Long before we left for our week-long vacation, I was writing a list.
A list of what foods to pack.
A list of foods to make first, and then pack.
A list of foods we should buy when we arrived.
And wouldn’t you know it – I left that third list at home!
We ate like kings while on vacation. Well, frugal kings, if there is such a thing. 😉
We brought steaks that I found marked down just a few days before we left. We packed a whole frozen chicken that for some reason or another, we hadn’t eaten yet this month. We packed shrimp (on sale two weeks ago), homemade trail mix with extra dried blueberries (from this huge score, and here’s how we dried them), and two loaves of homemade rosemary olive oil bread.
There was some other stuff in our bags too, although surf and turf for a week did sound appealing. 😉
Through it all, I came to the conclusion that there are six must-have real foods for every vacation (assuming you’re not flying). Packing these things saves a ton of money in the long run, although they’re worthy of adding to your “when we get there shopping list” if packing food is out of the question.
Mmm… butter. Not only a good-for-you saturated fat (here’s why), but butter itself is packed with vitamins that help your body in more ways than you have fingers. Read those 13 reasons here. Plus butter doesn’t have to be refrigerated, making it WAY easy to pack for vacation (just keep sticks in a tupperware container to prevent them from smushing and making a mess). Once you arrive, here’s what you can do with butter while on vacation:
- baking fat
- cooking fat
- toppings for pancakes, yeast breads, waffles, veggies, oatmeal, muffins, quick breads
- ingredient in biscuits, pancakes and other baked goods
#2. Maple Syrup
As a delicious, versatile and minimally processed sweetener, maple syrup is the ultimate way to go. The price for maple syrup has been fairly consistent across our travels, but it’s always less expensive when bought in bulk. Aim for grade B maple syrup – it has the strongest maple flavor, will be a hare sweeter, is less processed and is comparable in price to grade A. Try to pick up a bottle from Costco or Sam’s club before you go, or look up the closest store when you arrive. Trader Joe’s comes in 2nd place for pricing. Grocery Outlet also has good deals, but they’re limited to the West Coast (although the store itself is a good reason to head West if you ever have the chance!). A little bit of syrup goes a long way too, so you may find yourself packing it up again to bring extras home!
Why should you pack maple syrup? Let me list thy sweet reasons:
- substitute for granulated sugar in nearly every recipe (general guideline: use 3/4 cup of syrup for 1 cup of sugar, reduce liquid by 2-4 Tbsp, add 1/4-1/2 tsp baking soda, decrease oven temp by 25F)
- sweetener for coffee
- topping for oatmeal, pancakes, waffles, biscuits
- dip for bacon and sausages 🙂
- sauces and marinades for meats and veggies
- flavor enhancer for baked beans
- mix with butter for maple butter… YUM!
#3. Basic Vinaigrette
The easiest and best vinaigrette I’ve ever made was for this healthy spinach salad recipe. You can swap out a homemade flavored vinegar if you prefer, and use the best quality olive oil you can afford (we use this method to test our olive oil). Olive oil is not cheap, and neither is quality vinegar or lemon juice, so it’s best to pack this from home if at all possible. Plan on making about 16 ounces of vinaigrette, more or less, since it’s uses go way beyond salad dressing:
- meat marinade/tenderizer
- topping for baked potatoes, biscuits
- dip for breads, veggies
- spread on sandwiches
- sub for some of the fat in biscuits
- topping for caprese salads
- mix with maple syrup for a new, delicious salad dressing
“Rice” seems so boring when my imagination has been running wild with what I could do with maple butter or a sweet vinaigrette, but I assure you, boring ‘ol rice can come in pretty handy!
First, rice is more of a whole grain than pasta. This is a general rule of thumb of course, since whole grain pasta does exists. Second, rice is overall less expensive than whole grain pasta. Plus it’s easier on the digestive system and covers the bases for anyone who is allergic to wheat or has gluten sensitivities. Plus, did I mention it was cheap? Like, 44¢/lb cheap!
You’ll save the most money by buying in bulk and packing some in a container with a lid, but being so affordable, it’s not the end of the world if you accidentally forgot the rice at home.
What are the plans for rice while on the road?
- homemade rice milk (which may let you get away without having to buy milk when you arrive!)
- side dish (add butter, salt & pepper to spruce it up)
- base for leftover stir fry (basically everything left at the end of the trip gets served chopped and over rice)
- reheats well
- cook slowly with milk for a creamy breakfast (serve with butter and maple syrup!)
- basic recipe only requires water
- serve with beans for a SUPER easy, protein-packed dish
These last two foods aren’t absolute necessities, but they do come in pretty handy. It all depends on what you have planned for your meals and what your family likes to eat.
Although not always travel-friendly, eggs can be purchased just about anywhere. You may have to forgo farm-fresh for a week if you have no clue where to look, but even conventional eggs are a good source of nutrition.
- in baking recipes
- scrambled, fried, hard-boiled
- great for any meal
- quiches (another way to use up leftover veggies, meat and rice at the end of the week)
#6. Flour/Baking Powder/Salt
If you enjoy fresh biscuits, pancakes, waffles or the like, this baking combination will probably be higher on your list than last place. The easiest way to bring flour/baking powder/salt is to measure out what you need for a recipe into a ziploc bag and label with bag with the wet ingredients needed to finish it off, plus any baking instructions. I’ve found it’s best to make two batches of what you plan to make (i.e. two batches of biscuits, two batches of pancakes, etc.) because you can always bring the unused bag home and make it whenever you want. However, if your pancakes are a total hit and the crowd is wanting more, it’ll be a decent size dent into your pocketbook to buy it all at the local store. There’s also the “what do we do with all this stuff now?” factor, since you’ll likely have flour, baking powder and salt to spare. You’ll either haul it all home, throw it away or leave it for the next vacationing family to enjoy. The first is the most frugal option, but unfortunately, the latter two are more common.