Vacation Meal Planning Made Easy
Food and snacks can be one of the biggest expenses on a vacation. But they don’t have to be! With a little planning and preparation, you can drastically lower your vacation food bill.
But how do you plan out the food for your vacation and bring it with you? How do you make a vacation meal plan? How do you figure out what food to bring? How do you take this amazing concept and turn it into reality?
With a little planning, a little list building, some zip top baggies and a sharpie!
Did I lose you there? It sounds crazy, doesn’t it? It sound too good to be true, right? Lowering your vacation food bill sounds like a dream that will never become reality.
Well, my Friend, you are in the right place! Come with me as I reveal some of my best vacation meal planning tips and tricks that will not only lower your vacation food bill, but might just help you relax a bit more, too.
Step One :: Know Your Destination
The first step to creating your vacation meal plan is to know where you’re going. You see, the exact food you’ll need to bring will look different depending on your destination. If you’re going to visit grandma and grandpa, you might only need snacks for the drive. If you’re staying in a hotel, it will be challenging to bring a lot of food with you. If you’re renting a place with a full kitchen where you plan to make a lot of your meals, you’ll probably want to bring a fair amount of food.
To help you really pinpoint the amount of food you’ll need to bring, ask yourself these questions:
- Where are we going? What’s our final destination?
- Will we be staying with family?
- Are we staying in a hotel?
- Are we renting a place or staying in a place with a full (or even a partial) kitchen where I plan to make a lot of our meals?
The answers to these questions will guide you in figuring out what type and how much food you need to bring. As we walk through this plan, let’s assume your family has rented a cabin with a full kitchen where you plan to spend a week long vacation.
Now, sometimes it can be hard to know the exact kitchen setup you’ll have at your destination – especially if you’re going someplace new! Most places will tell you the basics you can expect in your rented kitchen. Keep this information in mind as you walk through the process of vacation meal planning and don’t forget to add in some flexibility just in case!
Step Two :: Vacation Meal Planning
Meal planning. Did you just feel your blood pressure rise? Did you just start to panic a little? It sounds incredibly intimidating, doesn’t it? It sounds like something only hard core planners or Super Moms do. But here’s the thing: Meal planning is not rocket science! When you break it down, meal planning is simply thinking through what you want to make for breakfast or lunch or dinner a little bit ahead of time.
Let’s walk through this process together, specifically as it relates to vacation, okay?
When it comes to meal planning for vacation, there are a couple things to keep in mind:
- Keep it simple! Let’s face it, you don’t want to spend all your vacation time preparing and cooking food for your family, right? You want to enjoy your vacation with your family! You don’t want to be stuck in the kitchen the whole time! So, stick with simple meals.
- Pick meals everyone can help make. The more the merrier! If you need to be in the kitchen making food, why not choose meals where other members of your family can help you make the meals? This way you don’t end up in the kitchen all by yourself, and the meal preparation and cleanup goes a lot faster. The old saying rings very true here: Many hands make light work.
Before you go any further, I have created some Vacation Meal Planning Templates just for you. These templates will help walk you through the process of your vacation meal planning and give you a place to keep all your notes and grocery lists in one spot. Best of all? These Vacation Meal Planning Templates are all yours completely free! Put your name and you email into the form below and the Vacation Meal Planning Templates will be on their way to your inbox even as you continue reading.
Step Three :: Recognize that Vacation is Different
When you sit down to do your meal planning, you follow a simple process. You decide what you want to make, write it down, and then add any ingredients you might be missing to your grocery list. For example, if you wanted to make blueberry pancakes for breakfast on Saturday, you would write ‘blueberry pancakes’ in Saturday’s breakfast spot. Then, you would check to make sure you had all the needed ingredients in your pantry. If you had everything except the blueberries, you would write ‘blueberries’ on your grocery list. Simple, right?
Meal planning for vacation has a little bit more to it. Remember, you’ll be traveling to your destination. You need to assume there will be no food in the cupboards when you arrive. So you’ll need to bring all the parts and pieces of your meals with you.
Don’t allow yourself to get overwhelmed here, just take it step by step. By the way, the Vacation Meal Planning Template pack has all of these templates ready for you to print and use as you walk through this step by step. You won’t want to miss getting them!
Step Four :: Set the Time Frame
Next, you need to set your time frame. Essentially, how long will you be gone? This is where your Meal Planning Grid template will come in extremely handy. Print this template (or multiple copies depending on the length of your vacation).
Now, fill in the days and the dates you will be gone. Don’t forget to include the days you’ll be driving to and from your destination. Simple, right? Great! On to the next step!
Step Five :: Fill in Your Activity Details
What will you be doing on your vacation? Do you have any specific activities planned? Are you planning on eating out on a specific day? Are you meeting up with friends to have a picnic? Will you be at the beach all day? Out hiking during your lunch hour? Wandering around downtown? Visiting museums? Spending the day at a theme park? Visiting national monuments or national parks?
Now is the time to plug these activities into your Meal Planning Grid template. Now, keep in mind, this doesn’t have to be perfect. The idea behind this is to give you a big picture of what meals you’ll need to prepare. Don’t worry about getting the day exactly right, either! If you know that you will be visiting and exploring a national park one day, but you’re not sure which day it will be, add it on your Meal Planning Grid. This way you can plan your meals around your activity knowing that you can shift the meals around when you’re actually on your vacation.
You see, the biggest key is to remember to be flexible! You want to plan and have your meals ready to go, but never forget you have full freedom to mix up the order of the meals if you want to! You’re creating a framework, not a rigid schedule here.
Step Six :: Pick Your Meals
Again, keep this simple! There is no shame in planning peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for 4 days out of the 7 you’ll be gone! Above all, make sure the meals you choose will fit your plans. If your goal is to spend as little time in the kitchen as possible, don’t plan a meal that will require 3 hours of constant prep work! Go back to the golden rule of vacation meal planning: Keep it simple!
Now that you have your activities on your Meal Planning Grid, it’s time to fill in the meals themselves. Don’t worry about individual ingredients just yet. Focus on creating your big picture.
Here are some questions to think through:
- Does your family enjoy big breakfasts? On the days when you make a big breakfast, will your family be ready for lunch? Or will it be a light snack for lunch and dinner an hour earlier than usual?
- What’s your family’s go-to breakfast food?
- What days will you be out of the cabin and need to take lunch with you? Make sure to plan a portable lunch on those days.
- How much time will you have to make dinner? Will you need to make it quickly or will you have more time to prepare and cook it?
- Will you have access to a grill? Do you want to use it for burgers or chicken or another meal?
This brings us to the second most important piece of vacation meal planning: Leave room for flexibility. If you’re missing a dinner, no problem! If you don’t have the exact thing you want to make for lunch figured out, that’s okay! The big picture is to get the best idea possible. Not plan everything to such detail that you leave no room for flexibility!
Here’s a hint: Make sure you add in a meal or two where you plan to eat the leftovers from the fridge! Trying to bring back leftovers can just get annoying.
Step Seven :: Make Your Food Lists
Now that you’ve decided what your meals will be, it’s time to list out the food you need to bring. This part can feel a bit tricky, so stick with me here, okay? Remember, all these templates can be found in your Vacation Meal Planning Templates pack. (Click here to get your templates if you haven’t already!)
You’ll have 3 lists going on here. First of all, you have a list of food items to bring. This includes things like peanut butter, jelly, tortillas, etc. Things from your pantry you need to bring that require no preparation.
Your second list is a grocery list. This includes the items you need, but you don’t want to pack and take with you. Things like milk, eggs, cheese, ice cream, etc.
Your third list is your prep and pack list. This is the food you need to bring that requires some preparation before you pack it. For example, if you plan on making pancakes you can prepare all the dry ingredients for your pancake mix, eliminating the need to bring a 5 pound bag of flour and the entire tin of baking powder and more. I’ll explain how to do this more in the next step.
Grab your Meal Planning Grid and put it in front of you along with your three blank lists. Look at each meal and think through all the food parts and pieces you’ll need to prepare that meal. As you think of each item, add that item to the correct list.
For example, let’s say your first breakfast is coffee and juice with cereal and fruit. Here’s how it would break down:
- Coffee grounds – Add them to the ‘What to Pack List’
- Milk (for coffee and cereal) – Add it to the ‘Grocery List’
- Cereal – Add it to the ‘What to Pack List’
- Fruit – Add bananas and strawberries to the ‘Grocery List’
- Apple Juice – Add it to the ‘What to Pack List’
- Orange Juice – Add it to the ‘Grocery List’
Is this starting to make more sense? This part especially can feel very tedious and very detailed. Especially when you get to some meals like burritos or hamburgers that have a lot of toppings! And, quite honestly, this is the very detailed part!
Believe me when I say it’s worth your time and effort to go through each of your meals like this. Again, it feels tedious now, but there’s nothing worse than preparing eggs, sausage, and toast for breakfast and realizing as you’re dishing everything up that you forgot the butter to put on the toast!
Here are a few commonly forgotten items to keep in your mind: Butter, salt and pepper, oil for cooking, salad dressing, and seasonings (taco seasoning, hamburger seasoning, etc.).
Step Eight :: Prep the Food You Can
Now, this step doesn’t seem to make sense right away, but hear me out on this one, okay? When you’re bringing food with you on vacation, you want to make sure you have all the right ingredients, but you don’t need (or want!) to bring your entire pantry, right?
There are two big principles to remember here: First, bring only what you need. And second, prep as much food as you can ahead of time!
So how do you do it? How do you bring the food you need without bringing your entire pantry? And how can you prep something a week or more ahead of time?
Your secret weapons? Zip top baggies and a sharpie!
Here’s what you do: Instead of bringing that 2 pound bag of rice for burrito night, think how much rice your family will eat. 1 cup? 2 cups? Measure that amount into a zip top bag, then write on the outside of the bag how much rice it’s holding. Do this for as many items as you can. This way, you already have things measured out (prepped ahead of time) and you have less food to pack.
Here’s another example: Instead of bringing all the separate ingredients for pancakes, get a gallon-size zip top bag. Measure out all the dry ingredients in your pancake recipe into the bag. Once all the dry ingredients are in, seal the bag, and write ‘Pancake Mix’ on the outside with a sharpie. Underneath that, write on the bag all the wet ingredients you’ll need to add just before you cook your pancakes (milk, eggs, etc.). You see? You just saved yourself a lot of room by packing only what you need as well as cutting down on your pancake prep time while on vacation!
Use this strategy to prep and then pack as much food as you can. Yes, it sounds a little crazy at first, but let me tell you from personal experience: It works!
By the way, you can prep cookies or muffins to bake, crumb cake, and more just like the pancake example!
Step Nine :: Pack the Food
Now it’s time to pack the food for traveling. This part should be pretty easy because of all the work you’ve put into creating your lists and prepping the food you can. Remember, your ‘What to Pack’ and ‘Prep and Pack’ lists are your best friends in this step!
Here are some of my favorite food packing tips and tricks:
- Put things that might spill or leak in zip top plastic bags. This is often overlooked, but so important! Now, it does feel weird putting everything into baggies as you’re packing. But when you arrive at your cabin and open your food bin to discover the honey jar started leaking as you drove, you’ll be incredibly grateful you did this small thing! Here are some items to remember: Honey, any type of oil, syrup, jams or jellies, and salad dressing (to name a few).
- Pack the food you need in a plastic box or bin. This allows you to pack things in snug and utilize all the space available while still keeping all the food stuff contained and away from your clothes if something spills or leaks. This also allows you to pack things like crackers and bread on top of the box and not have them get completely squished or turn into crumbs long before you reach your cabin.
- Bring a cooler! There are some things you’ll want to keep cold while you travel. The rest of the milk from your refrigerator, any cheese, butter, vegetables, or other cold items that you’re bringing.
- Freeze what you can before you leave. For example, put your butter into a plastic container and stick it in the freezer the day before you leave. When the butter starts out frozen, it stays in a more solid form and is less likely to leak as you travel. It also turns into an ice pack for the other things in your cooler without taking up any additional space.
- Bring extra baggies! Both zip top baggies and plastic grocery bags. You never know when you’ll need these handy items!
Step Ten :: Don’t Forget Your Lists
As you’re packing your food, it’s easy to get focused on making sure you have all the food you need. But there are three non-food items you need to make sure to bring:
- Vacation Meal Planning Grid :: You have worked so hard on this! It’s your food plan for the whole trip. Don’t forget to bring it!
- Grocery List :: Again, you worked so hard to create your grocery list for when you stop at a grocery store near your cabin. Don’t forget this list on your kitchen counter!
- Recipes :: Make sure you have all the recipes you’ll need for all the food you’ll be making on your vacation.
Now, there are a number of ways you can bring these lists with you. You can put the paper lists in a folder and bring them along. You could save them in the notes on your phone. You can scan them and email them to yourself or save them in DropBox or your Google drive. However it works best for you to bring them, do it! It’s not about how you bring them. The most important part is to make sure you remember to bring these three important lists!
Packing It All Up
Congratulations, my Friend! You have just gone through a crash course on how to plan, prepare, and pack for your family vacation meals in 10 easy steps. Great job! Here’s what to do next:
First, if you haven’t already, claim your FREE Vacation Meal Planning Templates in the form just below. Once you type in your email and click the button, your free templates will be headed to your inbox!
Second, have you read part 1 of this 3-part mini series? If not, click this link to read Part 1: Create Your Packing List.
If you’ve already walked through Part 1, it’s time for Part 3: Pack It Up! Click this link to discover how to take all these parts and pieces you’ve been preparing and pack them all up in bags and into your vehicle so you can take your family road trip without losing your mind!
- How to Plan a Family Road Trip without Losing Your Mind, Part 1: Create Your Packing List
- How to Plan a Family Road Trip without Losing Your Mind, Part 3: Pack It Up!
- How to Save Money on Your Grocery Bill
- How to Organize Your Vehicle
Elizabeth Tatham, founder of Inspiration in the Everyday, is a homeschooling momma of 5 who loves helping other homeschooling mommas create a unique homeschooling adventure your kids will love…without the overwhelm! Join in on the journey with 7 simple steps to make your homeschooling day go faster, easier, and with less tears here.