Meal Planning for Your Beach Vacation
Prepping for a family vacation on the beach means planning breakfasts, lunches, snacks, and dinners that you can easily transport to your destination. The key: keep it simple. Exotic eating is best left to the days you'll splurge and eat out. You'll also want to figure out exactly what you'll have to cook, grill, and refrigerate with once you get there. We're sharing a roadmap on what to make ahead of time, what to bring, how to pack it, what to buy once you've arrived, and how to put it all together.
Count Your Meals
Organize first by counting how many meals you'll need and for how many people. If you're a family of four going to the beach for seven days, that's roughly 21 meals plus 14 (twice a day) snacks each for four people. That may seem like a lot, but remember, you'll likely end up hitting the local eateries and ice cream shops at least once during your stay. With those numbers, meal planning looks like a better idea already.
Buy Ahead of Time
Start working on your meal plan storage and stock up on non-perishable items at least two weeks ahead of your departure date, if not sooner. Here's the best approach to get the (beach) ball rolling. You'll need:
- Cooler (large): A large, sturdy, hard-lidded cooler on wheels safely transports cold foods. Keep it in a dark, cool place like the trunk while traveling. A 62-quart cooler or larger should fit all the food you need to bring.
- Cooler (smaller): A smaller cooler keeps drinks cold. Keep drinks separate from the food cooler; you'll probably open it frequently while traveling. A small cooler for drinks tends to fit between the two front seats. Consider one with a power cord that plugs into the 12V DC (cigarette lighter) in your car.
- Totes: A few sturdy and reusable tote bags transport dry and packaged goods.
- Snacks: Get a head start on stocking up on bags of snacks such as pretzels, nuts, and chips on sale.
- Containers: Airtight containers transport liquids and other items.
- Foil: A large roll of foil is ideal for packing items in a cooler to keep them colder longer. Use foil for grilling vegetables and seafood, too.
- Cups: Take a pack of large, sturdy plastic party cups or cups with covers so you can eat leftovers on the beach. Don't forget the plastic utensils.
- Water bottles: They're essential for staying hydrated while you're traveling and while you're at the beach.
The Basic Beach Vacation Menu
Plan on using dinner leftovers and transforming them into the next day's beachside lunches. That's where pita bread comes in handy. You can stuff the leftover grilled chicken kebabs you had for dinner into a pita the next day. Here's a basic menu to give you an idea of how to work your plan so that all the dinner ingredients work hand in hand as lunchtime leftovers:
- For breakfasts: For easy mornings, think cold cereals, eggs, French toast, and yogurt parfaits with granola and fruits.
- For lunches: Here is where leftovers paired with a few staples make lunches simple. Tasty dishes include deli meat wraps, pitas with leftover grilled chicken or steak, salad in a cup (with leftover deli and grilled meats), mac and cheese in a cup, and cold pasta salad with leftover grilled shrimp in a cup. Instead of mayo on sandwiches and wraps, spread some leftover hummus for a fresh twist.
- For dinners: Grilling is an easy way to create delicious meals without much fuss. Plan meals that are quick to prep -grilled chicken kebabs (great way to prepare meat and veg at once), grilled steak and shrimp, or BBQ chicken legs. For meals easily prepared without a grill, think one dish options like mac and cheese or pasta and tomato sauce.
Packing a Cooler
Here's a quick list of what to pack and how to pack it so it all gets there neatly without spilling, crumbling, or bruising. Use these tips to properly pack a cooler to keep food colder longer:
- Freeze bottled water to use as ice packs before you drink it.
- Freeze your steak and chicken before packing.
- Before packing the cooler, get it cold first (let it stay outside for a night or put bags of ice in it overnight).
- Pack in layers. Put freezer packs on the bottom, then a layer of food, then a second layer of freezer packs, and so on.
- Keep foods dry in a cooler by putting each package of food in a large resealable bag.
- Make sure the cooler lid is fully sealed so cold air stays put and won't leak out.
Now that you have all the tricks of packing a traveling cooler, here are the following items to take along for your trip:
- Sour cream (small container)
- Stick of butter (in a container)
- Hummus (holds up well during travel)
- Hot dogs (one or two packages)
- Steaks for grilling
- Boneless chicken breasts for kebabs
- Chicken legs for barbecuing
- Yogurt (large container)
Packing Dry and Packaged Goods
Dry and packaged goods can neatly stack in tote bags in your trunk. For a family of four, you'll likely need four bags to hold the following items:
- Tote bag #1 holds boxed items such as cold breakfast cereals and mac and cheese mixes.
- Tote bag #2 holds soft items, such as packages of granola, tortillas, rolls, pita pockets, buns, and breads.
- Tote bag #3 holds snack items such as nuts, hard candy, chips, cookies, and lemonade mixes.
- Tote bag #4 holds shelf-stable almond milk, condiments (except mayo), syrup, BBQ sauce, a couple jars of pasta sauce, a jar of salsa, and packs of salt and pepper.
What to Buy Once You've Arrived
Here's what to do once you arrive at your hotel or guest quarters. Look for a nearby Food Lion with our store locator tool so you can be extra- prepared to do some fill-in shopping while you're vacationing.
- Food Lion to Go: Once you've located a Food Lion nearby, use Food Lion to Go to pick up forgotten or necessary ingredients (such as fresh shrimp for grilling) so you don't take any time away from your fun. Now's a good time to order any frozen foods you may want to pick up on the go, too.
- Produce: Take advantage of fresh local produce specialties featured at the local Food Lion.
- Bakery: Treat your family to freshly made bakery items to enjoy after dinner or with a cup of coffee in the morning.