Vacation Menu Ideas That Work at Home

Man making a salad for a home meal

As a follow up to the post from March 2019 I wanted to share additional tips and tricks for your vacation menu planning.  And now that everyone is back in school, these tips can help on those busy nights when you have meetings or practices and still want to eat together as a family.

An interesting fact is that while on vacation we are more likely to try new things!  And often vacation will spark a new creative flow within us!   Think about it, you’re on vacation and you decide to check out the local eatery or you ask the bartender to make you his best cocktail—either one you are trying something new and most of the time you really enjoy it!  It’s also why when you get back home and try to make the cocktail yourself, unfortunately, it doesn’t always taste as good.  Without the location, the atmosphere, the sights, the sounds, your perceived enjoyment may be less.    The tips and suggestions I am going to make here I promise you can duplicate and enjoy no matter when or where.

Does anyone else remember the TV show on the Food Network called “Semi-Homemade with Sandra Lee“?  The premise was that by using some prepared items you can save time and still be creative.  That’s exactly what I do and what I encourage you to do on vacation—enjoy good food but cut out some of the prep time and a lot of the cleanup time (everyone is on vacation including mom and dad!)


Precooked Sausage:  Back in TX I like the Aldi brand, but Jimmy Dean or Walmart’s Great Value are good options too.  Precooked sausage runs about twice as expensive as regular, but you save time—just reheat, can cook just a couple of patties—in case the teenagers don’t get up as early as the rest of the family and have almost no cleanup.  You don’t want your vacation condo to smell like sausage all day! And you don’t want to have to wash dishes before heading to the beach or out to the slopes.

Canadian Bacon:  Another good option for vacation breakfast.  It seems a little “fancier” than regular bacon and fits great on a biscuit or toasted English muffin.  Plus smaller packages so if you are only on a 3-day long weekend, this may be a perfect size.

Precooked Bacon:  Great when you just need a little bit, but it is three times as expensive as regular bacon, so I don’t like to use but for small recipes.   (Time-saving tip:  Cook the entire package of bacon and save the extra pieces to add to potato salad, crumble and toss on a salad or re-heat for another breakfast.  The time you save is in clean up—it may take a little longer to cook the extra pieces, but you’ll only clean up the stovetop and pan one time. Or cook in the oven on a large sheet pan.)

Rotisserie Chicken:  One of the most versatile items you can purchase.  I have 3 different menu suggestions for Rotisserie Chicken on my website under the Meal Planning tab.  Any recipe that calls for cooked Chicken can be adjusted to use Rotisserie and save time.

Fresh Shrimp:  This is one of the fastest cooking proteins, especially if it is already peeled!  There are some recipe ideas for Fresh Shrimp under the Meal Planning tab as well.

Fresh or Frozen Fish Filets: Most can go from freezer directly to oven or grill.  Allow a little extra cooking time for the center to be completely cooked, but this is still a fast option.  That extra cooking time might give you just enough time to cut and cook some veggies to toss with rice or pasta!  A restaurant trick is to spray fish filets and chicken breasts with cooking spray (Pam) before placing on the grill to keep from sticking.

Rice, Pasta, and Potatoes:

Boil in Bag Rice:  Now available in multiple sizes and varieties.  About 10 minutes and you have your starch cooked and ready.

Angel Hair Pasta: The fastest cooking dried pasta—the thin strands cook in less than 10 minutes (have the water at a rolling boil).  Egg Noodles are also very fast to cook.

Small Yellow or Red Potatoes:  Cut these into large bite-size to roast or boil very fast.  Once boiled you can make potato salad (I will share some recipe ideas from below), or you can mash with butter and milk for Mashed Potatoes—the best comfort food!  To roast –toss with Olive Oil, Salt, and Pepper at 425 degrees until browned and crunchy on the outside and fork-tender.  Any leftover roasted potatoes can be used in breakfast tacos or breakfast bowls the next day!

Frozen and Refrigerated Breads:

Frozen Biscuits:  They are less expensive than refrigerated biscuits and you can control the number you cook at any time.  They also keep longer in the freezer which is good if you’re not one that cooks breakfast every morning or at least not biscuits every morning.   Personally, I think they taste better too.

Eggo Waffles: Eggos have been taste tested against every brand and always come out on top.  No, they are not going to taste like waffles from your Cuisinart Waffle Iron, but you probably don’t have a waffle iron on vacation so it’s your best alternative! Add some fruit and maybe even some spray whipped cream and enjoy your vacation or just a lazy Sunday morning—don’t forget the Mimosa!

Cinnamon Rolls:  With cream cheese frosting, man, you can’t beat that smell or taste.  (I hope your family has not experienced the drama around cinnamon rolls that my family has, but let’s just say that my brother and sister may still need therapy!) Buy the larger size ones and get an extra pack just in case.  They don’t reheat well (frosting melts away) so eat them while they are fresh and hot!!  And if you want to splurge while on vacation, top a hot cinnamon roll (be sure to put cream cheese frosting on the cinnamon roll) with vanilla ice cream, fresh berries, and chocolate syrup—it is as good as any dessert you’ll find at a restaurant.

Fresh Fruits and Veggies:

Fruits:  Go ahead and try some new fruits—buy one or two and see what you think.  Always shop seasonal fruits as they will taste better and be less expensive.  Ideas for new fruits:  Kiwi, Star Fruit, Mangos, Different Oranges or Apples than you normally buy.  Make a fruit pizza by baking a large sugar cookie dough crust, topping with sweetened cream cheese (flavors include brown sugar & cinnamon, strawberry, and pineapple), and adding fruit cut into different shapes.

Veggies:  Most stores have a good selection of pre-washed and pre-cut veggies. Be sure to check the Use By Date—this is for your safety.  Fresh produce can spoil or at least grow bacteria that your system may not like so don’t risk it.  And since most of these are packaged as a one-time use, you are only buying just enough and avoiding extra food waste.  You will save time washing and cutting up and may save money since you aren’t paying for the part that you will throw away anyway—think broccoli stalks! You purchase by the pound and then throw all the stalks away.

Salad Bar/Olive Bar/Deli Salads:  Depending on your recipe and number of servings you are preparing; you may want to check out the store’s salad bar!  It’s washed and ready to eat (saves your time to wash and trim) and again, you may find new items to try in small amounts to see if you like them.

Frozen Veggies:

Steamer Bags:  No cleanup—just cook and dump on to the plate (or into the bowl if serving family-style). I suggest cooking for less time than most packages say especially if you are adding them to a pasta or rice dish.  Cut the time back a full minute so they keep some of their color and firmness.

Fast Snacks:

Let’s admit it—we need snacks on vacation.  The road trip itself calls for snacks.  The late nights playing games or cards call for snacks.  If you are lucky enough to have bands on the beach or movies on the beach, you want to take some snacks for that.  And all that wave jumping, slope skiing, beer, and wine tastings, shopping, sightseeing, reading a good book, all require some snacks.

G.O.R.P. “Good Ol’ Raisings & Peanuts”:  The original Trail Mix.  Here’s a good ratio to follow to make your own GORP/Trail Mix:

  • 2 Cups of Crunch (Pretzels, Cereal, Popcorn)
  • 1 Cup Dried Fruit (Raisins, Cranberries, Banana Chips)
  • 1 Cup Nuts (Peanuts, Almonds, Pistachios)
  • ½ Cup Sweet (M&Ms, baking chips, mini marshmallows)

The possibilities are endless!  You can go spicy. You can leave out the sweet. You can make a double, triple, quadruple batch if you want.  Just be sure to store in an airtight container.  And make sure everyone keeps it airtight—no one wants soggy or sticky trail mix. You may want to buy lots of different ingredients and let everyone DIY—their own trail mix.  It will be fun to taste each other’s creations!  Also, I suggest buying a box of snack-size Ziplock’s so you can pack some and toss in purses, backpacks, even coat pockets.

Precut Meat and Cheeses: Grab a tray from the deli section your first night in town.  Several brands include crackers in the tray as well.  Add some olives from the Olive Bar and a small fresh fruit or veggie tray (plus wine/beer) and you’ve got your first-night Happy Hour!  Relax and Enjoy!

Dips & Spreads:  Check the Deli section for any local dips or spreads—the Navarre Seafood Market always has tuna and salmon spread that is delicious and requires no preparation!

Carry Out and Restaurant To Go Tips:

When traveling on vacation I encourage you to try locally-owned restaurants.  These businesses are part of the backbone of America.  They pay taxes, they support local kids sports and sponsor local charity events.  So instead of always going to a chain restaurant where you know exactly what you will order, ask around and find a locally owned restaurant and order their specialty item (What item are they known for? Or what special has the chef come up with for that week?).  Eating out at lunch can be less expensive than dinner but it does mean you have to leave the beach or the slopes to go during lunch.  If you decide to go to dinner, you may find you can take part of your entrée back and use for lunch the next day.  Some items are going to reheat better than others—most Italian items reheat well in the oven. Most meats will do fine when reheated.  Be careful with seafood as it can get overcooked and you don’t want it to sit out too long.

I hope your vacation is a time of renewal and reconnecting with yourself and your family/friends.  Enjoy the relaxed pace and new adventures. And when you get back if you need help with menu planning or you want to reorganize your pantry and freezer, please reach out to me.  I would love to help you!

Additional Tips:

Short Cuts for Dinner:

  • Rotisserie Chicken (use for Italian, Tex-Mex, and Mediterranean recipes)
  • Pasta Sauces (Tomato and Alfredo)
  • Condensed Soups (Mushroom, Chicken, Celery)
  • Canned Beans (multiple options)
  • Quick Cook Rice (multiple options)
  • Salad Mixes (be sure to check USE BY dates)
  • Variety of Salad Dressings (Sesame, Peanut Sauce, Italian, Catalina)
  • Refrigerated Pastas
  • Jars of Olives
  • Cheeses-Grated/Crumbled (Feta, Parmesan, Cheddar, Blue, Queso Fresco)
  • Tortillas-Flour and Whole Wheat (use for Pizza Crusts, Wraps and Tex-Mex recipes)

 How Long to Cook Pasta?  (Water is at a Rolling Boil)

Dried Pasta:

4-5 Min:      Angel Hair
6-7 Min:      Penne, Ziti
8-9 Min:      Med Shells, Orzo, Rotini, Linguine, Spaghetti
11-12 Min: Bow Tie (Farfalle), Fettuccine
15 Min:       Dried Tortellini

Fresh Pasta:

Homemade or purchased in Refrigerated section of Grocery
1-2 Min:   Angel Hair, Linguine
3 Min:      Fettuccine
5 Min:      Tortellini

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