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A mother’s job never ends and nowhere is this more true than on vacation! I’ve always thought it was ironic how much work it requires to go “relax” … planning where to go and what to do, packing bags and gear, and making all the healthy meals for vacation.
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!
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, getting away from regular work and routine as well as getting quality family time together can’t be beat … with one sticking point, until now …
How I Actually Got a Vacation from Cooking
So what finally brought me some peace of mind (and body!) on vacation?
For those of us who choose not to eat at a restaurant for every meal on vacation (both for budget and health reasons), making a meal on vacation can seem like a lot more work than it does at home.
In fact, I came to dread it!
The hectic trip to the grocery store when we arrived (usually hungry and with all the kids) … staring at the grocery receipt in disbelief … hauling it all to our destination and setting up an unfamiliar kitchen while unpacking everything else …
Something had to change.
Recently, I finally did what I should have done years ago and applied my normal meal planning and bulk cooking to vacation time. For the first time in forever (cue Frozen song) I actually felt like I got some time off too!
The Strategy: 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).
We pre-made all of the dinners for 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. As an extra step I lined the pans with natural parchment paper 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.
Now to fill them!
The Logistics: Prepping and Packing
Here’s what I did:
I pre-made all the food (scroll down to see my meal plan) and froze them in my deep freezer. I purposefully made enough of each meal that we could repurpose the leftovers for breakfast and lunch most days. (Yes, we sometimes eat dinner for breakfast!)
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 bringing towels and laundry basket anyway.
I stacked the frozen meals (individually wrapped in towels with ice packs) in the basket and put the whole thing into the back of our vehicle (surrounded by suitcases for extra insulation and protection). 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 (it was a 9-hour drive) 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.
Every night I simply took out the meals we would need for the next day, set them in the refrigerator to defrost, and put them in the oven when we needed them.
The Plan: 6 Days of Healthy Meals for Vacation
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):
Slow-cooker Chicken Fajitas (double batch) with salad and store-bought guacamole
Breakfast – Leftover stroganoff
Lunch – Tuna sandwiches on gluten-free bread with fruit and raw veggies
Dinner – Zucchini Lasagna (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 – P.F. Chang imitation lettuce wraps made with ground beef, water chestnuts, and homemade hoisin sauce
Dinner – Pre-made taco meat on lettuce tacos with all the toppings
Breakfast – Leftover taco meat scrambled with eggs
Lunch – Salads with leftovers from the week
Dinner – All the leftovers (We planned to go out to eat this night if needed but we ended up having enough leftovers!)
The Reward: An Actual Vacation!
In the end, pre-cooking 6 healthy meals resulted in a true vacation from cooking with minimal dishes and cleanup. 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 that cost a small fortune, and we ate delicious food all week!
Not Sure Where to Start?
This vacation meal plan would be easy to customize with your favorite recipes. I’d 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? Do you have tips for bulk cooking healthy meals for vacation?