It has finally happened. The boxes are packed. The truck loaded, you cleared housing with a miraculous clean record. Your children have said all their last goodbyes to their teachers and friends. And now you are homeless -- but ready for dinner.
While the military is paying your hotel stay and some per diem and eating out at a restaurant sounds fun, if you are anything like me, you will be sick of them in three days. So how can you avoid all the dining out and even save some money during a PCS? Well my friends, look no further.
Here are 5 ways to beat the PCS restaurant-only diet:
1. Pack some dishesHotels usually have some plastic cups, and that is it. These are not helpful for eating in your room. If you are flying or short on space, get some disposable paper or plastic plates, cups, bowls and silverware. If you have room in your suitcase or car, bring some reusable dishware along with some silverware, a sponge and dish soap. This will make eating in your room easier and will help keep some kind of normalcy for your family during a stressful time. Having some real cutlery and dishes around are a just a nice touch of home in your cookie cutter hotel room.
2. Pack a slow cookerMany hotel rooms have a mini fridge and microwave, but if the hotel room you are staying at does not have a stove top, consider bringing a slow cooker or electronic pressure cooker (anyone else on the Instant Pot craze?). These two items will make creating one pot meals very easily. Toss in a meat, vegetables, and some sauce, microwave some rice and you are in business. If you have the room and already own a counter-top grill, consider packing one of these.
Every person in your family is authorized a suitcase while flying so do not be afraid to designate your little one’s suitcase as the “kitchen items” one. And if you are driving, packing these kitchen items can qualify as a partial-DITY move -- be sure to ask your local transportation office for the low down -- so you might be able to get some cash back on the back end. You can even use the slow cooker to make egg quiches and a pressure cooker can make hard boiled eggs so you can use these items for breakfast and dinner!
3. Eat the smaller meals at the hotelIf you have no room for cookware or you just do not want to pack kitchen items, you can still limit your restaurant time by eating breakfast and lunch in your room. Many hotels offer free breakfast so you can eat there and grab some extra cereal boxes, fruits and yogurts for snacks. If your hotel does not have a free breakfast, you can still eat cereal, milk and fruit in your room.
For lunches, you can have sandwiches with deli meats and cheeses or the classic peanut butter and jelly. Microwaveable soups are also a nice alternative. The best part about eating these two meals in your room is that if your spouse is still working, you will be able to feed your family without hounding them for a ride or their time. Be sure to stock up on chips, popcorn and some of those squeezable applesauce pouches for snacks. No one wants to deal with a cranky child at 2 p.m. so even if you do not want to eat any meals in your room, be sure to keep snacks on hand.
4. Eat localEven if eating in your hotel room has been going great, that does not mean that you have to eat every single meal in your room. Let’s face it, hotels are small and sometimes you need a change of scenery. Picking a family friendly restaurant during PCS season can be a challenge, especially if you are on the backend of a PCS and in a new place. A few places I like to look for good places are Yelp and your local newspapers; they often have a “local eats” section that highlights local places that are delicious. And local places are often more affordable than chain restaurants which is always nice.
5. One Last HurrahSpeaking of local places, before you leave your duty station, be sure to eat one last time at all your favorite joints. You never know when you will be back at that duty station and if there is one place you just cannot live without, be sure to eat there one (or two!) more times.
Before leaving our last duty station, we ate so much sushi from our favorite sushi bar because it was so good, we were afraid to live without it. The military often sends us places with amazing restaurants so be sure to stock up on some flavor memories before you drive away that last time.
Food is a huge part of our lives and PCSing can be incredibly stressful. Keeping your diet as close to normal is a great way to add some stability to a tumultuous time. As we all know, our children thrive on normalcy so giving them a plate full of food they are used to is a good way to relieve some of their stress which will in turn, relieve some of your stress.