Easy Vacation Meals for the Family: Tasty Without the Fuss

budget-friendly vacation meals

This is kind of a funky topic, but the idea for it was born from personal experience. My entire family (husband, daughter and both of my parents) traveled to Cape Hatteras in North Carolina for vacation in June of 2014. What a great vacation that was! We spent a week enjoying sand, sun, and surf, dolphin excursions, tours of lighthouses-it was absolutely wonderful!

We ended up renting a condo through VRBO, and that was a great choice, as I’m sure you would agree if you’ve done the same thing. I’m fully aware that more and more vacationers are choosing to stay in short-term rentals instead of hotels, using online rental services like Airbnb, HomeAway, VRBO, FlipKey, and others.

If you choose carefully, these online rental services can be fantastic, especially for families. Our daughter was 15 months old at the time, so it was imperative that we chose a kid-friendly option.

We chose well and spent a week in a wonderful condo called Dacotah Hill. We had our own kitchen, two bedrooms, and bathrooms, and perhaps most importantly, with a 15-month-old, a washer and dryer spent most of its time working noisily, right there in the condo unit.

Here are the top five reasons I believe that short-term rentals are pure genius:

  1. You can save money. It can be cheaper to find an apartment or home for rent on one of those websites, compared to a hotel room for a week.
  2. It’s homey. Instead of a bleachy-smelling hotel room, you get to stay in a real home. If you do your research and choose the right one, you’re likely to really, really enjoy it.
  3. It’s owned by real, live people. We’d never met our hosts, but boy, did they make sure we had a good experience. Everything was absolutely perfect. I’d stay there again in a heartbeat.
  4. A washer and dryer in the unit is almost always guaranteed. This bears repeating. With a 15-month-old, it was a must-have.
  5. A kitchen is part of the deal. That bears repeating again, too, especially if you have kids. The only other hotel option that would be semi-close would be at an all-inclusive, where the food is available all the time, anytime.

Explaining the benefits of the kitchen leads me to the point of this post: budget-friendly vacation meals. We spent most of our time out and about during the day, and most of the time, we took our little walkway directly to the beach and sat in the sand and in the water.

So, really, was the kitchen a benefit? Yes and no. My mom and I are decidedly disastrous cooks, in that we really don’t like to cook at all. Plus, we were too busy with my daughter to think about budget-friendly vacation meals.

My husband and dad wound up doing most of the cooking all week, and I can’t for sure say that they resented the forced-upon responsibility, but they may have. (Either way, I’m not going to ask now.)

Plus, we were all on vacation. Dishes? Extra work? Whaaaat? We should have planned a little better because we also wound up going to the store more than three times during that week and I think that’s a tad ridiculous.

budget-friendly vacation meals
Africa Studio/stock.adobe.com

I’m going to try to save you the trouble. Search for the following keywords in a search engine or on Pinterest, come up with a grocery list and go to the store once, at the beginning of the week, and you’ll be good to go with your own easy vacation meals.

Here are some tips for some easy vacation meals that I came up with if you wind up doing a VRBO for a week this summer.

  1. Focus on one-pot meals. These are a great idea, particularly if your condo or rental house is limited in its pot, pan and utensil options.
  2. Find recipes with five or fewer ingredients. Whatever feeds the crew with the fewest ingredients, I love. That means spending less money at the store and spending less time messing up the new-to-you kitchen.
  3. Bring freezer meals along with you. Where there’s a cooler, there’s a way. Why not prep weeks ahead of time, freeze, and plop everything into a pot to cook slowly while you’re at the beach? That way, after an awesome day of sand and surf, your dinner’s completely ready! Golly, I wish I’d been thinking ahead the last time I did this!
  4. If you have room, bring along your crock pot. I hesitate to say this because my husband is anti-crock pot dishes during the summer, but why not? Same thing as the freezer meal. Chop everything up in the morning, put your favorite dish in the crockpot, and yum, yum, at the end of a great beach day!
  5. Sheet pan dinners. Have you ever had one of those? Chop everything up, put it on a baking sheet and bake for a nominal amount of time. Dinner is served!
  6. Grilled foil packets. Prep in the morning, let everything marinate in foil and then pop on the grill for a fresh, delicious dinner at night. Can you say grilled Hawaiian barbecue chicken in foil? Yum!
  7. I’m not opposed to breakfast for dinner. It’s cheap, it’s easy, and the kids will love gobbling pancakes, fried eggs, and toast.
  8. Speaking of breakfast, go for the instant. Instant oatmeal packets, granola bars, yogurt parfaits with fresh fruit and granola-it certainly gets you out on the beach faster!
  9. Sandwiches will be your best friend. If you’re on the go in the evening, and especially for lunch on the beach, you can’t go wrong. I’m also not opposed to eating sandwiches for dinner if there are other, more fun things we’d like to do (evening walk on the pier and eating sandwiches on the go? Sounds great to me!)
  10. Reserve all leftovers for the last night. This is an easy catch-all for slurping everything up that’s in the fridge. You certainly want to get your best bang for your buck, and you also don’t want to waste anything that’s still in the fridge. So what if you’re eating bologna sandwiches, green beans, yogurt, and Hawaiian barbecue chicken all at once? Ha!

Ultimately, the point is, you want to enjoy your vacation, not spend all week slaving in the kitchen. Vacations are too short as it is. Plan ahead, write down your grocery list (and even think about bringing a lot of things with you) and you’ll be happy you did.

Sun, sand, surf. Ahhhhh….. Too bad we can’t be on vacation year-round.

Melissa is a Midwesterner with a penchant for travel (the further away, the better!) and personal finance. Previously, she worked as a writer/editor for a gardening magazine and has done lots of writing and editing for publications. Now, she works in the admission office of her alma mater, Central College in Iowa. She has special interests in reading about finance and politics, and together with her husband, spends most of her time chasing after their two kiddos.

    Moneylogue articles delivered straight to your inbox

    Disclosure: This site uses affiliate links. At no extra cost to you, we sometimes receive a small compensation if you purchase through the links within our articles.