10 Home Cooks on How to Minimize Kitchen Time on Vacation

published Jun 26, 2018
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(Image credit: Esteban Cortez)

For most of us, there is a time for really relishing an afternoon in the kitchen. When it’s rainy, we might settle in for an afternoon of pasta-making bliss, or throw open all the windows while jam bubbles away on the stove. Then again, sometimes we want to do other things, like take full advantage of lovely weather with a long hike, or sit in one place reading for hours at a stretch.

Which begets a problem: When everyone wants to be outside gallivanting, no one wants to be stuck in the kitchen alone. But we all gotta eat.

Ten home cooks told us how they maximize their vacation time, so that feeding a family doesn’t mean skipping out on all the things that make vacations worthwhile — and we learned everything from how to make the best dashboard burrito (yep, it’s a thing) to which night is the best pizza-ordering night on vacation.

(Image credit: Kimberley Hasselbrink)

1. Make a plan.

I plan in advance the week or two leading up to the trip. I’ll cook things that freeze and reheat well (like lasagna), and make a double recipe, so I have one to bring with us in the cooler.

Susan, single mom, rockstar planner

(Image credit: Christine Han)

2. Choose the right sandwich.

We make a lot of simple, picnic-inspired sandwiches on vacation—they are easy to clean up and we can take them hiking, biking, or bouncing from park to park. My grandmother used to make these huge pressed sandwiches when we’d visit her, and we make them so often for vacation that my oldest refers to them as ‘the vacation sandwich.’

Meghan, mom of two, loves sandwiches that improve with time

(Image credit: Samantha Bolton)

3. Kill two birds with one stone. Then eat them.

Packing my own food for a DIY vacation scenario inevitably brings up an essential problem: I never have enough ice packs. Solution: I marinate fresh chicken, pork, or beef in ziptop bags, then freeze them flat. When I’m packing up, I double-bag them (safety first!), use them as ice packs I can transfer to the freezer when we arrive, and then let them thaw slowly in the fridge overnight as I need them.

Carol, mom of four, terrified of icky chicken juices

(Image credit: Joe Lingeman)

4. Do double duty.

I like to choose meals that have similar ingredients with perhaps one different protein—think cheeseburgers one night, and then chicken tacos the next night, both of which use the same lettuce and cheese ingredients. That way I have less to shop for.

Erica, mom of three, loves breakfast for dinner

5. Always use the grill.

Because the dying heat of a grill usually burns off any cooking residue, you don’t have to do much cleaning when you grill. I do a lot fewer dishes that way.

Jim, family dish master, dad of 16

6. Rally the troops

It may sound obvious, but if you’re the one typically saddled with food prep and clean up on vacation—and you’d like to take a break for once—you could always ask for help. The key is establishing expectations with your partner and kids (and other families) before you pack the car.

Jessica, bossy kitchen manager, dishwasher recruiting expert

(Image credit: Christine Han)

7. Learn to make dashboard burritos.

If you want to maximize adventure time on a hot day, eat in the car. A dashboard burrito is exactly what it sounds like: You put a flour tortilla on the dashboard of your car. Add some cheese and maybe some refried beans. When the cheese has melted, your burrito’s ready. No dishes.

Josh, burrito aficionado, vintage VW van owner

(Image credit: Ghazalle Badiozamani)

8. Prioritize how you eat out.

You can eat out on vacation without eating out for every meal. We eat breakfast at home, pack simple lunches we can eat while adventuring, and eat dinner out. We spend less time in the kitchen that way, but don’t spend as much money as we would eating out every meal.

Edie, mom of two, avid beachcomber

(Image credit: Danielle Centoni)

9. Make before you bake.

If I’m going to bake anything on vacation—pancakes or a cake, for example—I mix together the wet and dry ingredients at home ahead of time. That way, there’s just a bit less to do in the moment.

Stephanie, wedding cake baker, best friend to bring on a trip

(Image credit: Joe Lingeman)

10. Eat pizza last.

You know how the last day or two of vacation can sometimes present stress over having just the right amount of food til the very end? The last night is always pizza night for us, so we don’t have to worry about cleaning a lot of dishes before packing up. It also helps us eat down the fridge in our rental house instead of creating more leftovers that will have to be tossed.

Rebekah, mom of three, loves to cook on vacation.