How to Bulk Cook Healthy Meals for Vacation

Katie Wells Avatar

Reading Time: 5 minutes

This post contains affiliate links.

Read my affiliate policy.

Bulk cooking for vacation
Wellness Mama » Blog » Organization » How to Bulk Cook Healthy Meals for Vacation

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!

Vacation- you mean cooking and cleaning in closer proximity to the ocean

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

Day 2:

Breakfast – Leftover fajita chicken with eggs
Lunch – Nitrate-free lunchmeat wrapped in seaweed sheets with cucumber, carrots, and guacamole
Dinner – Beef Stroganoff over steamed cauliflower

Day 3:

Breakfast – Leftover stroganoff
Lunch – Tuna sandwiches on gluten-free bread with fruit and raw veggies
Dinner – Zucchini Lasagna (double batch)

Day 4:

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)

Day 5:

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

Day 6:

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?

Katie Wells Avatar

About Katie Wells

Katie Wells, CTNC, MCHC, Founder of Wellness Mama and Co-founder of Wellnesse, has a background in research, journalism, and nutrition. As a mom of six, she turned to research and took health into her own hands to find answers to her health problems. is the culmination of her thousands of hours of research and all posts are medically reviewed and verified by the Wellness Mama research team. Katie is also the author of the bestselling books The Wellness Mama Cookbook and The Wellness Mama 5-Step Lifestyle Detox.


71 responses to “How to Bulk Cook Healthy Meals for Vacation”

  1. Rachel Avatar

    This was so helpful to read. I usually take a crazy amount of food when we go on vacation (and then spend a lot of time cooking) yet it never occurred to me to meal prep beforehand. We’re going on a 7 day road trip in a few weeks and I’ll definitely be giving this a go.

  2. David Avatar

    Nice tips! I will try some of it! In our last holidays in Majorca we did a food tour in Palma. That was great!

  3. Shenna Avatar

    This is a great post! I’ve also never thought to batch cook for vacation and it’s a great idea! I was wondering if you had a link to the recipe you use for your imitation PF Chang roll ups? I’ve tried making them a couple times, but haven’t found a recipe that I like yet. I love your blog! Thank you for for sharing your creative ideas! 🙂

  4. Mira K. Bryan Avatar
    Mira K. Bryan

    When freezing meals like this, this is what I use and it works so nicely: line a rectangular Pyrex dish (or 2 for bulk) with the non bleached parchment paper. Fill with food, add lid and freeze. After fully frozen (solid), thaw for a few minutes while cutting another piece of parchment paper to lay on top. Lay out a large piece of aluminum foil, enough to wrap around the whole thing. Turn the dish upside down onto the parchment paper on the aluminum foil. Wrap it up well and label and put back in freezer. They stack sooo well! For thawing, just lay back into the dish WITHOUT aluminum foil. The aluminum foil can be reused since it doesn’t touch the food. And a bonus is that you are not even cooking the food in it.

    Hope that helps!!

  5. Madison Avatar

    Hi Katie! Could you write a post about what you use instead of aluminum pans when you freeze meals at home? I am about to start school and would like to have healthy meals in the freezer for late nights after classes. I want to avoid aluminum as much as possible. Thank you!

  6. Trista Avatar

    what about trips that are not road trips? We just went to Maui for a week and did the crazy costco run with all the kids after 10 hours of airport travel. I meal planned and made a shopping list ahead of time.
    Obviously not as easy to prep for, but please let me know if you have any tips for food prep when you have to fly to your destination.

    1. Katie - Wellness Mama Avatar

      That’s obviously much harder to do, but when our family has flown to vacation destinations, I’ll typically meal plan before hand, then grocery shop once we get there or have groceries delivered to the location we are staying so I can batch cook there.

  7. Mary Avatar

    Thanks for the explanation.
    I cooked it for supper this evening, and it really is good!
    We tried some with salsa and some with soy sauce. We liked it both ways. With soy sauce, we think it tastes a lot like the filling of egg rolls! 😉
    I would have liked to try it with sour cream but was out. (That’s okay, I’ll make sure we have some next time I make it!)
    Thanks for the recipe! :0)

  8. Mary Avatar

    Hi! Love your website and blog!
    I am confused about the Beef & Cabbage Stir Fry. On this post, it appears to be a meal you pre-made and froze, but on the recipe page, it’s mentioned a few times in the comments as a meal that doesn’t freeze well because of the cabbage.
    Does it freeze well or did you make it from scratch on your vacation?
    Thanks so much!

  9. Laura Avatar

    I’m planning a road trip where we won’t have access to a fridge/freezer every night, so freezer cooking is out of the question.

    I’m going to bring my instant pot and will be able to stop at grocery stores along the way. Any ideas for what to prep to cook in a hotel room with only a kitchenette? My goal is to use the same principal as freezer cooking but to only pack shelf stable items and probably pick up meat/protein from stores along the way to add to our meals.

    1. Wellness Mama Avatar

      Chicken in the Instant Pot is always a great option. I would bring my own spices along or a natural BBQ sauce from home. For simple hotel overnights, I’d probably just serve that with raw fruits and veggies.

  10. Hannah Avatar

    Such a good idea!
    We don’t like eating out a lot on vacation, and I’m always trying to take as much food as possible. I can’t wait to try freezer meals next time we go on an extended trip!

  11. ido Avatar

    Thank you so much, this is going to be my goal for next vacation! I appreciate that you told the results AFTER driving 9 hours, and the list of what you made, and how you packed it. We’d probably have the left overs for lunches and do simple fruit/oatmeal type breakfasts. Making into a quiche, or putting into burritos, or a stirfry would be a great save for re-inventing the leftovers 🙂

  12. Marianne Avatar

    Here’s an idea that always worked for my family of 5.
    I would pre-make the main courses for the week. Let’s, stuffed cabbage rolls, chicken, even spaghetti (cooked!) . I’d put them all in individual Food Saver bags (1 for each night) and seal them according to the directions, and then freeze them. Then they get loaded into the cooler where they’re great for keeping everything else cool as well.
    Then at dinner time at the campground, I’d boil a pot of water and drop the unopened bag into the boiling water to heat up. Perfectly hot food that is as good as the day it was originally made. And….. no clean up!

  13. Rachel Avatar

    Even though I don’t go on vacation very much, I still loved reading this because it’s helpful even when staying at home. I am wondering, though, what do you do for food when you go primitive camping and there’s nowhere to keep food cold? Most of the trips I’ve been on over the last 5 years (mostly in college) are this type and nearly all week-long, and I’ve been trying to figure out healthier options that won’t spoil when out of the fridge/freezer for at least a week at a time but that when all summed up don’t take up a bunch of space (when you’re small and all you have is a properly fitting – and therefore not very big – backpacking pack to carry absolutely everything, it gets tricky to pack enough healthy food that provides the needed nutrients but doesn’t overbear on weight (a big factor for me due to previous injuries) or space). Would appreciate your thoughts on the matter. Thanks.

    1. Brianna Avatar

      I’ve gone primitive camping once and packed all my own foods since I’m not fond of the unhealthy meal options for primitive camping either. Disclaimer, I’m a novice primitive camper and my trip was only for a few days so your feedback would be appreciated.

      I have a dehydrator at home and practically all my food went through it. I cooked low fat soups/stews (high fat foods spoil quickly when dehydrated) and dehydrated them into soup mix. I dehydrated my fruit, vegetables and meat (jerky!) as well and compressed the dry product in plastic bags to save space. I also made pemmican so I could add a dense, protein and fat rich supplement to my meals. I packed nuts and homemade crackers for carbs. For fat, I brought a small jar of butter.

      Do you think doing something like this would work for you? I’d be interested to hear your thoughts! I noticed the dehydrated vegetables are difficult to digest so I’m trying to find a better way to process and pack those. Also experimenting with making fruit leathers and granola bars. Let me know if you try something similar or come up with something better!

      1. Rachel Avatar

        (This is a bit long, so I apologize for that, but I wanted to adequately answer your question. I hope it posts in the right order.)
        Thanks for the response.

        The small amount of fresh food that we got on our trips made me sad – for 3-4 people for 8 days: 1 piece of fruit (total) per person (usually apples), 1 onion, 1 pepper, 1 garlic bulb, 1 lb cooked and de-boned chicken (used by 2nd day or went bad), 1 lb cheddar cheese, 1/2? lb butter, 2 small cans of tuna (not sure if plain packed in water would be considered processed or not), and that’s it. For either a few days or 1-2 people it wouldn’t be bad, but for 3-4 people for a full 8 days it was meager. We had quite a lot of other food, but it was all processed to at least some degree. In a way it made sense: we were out for 8 days and didn’t have anywhere to keep it particularly cold – for the chicken, bacon, and veggies, we had to rely on the 30-40 degree temperature drop overnight to keep them from spoiling quickly. As for the dried veggies, I’m not sure what the deciding factors are, but I’ve never had a problem with these so long as we rehydrated them as fully as we could – we usually let them soak the entire time we boiled the water for and cooked whatever we were mixing them into. We didn’t use backpacking meals, either – kinda expensive when the school has to pay for enough food to send 100+ students on trips 3x/year.

        1. Rachel Avatar

          We could bring whatever else we wanted to, we just had to carry it ourselves. I was known on my last 4 trips for bringing extra apples (on one trip almost a dozen, and they all got eaten), extra-sharp white cheddar cheese (I couldn’t have anything milder b/c lactose intolerance), Lara bars, my own trail mix (with only things I liked – cashews, craisins, dried peaches, M&Ms), and a compact 30-spice kit that I put together myself (it came in handy many times, esp. on the trip that had 18 people), among other things.

          1. Rachel Avatar

            If I was going in a much smaller group (never been with less than 8) or for only a few days and I was allowed to design the menu, I would plan everything ahead, only bring what was on the menu, take a frozen homemade real food meal or two like Katie suggests, and bring as much fresh food as the space in our group’s packs and the produce’s durability allowed. If it was something that would just be too heavy fresh or frozen, I would dehydrate it (thinking soup and the like here, since that’s one thing I actually really miss when I’m in the backcountry, though, to be perfectly honest, I didn’t realize it until you mentioned it). I would bring butter, bacon, nuts (cashews for me), Lara bars, eggs if feasible (a friend of mine has chickens), tea, some fruit (probably a combo of dried and fresh, depending on space and weight), maybe some crackers (I’d have to think about that one because they break so easily) and veggies (probably a combo of dried and fresh and use the fresh first) according to what we were going to be making. I would definitely try my hand at making pemmican – I’ve heard it mentioned in books but never actually seen, made, or tasted it.

          2. Rachel Avatar

            I would have to think about what I would do for dinners if I was out for longer than I had frozen dinners – rice? pasta? I wonder if you could dehydrate bone broth and have it reconstitute decently, then put a soup mix in to make soup with it – even better (here I’m just thinking out loud, not necessarily making a suggestion, since I’ve never tried it myself and don’t know if it would actually work), if that works, then bring some dehydrated cooked/drained (therefore low fat) ground meat, add some butter or coconut oil, then put it all together once the broth is reconstituted: backcountry chili – yumm. Jerky is definitely a good idea if you like it; of all the kinds I’ve tried, I’ve only ever liked one, and it was a homemade one that a friend of mine brought with her on our longest trip (3 weeks backpacking in the mountains) – no chance of me getting any more, so jerky’s not really an option for me.

          3. Rachel Avatar

            Even though I’ve spent 14 weeks in the backcountry on various types of trips over the last 6 years, I’m by no means an expert, but I hope that helps at least a little bit. It takes research and planning to not only bring healthful food but also make sure you have balanced meals for the entire trip that are designed for the type of activity you’ll be doing (e.g. you’re going to need a lot more energy (and therefore more and/or better fuel) if you’re going to be backpacking every day for a week than if you were staying the week at a base camp and doing just a few slow easy hikes).

  14. Milissa Avatar

    Katie–I’ll be honest, I don’t comment on blog posts very often but this one struck a cord. I’ve never even considered making dinners to take along on vacation! I usually spend time making healthy muffins for breakfasts and lots of healthy snacks, but we always purchase food once we arrive, and we do usually eat most of our dinners out. Since it’s vacation, I like eating out for dinner as we have things we don’t usually get at home, but during our last two Florida trips, we ALL got tired of heavy, expensive meals that were too often deep fried in unhealthy oil and ended up buying ingredients for large, meal-sized salads and fresh fish we could cook at our rental. I LOVE the idea of batch-cooking dinners, freezing and taking along in addition to some of the other things I always make. We will be staying home this year but on our next trip, I will definitely give this a try. And a bonus for us is that we are mostly plant-based, so a little defrosting along the way won’t be a huge issue! I laughed out loud at your comment about the grocery receipt…it’s so true! While we have not managed to find a way to eat completely organically at an affordable price, even conventional produce is insanely expensive in vacation destinations, so thanks for the eye-opener on how to cut back on that cost and be able to enjoy more activities next time we travel away from home!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *