Meal Prep Plan: How I Prep an Entire Week of Easy Vacation Meals

(Image Credit: Joe Lingeman/Kitchn; Food Stylist: CC Buckley/Kitchn)

When you’re cooking for a family, a vacation can feel distinctly un-vacation. In fact, it can feel like downright work. When my family goes away to the beach, I want to enjoy time with my kids and husband, and I’ve found the secret to a relaxing vacation in very smart, very strategic meal prep. Time to let you in on all my secrets, because I do think you deserve to know them!

This meal prep plan will walk you through an entire week of vacation meal prep, and it all fits into a cooler so you can even do it all at home before you leave for the beach or the cabin. With breakfast, lunch, and dinner decisions made, there’s no reason why you can’t take that extra boardwalk bike ride or put the finishing touches on the sandcastle before the tide comes in.

In this Power Hour, I’ll show you how to plan for a week of grill-friendly vacation recipes. Staying close to home this summer? This Power Hour is still full of recipes you’ll want to grill all summer long.

(Image Credit: Joe Lingeman/Kitchn; Food Stylist: CC Buckley/Kitchn)

My Meal Prep Goals

  • Breakfast: Easy breakfasts that everyone can serve themselves (five days).
  • Lunch: Lunches for my husband and me that require little to no effort to pack in the beach bag (five days).
  • Dinner: Dinners, sides, and dessert that are made each night on the grill (five days).
  • Nutritional Goals: We have no dietary restrictions, and this week we’re eating summer staples that please the whole family.

Meal Prep Plan Snapshot

  • Feeds: Four people for breakfast and dinner, two for lunch.
  • Prep Time: About 2 hours.
  • Meals Covered: About 80% (no weekend meals)
  • Weeknight Cooking Required: Meals come together quickly because ingredients are prepared and just require grilling.

My Meal Plan

Breakfasts

Lunches

Dinners

(Image Credit: Patty Catalano)

My Shopping List

These are the ingredients I bought or used for this meal prep plan. I also relied on items already in my pantry including oils, salt, and pepper. I always shop my pantry and freezer first — especially for spices, vinegars, pasta, and canned or jarred items. Add your favorite vacation snacks and kid-friendly lunch fixings to the list before heading to the store.

I wait to purchase certain items until I am beachside. If your vacation hotspot has a local seafood hut selling freshly caught shrimp or a roadside farm stand with local corn, watermelon, and tomatoes, I suggest you do the same.

Meals this week require a slow cooker and a grill. These items are usually supplied in well-stocked vacation rentals, but check with your host to avoid any surprises upon arrival.

  • Bakery: Hamburger buns
  • Dry Goods: Apple cider vinegar, red wine vinegar, rice vinegar, barbecue sauce, ranch dressing, hot sauce, mayonnaise, pickled jalapeños, Kalamata olives, sliced black olives (optional), honey, granulated sugar, brown sugar, chili powder, Italian seasoning, dried oregano, red pepper flakes, smoked paprika, ground cumin, ground cinnamon, mini marshmallows, 8 ounces dried short pasta, sliced almonds, tortilla chips, puffed rice cereal (Rice Krispies), 1 (15-ounce) can black beans, dried currants or cranberries, granola
  • Produce: Shredded carrots, 6 cups broccoli slaw, slaw mix (or red and green cabbage), lettuce, 1 red bell pepper, 1 tomato, 1 pint cherry tomatoes, 1 English cucumber, 3 pounds zucchini, 4 ears corn, 2 avocados, 1 personal-sized watermelon, 1 large pineapple, 1 pound strawberries, 1 pint blueberries, 1 bunch parsley, 1 bunch cilantro, 1 bunch mint, 1 head garlic, 1 hand fresh ginger, 3 red onions, 7 limes, 3 lemons, pico de gallo
  • Meat & Seafood: 1 1/2 pounds peeled and deveined shrimp (20 to 25 per pound), 6 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breasts, 3 pounds chicken wings, 3 pounds ground beef (sirloin)
  • Dairy: Unsalted butter, sour cream, yogurt, eggs, mini mozzarella balls, crumbled feta cheese, sliced cheese (American, Swiss, or cheddar), shredded Mexican-blend cheese, milk
  • Deli: Sliced salami
  • Household: Metal or wooden skewers, heavy-duty aluminum foil

Power Hour: How I Get the Prep Done

I have about 2 hours set aside to prepare the meals for the week. I like to meal prep by category, meaning I’ll prep all of the produce at the same time, then move onto meat and marinades. I pull out my largest cutting board and a few rimmed baking sheets to corral the chopped and sliced produce. Follow along with the printable prep list and menu below.

Just before leaving, pack all of the refrigerated or frozen items into a large cooler, and fill with ice packs to maintain a safe, cold temperature. Upon arrival, transfer soaked skewers, chicken wings, and hamburgers to the freezer. Refrigerate the remaining perishables.

  1. Soak wooden skewers. Fill a 9×13-inch baking dish with water and submerge the skewers for at least 30 minutes. Some skewers will be used in Power Hour. Wrap the remaining skewers in plastic wrap and freeze. Keep skewers frozen until ready to use so they do not dry out.
  2. Boil water for Pasta Salad. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.
  3. Prep produce for all recipes. Berry Pineapple Fruit Salad: Peel and coarsely chop ginger, cut pineapple into 1-inch pieces, hull and halve strawberries, toss together in a container; Pasta Salad: Mince 1 clove garlic, finely chop 1/2 red onion, halve cherry tomatoes, quarter and thinly slice cucumber, chop parsley; Chicken & Vegetable Freezer Kabobs: Juice limes (2 tablespoons), cut 1 red onion and bell pepper into 1-inch pieces, slice zucchini in half then cut into 1-inch pieces. Toss vegetables with 1 tablespoon oil, salt, and pepper; Light & Easy Broccoli Salad: Use broccoli slaw (or prepare whole broccoli according to recipe), skip instruction to plump dried fruit (I substituted dried cranberries), finely chop red onion; Firecracker Shrimp Skewers: Grate 2 cloves garlic; Tri-Color Slaw with Lime Dressing: Chop cilantro, toss shredded carrots and cabbage slaw mix together (or if purchasing whole ingredients, follow recipe and toss with cilantro), juice limes (1/3 cup); Grilled Watermelon: Zest 1 to 2 limes, cut spent limes into wedges; Grilled Zucchini Salad: Roll cut zucchini.
  4. Prep meat for all recipes. Chicken & Vegetable Freezer Kabobs and BBQ Ranch Chicken Bites: Cut chicken breasts into 1-inch pieces; Grilled BBQ Chicken Wings: Separate wings, freeze in a single layer on a parchment-lined baking sheet, transfer to a gallon-size zip-top bag; Hamburgers: Grate butter and mix into the ground beef, season with salt, portion into patties, freeze in a single layer on parchment-lined baking sheet; transfer to gallon-sized zip-top bag separated by parchment paper.
  5. Assemble and freeze Chicken and Vegetable Freezer Kebabs. Combine lime juice, oil, paprika, cumin, chili powder, and 2 pounds prepped chicken; thread chicken onto soaked skewers. Thread prepped kebab vegetables onto soaked skewers. Transfer to parchment-lined baking sheet; freeze. Once frozen, transfer to gallon-size zip-top bag (you may need to trim ends of skewers). Keep frozen until packing cooler.
  6. Marinate BBQ Ranch Chicken Bites. Mix ranch and barbecue sauce according to recipe. Toss half the sauce with remaining prepped chicken; reserve remaining sauce in a lidded jar. Refrigerate.
  7. Cook pasta for Pasta Salad. Cook pasta according to package directions. Drain and cool.
  8. Make marinades, dressings, syrup, and seasoning mix. Berry Pineapple Fruit Salad: Make simple syrup and store in a labeled lidded jar. Don’t dress the salad until time to serve or it won’t last the week; follow the recipes using the prepped produce (where applicable) to make dressings, sauces, and spice mixes for the following recipes: Pasta Salad, Light & Easy Broccoli Salad, Firecracker Shrimp Skewers, Tri-Color Slaw with Lime Dressing, Grilled BBQ Chicken Wings, Grilled Watermelon, Grilled Zucchini Salad. Refrigerate in labeled lidded jars.
  9. Assemble Pasta Salad. Cut mini mozzarella balls in half, slice salami, and toss with cooled pasta and prepared vegetables. Refrigerate in a container.
  10. Make Rice Krispies Treats. Follow the recipe. Once cool, cover the pan for easy transport.
(Image Credit: Patty Catalano)
(Image Credit: The Kitchn)

Breakfast

Breakfasts alternate between granola and yogurt and scrambled eggs served with Berry Pineapple Fruit Salad. Drizzle a bit of the syrup over individual fruit salad servings or stir into yogurt to sweeten.

Lunch

Dinner

  • Monday, Chicken & Vegetable Freezer Kebabs and Grilled Rice Krispies Treats: Heat the grill and follow the recipe to cook the skewers from frozen (or shorten the cooking time slightly if you refrigerated the kebabs upon arrival). Skewer and grill the BBQ Ranch Chicken Bites at the same time you grill the kebabs. Cool and store the chicken bites in the refrigerator for lunches during the week. Turn the grill off, then place the Rice Krispies Treats onto the still-hot grates. Grill according to the recipe until grill marks appear.
  • Tuesday, Firecracker Shrimp Skewers and Tri-Color Slaw with Lime Dressing: Toss the shrimp in the marinade and set aside for about 15 minutes. Meanwhile, heat the grill, and then thread shrimp onto frozen soaked skewers. Follow the recipe, reducing the leftover marinade and grilling the shrimp until charred. Toss the cabbage slaw with the lime dressing and serve with the spicy shrimp skewers. Reserve 2 servings of the slaw for Friday’s lunch. Transfer the frozen chicken wings to the refrigerator to thaw overnight.
  • Wednesday, Grilled BBQ Chicken Wings, Grilled Corn, Grilled Watermelon: Combine half the barbecue sauce and the chicken wings in a slow cooker, cover and cook on LOW for 4 to 5 hours or HIGH for 2 1/2 to 3 hours. Heat the grill, and grill corn (with the husk on) for 15 to 20 minutes. Meanwhile, cut the watermelon into triangles with the rind attached. Grill the slow cooked chicken wings and the watermelon for 2 to 3 minutes per side. Sprinkle the watermelon with the lime spice rub. Reserve 2 servings of chicken wings for Friday’s lunch. Transfer the frozen hamburgers to the refrigerator to thaw overnight.
  • Thursday, Hamburgers and Grilled Zucchini Salad: Heat the grill and follow the recipe to cook hamburgers to desired doneness, about 4 minutes per side. Toss the zucchini with oil, salt, and pepper, then grill until crisp-tender with grill marks, about 8 minutes. Toss the zucchini with its dressing. Serve the hamburgers on buns with thinly sliced red onion, lettuce, and tomato slices alongside the zucchini.
  • Friday, Grilled Nacho Platter: At the end of any vacation, the final meal should clear the refrigerator of any leftovers. There’s usually a bag or two of tortilla chips that didn’t get eaten for snacks. Chop leftover shrimp, hamburger, chicken, and vegetables into bite-sized pieces and top the tortilla chips. Add black beans, shredded Mexican-blend cheese (substituted for the cheddar and Monterey Jack called for in the recipe) and grill. Serve with sour cream, guacamole, and salsa.
(Image Credit: Joe Lingeman/Kitchn; Food Stylist: CC Buckley/Kitchn)

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If your summer vacation is within driving distance, I hope this meal plan inspires you to plan your meals ahead so you can soak up the sun without worrying about your next meal.

We also have more Power Hour Meal Prep plans for all kinds of cooks and eaters! Check out all the plans we have so far.

Power Hour Meal Prep is the series where we help you put it all together. We show you how to eat well during the week with a few hours of Power Hour prep over the weekend. Every plan is different; mix and match to find your own personal sweet spot.

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