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Things I Did When Planning for Vacation Meals in a Cabin

How do you plan for vacation meals for a week in a cabin without interrupting your trip with excursions to the store?

I estimated what we’d need and then bought more

When I started planning for our cabin vacation, I decided taking more food than we needed would be the best route. But I didn’t want to seriously overpack. So I counted meals and estimated what we’d need for them, then increased the amount slightly.

For breakfasts, we brought a pound of smoked salmon, cream cheese, red onions and capers. But our bagels weren’t up for the trip (and I wasn’t sure about the bug situation in the cabin) so I opted for English muffins for the kids and Wasa crackers for me. At home, this has become a common way we enjoy smoked salmon so I knew it would work out fine. We also packed hardboiled eggs and lots of fruit.

For lunch and dinner, I counted all the meals together because we could eat virtually the same for both. We ended up with shrimp, chicken, hot dogs, brats, burgers and a pound of prosciutto along with cheeses, vegetables and more. I brought the fixings for caesar salad — a family favorite — as well. We had a few extra vegetables and more hot dogs than we’d need, plus five boxes of macaroni and cheese, three types of pasta, assorted rolls and a frozen bag of fries.

We ended up eating most of what we packed for vacation meals and got a little creative toward the end.

The kids cut up a melon and we ate it in a single day. When we ran out of smoked salmon, I topped hard boiled eggs with prosciutto on my crackers. Things like that. We did come home with leftovers, but not an overwhelming amount.

I forgot garlic

When I was prepping for the trip, I made sure we had enough fruits and vegetables. I estimated how far the proteins I’d assembled would go. And I double-checked that we remembered all the condiments for all the meals I thought we’d eat.

Although I made a mental note about needing garlic, that was the one thing I forgot. My dreams of aglio olio tortellini and garlicky shrimp were dashed. But I didn’t sweat it for two reasons: I could have found a store and bought it if it was crucial and I could make do with what we had.

The tortellini ended up being served with a tomato shallot confit sauce that was divine (honestly — all the garlic and white wine in the world wouldn’t have improved it). And the shrimp were grilled simply, dressed with salt and pepper and served with grilled asparagus and parmesan fettuccine.

Being flexible once we were there was key — and it made for some delicious meals.

I left meals undecided

As I was planning for vacation meals, I wondered if I should simply plan every meal exactly. Ultimately, I decided not to, instead having enough ingredients to roughly make several meals while leaving room for creativity on the fly.

It worked.

While we had sandwiches for lunch featuring prosciutto, fresh mozzarella, pesto, tomatoes, roasted red peppers and red onions several days, other days we had barbecue chicken rice bowls with an avocado nectarine salad and grilled burgers. It was flexible and meant we wasted very little food. On the burger day, I grilled the last of our opened hot dogs, for instance.

It also meant that we could decide things. Macaroni and cheese was available for lunch or dinner and we used it for both. Fruit could be snacks or part of breakfast. And so on.

I let my kids decide

Over the years, I’ve taken the lead on meals most of the time — though I sometimes wish my kids would help more. On vacation, I decided that I wouldn’t be the arbiter of meals so much. There were parameters (for instance, I wanted to make hot dogs for the first dinner but let the kids figure out the side dishes) but largely, they helped with the mealtime decisions throughout the week.

It was empowering for them and it took some of the pressure off me.

This has gotten me thinking about how I could loosen the reins at home too. Maybe making food decisions together needs to be something we keep going. It does seem less stressful after all.

I didn’t stress it.

There are times when I am so caught in my head that mealtime becomes a massive stress. Then I release the pressure by ordering takeout. I didn’t let that happen.

When I forgot to defrost burgers for dinner, we pivoted to brats, which defrost much faster. When I forgot garlic, I grabbed the shallots. When we ran out of rolls, I made rice bowls. When most of the asparagus was bad (I blame the foreign fridge!), I just selected what was still good and kept going.

By not getting caught up in the problem, cooking vacation meals became easy and pleasurable — something it hasn’t been in a long time. I hope I can continue to not stress it when we get home.

I let it be fun

And maybe that was the best thing I did of all.