Summer is here! The kids are finishing out their school year, summer Fridays have started at the office (lucky you!) and you finally have the time for a getaway. Now, if you’re like my family and friends, you have at least one summer trip planned at an AirBnB, timeshare or cabin. Renting a whole house or condo is a great way to enjoy more relaxed time in each other’s company and a real kitchen means you can make longer trips more affordable. But don’t expect that rental kitchen to have everything you need to churn out crowd-friendly meals. To really save money you’ll want to plan out what to eat on the trip and bring the right tools and ingredients so you don’t have to buy and later discard them at your destination. I’ve cooked for the group on a few trips per year throughout my life, so I’ve decided to share my experience and help you enjoy more and better home-cooked meals while traveling.
Here is a free printable Vacation Meal Planner and all the tips you need to plan out your meals before you load up the car and head to your vacation rental. Follow the planner step-by-step to have a delicious, stress-free and affordable trip this summer!
Step 1: Find out what tools are available
Before you even start meal planning, check the rental inventory or give your host a call to figure out what tools will be available to you. Knowing what’s there can help you set your expectations for the type of food you’ll be able to cook. Maybe you’ve hit the jackpot with a BBQ grill and a food processor. But don’t go expecting to find a full stovetop and oven and get caught with only a microwave and mini fridge!
Step 2. Outline where you’ll be eating
Next, decide where you’ll be for each of your daily meals. Will you be in the home, at another venue like the beach or a national park, or at a restaurant? Don’t worry about matching your activities to the actual calendar dates at this stage – think more about making a tally of what you’ll eat on picnic ware vs. at a dining table. Plan sandwiches and salads for outdoors; elevate sit-down meals with plated foods.
Step 3: Take a step back and consider everyone, including yourself
Listen, everyone is on vacation and will enjoy flexibility. Don’t stress everyone out – including yourself – by trying to adhere too closely to a plan you set before the trip begins. This principle also means you should expect that people will want to relax and enjoy some meals on their own schedule. Consider planning to serve just 1 special meal per day. The other meals can be eaten out or semi-homemade like yogurt parfait, sandwiches, or ice cream sundaes.
Step 4: List out your menus
Stick to crowd-friendly and low-effort recipes. I like to choose recipes where I can do some of the prep work like mixing spices or marinading meats in advance. And when the grill is fired up, I throw on some extra meats and vegetables to make the next day’s sandwiches even better. I also prefer to serve meals picnic style so people can fill their plates on their own terms. Taco night and personalized grilled pizzas are always winners! Here are some menu ideas featuring recipes from Runaway Apricot that are perfect for your trip:
Jerk Chicken and Pineapple Salsa
Colorful Cabbage and Apple Slaw
Sweetly Spiced Grilled North African Lamb Kebabs
Chickpea Chopped Salad with Apple and Avocado
Chips with Mango and Sweet Pepper Salsa
Chicken Taco Quinoa Bowl
Step 5: Plan what to pack vs. what to buy there
Follow this simple rule – pack everything you won’t use up; buy everything you’ll fully consume. Products you won’t use up are seasonings and pantry essentials that aren’t worth buying if you already have at home. These are seasonings, cooking oil, vinegar and bulk pantry items like rice and grains. Pro tip: mix you spices in advance so you have just what you need.
Products you can buy there are generally fresh ingredients like meat, produce and dairy, as well as anything that needs to remain frozen before serving. If you’re taking a road trip, chances are there’s a grocery store or Costco near where you’re going that has everything else you need. Google and plan out where that is before your trip. Bonus – if you have a good shopping list, you can delegate the grocery run to another person joining the trip and take a little stress off your shoulders. Or, you can have some fun by visiting a local farmer’s market at your destination.
That’s it – your guide to meal planning for a vacation rental so you don’t overpack or overspend! If you haven’t already, download my free printable Vacation Meal Planner so you can follow step-by-step for delicious and affordable travel. Remember, the less you spend, the more you can budget for your next trip!