20 Stress-Free Family Vacation Meal Planning Tips

woman writing meal plan with pen on table.

Ahhh, family vacation. The joy, the laughter … the tears. Family vacations come with them all. We’ve all been there when fun is coupled with hair-pulling frustration.

There is one way to minimize some of this frustration though – planning for your family’s vacation meals. Use these 20 family vacation meal planning tips to take out some of the stress and add in more fun to your next family vacation.

1. Create a Spreadsheet or List

Create a spreadsheet or a simple list to give yourself a snapshot of all the meals your family will need during your trip. I like to use Google sheets or docs for this. Your spreadsheet or list should include a section for each day of your vacation. Each day section should have space for each meal on that day.

2. Create a Shopping List

Once you have your meals planned out in your planning spreadsheet. Create a grocery list of what you will need for each meal or snack on each day. I find it’s easier to do one day at a time. Then you can go back and combine duplicates or things that may make sense to buy in bulk. Doing it this way also helps you not to forget anything.

3. Categorize Each Day

Break down each day into two categories – meals and snacks. You will need both. Especially if you have young children. Nothing drains the fun out of the day like a hangry toddler … or parent. So, do yourself a favor and plan for both ahead of time. A good number to shoot for is 3 meals and at least 2 snacks.

4. Shop Now and Later

Minimize the amount of food stuff you have to pack by shopping for what you need to make some of your meals and snacks ahead of time. Schedule time to go grocery shopping when you arrive. Then shop for the rest of your list at a local grocery store.

5. Make Some of Your Meals Ahead of Time

Making some of your meals before leaving will give you extra time, and make sure you don’t end up cooking the whole time you’re there. Lunches and snacks are easy meals to premake. These are usually lighter meals that will keep fresh best. Plus, lunch time meals are usually what you need on the go so having them premade helps a lot.

6. Pre-package and Label

About those premade meals and snacks – pre-packaging them and labeling them with each family members’ name is a great idea. This helps minimize bickering over who gets what especially if you have picky eaters. You can use meal prepping containers, individual snack bags, lunch bags or some of your own food storage containers are all a great option.

7. Make it a Family Affair

Pre-packaging and labeling is also a great way to get your whole family involved – even the kiddos. They can each be responsible for packing their own lunch and snacks in a bag or container that is all theirs. See what we did there? We turned vacation into a lesson in responsibility and independence 😉

8. Plan for On-the-go Storage

It’s important to have a way to keep food fresh when you’re on the go. Especially if you have healthy meals or snacks that include items like fresh fruits, veggies or dairy. A decent size cooler bag for packing meals and snacks while out and about will get the job done.

9. Get Refillable Drink Containers

Consider getting everyone their own refillable water bottles. This way you can buy beverages in bulk and you won’t have a lot of trash built up from disposable bottles and drink cartons.

10. Get Durable Travel Plates and Cutlery

Similarly, wash and reuse travel dishware ensures you have what you need for everyone to eat without creating a lot of trash or having to pack a lot of dishes. It’s also a more eco-friendly option than paper products or styrofoam plates.

11. Be Prepared for Clean Up

Have the hand sanitizer ready so everyone can eat without worrying about what little “extras” they might be adding to their food. You’ll also want to consider how to collect your trash if a trash can isn’t nearby. My family uses mini travel trash bags, or simply an old grocery store bag.

12. Freezing is Your Friend

Admittedly, this tip only works if you’re not going too far. Freezing a few things for breakfast and dinner can help give you some evenings and mornings when you can relax a bit. You can make them ahead of time, pop them in the freezer, then just heat and serve.

Some simple meals for freezing are lasagna for dinner and egg muffins or quiche for breakfast. Think about some of your family’s favorite meals and consider freezing them. Frozen dishes especially come in handy on your first night when you may be too tired after traveling to make a whole meal from scratch.

13. Avoid Seafood

As much as I love it, seafood just doesn’t tend to travel the best. Even if it stays fresh enough to eat, there’s likely to be a smell factor. If you want a seafood dish to be part of your meal planning, plan for this to be one you get and prepare when you arrive.

14. Try Foods that Go a Long Way

I like to call these meal stretchers. They are great for using in multiple meals and making large quantities. Plus, they make for easy vacation meals. Think about things like pita pockets, chicken, ground beef, pasta and sauces.

Also, don’t be afraid to break out that slow cooker or instant pot. They’re a great way to incorporate soups and stews into your plan. Both tend to travel and freeze well. Peanut butter is also a fan favorite that goes well in meals, desserts and snacks.

15. Supply Check

Be sure you know what kitchen items are included in your lodging. Check your vacation rental or hotel room where you’ll be staying in advance. Whether it’s a full kitchen or just a coffee maker, you’ll want to know what you may need to bring with you, or plan around. For example, not having a refrigerator or a microwave could be a game changer.

16. Plan for Eating Out or Special Treats

In addition to experiencing new places, one of the best parts of vacation is trying new foods or restaurants. My family likes to include this on our last day. Include that in your spreadsheet – even if you only plan to do it once or twice. That’s one or two less of your own meals you have to prep for. And no vacation is complete without trying the local signature desserts or comfort foods. So, be sure to plan for this as well.

17. Pick Restaurants in Advance

If you do plan to eat out, go ahead and search for local restaurants your family might like to try in advance. As with most things, knowing where you want to eat in advance helps things go smoother. The alternative is frantically trying to choose and locate a restaurant while everyone is hungry hangry.

Pro tip: make reservations in advance for restaurants that accept them. And be sure to mention if you’re celebrating a special occasion.

18. Consider Timing

Dinner tends to be most expensive when eating out. If you’re traveling on a budget, or just choose to spend your money on other things, plan to try new restaurants for lunch or breakfast. This is an easy way to avoid spending a lot of money on one meal.

19. Budget for the Extras

You’ve probably created a budget for your family vacation. Don’t forget to include an amount for any extras. Extras could be restaurants (and tips), special treats or desserts, and any additional food needs that may come up. Also, don’t forget a little for (hopefully not) medicine you may end up needing. You know, for that inevitable tummy ache someone will have.

20. Don’t Forget to Make it Fun

Meal planning definitely makes for a smoother vacation time. But remember, the point of vacation is to relax and have fun. Don’t plan yourself into something so rigid that you can’t be flexible. Keep it simple and be open to adjusting the plan if it seems right for your family.

Stress-Free Family Vacation Meal Planning

Family vacation meal planning is a great way to take some of the stress out of your trip. A little planning is also an easy way to save money if you’re traveling on a budget. These are some of my best tips to get ready for your next trip. Use them and if your family decides to applaud, feel free to take a bow.