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“Just Add Water” Instant Pot Meals | Real Food While Traveling

I was talking to some friends the other day and one of them was very surprised that it was the more or less in the 1950s when processed foods began taking over America.

She said that it felt like the 50s were so wholesome. Wasn’t everyone making homemade dinners back then?

The 1950s definitely were a shift, because we were in postwar America. Victory gardens were no longer needed. Factories could make things other than tanks and war machines.

And yet, women had gotten a taste of the workforce when the men were off to war. Some of them stayed there, which meant that the culture had all the ingredients needed for convenience culture to take over.

People wanted life to be faster and easier. There were still plenty of housewives to drive purchasing decisions for things like vacuum cleaners and washing machines. And all of the American ingenuity and innovation could be turned toward marketing new products instead of winning battles overseas.

It was both a time of great progress and great destruction of our health.

Is “Just Add Water” Too Easy?

For me, one of the funniest stories is reading about the advent of the boxed cake mix. When cake mix was first invented, it was “just add water,” and it was a complete bust.

Women just weren’t okay with something that seemed so easy. The theory was that they felt they would be judged by other ladies if they brought a cake to an event that they hadn’t put any work into.

The answer from boxed cake mix companies? Instead of just add water, make it crack an egg, add oil and milk. Tada! Convenience food that took a little work.

cupcakes

Somehow I think that now 70 years later, no one at all would beg through market share for cake mix that needed a little more work. We are all about just adding water–or heck, not adding anything and throwing something in the microwave.

I’d like to reverse course a little. How about a just add water (and a few other simple things) meal that you also already made somewhat in your own kitchen? It’s like a reverse boxed-cake-mix invention.

Making Real Food While Traveling Easy

This idea began when we traveled for four weeks to hike the Rocky Mountains in the summer of 2022. As an educator online who teaches people about healthy food and how to protect your time and budget while feeding your family well, of course, I had to share bits and pieces of how we cooked while on the road for four weeks.

Our meal plan included a couple of meals that I’ve dubbed the “Just Add Water” meals. When I shared pictures of our gallon bags of dinner ready to be packed into the food tub, people went crazy asking for the recipes. And here we are. It’s taken me less than 18 months to get around to this post. Obviously, I am part of the quick and convenient culture, right? 😉

You’re Just *7 Days* Away From Easier Meals with Your Instant Pot

Whether you have a few fav meals in your Instant Pot or still aren’t using it regularly yet, I can show you the secrets to SAVE time (and money) with my favorite appliance!

May I send you my best hacks to maximize my fav appliance so you can spend more time with your family AND nourish them well?

Get IP hacks in short emails and transform the way you serve dinner:

When I came up with the concept to be able to pack a few of our family’s favorite meals without needing much prep or perishables while we were on the road, I thought of it this way.

  • Choose a non-meat-based meal, preferably based on something like rice or quinoa.
  • Make sure most of the veggies are easily purchased in a dehydrated form.
  • Buy some bone broth powder so that your water is actually broth packed with nutrients.
  • Make it in a slow cooker or Instant Pot so that it’s easy to prepare and ready for you when you walk in from a long day of hiking.

You can use this sort of paradigm or mindset most likely to take a few of your family’s favorite meals and turn them into a simple reverse-cake-mix, just add water dinners. To be fair, none of these are actually just add water.

I’m generally adding things like canned chicken, tomato sauce, beans, and cheese on top, so it’s really just add water and open a few cans. Still, an incredibly quick meal when you are on the go or pinched for time on a regular weeknight at home.

Just Add Water Gallo Pinto Recipe

The two meals I chose to break down in this way were both rice-based dishes, mostly because we don’t really eat a lot of quinoa and rice travels great.

We enjoyed Gallo Pinto from my son’s Chef Junior cookbook. You can use the recipe that I share below to make a batch in a gallon bag. Either add the pinto beans from a can; or do what I do and pack dry beans and just make those overnight, drain them in the morning, then throw the rest of the ingredients into the Instant Pot.

One and a half batches will fit in a 6-quart Instant Pot and a double batch in an 8-quart Instant Pot.

The other recipe this method worked great for (so far) is our Lentil Rice Casserole. For this one, you’ll need to add a small can of tomato sauce and some canned chicken, although it’s a great meatless meal as well.

Enjoy the recipes below for your next travel time, or camping trip, or make a few ahead for those “Uh oh, I completely forgot to plan dinner and have no time” kind of nights.

Where to Buy an Instant Pot

This is the 6-quart Instant Pot I started out with. After a few years, we added an 8-quart partly because I knew I would use two at the same time often enough, partly because it was the Prime Day sale, and also because I wanted more space for certain recipes. Both are a pretty basic model and you don’t need more bells and whistles than that!

If you’re deciding on size, most people say it’s better to get a deal on the 6-quart and just have 2 rather than go big, BUT if your family has 5 or more people or you really like to batch cook or do more than a pound of beans, the 8-quart may be the best choice. My full Instant Pot review and buying guide for features, size, and model.

If you’d like to shop directly at Instant Pot’s website instead of Amazon (or just compare prices), check them out here.

You can even get a carrying case to travel with it! See my review of the Instant Pot carrying case we have.

If you’re still on the fence about adding an Instant Pot to your kitchen appliance arsenal here are my Instant Pot pros and cons.

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Instant pot pinto gallo

Dry Gallo Pinto “Just Add Water” Instant Pot Recipe

  • Author: Katie Kimball
  • Prep Time: 10 minutes
  • Cook Time: 30 minutes
  • Total Time: 40 minutes
  • Yield: 46 servings 1x
  • Category: Main Dish
  • Method: Instant Pot
  • Cuisine: Mexican
  • Diet: Gluten Free

Description

This gallo pinto recipe is a family favorite and now we can easily make it as an Instant Pot hotel recipe.


Ingredients

Units Scale

Dry ingredients:

  • 1 tsp. dry minced garlic OR powder
  • 1/2 c. dry minced onion
  • 1/41/2 c. dry diced green and/or red bell peppers (If you can’t source the peppers dried, you can skip OR add one pepper, diced, while on the road) I get mine from Country Life Natural Foods
  • 1 tsp. salt (Use the code kitchenstewardship for 15% off of your first purchase)
  • 1/41/2 tsp. black pepper
  • 2 cups white or brown rice
  • 4 scoops chicken bone broth powder
  • 1 bay leaf

Wet ingredients:

  • 24 Tbs. olive oil (use the code STEWARDSHIP for 10% off at that site!)
  • 4 cups water
  • 2 cans pinto beans, drained and rinsed (or 4 cups cooked pintos)


ship kroger


Instructions

  1. To prep, put all the dry ingredients in a gallon zipper bag. I recommend writing the rest of the instructions in Sharpie on the bag.
  2. To cook, mix all dry and wet ingredients together in an Instant Pot. Set to 15 minutes for white rice or about 24-28 for brown (longer for long-grain rice).
  3. You can leave the IP on low all day waiting for your family to arrive home from whatever adventure calls you!

Serve with any or all of the following:

  • shredded cheese
  • salsa
  • avocado slices
  • sour cream
  • cilantro
  • green onion
  • soft fried eggs (yum!)

Notes

When I travel, I’d rather pack dry beans than cans, so I measure 2 cups pinto beans in the evening, rinse them, cover with 4x as much water as beans, and cook overnight in the IP set for 26 minutes (add a glug of oil to prevent foaming for safety!!!), and then in the morning I can drain and mix back in the IP with all the other ingredients. It’s still really quick!


Nutrition

  • Serving Size: 1 cup
  • Calories: 462
  • Sugar: 2g
  • Sodium: 460mg
  • Fat: 9g
  • Saturated Fat: 2g
  • Carbohydrates: 70g
  • Fiber: 4g
  • Protein: 22g
  • Cholesterol: 0mg

Keywords: travel food, comfort food, just add water

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lentil and rice instant pot meal

Dry Mexican Lentils and Rice “Just Add Water” Instant Pot Recipe

  • Author: Katie Kimball
  • Prep Time: 10 minutes
  • Cook Time: 30 minutes
  • Total Time: 40 minutes
  • Yield: 46 servings 1x
  • Category: Main Dish
  • Method: Instant Pot
  • Cuisine: Mexican
  • Diet: Gluten Free

Description

This lentil and rice dish can be made with or without canned chicken for a protein boost.


Ingredients

Units Scale

Dry Ingredients:

  • 3/4 c. dry green lentils
  • 1/2 c. white or brown rice
  • 3 scoops chicken bone broth powder
  • 1/4 c. dry minced onion
  • 1/41/2 c. dry diced red or green bell pepper
  • 1 Tbs. homemade taco seasoning (or 1 packet)
  • 1/2 tsp. garlic powder
  • 1/2 tsp. salt (Use the code kitchenstewardship for 15% off of your first purchase)

Wet ingredients:

  • 3 1/2 c. water
  • 1 8oz. can tomato sauce
  • 12 sliced carrots (or skip if you have zero time)
  • 12 cans cooked chicken (or save 2 c. chicken from a rotisserie chicken meal, another easy “on the road” sort of thing)
  • optional: Add any other veggies you have around – frozen broccoli, peas, fresh spinach, etc.


ship kroger


Instructions

  1. To prep, put all the dry ingredients in a gallon zipper bag. I recommend writing the rest of the instructions in Sharpie on the bag.
  2. To cook, mix all dry and wet ingredients together in an Instant Pot. Set to 15 minutes for white rice or about 24-28 for brown (longer for long-grain rice).
  3. You can leave the IP on low all day waiting for your family to arrive home from whatever adventure calls you!
  4. Serve with shredded Mexican or cheddar cheese on top and any other Mexican fixings your family enjoys.

Notes

Italian version: Swap taco seasoning for Italian seasoning and serve with warmed pasta sauce and mozzarella cheese.


Nutrition

  • Serving Size: 1 cup
  • Calories: 333
  • Sugar: 4g
  • Sodium: 230mg
  • Fat: 2g
  • Saturated Fat: 1g
  • Carbohydrates: 39g
  • Fiber: 11g
  • Protein: 35g
  • Cholesterol: 43mg

Keywords: travel food, comfort food, just add water

What are your tips for cooking real food while traveling?

Unless otherwise credited, photos are owned by the author or used with a license from Canva or Deposit Photos.

2 thoughts on ““Just Add Water” Instant Pot Meals | Real Food While Traveling”

    1. Laura Baltatzis

      The only time we ever wash rice is when we’re making sushi rice for making sushi at home. So I’m guessing in this recipe, you don’t have to worry about it. 🙂

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