|Breakfast on the lanai on our anniversary - eggs, bacon, toast, and pineapple|
While I love eating out, trying new restaurants, and experiencing local cuisine, it takes a toll on the waistline and the wallet to do that for a vacation of more than a few days. If you have young kids like me, chances are those meals won't even be that enjoyable because you're worrying about them bothering other patrons at the restaurant, running back and forth to the bathroom, eating chicken strips and french fries at every meal . . . you get the drift!
The past couple of years, we've been trying to stay places that have kitchens and eat in as much as possible. Here are some of my tips (and reminders to myself for next year) about stocking your condo kitchen and making great vacation meals.
Tip #1: Plan a flexible menu for about 3-4 days at a time
The trick is having a plan so that you don't either a) go to the grocery store every day or b) buy a bunch of food that you end up throwing out at the end of the trip. You don't want to run to the grocery store too much but you don't want to be committed to a week's worth of food if you feel like going out one night or ordering pizza or something. We usually buy stuff for steaks, pasta, and fish or tacos or something. Choose recipes without a lot of ingredients (not too many spices or things you won't use up) and simple sides. If you like to eat leftovers, consider making something that you can eat again later in the week or for lunch. Write down the meals you want to make (you can even do this before you arrive at your vacation spot) and go to the grocery store with that list.
We had these 3 meals in our condo the last week:
Steak, rice pilaf (from a box), steamed broccoli
Stir fry, rice, salad
Tip #2: Buy more healthy choices and less junk
I try to think of fruit and vegetables that my kids will eat and have them on hand: (baby carrots, apples, raisins, pineapple, cucumbers). When they ask for a snack, if they know the cupboard is full of chips and cookies, they won't eat the healthy stuff. I've also noticed that the junk we buy ends up still there towards the end of the trip and I feel obligated to eat a bunch so I'm not wasting food. You can always get an extra bag of chips, some more ice cream, another package of m&ms later so don't buy too much up front. We enjoyed checking out some of the farmer's markets in Hawaii and picking out fresh, local produce for that night's dinner.
Tip #3: Cut yourself some slack - it's vacation!
The flip side of #2 is that this is vacation. I let the kids have dessert more than I do at home, I buy convenience foods that we don't usually buy because we don't have a microwave at home (instant mac & cheese, microwave popcorn, etc). We also buy some local beer, a frozen pizza, some Ben & Jerry's and let ourselves indulge a little bit. It's a lot less expensive than ordering drinks and dessert at a restaurant! Also, remember that this is supposed to be a break. Don't slave in the kitchen if you don't enjoy it - use the barbecue if you have one (less mess to clean up, less preparation) and the microwave if you can.
Tip #4: Commit to a game plan for breakfast and lunch
You don't have to make 3 meals a day for everyone, but we have a strategy about breakfast and lunch: pick something we'll be happy eating over and over for a week. We bought those individual cereal boxes at Costco (think Frosted Flakes and Fruit Loops), milk, yogurt and oj for breakfast for the first week. When we were sick of cereal by the second week, we bought eggs, bacon, and pancake mix. For lunches, we had stuff to make pb&j and quesadillas. We went out to breakfast a few times, which we love to do and have picked up lunches here and there but it's also nice to be able to pack pb&j to take to the beach or come back tired from a morning at the pool and know there's something everyone will eat.
Tip #5: When you do eat out with kids, be prepared.
Make sure they've had a nap, you bring something to entertain them while you wait for the food, you pick somewhere relatively kid-friendly, and consider a bribe or treat for good behavior. Here's what our dinners out looked like . . .
How about you? What are your ideas for handling family meals on vacation?