Food Tips to Help You Actually Relax on Vacation

You and some friends all got the time off and arranged to meet for, say, a week of summery bliss.

But when the big break comes, you find yourself exhausted — because it turns out cooking for eight on the coast is the same amount of work as cooking for eight in your own house. The view might be great, but effort is effort. You’ve fallen into the classic vacation trap (which The Onion most famously chronicled in this piece), where your escape just means doing dishes with a different view.

You’re not the first person to notice that vacation is often more work for the cook. But hear us: There’s a way out. It doesn’t mean that you don’t enter the kitchen, or that you and your family don’t eat. It means that with a little strategic thinking, you’ll spend less time cooking, do dishes fewer times a day, and maybe even feel like you’re on vacation. Here are 20 tips (from both pros and home cooks) to get you started.

20 Smart Food Tips to Help You Relax on Vacation

1. Make sauces ahead of time.

Often the most time-consuming part of meal prep can be whatever sauces you choose to season your food. Salad dressings, marinades, and last-minute drizzles are hard to give up, though. Try making vinaigrettes, an herbed yogurt sauce, or pesto ahead of time to toss into the cooler, so you have less to do once your feet hit the beach.

–Megan Gordon, food blogger, cookbook author, and #1 fan of assembly cooking on vacation

(Image credit: Yelena Bryksenkova)

2. Make a meal out of snacks.

Snack boards and cheese plates are always a part of our vacation meal strategy. They’re an awesome excuse to visit the local farmers market or co-op and load up on cheeses, dips, bread, and crackers. Plus they require minimal prep if we stay in a hotel and don’t have kitchen space.

–Meghan Splawn, Associate Food Editor at Kitchn and mother of two

3. Kit up.

Bring meal kits! Or have them delivered to your vacation rental. It makes life easier. I always bring extra vegetables in case I end up cooking for more.

–Tracy, dishwasher-free mom of two

4. Plan easy things ahead.

Much of our meal-prep time is spent planning and shopping for meals. If you arrive with most of the things you need for a vacation, you’ll have more time for general lounging.

–Sarah, mom of one, eats out on vacation

5. Buy dessert.

Dessert is always pie. I love to bake pie, but not when I’m on vacation. I buy a pie from the same café on day one of our trip and we enjoy it for a few days.

—Susan, cookbook editor, buys tiny cereal boxes for easy vacation mornings

(Image credit: suzanne clements/Stocksy)

6. Keep it simple.

If the entire idea of having to prep for vacation makes your head spin, remember that you can do a lot with good olive oil, vinegar, salt and pepper. K.I.S.S.: Keep It Simple, Stupid.

–Steve, college professor and grandfather, hater of crowded fridge doors

7. Wash and cut ahead.

Washing vegetables when you get home from the grocery store saves time and storage space, and often prevents the vegetables from spoilage. In my house, because they’re easier to cook when they’re already all prepped, it also means we eat them faster — and less goes to waste.

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