Learn how to make a thrifty travel dining kit using items you probably already have or can get at a thrift store. My Taster and I used ours dozens of times last year. This kept pounds of plastic and paper out of the landfill and helped us keep our toward zero waste resolution. It also saved a little money for the restaurants I frequent. It even enhanced our eating experience in the thrifty places we frequent, because we could use real cutlery and cloth napkins instead of flimsy throw-aways. We never had to flag down someone to get water or a take-out box. Keeping a kit in your car can expand your eating options and save you money, too.
How to Make a Travel Dining Kit
- The cutlery you usually use. I carry a fork, knife, and spoon, but you might want to include chopsticks or a straw.
- A cloth napkin. If you don’t have any around, consider cutting one out of an old tee shirt. The knit fabric won’t ravel in the wash, so no stitching is required.
- A water bottle or unbreakable cup.
- A take-out box to carry your clean table-setting and to hold any leftovers you want to bring home. I use ones saved from previous take-out meals. You could use food-storage boxes or metal tiffins, too.
- Optionally, a small container of any condiment you can’t live without, from hot sauce to za’atar.
- A bag to carry it all.
I chose cutlery that fits inside my take-out box, so I can tuck it back inside after we eat. This avoids getting food on the bag. If I don’t have room in the box, I wrap the utensils in the napkin.
My kits cost 25 cents for each fork, knife, or spoon. Everything else I already had. I could have used utensils I already had, but I didn’t want to break up a set if they were swept up by busy busser.
You can go minimalist, like my friend Camille, who takes cutlery wrapped in a cloth napkin and tied with a ribbon. She slips the bundle into her purse and carries her water bottle separately.
I usually bring two kits, with the extra either for my Taster or a friend, so having a bag to carry it all in encourages me to be prepared.
How Does a Travel Dining Kit Help You Save Money?
Because I have my own to-go box, I save small portions for which I’d feel embarrassed asking for a container. Pickle slice? Two bites of a Reuben? The bread I didn’t need with my meal? Bringing these home cuts the cost of future meals while reducing food waste.
Every grocery store suddenly becomes a take-out place, too. At my local Whole Foods, for example, the salad bar costs $8.99 a pound. Nothing is labeled as organic. I could put together a satisfying organic lunch with a quick trip through its aisles to grab:
- roasted red-pepper hummus
- pre-washed salad mix
- chocolate-chip cookies
Those items average $3.82 a pound. Make a generous lunch for just $4.89 per person, half the cost or less of hitting the salad bar.
In this scenario, my take-out box becomes a dish for the pitas. I chose bananas for their peel-and-eat convenience. For the salad mix, look for a ready-to-eat label and an expiration date at least a day or two away. Surprisingly, some experts say you may do more harm than good cleaning pre-washed salad mix again, so feel free to take it straight from the box to the pita.
Don’t get me wrong: I’m a fan of salad bars and hot bars. They are often the best bet for a quick plant-based meal. But think twice before paying $8.99 a pound for a banana that costs 69 cents a pound a few steps away.