Vacation or Stay-cation, Eating without Busting the Budget

Instead of the usual weekly menu and grocery list, I’m participating with several other bloggers doing a series about Stay-cations.  Tomorrow I’ll have links to the other posts for you.  If you’d like to print a menu + grocery list, please check out the “Menus and Planners” tab at the top of the site.

Raise your hand if you have a stay-cation planned this year.  With the price of gas and everything else, it makes a lot of sense to stay close to home and take in the local activities.  After you budget for all the fun stuff you want to do, it’s time to think about feeding everyone.  Boy, can that add up quick!

It is possible to eat at home on vacation without feeling like you’re slaving away over a hot stove.  And it’s the best way to save money.  We’ve been known to take our food on vacation with us, even if we’re traveling long distances.  Lots of people do this if they are camping or going to the beach, but we’ve even done it in Disney World.  So I know it’s possible to do it at home, make it special and keep it simple all at the same time. 

Plan, plan, plan!

Decide what you will be doing each day of your vacation.  Once you have your itinerary, you can determine if it’s best to:

1.  Eat out – You might not want to eat every meal at home.  Maybe your family has a few favorites or you want to try out a new place or two.  If so, schedule those meals into your week.  You might start looking for coupons to save money on those meals.   Check out the menus of each place and make up a budget based on the cost of each restaurant.

2.  Use the slow cooker – Look for recipes that come together quick.  You don’t want to have a lot of steps before the food makes it to the slow cooker, like browning or pre-cooking.  Unless, you can make it ahead of time and freeze it (more on that later).  Slow cooking is good for days when you know you will be back by dinner (or lunch, if that works better).

3.  Plan to grill – Grilling keeps the cooking mess outside and has a fun flair to it.  This is good if you’re going to be home for the evening and if you haven’t worn yourself out with fun earlier in the day.

4.  Pop a frozen meal into the oven – This requires you to cook ahead of time, but the pay off is huge.  The meal is ready to go in the oven (or slow cooker).  All you need to do is thaw in the fridge a day or two before you’ll be eating it.  Using foil pans can help keep the mess to a minimum.

5.  Pack a picnic – If your kids are old enough, set up an assembly line in the morning and let them fix their own sandwich.  Keep a Sharpie marker handy for labeling baggies.  A picnic doesn’t have to be just sandwiches, although they are a classic portable meal for a reason.  Try pasta salad with grilled chicken or chicken or tuna salad with crackers.

Make a grocery list and cooking plan

Now that you have your meals planned into the week, it’s time to put it all together in a grocery list.  Don’t forget any foil pans, sandwich baggies etc. you may need.  Also, plan for extra ice if you’ll be packing picnics. Keep those groceries away from prying kids and husbands!  You don’t want your vacation food to be eaten up before it’s time.

Look through your meals and decide what cooking can be done ahead of time.  Schedule yourself time before your vacation to do that.  Here are some tips on cooking and freezing several meals at once.

Desserts

My family has a big sweet tooth.  Satisfying it is a necessity for our vacations.  When the kids were little, we used to get them all ready for bed and then announce a “pajama run”.  We’d pile into the van and drive through Sonic or Dairy Queen for ice cream.  They loved it!

Ice cream at home is fun too.  Build your own sundaes or make Dad’s Brownie Sundaes.  Milkshakes are easy and special or try a Mock Dole Whip Float. Ice cream treats are good, because all the ingredients keep well and it’s an “assembly only” treat.

You could also bake cookies or cakes and freeze them to have during your stay-cation.  The main thing is to keep it simple, but special.

Clean up tips

  • Use disposable or…
  • Use regular dishes, but be diligent about loading and unloading the dishwasher. You won’t have extra cooking pans, so it should be just plates and cups.  This is what we usually do, even on vacation.
  • Use foil pans
  • Use slow cooker liners – much easier than scrubbing the slow cooker.  They’re a treat I only use for vacations.

Our favorite meals for vacationing:

These are our tried and true meals.  They’re favorites not just for taste, but also for ease of prep.

Do you have vacation plans this summer?  Will you be staying close to home or venturing further?

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Comments

  1. Great information for those with children. There are just the two of us, and “vacations” are usually week-end hops. We eat out, but I always bake cookies and snack stuff so we don’t buy those. Seeing your Chicken Gyros recipe listed reminded me that I want to try your marinade on some beef. I love gyros. We have only one place to get them in my town.
    They make good ones, but they charge more than I like to spend for a lunch.

  2. I don’t buy slow cooker liners, but I do spray my slow cooker with Pam before I put anything in it. It makes cleaning it so much easier. I usually fill it with soapy water when I’m done with it and let it soak overnight, and then it’s a breeze to clean in the morning. It’s okay without the overnight soak, but I’m all for anything that makes me be able to wash a slow cooker in under 3 minutes.

    We cook most of the food we eat on vacations, due to food allergies, and your tips sound a lot like what we do (except that we can’t use grills in vacation homes or condos because we can’t clean them completely and don’t know what the last people grilled). We never vacation in the summer, though. Between homeschooling and having kids 8 years and under, we’re not dependent on the school calendar. I know it will become more of an issue as they get older, but for now, we love vacationing when the prices, crowds, and temperatures are all lower.

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