Easy Vacation Meals for Group Getaways

Whether you’re planning a family reunion in Chicago or a girls trip to Nashville, traveling with a group can be a wonderful way to foster community, enjoy your friends or spend quality time with your extended family. But it can also pose challenges — especially at mealtime. Dining out is frequently the vacation go-to, but costs add up fast and splitting checks can get complicated.

If you have access to a kitchen and supplies in your hotel or vacation rental, making meals can save you money and give your group even more quality time together. Of course, more people also means more shopping, more chopping and more cleanup. How to get it all done? Here are a few strategies for keeping it together while keeping everyone fed.

How to Grocery Shop for Group Vacations

Plan ahead. Don’t wait until the vacation to make team decisions about what to cook or who’s in charge of shopping. Work it out in advance, perhaps over email. Then, instead of dragging groceries to your destination — or dragging everyone to the store — go online and arrange for groceries to be delivered. Or call ahead and pick them up in your rental car upon arrival.

How to Meal Prep When Cooking for a Group

Divide and conquer. Ask each member of the group to be responsible for planning a meal. Or pick recipes where many hands make light work — a taco bar, for example, where each person can prep a different topping.      

If you’re planning to cook a big meal later on your trip, check out this article for tips on what to prepare in advance to make day-of cooking a cinch.

Choose Easy-Cleanup Vacation Meals

Make it easy on yourself. Consider fixing one-pot recipes, like the chili below, which are easy to make and painless to clean up. Pre-prepared ingredients also reduce both prep and cleanup — pre-cut vegetables, for example, and pre-made sauces and dips. Also, don’t forget compostable or recyclable disposables to cut down on dishwashing.

Easy Group Travel Meal Recipe: Chili with White Beans and Scallions

Chili is always a crowd-pleaser, and it’ll make the cleanup crew happy, too, since it’s a one-pot meal. This version is a breeze to put together, with only a few ingredients to chop and prep.

For vegetarian travelers, a few simple substitutions can make this a tasty dinner for your group, too.*

Download Recipe

Serves 6

Ingredients:

6 slices thick-cut bacon

1 large onion, diced

1 1/2 pounds pork loin roast or boneless pork chops, cut into 3/4-inch pieces

2 tablespoons chili powder

4 teaspoons smoked paprika

1/4 teaspoon crushed red chili flakes

2 cans (15 ounces) cannellini beans or other white beans

2 cans (14.5 ounces) diced tomatoes

1/2 teaspoon salt, or more to taste

1 1/2 cups shredded Monterey Jack cheese

1/2 cup sliced scallions

Supplies:

Can opener

Chef’s knife

Cooking and serving utensils

Cutting board

Large saucepan or small stockpot

Measuring cups and spoons

Instructions:

  1. In a large saucepan or small stockpot over medium heat, cook bacon until crisp, 8 to 10 minutes. Transfer to a plate lined with paper towels and set aside.

  2. Add onion to bacon fat in saucepan and cook, stirring occasionally, for 2 minutes. Increase heat to medium-high, add pork, chili powder, paprika and chili flakes. Cook, stirring occasionally, until onion is crisp-tender, 6 to 8 minutes.

3. Meanwhile, drain beans, saving juices. Add water to juices to equal 1 1/2 cups. Crumble bacon.

4. Add tomatoes (with juices), salt and bean-liquid mixture to saucepan with the pork. Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer and cook. Stir occasionally, until pork is tender, 35 to 45 minutes.

  1. Add beans and two-thirds of bacon and cook until heated through, about 5 minutes. Add salt to taste.

6. Serve chili garnished with cheese, scallions and remaining bacon.

Want to make the next meal even easier? It’s rarely double the effort to double a recipe, so make a bigger batch. Cool any leftovers right in the pot, cover and store in your vacation rental’s refrigerator. Later in your trip, after a full day of sightseeing, you’ll be happy to have dinner ready in just a few microwaveable minutes.

*To make this recipe vegetarian: Substitute 2 tablespoons of cooking oil for the bacon; preheat the oil over medium heat and start at step 2. And substitute 4 1/2 to 5 cups of bite-size veggies for the pork — zucchini, summer squash, winter squash, peppers, mushrooms, corn, carrots, potatoes, sweet potatoes or a combination. Add the winter squash, carrots and potatoes with the tomatoes and the rest in phases, so they’re all tender at the same time. This should take only five to 10 minutes.


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About the Author

Jill Silverman Hough is a cookbook author, food and wine writer, cooking teacher and food photographer. Her work has appeared in Bon Appétit magazine, Cooking Light, Clean Eating and Fine Cooking, where she’s the drinks editor. Her cookbooks include Finger Lickin’ Chicken, the 100 Perfect Pairings series and The Clean Plates Cookbook. Subscribe to Jill’s blog, like her Facebook page and follow her on Pinterest, Twitter and Instagram @jillshough.