able to take it on my overseas trips also. I cook rice,noodles, stews, make tea, boil eggs, fry omlettes …..


  • Anne - We do something similar in our family, but we use a RoadPro 12 volt trucker oven. Basically, it’s a little breadpan-sized lunchbox that plugs into your cigarette lighter and cooks as you drive. To keep it clean, we stick a disposable bread pan inside and then toss it after the meal/snack.

    In addition to the grain+veggie+spices meal you’ve outlined [brilliant way of putting it, by the way!], we’ve done:

    (1) Steamed veggies [fresh green beans, edamame, baked potatoes, etc.]
    (2) Omelets
    (3) Hot sandwiches [grilled cheese, toasted bagels, veggie-filled quesadillas, burritos, and so on]
    (4) Soups [canned or frozen from home & eaten first day’s ride]
    (5) Meats [“Walking Tacos” by warming pre-browned, pre-spiced taco meat in oven, then adding toppings into individual chip bags. Pre-made frozen meatloaf. Once even did a moose steak that a local gave us as a gift!]

    Usually our first meal of the trip is leftovers from the fridge or a special meal I’ve made and frozen in a bread pan. From there we go in order of spoilage potential and buy select ingredients along the way.

    I’m excited to incorporate your tips into some more veggie-heavy meals. We’ll probably keep doing steamed veggies and omelets, but otherwise I like the simplicity of your idea better!ReplyCancel

  • Scrumptious - Great post, thank you! I am totally inspired. I rarely travel by car though… I wonder how hard it would be to shlep a rice cooker on the plane? As a gluten-free vegan, I think it could actually be worth the trouble. Figuring out how to feed myself is always the most stressful part of going to family weddings, etc.ReplyCancel

  • kelly - I have a question. I don’t get how you cook the veggies with the grain…you said you boil water-do you mean in the rice cooker? And once it boils, you add the rice and veggies? And how much rice do you add so it’s not gross and soggy? You said you drain it after…I don’t get that, with the soggy rice and all…Could you give me more specific instructions? I also don’t have a steamer with my rice cooker, is that a problem?ReplyCancel

  • Kimberley - Hi Kelly,

    I totally wing it, and this was meant to be inspiration to do just that! My rice cooker has a hole on the top, and that’s how I drain water, using a dish towel to hold the lid snug. I would follow your intuition: if you think the broccoli, for instance, needs less time than the rice, add it later. It’s all an experiment! I’ve never written any instructions down, just figured it out as I went. :)ReplyCancel

  • kelly - What about chicken…ever added chicken, rice and brocoli all at once and the chicken came out cooked?ReplyCancel

  • Brande Plotnick - So inventive and slightly hilarious seeing the rice cooker plugged in near what I believe to be the hair dryer! I travel frequently for work and almost always by car, so I’ll have to give this a try. Good food is hard to come by on the road!ReplyCancel

  • Toby Sonneman - I love this idea!
    I wrote about road trip food and motel cooking with an electric kettle, on my blog here
    But this takes it up a notch! Thank you.ReplyCancel

  • Julie - yes! growing up in an immigrant family, we brought our rice cooker everywhere — on roadtrips, motels… i had one with me in my dormroom in college. i even brought a small one with me when i went to study abroad!ReplyCancel

  • Judy - I am on this mission too. Found myself in a pricey (for me) hotel for a week with my hubby in hospital. Also have to watch sodium and bad fats as well as the budget.Have a microwave but frozen meals taste awful and have way too much salt. My first morning here, I marched out and found a small rice cooker. Then off to the grocery store for rice, pasta, some rice seasoning, can each of chickpeas and beets. Already brought from home – hard boiled eggs, home made muffins, crackers, tinned chicken, hummus, and smoked oysters, instant oatmeal, granola bars and trail mix. I will probably have some food left over but cheaper and healthier to toss it rather than go a couple of blocks to McDonalds
    So far, I have cooked up rice in a tin of Mexican chicken soup That took a little babysitting. Also another night I steamed fish in the basket after the rice was cooked about halfway. Not optimum but a good alternativeReplyCancel

  • Gini Krasney - WOW Catya, What a wonderful idea!!! I have one to try out your ideas.
    Blessings & great eating!ReplyCancel

Your email is never published or shared. Required fields are marked *