What to Eat When You Don’t Have a Kitchen

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By the author of The Ultimate Guide to Frugal Living and What to Eat When You’re Broke

Ladies and gentlemen, fellow Frugalites, I finally hit an unfortunate milestone in my thrifty travels filled with well-chosen AirBnBs: the last place I stayed did not have a kitchen.

Okay, it did, sort of. There was a stove, but it terrified me. You had to light it with a match, and it gave a deep BOOM each time you did. After I watched the owner light the stove and heard that boom, I silently vowed not to touch it again for as long as I was there.

And it was a good thing. A few days later, a knock came at the door, and it was building maintenance. After a series of Google Translate messages, sign language, and an intervention by the owner, it turned out that the stove was LEAKING GAS. So it could have really gone boom if I’d lit a match and tried to get the burner or oven going. I was so glad I listened to my gut and not the friend (don’t worry, I still love you) who told me I was being a weenie.

So anyway, I had a fridge but no way to heat up anything. This is a situation Frugalites could run into for a variety of reasons:

  • You’re traveling.
  • You are between homes.
  • Your stove broke, and you can’t yet swing the cost of a new one.
  • You’ve rented a room as opposed to an apartment.

Those are just a few reasons I can think of off the top of my head.

I like eating out as much as the next person, but doing so for every single meal would be hard on the budget, no matter how inexpensive the locale. So, here’s what I did.

Limited kitchen essentials

If you don’t have a kitchen, a couple of inexpensive appliances can go a long way. A couple of these suggestions assume that you have electrical power.

  • A way to keep things cool: I had a refrigerator, but if you don’t have one, a cooler will do. You’ll just need to fill it with ice each day.
  • A way to boil water: An electric kettle means you can make tea, pour-over coffee, or instant coffee for that morning caffeine jolt and it’s far, far cheaper than hitting the local java joint. You can also add boiling water to instant oatmeal and soup mixes.
  • A way to toast bread: A toaster or one of those panini makers can really jazz up a sandwich. I found a panini maker at a local thrift shop and it was a really nice addition.

A microwave or toaster oven can be a gamechanger, but these are far more expensive kitchen additions.

Don’t have a kitchen? Here’s what to eat.

This isn’t going to enumerate every single solitary meal you can create without a kitchen, but hopefully, it will provide some FOOD for thought. (see what I did there?)

Delicious no-cook-meal #1: Deli-style lunch
  • Sandwiches: I picked up some tasty meat at the deli, some sliced cheese, and some bread from the bakery. Add your favorite condiment and maybe some lettuce and tomatoes, and you’re in business.
  • Cold side dishes: Pick these up readymade from the store. Coleslaw, potato salad, and macaroni salad will make that sandwich feel more like a meal.
  • Pickles: Add a pickle spear and a handful of plain potato chips for even more of a lunch-at-the-delicatessen vibe.
Delicious no-cook-meal #2: Yogurt parfait
  • Plain yogurt: I like to stir some vanilla protein powder in it to boost the nutrition but just plain is fine too.
  • Fruit: blueberries, blackberries, strawberries, sliced bananas, peaches – pick your favorite!
  • Granola: I love a good-quality granola with some nuts, honey, and perhaps a bit of dried fruit. If money is tight, a crunchy cereal will work fine.

Layer all of this together in a bowl for a yogurt parfait breakfast.

Delicious no-cook-meal #3: Salad

Everyone knows how to make a salad, of course. Grab yourself some fresh produce and go to town. Lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, cheese, onions, zucchini – whatever you like! If you get it at the farmer’s market and it hasn’t been refrigerated, then you can eat it at room temp. Just drizzle on some oil and vinegar and sprinkle it with salt and pepper.

Delicious no-cook-meal #4: Mini charcuterie plate

If you have a fridge, this is super easy and feels fancy.

  • Meat: get some delicious, thin sliced meat from your deli counter.
  • Cheese: grab a variety of cheeses in small portions
  • Preserves: I absolutely love the combo of sweet and savory. If you can find it, onion jam is awesome with this, but if not, something like peach or raspberry works well too.
  • Fruit: Grapes and apple slices are the classic. I was able to find fresh pears at the market so I used those.
  • Pickles: People here in Romania live for pickled veggies. A little serving of mixed pickled veggies or your favorite pickle spears would be nice on your platter.
  • Crackers: Choose 2-3 different crackers if you like variety. I like a sturdy cracker with some texture to it.

This will make you feel elegant and you may even want to break out the wine. I could eat this every day of my life and never get tired of it.

Delicious no-cook-meal #5: Tuna salad

In the mood for protein but have no way to cook it? Look no further than a can of tuna. Also, if you hate or avoid tuna, canned chicken works for this as well.

  • Canned tuna: get your favorite type – oil or water, it doesn’t matter – and drain it well
  • Dill: fresh or dried
  • Mayo: If you’re a mayo hater, you might like dijon mustard better. Or even make a combo of the two.
  • Chopped veggies: You can chop up celery and onion to add some crunchy flavor to your salad.


  • Canned veggies: Believe it or not, canned green peas or peas and carrots, drained well, are pretty decent in tuna salad.
  • Black pepper: Is it even tuna salad without a liberal dousing of black pepper?

You can serve this with crackers, over a lettuce salad, or in a sandwich. My childhood favorite was tuna salad on saltines.

Delicious no-cook-meal #6

Looking for a hot meal loaded with protein? Look no further!

  • Rotisserie chicken: bring it home and eat it right away.
  • Premade salad: Do you have any potato salad, macaroni salad, or coleslaw left from your deli meal?
  • Dinner rolls: I think this meal absolutely requires fresh, soft dinner rolls from the bakery.

The leftover rotisserie chicken makes a nice salad like in no-cook meal #5 or a sandwich like in no-cook meal #1.

Delicious no-cook-meal #7

Dip night! Grab an assortment of dips and dippers and make yourself a plate.

  • Hummus
  • Baba ghanoush
  • Some kind of creamy dip
  • Salsa
  • Baby carrots
  • Celery sticks
  • Bell pepper slices
  • Cucumber spears
  • Crackers
  • Pita bread
  • Tortilla chips
  • Potato chips

What do you suggest eating when you don’t have a kitchen?

What are some reasonably thrifty meals you can throw together without cooking? Have you ever been in a position where you weren’t able to cook? What was the reason? What did you eat? What are your best tips for people who don’t have a kitchen?

Let’s talk about it in the comments section.

About Daisy

Daisy Luther is a coffee-swigging, adventure-seeking, globe-trotting blogger. She is the founder and publisher of three websites.  1) The Organic Prepper, which is about current events, preparedness, self-reliance, and the pursuit of liberty; 2)  The Frugalite, a website with thrifty tips and solutions to help people get a handle on their personal finances without feeling deprived; and 3) PreppersDailyNews.com, an aggregate site where you can find links to all the most important news for those who wish to be prepared. Her work is widely republished across alternative media and she has appeared in many interviews.

Daisy is the best-selling author of 5 traditionally published books, 12 self-published books, and runs a small digital publishing company with PDF guides, printables, and courses at SelfRelianceand Survival.com You can find her on FacebookPinterest, Gab, MeWe, Parler, Instagram, and Twitter.

Picture of Daisy Luther

Daisy Luther

Daisy Luther is an author and blogger. She's the single mom of two daughters and credits extreme frugality and a good sense of humor for her debt-free lifestyle. She is the author of numerous books, the editor of TheOrganicPrepper.com, and is the founder of a small digital publishing company in the emergency preparedness niche.

8 thoughts on “What to Eat When You Don’t Have a Kitchen”

  1. Currently, we have no power. It has been out for almost 5 hours so far. I have no idea how long we will be without power. I’m glad my computer was completely charged. I’m enjoying reading your articles. I’m recognizing the things we should have done already. We are ok for now.

  2. I think you covered nearly everything, but I came up with Black Bean Salad. Drained black beans tossed with ready to eat rice from a packet, salsa, chopped onion/peppers. Rice salad is another (similar) option, mix the ready to eat rice with chopped veg (celery, onion, peppers) and an oil and vinegar dressing. Can also add marinated artichoke hearts with some of the marinade as dressing.

  3. I might suggest expanding one’s definition of a kitchen to include many circumstances one might be in. A long time ago when I enjoyed mountain backpacking for weeks with the Boy Scouts … my “kitchen” was an open campfire over which I boiled water to heat up a meal of dehydrated food. That was long before I ever learned about tiny compactible wood gas stoves (which could burn tree twigs, wood pellets, pine cones, or even alcohol from a drop-in Trangia burner), foldable rocket stoves, foldable panel solar cookers (one Copenhagen design I made DIY from under $10 worth of materials), foldable umbrella solar cookers with reflective panels inside (which have traveled the world with knowledgeable users), Fresnel lenses for solar heat (either gentle or high heat depending on the focal length you choose to use), and thermos bottles to slow cook for several hours after heating up water, food ingredients, and the thermos bottle — using only a few minutes of heating energy. That way such a thermos bottle can continue such slow cooking in your vehicle or even in your backpack while you continue your journey. That saves you the cost of am insulated thermal cook-pot such as listed on Amazon, etc. Do an online search to learn about how to do thermal cooking.

    There are also various brands (especially Coleman and GasOne) of portable camp cookers that are multi-fuel. Propane, white gas and butane are relevant fuels here.

    The point is that depending on whatever kind of cooking gadgetry you choose to acquire (some very highly portable compared to others), you can turn many circumstances into an impromptu “kitchen” away from any risk of indoor carbon monoxide. This greatly expands your list of what foods to store and/or carry.


  4. Jennifer Harvey

    These are all delicious choices. I kind of like the adventure of finding different ways to cook or prepare uncooked food. A power outage is always an excuse to light some candles, set out an indulgent charcuterie board, and open a bottle of wine. Add some chia seeds to your yogurt parfait, stir, wait 15 minutes, and you have a higher protein pudding. The top two layers of my tool box stack (my at-home oh-shit kit!) contain shelf stable snacks, which I use both for travel, picnics, and for power outage meals. Quite a variety in there, but it includes things like shelf stable cheeses, summer sausage (In the week following Christmas, the pop-up Hickory Farms stores in malls always sell their leftover gift baskets at half price, and I buy some to store for emergency meals), tiny jars of various mustards and preserves, small packets of pickles and olives, freeze dried cheese, snack packets of nori seaweed (which I particularly enjoy paired with Trader Joes cheddar cheese bites or smoked salmon), tinned smoked salmon, flocks chicken skins, nut and fruit mixtures, freeze dried fruit, yogurt bites, Japanese rice crackers, and – of course! – chocolate. Also, don’t forget that not all cooking requires a stove! If you have a balcony or other outdoor space to use, you can use an Esbit type stove and fuel to boil water, pour it into a thermos, and take it back inside to use for making coffee, instant oatmeal, backpacking meals, etc. You can also use a larger thermos to cook meals such as soup and chili as long as you have bought it to a full rolling boil first. You can do the same indoors using an electric immersion coil as long as you have electricity. I always include one in my travel bag. If I am home in a multi-day power outage, I can use my Volcano stove or Cobb BBQ oven with a Dutch oven to cook outdoors or in the screened porch, or my Barocook pot indoors.
    Your story of the gas stove reminds me of my first apartment after I left home. It was a tiny gas stove which I had to light with a match every time I used it, and I clearly remember the “whoooshe-POP!” sound it made. I little daunting at first, but I soon got used to it.

  5. Several years ago, I accompanied my husband on a business trip to Sweden. He was on per-diem, but I wasn’t and we couldn’t afford to pay for 12 days of lunch and dinner for me, so we went to a local grocery and bought cheese, crackers, olives, etc. (I had brought along cup-o-soup packets, tea, & coffee from home). At noon, he walked back to the hotel and we ate lunch together in our room; for supper, we usually walked to a near-by mall and ate at a fast food restaurant. Thankfully, the hotel room had a (very) small refrigerator (but no kitchenette) and a buffet breakfast was provided by the hotel. Before leaving Texas, I’d gone to a travel store in Dallas and bought one of those little heating coil thingies that you put into a mug to boil water plus a plug converter.

    I almost never travel without food of some kind, even if it’s just granola bars, peanuts and fruit. We’ve been stuck before and not being really hungry helps a lot.

  6. Mary from Texas

    When we had a two day power outage several years ago, we wouldn’t open the refrigerator to keep things in it cold (we didn’t lose any cold or frozen food). We ate bread toasted over the fire in the fire place with peanut butter for breakfast. We heated water for instant coffee and soup for lunch over an alcohol burner that I had saved from chemistry. We ate peanut butter crackers and granola bars for dinner along with apples and bananas that we had on hand. There was ice on streets that kept us from going out.

  7. You can make yogurt using a thermos! That can be done without a kitchen. You basically need a source of warm water (to pre-heat the thermos), milk, and a bit of yogurt to start it.

    You can also soak instant oatmeal without heat if need be. It’ll still soften. If you add good things to it, it can be surprisingly tasty. Regular rolled oats can also work, the only difference between them and instant is thickness.

    Thrift stores are gold mines for cheap small kitchen appliances. Don’t forget about the venerable hotplate, electric skillet, or electric wok. I used those in my dorm room and was able to cook all kinds of stuff. For those who don’t want to deal with even a kettle, there are these cute little immersion water heaters that you put into your cup to heat the water, and they are very small indeed!

    1. Many years ago my cousin, his wife & 3 children were put up in a motel by the state. They used coolers and had a crock pot to cook their meals with. They couldn’t use a hot plate. I believe they did have a microwave though. She got creative with their meals.
      Debbie in MA

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