Easy Meals to Cook While on Vacation

By Tricia Ballad

Even the most devoted home cook wants to relax on vacation. Before you travel, gather a few meal ideas that incorporate simple ingredients and easy preparations and allow you to eat well without spending your entire trip in the kitchen.

Breakfast or Brunch

If the meal happens to arrive at the table before 9 a.m., it's breakfast. If it's later than that, call it brunch. Either way, make it delicious. Follow recipes that are easy to prepare in the morning, giving you plenty of time to enjoy a leisurely cup of coffee:

  • Overnight French Toast: Lay thick buttered slices of French or Italian bread in a baking dish. Whisk together eggs, heavy cream and sugar to make a custard. Pour the egg mixture over the bread and refrigerate overnight to allow the bread to absorb the liquid. In the morning, bake it for 20 to 25 minutes.
  • Make-ahead smoothies: Before you leave home, freeze plain or vanilla yogurt in ice cube trays. Combine the yogurt cubes with frozen strawberries and blueberries in a freezer bag and pack them at the bottom of your cooler. In the morning, take the bag out and let it thaw slightly before putting everything in a blender. If you won't have access to a blender, make the smoothies at home. Pour them into freezer bags and lay them flat in the freezer until frozen solid. Remove them from the freezer or cooler an hour before serving to thaw.
  • Eggs and hash: Cut up leftover grilled steak, vegetables and potatoes from an earlier meal to fry up into a hash. Fry an egg to serve on top.


The key to a great vacation lunch is simplicity -- and minimizing the number of dishes. If there happens to be a farmers' market nearby, visit early in the day for the best selection, then enjoy the produce at lunchtime.

  • Salad and bread: Prepare a simple salad of fresh greens, seasonal produce, and local meats or cheeses. Serve lunch with freshly baked bread from a local bakery.
  • Fish tacos: Grill fish or shrimp and serve it with fresh tortillas, lime, cabbage slaw, queso fresco and salsa. Offer diced onions, tomatoes and avocados.
  • Soup and sandwiches: Buy prepared soup and offer a selection of deli meats, cheeses and breads. Let your family and friends make their own sandwiches. It's easier on the cook and everyone gets exactly what they want.


Dinner is the time for everyone in your group to come back together, especially if you've split up during the day. Get everyone involved in the cooking -- not only will it make meal preparation easier on the cook, but because cooking together lets you reconnect with your family and friends.

  • Hamburgers, hot dogs and bratwurst: Serve these from the grill on the first evening on vacation, especially if members of your group will be arriving at different times.
  • Make-ahead barbecued ribs: Indulgent and easy to prepare, ribs are perfect for vacation cooking. Season and bake them in the oven, where they require little attention as they cook. Sauce them right before serving.
  • Loaded potato soup: Make a large or small pot as a warm, filling way to end a day on the ski slopes.


Indulge yourself with desserts that are simple but not ordinary:

  • Ice cream sundae bar: Buy two or three flavors of ice cream for a large crowd, or stick with vanilla. Set out hot fudge sauce, caramel, strawberries, sliced bananas and chopped nuts. Don't forget the whipped cream and cherries.
  • Easy berry shortcake: Buy pre-made pound or angel food cake. Top it with sliced berries macerated in honey or sugar and whipped cream.
  • Fresh watermelon: It doesn't get easier than this, but don't let that simplicity fool you. Slice and serve it plain or dress it up with sea salt or fresh mint.