Vacation Rental Cooking (And Not Cooking)

Lemon Blueberry Flax Muffins
Lemon Blueberry Flax Muffins – 3 Guiding Stars

Most people agree that one of the highlights of traveling is sampling the local cuisine. However, renting a vacation home, apartment, or cabin also means that you don’t have to eat every meal out. It’s really the best of both worlds. You save money and time eating some meals at “home” and then choose certain meals to enjoy at local eateries. Here are our top stock-up strategies and some ideas for what to buy or bring from home. They’re a good guide to ensure that meals at your home away from home are easy, nutritious, and budget-friendly.

Be Strategic About Your Stock-up

Most vacation rentals will have some basic items—salt, pepper, a few spices, maybe even cooking oil and dish soap. But don’t expect much beyond that unless you’re specifically informed about what’s available. You certainly don’t want to recreate the entire kitchen at a rental (cha-ching!). And you also don’t want to spend time and money shopping for recipe ingredients you may or may not use. It’s a vacation, after all.

Here are a few smart strategies:

  • Keep it simple. You probably want to be out doing things and exploring instead of stuck inside cooking. So don’t plan on making elaborate dinners or trying new recipes with lots of ingredients. Stick to a few tried-and-true staples that you know how to cook and are simple to prepare.
  • If you’re driving to your vacation rental, bring some food from your fridge and pantry at home. Pack foods you eat often that will spoil if left behind. (Don’t forget those last two avocadoes or the milk left in that gallon jug.) Also consider bringing along some basics like your coffee or favorite bread.
  • When you arrive, check what’s available in your rental unit. Then hit the local grocery to supplement with fresh items you’re sure to use. (Find out if Guiding Stars is available at a store nearby.) Don’t over-buy if you plan to eat out for some of your meals. You can always go back out to the store if needed.

Plan to Eat Breakfast “In”

I love a good diner breakfast as much as the next gal. But it just makes good sense to have this meal at “home” instead of waiting in line at a restaurant. Most breakfast items are inexpensive and take just a few minutes to prepare. Some things you can even get ready the night before. And if you want some special items too, just pick them up at a local shop.

There are lots of breakfast options when you have the basics on hand:

  • Whole-grain cereal
  • Milk
  • Eggs
  • Whole-grain bread, English muffins
  • Peanut butter and jam/fruit spread
  • Butter/margarine

Make your life easy by stocking up on foods that can do double duty as snacks, such as:  

  • Yogurt
  • Granola/cereal bars
  • Healthy muffins or breakfast cookies
  • Fruit cups (packed in juice)
  • Whole fruit (bananas, apples, oranges, plums, etc.)

Lunch Is a Good Time to Try Out Local Restaurants

Lunch is typically less expensive than dinner when eating out, which makes it an ideal meal for sampling local foods. Make lunch reservations ahead of time at highly popular eateries, since there is frequently more availability. Also, consider eating lunch late and having a large meal—then it can serve as your dinner as well. Not only does this approach save money, it also encourages you to plan your food intake ahead of time. (Eating later means you’ll need a more substantial breakfast or brunch, so don’t just wing it!) Most of the time, when we think ahead about our food intake, we make smarter choices.

Double-Duty Dinners for the Win

Making dinner at your rental unit can be fun, but also challenging if you don’t have all your usual equipment. Keeping your recipes simple helps alleviate the inconvenience of making do with the rental kitchen setup. It’s also smart to make food that you can repurpose over the next day or two to cut down on prep time. Here are some good examples, along with other simple ideas:

  • Buy a rotisserie chicken at the local market (or bake a chicken if you like). Chop the remaining meat for chicken salad sandwiches, quesadillas, or as a salad topper.
  • Use the grill if your vacation rental has one Grill beef, pork, or chicken and veggie kebabs, and add some foil-wrapped potatoes on there if you can. Use the leftover vegetables and meat in wraps, burritos, or egg scrambles the next day. Top the potatoes with a can of chili or salsa and beans for a quick lunch. Or cube the potatoes and cook in a skillet with turkey sausage and eggs for a hearty breakfast another day.
  • Buy a bag of turkey meatballs (or bring homemade meatballs) and use them in multiple ways during your trip. They’re great on pasta, in a sandwich, or halved and mixed with vegetables and rice for an easy skillet supper.

Give Yourself a Break!

Not everything you eat has to be made from scratch, and this is especially true when you’re on vacation. You may not feel like cooking much, or you might not have a good rental kitchen setup. So for the sake of vacation ease, allow yourself a few convenience items. Remember you can always check the Guiding Stars rating of products on the Guiding Stars App. (Even if the local store doesn’t offer Guiding Stars.) Yes, convenience items are often higher in salt than what you’d make at home. But once in a while this trade-off is ok—just be aware and make informed decisions. (Pro tip: Add  fresh vegetables to help offset the sodium levels and boost nutrition—and don’t forget to hydrate!)

Convenience Foods Can Go a Long Way

  • Purchase pre-grilled, frozen chicken breasts or strips. You can use them throughout your stay if you don’t have time or don’t want to grill from scratch.
  • A large, simple salad bowl is usually available in the prepped fresh veggie section of the supermarket. This can be used for a few meals and save you from buying a whole bunch of different salad ingredients This can be used for a few meals and save you buying a whole bunch of salad ingredients.
  • Microwavable grain pouches are handy and available in a wide range of flavors. Plain rices and quinoa are the top choices because they avoid the extra sodium of added seasoning mixtures. But choose what works best for your needs.
  • Check the freezer section for large bags of rice/pasta and vegetable mixtures. (They usually have a sauce included and may or may not have a protein like chicken included.) There are many varieties to choose from. Simply add more protein like chicken cutlets, shrimp, or ground turkey or beef and you’ll have a nice, quick dinner. I do tend to add a bit more frozen veggies to mine. They help stretch out the sauce and make the meal heartier and healthier.