I’m a little late to the game, but I stayed in my first vacation rentals earlier this year, and it feels like a whole new world of travel has opened up to me. Especially when traveling with friends and kids, the ability to spread out in different rooms, hang out in our own outdoor space, and most of all, cook meals at the house simplifies a trip and often adds a whole new element of fun.
On last week’s trip to Malibu, we stayed in an awesome HomeAway rental with a massive deck right on the beach, so basically… we never wanted to leave. Between our family and the friends we were traveling with, there were four kids between the ages of 2 and 7, so being able to wake up and make breakfast for the gang, plus whip up snacks and early dinners for the babes, made things so relaxed. Since meal prep at a vacation rental does take some planning, I thought it would be helpful to share a weekend menu with breakfast, lunch, and dinner ideas for feeding a crowd. And yes, we’re providing a master shopping list, too, ’cause we know you guys love those.
Keep scrolling for a peek at my favorite night of the trip when we grilled a steak and summer vegetable feast for dinner, plus all my tips for stocking a vacation rental with everything you need for a weekend’s worth of delicious meals.
photos: Claire Huntsberger
Okay, so here’s the plan: When you get to your destination, do some research and head to a good local restaurant for your first meal. Everyone’s going to be tired and possibly hangry, and meal planning on an empty stomach is never a good idea. Next you’re going to head to the house and take inventory of what spices and condiments are already stocked in the cabinets before heading out to shop.
Tip #1: Plan every meal in advance so you can make a master shopping list.
You’re on vacation, which means you want to avoid repeat trips to the grocery store at all costs. If you’re traveling with friends, get together before the trip and divvy up who’s going to be in charge of which meals, what their kids like to have around for snacks, etc. A little advance planning can ensure you have what you need, without overbuying and having to throw away food at the end of the trip. And if you don’t like meal planning, keep scrolling for our weekend menu and the shopping list that we’ve created so you don’t have to.
While Jordan and I headed out for our big grocery shop, the guys held down the fort and let the kids explore the house.
When making meals at the house, I embraced a vacation state of mind. I turned up the music, soaked up the sun streaming into our bright, airy kitchen, and savored the relaxed schedule.
Tip #2: Find out a cool local spot to shop for cheeses, meats, and produce.
A friend turned us on to Vintage Grocers on Malibu’s north end, and I loved stocking up on organic produce, beautiful cuts of meat, and unusual cheeses, all from farmers right down the road. It enhanced the entire experience to feel like we were getting a true taste of the place. Even if your vacation destination doesn’t have a local specialty foods store, most towns will have a farmers’ market on the weekend that will provide the same type of experience.
Adam and Chris hung out on the deck before it was time to grill.
Tip #3: Set out some snacks, pour some wine, and enjoy the process.
The biggest lesson I learned from our cooking class in Italy this summer is that half the fun of making dinner is the actual process. Instead of rushing through it with an end goal in mind, we set out some good cheese, fruit, and local honey, opened a bottle of wine, and just enjoyed.
Since we totally lost track of time, we ended up eating way later than anticipated, but no one cared because we were having so much fun. The big island in our kitchen became the hub where everyone gathered and lent a hand to chop, pour, or reach for another snack.
Tip #4: All hands on deck! Give everyone a job to do.
Not only is this more efficient, it’s also more fun to let everyone “own” one task that they can take pride in when everyone sits down to eat. Even the kids can get in on the action by setting the table and carrying items out to the grill.
I prepped our eggplant, asparagus, and zucchini for the grill while Jordan made the heirloom tomato salad.
Tip #5: Get inspired by what’s in season where you are.
The summer tomatoes in Malibu were insanely gorgeous, so we decided on an impromptu heirloom tomato salad while we were at the grocery store. Head to the farmers market and stock up on the items that came from local growers — they’re bound to be peak of season, and you just might end up cooking with a fun ingredient you wouldn’t normally buy at home.
Tip #6: Keep it REALLY simple.
For me, vacation’s not the time to try out a complicated multi-step recipe because (a) there are other things I’d rather be doing, and (b) I don’t want to buy 20 spices and condiments that I’m going to have to leave behind or fit into my suitcase. Adam’s steak recipe couldn’t be simpler, and only calls for two ingredients — and when those ingredients are really high-quality and cooked to perfection, it’s one of my favorite meals on the planet. Scroll to the bottom of this post for the recipe.
And now the moment you’ve been waiting for: Your 2+ day menu! I’ve linked out to the recipes where applicable, and some items are so simple that a recipe is totally unneccessary.
Day 1 Menu:
Day 2 Menu:
- breakfast: Yogurt Parfait with Fruit & Granola – or – Berry & Banana Smoothies
- lunch: Steak Salad with Cucumbers (use your leftover steak, store-bought sesame dressing, omit the radishes. Give the kids sliced steak with sugar snap peas and cucumber if they won’t eat salad)
- dinner: Grilled or Roasted Veggie Tacos (grill/roast all the other veggies that you have at the house, chop them up and stuff into warm tortillas with mashed avocado, warmed black beans, and salsa. So addictive!)
- Toast with Fried Eggs or Avocado & Salsa
Success! Time to go home…
And now for your master shopping list. I’ve broken it down into categories below, so that you can easily omit certain items if you don’t plan to make all your meals. You can also click right here to download the entire shopping list in once place! Note that this shopping list includes quantities to feed 4 people.
Also, be sure to check your rental before you shop to see what they have. Ours was fully stocked with all the spiced, condiments, and coffee we needed for the entire week.
Beverage shopping list:
- milk or nut milk of choice
- half-and-half for coffee
- juice boxes for kids
- bottled waters
- wine or cocktails of choice
- coffee (check to see if your rental will already be stocked)
Breakfast shopping list:
- bread or english muffins
- bananas, berries
- granola or cereal of choice
Snack shopping list:
- rice cakes
- nut butter of choice
- baby carrots
- salted almonds
- nut thins or crackers of choice
- granola bars
- something sweet for dessert
Lunch & Dinner Shopping List:
- 1 head cauliflower
- 2 15 oz cans black beans, drained and rinsed
- 1 purple cabbage
- 1 red onion (pickle by soaking slices in vinegar with a pinch of sugar & salt for 30 min)
- 1 pint cherry tomatoes
- 2 cups guacamole, store-bought or home made
- 1 bunch cilantro
- 8 cups mixed lettuces (baby greens, etc)
- 2 cups sugar snap peas
- 1 english cucumber
- 1/2 cup roasted salted peanuts
- 3 large steaks (we used new york strips – you could also use sirloin, flank or hanger)
- seasonal veggies (enough for dinner both nights): onions, eggplant, zucchini, asparagus, bell peppers, tomatoes
- corn or flour tortillas
Condiment Shopping List (these may already be in the cabinets at your rental)
- sugar or sweetener for coffee
- honey for toast or pbh sandwiches
- olive oil
- salt & pepper
- vinegar of your choice (I like apple cider or balsamic)
- steak seasoning
- ginger-sesame (or other Asian) salad dressing
After dinner we piled onto the daybed out on our deck and watched the sun go down.
A couple more pretty shots from the house — I really wanted to pack this art in my suitcase and take it home with me.
This quiet corner was the perfect spot to settle in with a good book while the kids played on the beach below.
I’ll never forget our week in Malibu! Huge thanks to HomeAway for partnering with us on this experience, and head right over here to check out more amazing properties in the area.