Cooking on a holiday can save you hundreds of dollars. But it’s no vacation if you spend all the time in the kitchen! These vacation meal ideas will save you time and money so you can enjoy your holiday.
Save hundreds of dollars on your next holiday by staying somewhere that has kitchen facilities so you can cook meals instead of eating out?
It doesn’t sound like much of a holiday, does it?
This satirical piece from The Onion just about sums it up: Mom Spends Beach Vacation Assuming all Household Duties in Closer Proximity to the Ocean.
The problem is, eating out for a week or two on vacation, especially in Australia, can cost hundreds of dollars.
So if you’re on a budget, self-catering makes sense.
You can absolutely do it in a way that means you don’t spend all your time shopping and cooking and cleaning, regardless of whether you drive to your holiday destination or fly.
And if you’re just staying home during your next holiday? These tips can give you a well-earned break as well.
Instead of shopping or cooking or looking for a restaurant that is not too expensive (ha!) and that has something everyone in the family will eat, spend that time kicking back on the deck, margarita in hand, watching the sunset, with these easy vacation meal ideas.
The Other Benefits of a Self-Catered Holiday
What are the benefits of cooking on your holiday besides savings a huge amount of money?
- You’re eating more healthily. Eating out tends to be less healthy than what you cook at home and the serving sizes can be huge! And while you don’t have to eat everything on our plate, research shows we eat more when portion sizes are bigger. Another benefit: you’re not stuck with “kid’s meals” which translates as endless chips and chicken nuggets!
- Reduce food waste. Speaking of not eating everything on your plate, that can add up to some significant waste, both of food and money!
- You’re in control of what your family eats. This is particularly important for families with food allergies.
I’m not saying that you should never eat out. Eating out can be fun! But you can save a significant amount of money if you cook some or most of your meals yourself.
Why It’s A Good Idea to Plan Ahead
No one wants to be constantly thinking about the next meal while on vacation.
Planning your vacation meals ahead means you can get all that decision making out of the way so you can focus on having fun.
The other benefit is that if you are driving to your holiday destination, you can prepare meals ahead of time to take with you so you don’t have to cook at all!
On the other hand, if you’re not taking meals with you, you can arrive at your destination with a shopping list and get the shopping over and done with so you don’t have to worry about shopping for the rest of the holiday.
And you can avoid the overspending frenzy that can happen when you fill your trolley with more food than you can eat on your holiday ‘just in case.’
Before you start holiday meal planning, check out the facilities
So, you’re going on holiday where you can self-cater?
Before planning your meals, you need to consider the available facilities where you’re staying because it will influence your meal planning.
If you’re camping, is there a camp kitchen or other facilities or do you bring your own? And what cooking equipment do you have to take?
If you’re staying in a cabin, is there a stove or oven? Is there a BBQ? Do you have to take your own cooking equipment?
Is there refrigeration or a freezer available?
If you’re driving to your destination, do you want to pack your slow cooker so that you can come home each evening after a day of fun to a cooked meal?
Besides cooking facilities and equipment you might also want to check if the place you are staying supplies basic condiments like salt, pepper and cooking oil or whether you have to take them.
Some things to consider taking include:
- Salt, pepper and small containers of your must-have spices and sauces
- Tea and coffee
- Cooking oil
- Containers or bags for leftovers and for packing snacks in your daypack
- A sharp knife
- A flexible chopping board
- Dishwashing liquid and cloth
- Can opener and bottle opener
Finally, go online to check what local supermarkets are close to where you’re staying and their opening hours so you can get the grocery shopping over and done with and you’re not caught out by shorter opening hours.
Ideas for Your Holiday Meal Plan
Now you’ve got a good idea of the facilities you have to work with, it’s time to plan out some meals.
Here are some general tips for vacation meal planning:
- Keep things super simple. Easy to prepare meals that don’t require a lot of washing up – you’re there to relax and have fun!
- Plan for some eating out.
- Plan meals where you don’t need to buy ingredients in bulk. For example, don’t buy a kilo of rice for a single meal only to waste the rest.
- Plan some special meals or foods that you wouldn’t normally eat.
- Plan for leftovers. Leave the last day or two blank to use up what’s leftover.
Food ideas for the road tripper
If you’re driving to your holiday destination you have the flexibility to either take food with you, buy everything you need there or a bit of both.
Taking your own food will save you a heap of time and money. Here are some meal ideas that you can prepare ahead of time:
Assuming there is a freezer where you’re travelling to, you can practically avoid the kitchen altogether by taking frozen meals you’ve already pre-prepared.
To transport, pack the meals in an esky (cooler) with ice and then transfer them to the freezer once you get to your destination.
While I’m not big on disposable stuff, freezing meals in foil trays mean you can avoid a lot of washing up, you don’t have to cart a lot of containers home and the foil trays are recyclable.
There are hundreds of frozen meal ideas on Pinterest, but a few ideas include:
- pre-marinated chicken / meat / kebabs
- pasta sauce
- burger patties
- taco mix
- pre-cooked shredded pork or chicken
- frozen cookie dough
Foil Packet Meals
Meals in foil are great for BBQ cooking, oven cooking and camp cooking, especially if you don’t have baking dishes where you’re staying.
For foil packet meal ideas, Real House Moms has 25 foil packet meals to inspire and Happy Money Saver has complete instructions for preparing and freezing 5 foil packet meals.
Pre-prepared slow cooker ‘dump’ meals
If you’ve got the room, another option is to take your slow cooker with you. That way you can spend the day exploring and having fun, and then come home to a cooked meal. No work!
To make this even easier, you can prepare all the meal ingredients before you leave, freeze in packets and then just defrost and “dump” it into the slow cooker in the morning.
Again, there are a bazillion recipes on Pinterest, but to get started here are 40 dump recipes for your slow cooker from Lauren Greutman.
Meals in jars
While not all meals can be stored in jars, this is great for taking homemade mixes so you can enjoy baked snacks without taking your entire pantry.
For our last holiday, we packed homemade pancake mix in a jar (you could use zip-lock bags instead to save space).
Other ideas include taking small packs of your favourite spice mixes for marinating BBQ meat or making your favourite dishes. For lots of ideas for meals in jars, check out this article that includes 493 ideas!
Simple Holiday Meal Ideas to Buy and Cook
If you’re flying to your holiday destination, it’s not practical to take a suitcase full of food.
Simple meals give you the best of both worlds: vacationing on a budget while still staying out of the kitchen as much as possible.
Visiting the local food market is an excellent way to really get an authentic experience of your holiday destination, especially if you travel overseas.
If you’re going to an exotic destination, get immersive by making local cuisine based on local ingredients.
However, if you’re travelling domestically, here are some quick and simple meal ideas that don’t require a lot of ingredients or ingredients that need to be bought in bulk.
- BBQ chook and salad (bagged salad is convenient and you could add some pasta or potato salad. This meal requires no prep or cooking!)
- Tacos (use up the rest of the BBQ chicken)
- Breakfast burritos
- Salad sandwiches (use up leftovers)
- Stir fry using stir fry mix and single serve noodles or single portions of instant rice
- BBQ kebabs and salad
- One pot pasta meals
- Homemade Pizza (add that leftover brie from the nibbles platter and whatever other goodies you have leftover to a frozen pizza to make it a bit special)
- Eggs and toast
- Local seafood and salad
- Hot dogs (fancy them up with some leftover slaw)
- BLT Toasties
- Pasta and meatballs with store-bought meatballs
- Frittata (use up all the leftovers and any leftover eggs in a frittata)
Store prepared food is a great compromise between saving money, while not spending too much time cooking on vacation.
Printable Plans and Checklists
Make planning your next holiday super easy with these free downloadable planners and checklists.
With a little planning, it is possible to have a real holiday and not spend it in the kitchen while still saving money by not eating out for every meal. But with all this talk about planning, my last tip is not to over plan. Leave room for spontaneity – those evenings when you’re having so much fun that you want to stay out and eat out.
Melissa Goodwin is a writer and the creator of Frugal and Thriving who has a passion for living frugally and encouraging people to thrive on any budget. The blog is nine years old and is almost like her eldest baby. Prior to being a blogger and mum (but not a mummy blogger), she worked as an accountant doing other people’s budgets, books and tax.