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Vacation Menu Planning and Grocery List

Hi all - I'm planning a beach vacay to the Cape for my family, and we rented a house- so we have a kitchen to take advantage of. I know we will save a ton of money if we eat in, and I
am wondering if anyone can point me to any vacation menu planning places on the web -- and or - can offer your best vacation cooking/eating tips.
There are four of us - but our kiddos are three and one -- so not what you would call huge eaters- although - they're both good eaters.

anyhoo- any tips you are willing to pass on would be appreciated.

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  1. How long are you staying in the house? Are you travelling from really far away? Will you have a bbq?

    Assuming that you'll be going in the summer... you probably won't want to cook tons of labor intensive meals. What do you normally eat for meals and snacks? You can freeze chicken, steaks, hamburgurs, hot dogs, sausages to grill for a quick meal with baked potatoes. Pasta and tossed salads usually work well because you can make them in advance and add the dressing before you want to eat.

    You can also prepare meals at home and bring them frozen to heat up in the rented house.

    2 Replies
    1. re: cheesecake17

      I agree - you need to know about the BBQ. MY DH and I go to the beach often and depending on weather, we eat in or out. I like to make quick and easy things - BBQ chicken w/pasta salad, grill steaks and make baked loaded potatoes, usually plan one night with spaghetti (everybody likes that), then maybe a couple of relief nights - local fish & chips, maybe some pizza (after all - it is a vacation!).

      1. re: cheesecake17

        That's exactly what I've been doing. Every year since my boys were 3 & 1 we rented an RV and drove about 12 hours up the california coast, to my father in law's place north of SF. We usually take about 4 days to get there. So I would prep our favorite easy meals, steaks, marinated flanks, seasoned hamburgers, marinated chicken breasts for fajitas, etc, about a week ahead and freeze them already to go in ziplocs. They act as ice packs in the cooler, and you can just take out whatever you want to make in the am and it's defrosted by dinner time. It helps to have a grill, but a full kitchen is even better. Either way, it's easy to fix in either ovens or stovetops, if you don't have a grill.

        Have a wonderful time and take advantage of the wonderful fish and shellfish and summer produce you can find on the Cape!

      2. Don't forget the cheese and sliced meats for when you don't feel like cooking. Oh, and lots of wine. Well, you do need cheese even if you ARE cooking.

        1. We live in NY and we rented a house in Cape Cod 2 summers ago. My kids at the time were approaching 4 years old and 2 years old.

          I did not cook anything ahead of time. What I did was bring things like cereal, a few boxes of pasta, a few jars of sauce, many, many snacks, maybe even a loaf of bread or some rolls for sandwiches (I can't remember if I brought bread or rolls or bought it there) plus some bagels. I also brought juice boxes, a few gallons of bottled water and small bottles too, and some larger bottles of apple juice to keep in the refrigerator. Oh, and lots of bottles and/or cans of Diet Coke for me and my husband. I also brought things like plastic cups and ziploc bags. I can't remember what else I brought, but as you can see, it was basically "dry goods".

          The day after we arrived, we went to the supermarket and bought things like yogurt, milk, some cold cuts for sandwiches and fruit, and a box of frozen waffles to mix it up for my kids.

          Our basic m.o. was to eat breakfast in the house each day. Then when we were on the go, I would bring snacks/fruit in the ziploc bags and some water or juice boxes. Some days we went back to the house for lunch, other days we just ate out depending on what our plan was for that day. Same thing for dinner. I love my kids to no end, but at almost 4 and 2, it was not exactly fun for me to eat every dinner out with them. So on some of the days we ate at home. We did not use the grill at our place (can't remember why), so I made pasta some nights, we picked up a rotisserie chicken another night and I made potatoes and salad, can't remember what else but you get the idea.

          As boyzoma said, it is a vacation, and to me, being in the kitchen for every meal is not a vacation. On the other hand, eating out with young kids for every meal is stressful too, so having the option of a kitchen and going out was a nice mix for us.

          1. I like to bring frozen casserole meals for ease in this case (esp for breakfast). The rest of the meals are eaten out and/or take out food brought home to enjoy.

            1. Lots of good ideas already. First, I have to bring my favorite basic kitchen utensils and since I like a fried egg in the morning, that would include a small no stick skillet. I wouldn't trust that the kitchen would have decent cookware etc. Baggies and a few plastic storage containers included.
              I pre-plan our menus. We have a habit of usually eating lunch out and cooking dinner since we like a quiet end of the day. I might make one or two salads that travel well. We have a camping trailer so we usually have lunch on the road at a rest area. That lunch is usually a sandwich, small salad or fruit. It's a special treat to also have homemade cookies and muffins for the first couple of days.
              If I plan to have a salad that is better made fresh, I will make the dressing ahead of time and bring it in a plastic storage container. I also might put sauce or marinade ingredients together to use later. We like seared scallops so I would put the flour and seasoning in a bag and then buy fresh scallops at our destination. We have had good luck finding a local farmers market where we buy fresh vegetables. If we are in Maine during blueberry season a simple dessert is fresh berries with vanilla yogurt.
              When our son spent a week at the beach with another family, he was dumbfounded that they just ate burgers and hot dogs all the time. He was used to regular meals, even when we camped. There is nothing wrong with burgers and hot dogs just not every day.

              I think the hard part for me is not taking too much so I need to think ahead about what seasonings and condiments are necessary. We prefer homemade ice tea so tea bags and our favorite plastic pitcher would get packed.

              3 Replies
              1. re: dfrostnh

                Yep. For me it's about utensils and spices because those are things that are cost prohibitive to buy on vacation. Here's my must bring list -

                Utensils - whisk (great for vinaigrette), tongs, spatula
                Spices/seasonings - salt, pepper, cumin, chili powder, sugar, honey, soy sauce, olive oil, canola oil

                Everything else you can buy at a grocery store and use up for the time you are there.

                1. re: Dcfoodblog

                  Yep, and a sharp knife-- another rarity in a rental!
                  For spices, I always try to find a local food co-op nearby. They usually carry bulk spices so I can scoop out just exactly the amount I need (and forgot to bring from home).

                  1. re: icicle

                    Right on. Totally forgot about that and it's definitely something I bring without fail.

              2. "any tips you are willing to pass on would be appreciated"

                I am reminded of the vacations my DW talks about when she was a young child....They would all, ---Mom, Dad, and 4 daughters-- pile in the car...drive to some location in Florida (beach) where they would rent a "Cottage" complete with Kitchenette for the week...She recalls having a good time playing in the sand and surf, and sleeping in bunk beds...Her dad mostly read, walked, and slept....Mom on the other hand, spent the week sweeping out sand, washing clothes (to get the sand out) cooking three meals a day, washing the dishes, (by hand) cleaning up the kitchenette, straightening beds, keeping the bathroom clean and some what organized and....well you get the general idea. Doing the same things she did at home as a mother of four...only in a different house, different kitchen, different beds, different dirt, (sand).etc. etc. etc. Not much of a "vacation" for mom I'm sure you would agree.

                My tip?? Don't worry about planning gourmet meals nor packing 1/2 of your kitchen utensils...Keep it as simple and as uncomplicated as you can...Cereal and Fruits at morning...A quick sandwich at noon either at "home" or on the go...Go out to eat at night..no need for it to be so fancy or formal...just a nice place so mom can relax, take a deep breath, and not be trapped in the kitchen...Please know I understand it might not be quite that simple with a three and one year old...but I do hope you see my point..

                Have a great vacation Mom!!

                4 Replies
                1. re: Uncle Bob

                  "Not much of a "vacation" for mom ". I didn't want to say it, but when I came home from that trip, I was exhausted and needed a vacation from the vacation! The following summer we went to a resort where all meals were included and there was maid service!

                  1. re: Uncle Bob

                    You are so right, Uncle Bob, it's never a true vacation for Mom, when it's just like home with the kids, cooking, cleaning, laundry..........

                    1. re: Uncle Bob

                      100% agree. We rent a place at the Jersey shore every summer. I plan to eat in about half the time. This means I bring 1 or 2 casseroles, we might steam some clams, or we eat pasta with jar'd or home-made tomato sauce. Maybe grill some burgers or hot dogs. I *DO NOT* try to bring the contents of my spice cabinet, or do anything at all time consuming. I do that 6 nights a week at home! "Cooking" dinner should amount to no more than "what should I defrost in the fridge today while we're at the beach and pop in the oven when we get home and I'm having my cocktail on the porch"!

                    2. Remember to strike a balance between relaxing meals in and enjoying the local restaurants and specialties. When we go to the Cape I usually marinate a few big bags of different proteins for the grill, buy a ton of good fruit throw in a box of cereal and make a batch of my tomato saffron sauce for lobsters. We go to the lower Cape and there is a great market in Wellfleet where you can get produce and seafood, but I bring sweet corn from home because I think the native corn they sell at a premium is just awful! The produce market has nice fruit but we eat so much on vacation that I find it makes sense to bring some along. Oh, I also make a huge batch of Bloody Mary mix and bring that with!

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: Kater

                        Kater - I like how you think. Don't forget the Vodka.

                      2. One of the best week end getaways I ever had was when we rented a condo instead of a motel. We filled a cooler with food and the 1st night we had the ultimate fast food - rib eye steak and a baked potato. Hey you are on vacation.

                        If you have the time, pre-make your favorite casserole and throw it in the oven while you are there.

                        You will use a lot of energy so you might want to take some sausage and eggs for a breakfast. Sausage, egg and cheese croissants are quick and fast.

                        Go to at least one seafood restaurant. You're on vacation and on the ocean!

                        1. We go to Martha's Vineyard for a couple of weeks each summer. I have a file of "summer island rental recipes" that I add to every year, and tend to work around those, along with lots and lots of fresh fish and shellfish. I agree that it is not a vacation for mom! But I also like the opportunity to cook with the lovely produce and fish and locally grown stuff that I can find there. Knowing your grill status is indeed key.

                          I load the car with condiments that I don't want to pay for again - soy sauce, mustards, vinegars, evoo - and a few spices that I know I'll want and don't want to buy. Also, cereals, snacks, pasta, sodas, and wine wine wine and rum (some of MV is dry, and I don't want to drive all over creation for a bottle of wine every day!). Basically, I try to bring a supply of non-perishables that I don't want to pay extra for, and can fit in the car.

                          I don't prep a lot ahead of time EXCEPT for frozen homemade pesto (sometimes we want a break from all that fish) and sweets - last summer, expecting extra guests, I brought a few dozen cookies (some frozen), a pound cake (again frozen), and a couple of disks of pie dough for pies (ditto). Had a recipe for no-maker chocolate ice cream that was a big hit. I do bring my trusty pie tin, and a chef's knife.

                          We do go out occasionally, which I enjoy (see the no vacation for mom comment AGAIN). Would love to eat out more, but kids are still on the youngish side, and by the end of a long beach day, are too tired to sit up straight! That said - you are on the Cape, you MUST eat some fried clams, and you can't do that at home!

                          I've always felt that someone should write the Summer Rental Cookbook - with recipes that use up the odd spices and things one finds in a rental by the end of the summer.

                          2 Replies
                          1. re: Splendid Spatula

                            your pie crust comment reminded me-- I always bring a couple of galettes (rustic pies) that I've frozen using whatever fruit came in my CSA in the previous month or so. It's terrific to have a gourmet dessert just by popping it in the oven!

                            1. re: Splendid Spatula

                              Good point about young children. Best time to eat out is probably lunch time or take advantage of some good fried seafood takeout for supper. The kids are tired by the end of the day and restaurants tend to be busier in the evening. I remember some vacations when our son would be too tired and cranky at supper time. We just let him order dessert if that's all he wanted.
                              If you plan ahead and do some advance prep, that frees up time when you are at the summer place. Less shopping and less worrying about what you are going to serve 'tonight'. I always take a picnic kit so we can enjoy some simple lunches when we're out for the day although we usually eat lunches out. If you don't have the time and energy to make homemade cookies ahead of time, fine, there are plenty of good supermarket bakery choices. We've been at beach rentals where a good grocery store wasn't near by so I learned to pack some important spices and my favorite kitchen utensils (I can't stand to work without a decent knife). Keep in mind OP wanted budget ideas and while eating all meals out might help mom feel like she's on vacation, it's not the option here.

                            2. In addition to the great food recommendations that you've received, I'll add one more. The best thing I ever took to the beach when my children were young was a full-time babysitter! She loved it because she got two weeks of beach time and I loved it because I wasn't tied to two young boys full-time. She and I swapped duty -- win-win.

                              Make the food easy on yourself. It makes a huge difference if you are driving to the beach because this allows you to carry a lot of what has already been suggested.

                              I take my herbs/spices in what I think are fishing lure containers. They're small plastic bottles (?) that screw into each other forming a tower. I never rely on the rental having what I will want to use and after this many years, I do hate to spend my vacation $$$ on something I already have at home.

                              I also take some of my favorite pieces of cookware and my knives because i KNOW these won't be up to par.

                              1. this year I *MUST* remember to bring ketchup. Hot dogs are only a normal part of our menu ON vacation, and every year I buy yet another bottle!

                                1. Since you want to save money & you have a kitchen I'd suggest taking as much from home as you could. I used to clean rental houses at the Outer Banks for five years on weekends. I can tell you that most grocery stores near vacation houses, especially those that are seasonally occupied are expensive; in other words, those stores make the bulk of their earnings during the summer season. So, yes, you could shop for what you need when you get there but if you're trying to save money, that's the wrong way to do it, especially in Cape Cod.

                                  I'd check with the rental office handling your house whether there is sufficient cookware, dishware & standard utensils in the house. Don't assume there will be anything in the kitchen as far as those things go. If the kitchen is stocked with these things, then the least you need to take are maybe your knives, a cutting board and your favorite utensils (one house I rented didn't even have a can opener!)

                                  As far as food, I agree with taking your own herbs & spices. Fill a couple of coolers with your meats; chicken can be cut up, i.e cut into strips, nuggets, pieces, etc. and bagged, steak can be sliced & bagged for any applications you want; etc. and everything can be frozen in advance. If you have a marinade or sauce you want to use, you can put it in a ziplock (I suggest bags as containers take more space) and freeze for the trip.

                                  I'd buy my veggies and prep them in advance of using where possible: carrots cut up, celery, peppers, etc. whatever you'll need that can be done ahead so all you have to do is pull out and use. Make baked goods & snacks before you go: muffins, breads, most cookies, etc. to freeze ahead. I make pancakes & waffles and freeze them for later; layered between wax or parchment paper & into a freezer container or bag to later be popped into a toaster or oven. Cooking ahead saves time & money; that said, you'll be on vacation at the beach so allow for some of the areas freshest seafood while you're there. Take advantage of a farmer's market or roadside produce stand to nab some corn on the cob, peaches or whatever else you can get seasonally to go with that seafood.. Throw some sliced peaches on the grill for a dessert, maybe drizzled with balsamic and a bit of whipped cream.

                                  Check that your rental house has a toaster; you might want to check that it has a grill either charcoal or gas. If charcoal, bring your own if you have room; don't forget the lighter fluid. Have a great time!

                                  1 Reply
                                  1. re: Cherylptw

                                    Well said, Cherylptw.

                                    And I also do freeze pancakes and waffles that we've made from a batch and now everyone's too full to eat. Great idea to bring those along too, all one has to do is toast!! (Hopefully there's a toaster there, but if not, an oven always works!)

                                    And we also love to grill fresh seasonal fruit, such a simple but delicious dessert, esp. for those of us who watch our weight or can't do the dairy in the usual desserts. Great call.

                                    And we always go to the local farmer's markets when on vacation and driving up in an RV. Best way to savor the local flavors, and boost the local economy!!

                                  2. My most important advice re food-shopping for a furnished vacation place is to find out FIRST what cooking equipment you have. Over time in such venues I have had an oven but no stove-top, a microwave but no oven, a dorm-sized refrigerator (very big in Europe), and only two pans (we survived for a week on boil-in-the-bag rice and stir-fry in that one). Refrigerator and freezer space are crucial to know about. If you are driving, try to find out in advance if appliances you want (eg crock-pot) are there and if they're not, take them. A big pot of pasta is nice so you can eat it multiple times and it will be all ready but a pot big enough to cook pasta in and a colander to drain it in cannot be counted on.

                                    2 Replies
                                    1. re: Querencia

                                      First - thank thank you thank you for all the information! Second, I apologize for posting and running, I got hit with one of the worst stomach bugs of my life the night after I posted this - and then avoided all things food for a few days. And then, then I forgot I had posted. So to answer your questions from many moons ago -- we do have a fully stocked (appliance wise) kitchen available, and most importantly a grill. So no hold barred on what we can do.
                                      Thanks again for all the info and tips!

                                      1. re: tara jean

                                        Also, our plan will be to eat lunch out and do breakfast and dinner in. We have small boys. Small energetic boys, and we would hate to unleash them on trying to relax diners.