Easy Meals to Cook in a Vacation Rental or Hotel Room

Judy Antell Avatar

Going out to eat can be the highlight of your vacation. But it also can be ruinous to a diet. But you don’t want to spend your whole vacation in the kitchen. That’s when you can turn to one of these easy meals to cook, even in hotel room.

Why should you cook on vacation? It gives you some measure of control over what you eat. Plus, it can save you when your hangry kids are having a meltdown while you wait for a table at a restaurant. And it can be a way to unwind in your PJs after a day of touring.

It is easy to cook if you’re staying in a fully-stocked vacation rental or a suite hotel with a kitchen. But even in a standard hotel room, you can make these easy meals.

Below, we share some of our favorite easy meals to cook on vacation, even if you only have access to a fridge, coffee pot and microwave. They’re even easier to cook in a luxurious vacation rental with a fully-stocked gourmet kitchen.

Read on for our favorite recipes, prep tips and shopping lists.

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Chef Art Smith’s Brown Rice Salad

For this, you’ll want to shop the local market to pick up fresh cucumbers, celery, peppers and tomatoes. And bring along your favorite sharp knife so you can chop through those veggies as easily as Chef Art does.

Could you chop those veggies in a food processor? Sure. But Chef Art says “nothing delicious is hurried.” Chopping by hand “makes sure your family really feels the love.”

SheBuysTravel Tip: If you’re driving to your destination consider bringing your blender, slow cooker or instant pot. You can make a lot of easy recipes using them. Find more easy meals to cook on Pinterest!

Chicken Caesar Pasta Salad

This flavorful but easy meal to cook in a vacation rental can feed the whole family. Skip takeout and enjoy this refreshing salad recipe at home.

  • 2 chicken breasts
  • 1 box penne pasta
  • Head of romaine lettuce
  • Cherry tomatoes
  • Croutons
  • Caesar dressing
  • Grated parmesan cheese
  1. Cook chicken on the grill or sautéed on the stove. Let cool and cut into cubes.
  2. While your chicken is cooling, cook the penne according to the directions on the box, drain and rinse with cold water.
  3. Slice cherry tomatoes in half.
  4. Toss all of the ingredients together with the dressing (use your own judgment on the amount of the dressing) and top with the croutons. If you are making ahead, don’t mix the lettuce in until right before time to serve, otherwise it will wilt.

You will need a medium-sized stockpot to boil the water for pasta, a frying pan to cook the chicken (unless you have access to a grill), a colander and a large bowl to toss the salad together.

Before you say “my kids won’t eat that,” know that SheBuysTravel writer Allison Taylor thought that too. Then one night, she just decided to give it a shot and was shocked that her kids ate the salad…and liked it! This Italian-inspired dish is now one of her family’s favorites.

Read More: Recipes that Travel Well

Produce market in Beijing: try exotic local veggies! Photo credit: Judy AntellMore Easy Meals to Cook on a Road Trip

SheBuysTravel writer Nasreen Stump is queen of the road trip. Traveling to see her family in the northeast from her home in Texas with kids in tow, means nights – and dinners – on the road. Nasreen’s tips, particularly her spice trick, are epic. Read on for lessons learned, a shopping list to cover six vacation nights and recipes.

Prep in Advance

If you are driving to your destination, pack a cooler with pre-made food that is easy to pop in and out of your vacation rental and grab for lunch or even a snack.

Some of the foods we like to prepare ahead of time: chicken salad, tuna salad, frozen baked spaghetti or lasagna. These are perfect for easy weeknight dinners while on vacation!

What to Bring from Home

Nasreen travels with spices. It’s a huge money saver on the road. Cooking in hotels is easy. Buying spices to give everything flavor is expensive.

Nasreen’s epic spice tip: Use a pill container and keep a few teaspoons of each spice on hand. Use the packets of salt and pepper from the breakfast area of your hotel.

Spices needed for the recipes below:

  • Oregano (3 tsp)
  • Red pepper flakes (4 tsp)
  • Ground rosemary (1 tsp)
  • Nutmeg (1/2 tsp)
  • Paprika (1 tsp)
  • Turmeric (1/2 tsp)
  • Cardamom (1/2 tsp)
  • Cumin (1/2 tsp)
  • Cinnamon (1/4 tsp)

Plus 4 tsp each of salt and pepper if you aren’t able to grab some packets from the hotel.

Shopping List

1 box Success Boil in Bag Rice
Small container sour cream
Bag of shredded Mexican cheese
Can of corn
Can of black beans
Can of chickpeas
Can of tomato sauce (16 oz)
2 1/2 lb small potatoes
1 small onion
1/3 lb tofu
1/2 cup white wine. If you are staying at a suite-style hotel, chances are there will be a complimentary meal on weeknights that includes wine. Snag a glass to use in your cooking. Otherwise, buy a bottle (it doesn’t need to be fancy) and drink the leftover!
Bunch of basil
1/2 dozen eggs
1/2 cup bread crumbs
Olive oil, small bottle
Pasta sauce, 1 jar
Mozzarella balls, small container
1 box pasta, your choice of shape (16 oz)
1 stick butter
8 oz heavy cream
3/4 cup grated parmesan cheese
Garlic, 1 clove
1 large bag microwave steamable broccoli
1 can diced beets
1 package of bacon
1 lb frozen small shrimp
1 box Organic Imagine Corn & Lemongrass soup (trust me this is the winner in the flavor category- but aim for something Thai-ish if you can’t find it)
2 limes
1 box mushrooms
2 carrots
1 bunch parsley

Pseudo-Parmesan (Tofu Parmigiana)

The night before: Drain tofu (1/3 lb) and thinly slice into slabs. Place back into empty container or into a bowl. Add a drizzle of olive oil, 1/2 c white wine, a pinch of red pepper flakes, a pinch of salt, a 1/2 tsp of pepper, 10 basil leaves and 1 tsp ground rosemary. Make sure tofu is submerged. Place in hotel fridge overnight to marinate.

That day: Wash 1 lb potatoes and start them boiling. In a large skillet, place 2 tbs or so of olive oil and heat over low. Beat one egg in a bowl and set aside. Place 1/2 c breadcrumbs on a plate. Take the tofu from the fridge, piece by piece place tofu in egg then coat in breadcrumbs. Place in oil pan and fry slowly until golden brown. Remove tofu to plate and rinse skillet.

After rinsing, pour 16 oz jar of pasta sauce into the skillet and start heating on low heat. Place all basil leaves from the marinade into the pasta sauce. Heat slowly.

Add tofu back in, placing 3 pieces of sliced mozzarella balls onto each piece. Quarter remaining mozzarella.

Drain potatoes & cut large ones in half. Toss in pan with mozzarella, 2 TBS olive oil, and additional shredded basil from bunch. Dish into bowls & serve topped with tofu and sauce.

Flannel Hash

A New England classic, red flannel hash is popular anytime of day. This hearty dish makes a great dinner!

Dice 1 lb potatoes and put into large pot to boil for ten minutes. Take out the bacon and chop dice. In a saucepan, fry bacon and drain off excess fat. To bacon add: 1 can diced beets, 1 tsp paprika, 1 tsp salt, 1 tsp pepper, 1/4 cup chopped parsley and 1 tsp red pepper flakes.

Drain potatoes and add to saucepan with beets. Cook on medium-heat, stirring regularly to avoid sticking.

In another saucepan, add 1 TBS olive oil and fry your remaining 5 eggs. Serve hash in bowls topped with a fried egg (grown ups in our family get two).

Pseudo-Persian (Khoresh-e Qeymeh)

I love to celebrate my culture, but the time-consuming cooking led me to this quick knock-off for weeknights. The kids love it and it satisfies — and cooks in under a half hour.

Wash and chop a 1/2 lb of potatoes into matchsticks. Fry in 2 TBS olive oil and set aside on a plate once they are golden brown.

In a pan, boil one of the large Success Rice Boil in Bags (or 2 small ones). Chop your onion and sauté until golden brown in 1 TBS of olive oil. Add the 16 oz can of tomato sauce, the can of chickpeas, 1/2 tsp cardamom, 1/4 tsp cumin, 1/4 tsp cinnamon, 1 tsp salt, 1 tsp pepper, and 1/2 tsp turmeric. Squeeze the juice from 1/2 a lime into the sauce. Cook until heated through.

Serve rice with chickpea sauce and topped with French fried potatoes.

Wannabe Tom Kha Gai Soup

This is one of my family’s favorite dishes. It couldn’t be easier and it mimics a dish we all love to order in Thai restaurants. If your kids don’t like shrimp, it can be made with chicken or tofu. Use the shrimp with tails on to save time, then just put out a bowl for everyone to throw their tails into as they eat their way through the soup.

Chop 2 carrots into rounds. Slice mushrooms. In a saucepan, melt 2 tbs butter and add the bag of frozen shrimp. Squeeze the juice of one lime over the shrimp. Let them cook on medium until tender when squeezed. Add in the mushrooms and carrots. Add 1 tsp red pepper flakes and a tsp of salt.

Once the carrots are tender, add the Imagine Corn & Lemongrass soup (comes in a 16 oz box). The soup has the coconut flavors of a traditional Tom Kha Gai.

Heat through and serve. Cut up the remaining 1/2 lime into wedges for each bowl. Easy and delicious!

The Best Pasta Alfredo Ever

Serve this rich and creamy dish to your family on the road.

In a saucepan, melt 6 TBS butter. Sauté 1 clove minced garlic in the butter until golden. Stir in 8 oz of heavy cream, 3/4 c grated parmesan cheese, 1/4 tsp pepper, 1/4 tsp salt, 1 tsp oregano, 1/4 tsp nutmeg, and 1/8 tsp red pepper flakes. Stir consistently while cooking over medium heat.

In a large pan, boil the box of pasta. In the microwave, cook bag of microwave broccoli according to package instructions.

Drain pasta. Add broccoli and alfredo sauce into pasta. Mix and serve immediately.

Rice and Beans

When you’ve reached the last night of your vacation and you want a little comfort food as you pack and prepare to return to the real world, this is the recipe to choose!

In a large pan boil 1 Large Success Rice Boil in Bag (or 2 small ones). Drain a can of black beans and rinse several times. Put black beans into saucepan along with the can of corn, 1 tsp red pepper flakes, 1 tsp oregano, 1 tsp salt and 1 tsp pepper. Heat. Once rice is done cooking add it to the beans & corn.

Serve topped with shredded Mexican cheese and sour cream.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

Q: What kitchen equipment should I bring with me on vacation to cook these meals?

A: It depends on what meals you plan to make, but we recommend packing a small pot, an electric frying pan, a cutting board, a knife, a can opener, and a spatula. If you’re staying in a vacation rental, check the kitchen inventory list provided by the owner before you pack.

Q: What are some easy meals that don’t require cooking?

A: You can make simple sandwiches, salads, and wraps with pre-cooked ingredients like deli meat, cheese, canned tuna, and pre-washed lettuce. You can also assemble a charcuterie board with crackers, cheese, fruit, and nuts.

Q: How can I save money on groceries while on vacation?

A: Shop at local grocery stores instead of touristy convenience stores. Look for deals on bulk items and buy only what you need. Use coupons and loyalty programs if available. Cook meals that use similar ingredients to avoid waste.

Q: Can I cook with local ingredients if I’m traveling abroad?

A: Absolutely! In fact, cooking with local ingredients is a great way to experience the culture and flavors of a new place. Visit local markets and grocery stores to find fresh produce, meat, and spices. Ask locals for recipe recommendations and cooking tips.

Q: What if I don’t have time to cook on vacation?

A: That’s okay! You can still save money on food by packing snacks and drinks to carry with you on day trips. Look for deals on pre-made meals and snacks at local markets and grocery stores. Don’t forget to try some local street food for a quick and tasty meal on the go!

Happy Cooking! What are your favorite meals to make on the road? We’d love to hear in the comments below the easy dinner ideas that work well for your family when you decide to cook on vacation! Do you cook specialty meals that are carb or gluten-free, vegan or keto-friendly? 

Judy Antell Avatar
Judy Antell is an empty-nester mother of 3 who spends a lot of time visiting her daughters. Why don’t they live in Brooklyn? Judy and her husband love to travel, by bike, car, or plane, whether to see their kids or have friend or couple adventures, mostly centered around vegetarian food.
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12 responses

  1. Thanks for the ideas

  2. I like how flexible these recipes are especially when it comes to the vegetables that will be needed. When choosing a vacation rental for my family. I always want one that has a good kitchen to work on. Getting to cook a lot more is one of the joys that I’ve come to appreciate when on vacation.

  3. Very interesting and informative! ??

  4. Woww..i’m in love with these delicious, scrumptious and yumm food recipes. I’m bookmarking these three. Actually we’re planning a trip soon these meals will be best suited. Thanks for sharing. Love the ingredients because these these not only tasty but healthy too.

  5. I really loved your example of a foil pack dinner and your suggestion of searching local farmers markets for it when making vacation food. Vacation may give me a chance to take some time away from my home, but it’s not going to keep me away from the kitchen, my favorite place in the world. With your examples, I’ll be sure to keep an eye out for what more I can try when planning food for my next vacation booking.

  6. Looks yummy. Gonna try with beef.

    Thanks Allison

  7. I love your post you have shared here on your site. I would like to share it with my friends on all my social media accounts. Thanks for writing such an informative content.

  8. Wow! Looking delicious! I think these meals are not only delicious but also healthy. As a mom, this post is very valuable for me. I will make these food for my kids by following you. So, thanks for sharing this post!

  9. Recipes from a traveling chef with kids — now that seems reliable.

  10. I hope that they make your family happy this week! Have a great time!

    1. Great ideas! I hate going out to eat with tired and sandy children, lol. Do you think the hobo dinner could be prepped and frozen ahead of time for packing?

  11. We are at the beach for a week and are heading to the grocery store. Thanks for the great recipes! I can’t wait to try them out.