My top tips for planning vacation meals on a budget. Including the shopping list and meal plan from my own family vacation for you to customize!
The word vacation bring to mind images of beautiful beaches, relaxing by the pool side with a good book, and eating beautiful and delicious dinners for every meal. But for anyone that has tried to do a family vacation on somewhat of a budget they know that, this isn’t really always the case.
That’s why I wanted to bring you some of my advice and steps for creating a vacation meal plan that won’t make you spend your whole vacation in the kitchen. And I am even going to provide you with my actual meal plan and shopping list for vacation this summer!
Coming from a family of four kids my mom knew that the top priority for making a vacation affordable was having access to a kitchen so we didn’t have to eat out every single meal. The challenging part of that is figuring out how to feed everyone for the week with limited tools and without wasting tons of food.
Top 5 Tips for Budget Vacation Meal Planning:
Make a plan ahead of time.
Do not head to the nearest grocery store and just decide to “figure it out” when you get there because I guarantee you will come home with a whole lot of things that you won’t know what to do with to make meals from.
Pick a flavor theme.
In my experience even “fully loaded” kitchens in vacation rental homes or cabins only have salt, pepper, and maybe some olive oil if you are lucky. When deciding what recipes to make try to pick things that will use similar ingredients so you don’t have to buy a bottle of soy sauce to use 1 tablespoon in one recipe. Chances are (especially if you are flying) you will not be bringing those things back with you and you’ll have wasted a lot of money on things you could have lived without.
- Mexican/Southwest: Cumin, paprika, oregano, onion powder, chili powder, etc.
- Asian: Ginger, garlic, clove, turmeric, curry, etc.
- Italian: Oregano, parsley, basil, rosemary, garlic powder, etc.
- Spice Blends: Lemon Pepper, Montreal Steak seasoning, Old Bay, Italian seasoning, taco seasoning, etc.
When you are vacation for 5 days you probably aren’t going to eat 5 dinners, 5 lunches, and 5 breakfasts at the house. So don’t buy ingredients for making that many meals if they’ll just go to waste. Try and get a rough estimate on how many times you will end up eating out. Plan around activities that you know will keep you away from your home or not give you enough time to prepare a meal. For example if you have a boat ride starting at 8AM and you know you aren’t waking up at 6AM to prepare breakfast plan to grab something on the way instead.
Pick easily customized foods.
Now that my siblings and I are adults we all live in our own homes and have significant others and kids that all eat different things. It’s hard to cook for a large group of people and always make everyone happy. That’s why I like to make several of the meals easy to customize to people’s individual tastes.
- Taco Bar
- Baked Potato Bar
- Chili or Potato Soup
Have plenty of snacks.
The number one thing that will take a vacation off the rails is hungry people. Make sure you have plenty of healthy (or maybe not so healthy, it’s vaca I won’t judge!) snacks on hand to keep people happy while dinner is being prepared. Here are some of my favorites:
How to choose recipes:
Before I took over vacation planning my adorable mother would go online and find gorgeous (but sometimes complex) recipes that she was going to learn how to make on the fly on vacation. If you are confident in your cooking abilities then totally go for it! But, if you need to feel confident in a recipe I wouldn’t wait until you have a crowd of hungry people to fed to find out that you don’t actually know how to make beef wellington or swordfish.
Start by picking recipes that you are either already familiar with or have familiar elements. Like a new chicken recipe that cooks it in a way you are already comfortable with. Or making hamburgers, but with different seasoning or a funky pineapple salsa instead of just plain. Maybe find a cool sauce to add to change things up.
Depending on where you are going you might want to try out some of the local flavors. I know that we like to buy fresh seafood when we go to the beach since it’s no-existent in Missouri. Just be sure you have a tried and true recipe that you trust before you accidentally overcook $100 worth of shrimp. It’s easier to do than you would think!
Since you are saving money by making most of your meals it’s okay to treat yourself to the fancy stuff in a restaurant!
How to cook for a crowd:
If you are cooking for a bigger group of people than normal it can be hard to estimate just how much food you should be making. Either you won’t cook enough and you have to really scrap to get everyone full. Or you’ll make enough food to feed and army and leave lots of $$$ behind in leftovers you’re throwing away. An easy way to figure it out is to plan how much meat/protein to buy, by how many people. This will vary a little depending on if you have some big eaters in the family or children that won’t eat much. Adjust accordingly.
Number of adults x Number of ounces = Ounces of meat needed (16 oz. per pound)
|Meat/Protein per Person|
|Kid||Average Eater||Big Eater|
|Main Dish||4 oz.||8 oz.||12 oz.|
|Part of Meal||2 oz.||4 oz.||8 oz.|
This is also a good time to think about how much meat costs per pound. While everyone in your family might love steaks, buying quality steaks for 10 people can get really expensive. Pork and chicken tend to be significantly cheaper than beef. Bone-in, skin-on chicken is almost always cheaper than boneless, skinless breasts. But keep in mind what your family is willing to eat and how much work you want to do prepping dinner. If chicken breast is what you are comfortable with go for it.
My vacation meal plan & shopping list:
This is the meal plan I used to feed my family of 8 adults and one pre-schooler. The amount of food you will need to purchase will vary depending on if you have more or less people in your group. But this is a good starting place to help you see how to plan out your vacation meal plan!