We go on vacation to escape the everyday chores such as cooking and cleaning. However, eating out as a family for breakfast, lunch and dinner soon adds up. This is why you need these vacation meal planning tips. Not only will they save you money but time and stress too.
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By the time you have remembered to pack all the travel essentials, survived the long journey and finally check into your vacation rental the last thing you want to do is think about making dinner. Vacation meal planning doesn’t need to be complicated, after all, traveling as a family can be stressful enough.
Instead, these tips will make meal times easy and give you more time to actually relax and enjoy your vacation. They will also ensure your family enjoy healthy, fulfilling meals so you’re not tempting to splurge on dining out or cave in to fast food.
The Best Vacation Meal Planning Tips
1 .Plan Meals Based on the Kitchen Equipment
Before you begin vacation meal planning, it’s essential you know what equipment you will actually have available to use. For example, if you love a morning smoothie will your rental have a smoothie maker? If your kids will only eat toast for breakfast will there be a toaster?
It’s no secret I’m a huge fan of the Instant Pot electric pressure cooker and batch cooking using the slow cooker or instant pot is one of the best ways to make easy vacation meals for a group but will your kitchen have one? Send your rental a message before your arrival so you can plan accordingly. If they don’t have one, consider bringing your own if you can, or even buying and sending it to the rental. A Crock Pot slow cooker or Instant Pot is less costly than dining out 2-3 times, and you can either take it with you or donate it at the end of your trip for a potential tax write-off.
2. Research Local Grocery Stores
While it’s great to book a vacation rental with incredible views and away from the bustle of the city, sometimes that can mean you’re limited on grocery stores. When it comes to vacation meal planning, it’s important you consider where you will be buying your ingredients and supplies.
You don’t want to spend the majority of your day hunting down grocery stores or spending your vacation fund on fuel. Not to mention how long it can take to familiarize yourself with a new grocery store layout.
My best tip for this is to use InstaCart to see what’s available in the grocery stores nearby your vacation rental. Then make a list to either print and shop at the store or have InstaCart deliver it straight to the rental. I actually have a list of what I Instacart regularly with my family 5 – check it out here. This makes vacation meal planning so much easier as I can organize our food supplies ahead of our arrival.
3. Consider Dietary Restrictions and Preferences
Our family is gluten free which at times, can make eating out difficult especially while traveling. This is another reason why I find vacation meal planning important. It can be difficult to source certain ingredients which we may need to prepare our gluten free favorites.
However, it’s also important to note if you are trying to find easy vacation meals for a group, not just your own family. It will save you so much money, stress and time if you find out everyone’s dietary restrictions and preferences before you arrive. Whether there are allergies, vegans, keto restrictions or simply fussy eaters, it’s best to find this out before you head to the grocery store or begin meal planning. This will give you more time to research and plan meals you know everyone will enjoy.
4. Make a Grocery List and Stick to It
Although one of the many joys of travelling is trying new foods, the whole point of vacation meal planning is to save money and time so when you have a list, stick to it. Don’t be tempted to throw extra items in the cart as you may end up regretting it later.
As a busy mom, I am a huge fan of minimalist meal planning especially on vacation. I enjoy fuss-free family meals that I know my kids will love. Having this “recipe bank” makes writing a grocery list straightforward and I’m more likely to stick to it. If you arrive in a new grocery store with no list, it can feel overwhelming and stressful trying to find and remember all the items you need. You’re more likely to miss ingredients and have to make return trips which will waste your precious vacation time.
5. Plan Ahead with Frozen Meals
This is one of my favorite vacation meal planning tips as it will save you so much time. Whether it’s a long road trip or after a busy day sightseeing having meals in the freezer is such a relief.
Not only can you reheat them in minutes (even without a microwave) but you’ll have minimal washing up too. You could either spend a little time on your first day batch cooking to fill your freezer, or you could bring frozen meals in a cooler from home. Either way it can save a ton of time as well as money during your vacation.
6. Make Use of One-Pot Meals and Slow Cookers
No one wants to spend their vacation sweating over a hot stove or at the sink with piles of washing up. Instead, let one-pot meals and slow cookers do the hard work for you. Recipes such as minestrone soup or risotto are some of my fave easy vacation meals for a group as they are quick, one-pot meals that are healthy and delicious. Check out my Instant Pot meal ideas here (which can easily be used in a slow cooker too).
Slow cookers also make vacation meal planning a breeze as you can dump in your ingredients and then spend time with your family instead of babysitting a pan over the stovetop. Slow cookers are also ideal if you need to batch cook for the duration of your stay or feed a crowd. Again, saving you precious vacation time.
7. Use Leftovers for Lunch or as Ingredients in Another Meal
Utilize leftovers for lunch or as ingredients elsewhere as this will save another trip to the store as well as keep you out of the kitchen. For example if you make something like pesto chicken or roast chicken for dinner one night, those leftovers could be used as a topping on homemade pizza, in white chicken chili or tortilla soup the next day.
When it comes to vacation meal planning I always try to create a larger batch than necessary to ensure we’ll have leftovers for the following day. If you’re making the food anyway, it requires no added effort but it can save the brain power and energy of coming up with another meal idea.
As a tip, before you go ahead and meal prep or plan your meals around leftovers, double-check how you’re going to store it all. You will need to bring Tupperware (unless you prefer to store food without plastic) or ensure that your vacation rental has storage containers you can use in order for your leftovers to be stored safely.
8. Bring Non-Perishable and Shelf-Stable Items from Home
If you don’t want to battle with finding your way around a new grocery store or spend time shopping during your vacation, a great idea is to bring ingredients from home. Stocking up on shelf stables items from your pantry, will mean you have a the basics covered for your vacation meal plan.
It also saves food waste as there is nothing worse than getting to the end of your vacation with cupboards full of food that you need to bin. Instead, start with the non-perishables you can bring from home and build your grocery list around this. It will minimize waste and the amount of time you need to spend vacation meal planning or shopping.
9. Bring or Send Meal Kits to the Rental
There are so many companies that offer meal kits nowadays, you likely have your go to. Even if you don’t have a go to, a vacation is the perfect opportunity to try a meal kit as it saves you time, effort and food waste.
If you are not familiar, meal kits are a convenient way to have healthy, balanced meals delivered to your home (or rental.) Generally they come equipped with recipes and the corresponding ingredients already prepped. This means you don’t need to think of a vacation meal plan nor buy so many groceries – the meal kit has it covered.
Meal kits can also be a fun activity as the whole family can help make dinner so it won’t just be one of you stuck in the kitchen. It’s worth noting, most kits only provide dinner ideas. You will still need to supply breakfast and lunch as well as other essentials such as tea, coffee and snacks.
10. Cater a Meal from a Local Restaurant
You are on vacation after all, so whether you fancy a night off or simply crave your fave restaurant meal, this can be a great option if you’re searching for easy vacation meals for a group.
When you have many mouths to feed eating out can be a hassle. From the time it takes to get everyone ready to organizing transport as well as finding something on the menu for all tastes – the experience is often more effort than its worth.
Instead, if you cater a meal from a local restaurant you can chill at your rental while enjoying delicious food that you didn’t need to cook. You can also then use the leftovers the next day. If you are vacation meal planning and need to feed a crowd, my favorites are the catered meals at Chipotle and Little Greek Fresh Grill.
You can also check ezcater for catered meals available near you. With over 105,000 restaurants nationwide you will be able to cater to all tastes without the hassle of wondering around town finding a restaurant you can all agree on.
11. Bring a Water Filter
Often when it comes to vacation meal planning we get too focused on the food and forget about an absolute essential – water! Many vacation rentals do not have filtered water and it can be difficult to tell if the water filter in the fridge is updated. Instead of wasting money and polluting the earth with plastic bottled water, I recommend you bring a travel water filter, my fave is the Travel Berkey.
Even if the water at your vacation rental is considered safe, sometimes the switch to unfiltered can cause stomach upsets not to mention it tastes wildly different to the water you are used to. Thanks to a Berkey water filter you can ensure that the water you are drinking and cooking with is of the best quality.
Hopefully these vacation meal planning tips have given you some food for thought for your next trip. When you have cases to pack, transport to organize and tickets to remember having the food covered is something less to think about. Having a well-considered vacation meal plan will ensure your family makes the most of their vacation time. Having delicious, balanced meals planned, will keep any hangry arguments to a minimum and save you money along the way – that sounds vacation bliss to me.
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