How to Make a Vacation Meal Plan (Free Printable)


Inside: Use this easy step-by-step process to create a vacation meal plan so you can enjoy your trip more and stress less!

A beach scene with beach umbrellas and chairs in the distance
Planning now can help you stress less once you’re there!

The point of vacation is to get away from the grind of alarm clocks, vacuuming, and work meetings that should’ve been emails.

So meal planning for vacation may feel sort of wrong.

But a bit of advance planning now can mean being able to relax more once you’re at your destination.

Because having a plan means you can focus on making memories, instead of spending precious vacation time figuring out what’s for dinner.

Even if you plan to take a break from cooking and eat out a lot, it still helps to map out where you’re going when–and what you’ll eat the rest of the meals. Meal planning can also save you money.

BONUS: Simplify vacation meal planning! Grab my free Vacation Meal Planner printable.

Restaurant meals on a table
Make a list of restaurants you want to visit while on your trip.

How to Create a Vacation Meal Plan

Step 1: Brain Dump

List possible breakfasts, lunches, and dinners, as well as the restaurants you want to visit. Come up with a quick list of possible first-day meals, when you might be worn out from your travel and need something ultra-easy. Great ideas for easy, quick first-night meals include take-and-bake pizzas, meal kits such as HelloFresh, a big cheese/charcuterie board, or take-out you’ve ordered in advance.

Questions to ask yourself:

  • How much do you want to make your own home-cooked food versus eat out?
  • Are there favorite meals you like to have on vacation?
  • Does your gang prefer mostly healthy meals during vacation time or more indulgent things?

Also consider dietary needs and must-haves, as well as any food or cooking gear you can bring from home to make things easier (and less expensive).

Questions to ask yourself:

  • Are there any allergies, intolerances, dietary needs, preferences, or special eating habits you need to consider?
  • What are must-have vacation foods? This might be special foods you traditionally eat on vacation or regional must-haves like lobster rolls in Maine or pizza in NYC.
  • Are there ingredients and food items you can bring from home, either not available (or wildly expensive) at local grocery stores, such as specialty spices and seasonings?
  • If you’re going to make your own meals, is your vacation rental stocked with the cooking equipment and essential items you need? We’ve found some rentals woefully lacking in kitchen utensils like spatulas and basic gear like skillets. If you’re doing a road trip (versus flying), you’ll be able to pack more. For instance, consider packing a favorite chef’s knife to make food prep easier and faster.
  • Are there alternate options for people who may not like the main dish (think picky eaters, young and old)?
A road in Utah
Plan your meals with your itinerary in mind.

Step 3: Make a Plan

Sketch out a plan for each day, including who is in charge of making dinner (or making dinner reservations) each night.

Questions to ask yourself:

  • Do you have an itinerary you can work around? For instance, are there particularly busy days on your vacation when simple meals (or take-out) would be best–versus a lazier day for something more time-consuming?
  • Is there any meal prep you can do to save time during the week (like making a big batch of overnight oats the first morning or baking extra chicken breasts one night for lunch the next day)?
A charcuterie board sits on a white countertop
A charcuterie board makes a simple first-night meal.

Step 4: Build your grocery list

When I’m on vacation, it’s my goal to spend as little time as possible at the grocery store (because, vacation). So being extra-strategic about shopping is key. 

Questions to ask yourself:

  • When is the best time to go shopping? Will you be too tired from a long trip to go right away?
  • Is there a way to divvy up the list between people to make shopping faster?
  • Can you order groceries for pick-up (or delivery) to avoid the crowds?

BONUS: Simplify vacation meal planning! Grab my free Vacation Meal Planner printable.

Get my free vacation meal planner

Download my free vacation meal planner. It’s a printable PDF that includes:

  • Brainstorm sheets with lists for meals to make, restaurants to visit, must-have foods, and food/gear to bring from home
  • Vacation meal plan template for each day with a blank space for each meal (and who’s cooking) plus room to include anything on that day’s itinerary that may affect meals. Print as many sheets as you need.
  • Grocery list templates: Ready-made template for your grocery list that’s organized by category to speed things up. Print as many of these as you need as well.

BONUS: Simplify vacation meal planning! Grab my free Vacation Meal Planner printable.

Ingredients for a HelloFresh meal sit on a white countertop
A dinner meal kit can help simplify vacation cooking.

Tips for simplifying vacation meals

  • Get a meal kit delivery. Our personal favorite is HelloFresh.
  • Order groceries in advance. Find a local grocery store where  you can use InstaCart or a similar service for grocery pickup or delivery.
  • Be flexible. Vacation isn’t the time to stress out about following a plan to the letter. Your vacation meal plan is supposed to reduce stress, not add to it.

Crowd pleaser meal ideas for vacation

Personally, I like to keep things pretty low-key for vacation meals. I’d rather spend more time on the beach or seeing sites than in the kitchen. So our go-to meals tend to be pretty basic on vacation. Here are some of our favorites:

  • Pasta (like this Sausage & Spinach Pasta)
  • Tacos
  • Breakfast for Dinner
  • Fish tacos: Bake a big tray of breaded fish fillets, then set out various toppings
  • BBQ Chicken, baked or grilled (check to see if your rental has a grill)
  • Hot Dogs & Hamburgers/Veggie burgers
  • Sheet pan dinners
  • Sandwiches & Salads
  • Big salads with protein like chicken, salmon, or beans
  • Sub sandwiches made on baguettes
  • Pesto pasta, cold or hot
The front of an Instant Pot
If you’re traveling by car, packing your Instant Pot could be a smart move.

Cooking gear to consider bringing

Depending on how well your vacation rental is stocked, you may want to bring some equipment to make meal prep easier. Here are some ideas:

  • Slow cooker or Instant Pot
  • Panini press or waffle iron
  • Sharp knives
  • Spatulas and other cooking utensils
  • Large sheet pans or pots if cooking for a crowd
  • Blender (I’ve found rentals often have tired, worn-out models)
  • Cutting board
  • Large skillet (I’ve used too many nasty, chipped nonstick skillets on vacation!)
  • Spices and seasonings

More about travel

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