Foolproof Vacation Cooking

BurritoWhile I believe in relaxing while on vacation, I also prefer to cook most of my own meals. And not just because I prefer my own cooking. Not only is eating out for every meal expensive, but . . . it’s just not that great. Let’s be honest: how many mediocre sandwiches or breakfasts or plates of pasta have you eaten just because they’re there? This is why I prefer rental houses to hotels when we’re staying somewhere for more than a few days. But there’s a trick to cooking on vacation–here’s how to make it foolproof:

  • Choose recipes that are simple to prepare: you can’t count on a rental house to have a food processor or stand mixer (heck, I always travel with a chef’s knife and serrated knife). Not only is it better not to rely on specialized tools, but simple meals are usually quicker to prepare.
  • Select dishes that don’t require a million ingredients. During our recent trip to Wyoming, I was tempted to make my grandma’s famous spaghetti sauce, before I realized all the things I’d have to buy: dried spices, brown sugar, etc. Then I’d be faced with two choices: lug it all home, or leave it (knowing there’s a good chance housekeeping would throw it away).
  • In a similar vein, try to select a group of dishes that use the same ingredients. The cheddar cheese I bought on our recent trip to Wyoming went in our eggs for breakfast, and in burritos, cheeseburgers, and macaroni and cheese for dinner.

Sample Menu

I feel we really got vacation cooking right in Wyoming a couple weeks ago! While we did go out a few times, we mainly ate at the condo (and packed picnics for day trips to Yellowstone and the drive home). Plus, I figured out a trick for our final night’s dinner that I will do every time in the future!

Bagels and cream cheese (or peanut butter, or butter)
Yogurt (full-fat Greek mixed with jam or fruit–I also used it in place of sour cream in burritos, below)
Scrambled eggs

Ham and cheese sandwiches
Peanut butter and jam sandwiches
Veggies (carrots, sweet peas, jicama, cucumber spears)

Burgers (twice, to help use up the condiments we purchased and because they were so good)
Roast pork loin with garlic (a very simple recipe that was delicious), macaroni and cheese (my special doctored-up Kraft version), grilled corn on the cob
Veggies (carrots, sweet peas, jicama, cucumber spears)

Salt and pepper
Dijon mustard

Oreos (helpful in “using up” extra milk)
Ice cream bars (so fuss, no muss, no bowl or utensils required)

As you can see, we ate pretty well–and had plenty of “picnic” supplies to take along on day trips to Yellowstone, letting us avoid long lines and high prices for mediocre grub. But at the end of the trip, we stumbled into two easy ways to use up the rest of our food before packing up.

The Cleanup Crew

aka, use it before you lose it (or have to take it home with you)

The Burrito: We did something so smart and yummy for our last dinner that I’m always going to plan on this for future trips. We still had leftover tortillas, so we took everything relevant out of the refrigerator–leftover burrito fixings, roast pork (sliced up), some hummus and tabouli we had for snacks, veggies, cheese–and laid it all out on the counter, heating up things like meat and beans. Then everyone grabbed a tortilla and put whatever they wanted in it. We came up with some pretty cool combinations and got rid of almost everything.


This is a smoothie I made at home–I didn’t take a lot of photos on my trip, I was on vacation!

The Smoothie: In my experience, the one countertop appliance you can usually find in a vacation rental is a blender. Perhaps rental agencies think we all want to make strawberry daiquiris while on vacation (actually I did that once). But! For our final breakfast, we whirled up all of our leftover yogurt, fruit, and juice into a quick, delicious breakfast that didn’t require a lot of cleanup. We felt very clever.

So what are your vacation cooking tips? Any simple recipes you keep in your back pocket when you need to cook on the fly? Share them below!