Tuesday, July 3, 2012

How to Eat Great Food (And Still Relax) on Vacation

As part of Cooking Up a Sale's Summer Vacation, we're focusing on Camping and Traveling for the month of July.  (Don't forget, you can still vote for August's theme by commenting on this post or sending me an email.)

Before we get started, I should probably clarify my definition of camping :)  I'm not a "roughing it" kind of girl, so almost all of the information and recipes I provide will be geared towards camping (or staying in a cabin) with electricity, running water, a grill, and a stove.  A few of my ideas might even include use of a microwave or oven.  (Side note:  If your family camps in a tent by the side of the road and you cook all of your meals over an open flame, please let me know!  I'd love for you to write a guest post this month, as I am most definitely not an expert in that department.)

Along with ideas for camping/cabin food, I'll also provide a few tips and ideas for road trips.  We're heading out on one later this summer, and I know there are more families planning to do the same.

So let's kick off July by talking about how it's possible to eat great food and still relax on vacation:

1.  Plan.  Plan.  And then plan some more.  At least a week before you leave, figure out how many meals you'll need on your vacation, and write down what you're planning to make.  Pick easy meals...after all, you ARE on vacation.  Are you going to eat out at all?  Do you have any potlucks planned with fellow vacationers?  What are you going to eat for breakfast?  Are you going to have a sit-down lunch every day, or will you just grab crackers and cheese on your way to the pool?  What about snacks?  Do you need to do any baking, or are you bringing all packaged snacks? 

2.  Make a list.  Include everything you need to make your breakfasts, lunches, and suppers, as well as what snacks you'll bring.  Don't forget things like condiments for the burgers, dressing for the salad, and cooking spray or oil...and of course, s'more supplies!  I keep a master list of all of the food I typically need for a week of camping.  I don't need every item on that list every time (I have "taco meat" and "spaghetti noodles" on the list but we typically have either tacos OR spaghetti while camping), but when vacation is coming up, I just hit "print" and then cross off the food items that I won't need for this particular trip.

3.  Fall back on (some) convenience foods.  We're working to cut out some processed foods, but "instant potatoes" and "Dinty Moore beef stew" still appear on some of my vacation menu plans.  Some convenience items are hearty enough to satisfy hungry kids but require minimal kitchen time. 

4.  Work ahead.  Do anything that you can BEFORE you leave, so that you have more time to relax on vacation.  Focus especially on the food you'll use at the beginning of your trip, because some food spoils more quickly after it's prepared.  For instance, if you're having burgers the first night, you can slice your tomato and tear your lettuce the day before you leave...but if you're having burgers the last night of your trip, those tomato slices will be pretty soggy by the end of the week.  Things you CAN do ahead:  slice and/or shred any cheese you'll need, make chicken marinade (you can even prep the chicken and freeze it right in the marinade), make and freeze burger patties (if you don't buy them pre-made), chop veggies for use at the beginning of your trip, divide trail mix into individual portions, make freezer meals.  (More ideas to come later this month!)

5.  Utilize your freezer.  That is, if you have a large enough one at your destination.  Two of the meals we enjoyed while camping last week were Pork Barbeque and Chicken Spaghetti.  Both of them were prepared the week before and frozen.  I literally had NO cooking to do on the nights we used those meals! 

6.  Pick double-duty ingredients and plan to use your leftovers.  If you have a fridge available for use on your vacation, it's probably quite a bit smaller than your fridge at home.  Get more mileage out of that space by stocking it with food that you can use twice.  For instance, saute a bunch of mushrooms and use some of them for burger toppings, and the rest for pizza hobo pies.  Or grill up a few extra pieces of chicken and use the leftovers for chicken wraps two nights later.  Instead of using a homemade chicken marinade, just use half a bottle of Italian dressing.  The other half of the bottle can be used for a small batch of pasta salad.  Whatever pepperoni is left from those pizza hobo pies can go into that pasta salad as well.  Tonight's leftover boiled potatoes become tomorrow morning's fried potatoes.

7.  Rely on small appliances.  My crockpot and our small grill come along on most vacations.  Both create almost endless meal options, and most items cooked in/on a crockpot or grill require minimal prep.

8.  Containerize and re-package.  If fridge and "pantry" space is really tight, transfer your food, ingredients, and condiments to smaller containers.  If you're not planning to have salad, and therefore only need lettuce for burgers, don't take the whole head of lettuce.  Instead, tear off a few leaves and put them in a Ziploc bag.  Don't take your entire canister or Modular Mate full of sugar, but instead, guesstimate what you'll need and transfer it to a smaller container.  Keep in mind that square and rectangle containers make better use of tight spaces than round containers.

Watch for more tips and recipes for vacation food all month long!

Now it's your turn...I'm sure I'm missing something! 
What tips and ideas can you add for eating great (and easy) food on vacation?

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