A mother’s job never ends and nowhere is this more true than on vacation! I’ve always thought it was ironic that when we finally get time to go “relax” it only takes packing bags for the whole family, planning healthy meals, packing gear, planning the trip, (and so much more!) just to get there.
In fact, usually when we get home, I feel like I need a vacation from vacation!
Don’t get me wrong… I absolutely love the time our family spends together. From something as simple as camping in the woods to a week long stay at the beach, those moments away from regular work and routine and just spending time together are some of my favorite times, but sometimes it is more work than being home!
I once read a satire article called “Mom Spends Beach Vacation Assuming All Household Duties In Closer Proximity To Ocean” and while it was meant to be satire, it also rings somewhat true!
For those of us who chose not to eat at a restaurant for every meal on vacation (both for budget and health reasons), vacation can seem like more work with cooking and cleaning in a new kitchen.
This is what I did for years and I always dreaded it! The hectic trip to a grocery store when we arrived, having to buy all supplies and foods and having to find a way to cook in a new kitchen. This year, I finally did what I should have done years ago and applied my normal meal planning and bulk cooking to vacation time and for the first time in forever (cue Frozen song) I actually felt like I got some time off too!
Bulk Cooking Healthy Meals for Vacation?
I really can’t believe it took me so long to start pre-planning healthy meals for vacation. At home, I meal plan all the time (using Real Plans– check it out if you haven’t… it saves me sooooo much time!).
Most weeks at home, I also batch cook to save time and simplify a few meals.
By applying these same techniques to vacation I got a week off from cooking (and we even had extra family members on the trip so I was cooking for more people).
I pre-made all of the dinners from the trip, planned easy lunches that didn’t really require prep, and we had leftovers or other no-prep foods for breakfast.
I also did something I almost never do:
I used foil pans so that I could pre-make and freeze the meals in my deep freezer. I lined the pans with natural parchment paper when I could to reduce aluminum exposure. Even though I’m not a fan of using foil at all and don’t use it at home, I realized that if we had to eat out, we’d likely be eating non-organic food cooked in a non-stick skillet, so this was still less exposure than eating out (and cheaper too).
The other option (that I might try in the future) would be to use half size stainless steel table pans for making and freezing since they stack compactly when empty and would be easy to bring home.
How to Pack Healthy Meals for Vacation
As we were driving to the beach, we had about a nine hour drive. This method would probably only work with drives about this long or shorter.
What I did:
I pre-made all the food (scroll down to see my meal plan) and froze them in my deep freezer. On the morning we left for vacation, I used a large laundry basket and some beach towels to create a makeshift cooler. Of course, a regular ice chest would also work, but I needed to fit a lot of meals in a small space and was brining a laundry basket anyway.
I put a couple of towels on the bottom of the laundry basket and started stacking the frozen meals after wrapping each one in another beach towel. I topped with some ice packs and more towels and put the whole thing into the back of our vehicle surrounded by suitcases for more insulation.
I made sure that the meals we were planning to use the first two days were on the top and bottom since I figured these would defrost first.
When we arrived, the top and bottom meals had started to defrost a little but were still mostly frozen and very cold. These went into the refrigerator at our rental so we could use them and the rest of the meals went into the freezer.
I simply took out the meals I would need for the next day every night to defrost in the refrigerator and put them in the oven when we needed them.
This resulted in minimal dishes and cleanup and really easy meals for the whole trip. I purposefully made enough of each meal that we could eat the leftovers for breakfast most days and we wrapped leftovers in wraps and lettuce leaves (or gluten free bread) for lunches.
It wasn’t as clean as we would have eaten at home, but it was definitely much better than eating out for every meal.
The best part?
I didn’t cook on vacation, we didn’t have to take all the kids to crowded restaurants, and we saved money while eating delicious food all week!
Bulk Cooking Healthy Meals for Vacation: Meal Plan
These are the meals I made for our trip. Really any meals would work, but these were ones that were easy to make and freeze.
Day 1: (Arrival Day)
Slowcooker Chicken Fajitas (double batch) with pre-made guacamole and salad.
Breakfast– Leftover stroganoff
Lunch– Tuna sandwiches on gluten free bread with fruit and cold veggies
Dinner– Zucchini Lasagna (made a double batch)
Breakfast– leftover Lasagna
Lunch– Reuben salads made with nitrate free pastrami, sauerkraut, lettuce and homemade thousand island dressing
Dinner– Beef and Cabbage Stir Fry (pre-made double batch)
Breakfast– Quiche made with leftover beef and cabbage stir fry
Lunch– PF chang imitation lettuce wraps made with ground beef, water chestnuts and homemade hoison sauce
Dinner– Pre-made taco meat on lettuce tacos with all the toppings
Breakfast– Leftover taco scramble
Lunch– Salads with leftovers from the week
Dinner– All the leftovers (it was my plan to go out to eat this night if we needed to but we ended up having enough leftovers!)
This meal plan is just a sample and the one I used, but this system would be easy to customize with your favorite recipes. I’d also really recommend using Real Plans for this! It already has all of my recipes pre-loaded and it creates a really easy to use shopping list. You can also customize any meal plan, eliminate foods you can’t or don’t eat and adjust for family size. It is seriously one of my best time-saving tips! Check it out here.
Do you ever feel like vacation is more work than staying home? Ever tried pre-making food?