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How To Cut Your Vacation Food Budget In Half!

Summer is in full swing and here at Deals to Meals we are excited to help all of you save money on your vacation food budgets. If you are like my family, we love to vacation! With a family of 7 however, the food portion of our vacations can sometimes price our trips out of our reach. Besides the hotel costs, the food expenses can be the next highest cost of a trip. I am excited to share several tips that will help you cut your vacation food budget in half (or more) and help you save money so you can do all of the fun things you are hoping to do this summer.

1-Have a food budget before you go on your vacation.

If you don’t have an idea of what you want to spend on food, it is easy to way over spend. Food can add up quickly and be a hefty part of your total vacation cost. Know what you can afford and how much you want to spend and try to stick to those figures. Knowing your budget will help you determine where you should and shouldn’t eat.

2-Do some research and have a plan before you leave.

Before going on your trip do a little research and put together a plan of where you will be eating for each meal (whether in the hotel or out to eat). Find what food options are in the areas you will be visiting and find places to go that have discount coupons or specials. By simply doing a Google search you can find discounts on many of your favorite places to eat. An example of this is restaurant.com where you can get up to 50% off many restaurants in the areas you will be visiting. Whether you are eating out each meal or cooking from your hotel it is good to know where you are going and know a rough estimate of how much you will be spending on food.

(Using Deals to Meals we got ten days of groceries for our family’s vacation for under $165!)

3-Stock up on snacks, treats and vacation items throughout the year when
they go on sale.

Many times people do their last minute vacation shopping right before they leave on their trip. They buy snacks, treats, chips, fruit drinks, soda, crackers, fruit snacks, etc. and find they have to pay full price for these ‘vacation’ items. These items are great to keep kids quiet and happy while traveling, but can break the bank if you pay full price. The best time to stock up on these snack items are the first and last week in July (as well as the week of Thanksgiving). These are the times when snack items go on sale for their lowest prices. Instead of buying one box of crackers, stock up and buy several so you can keep them in your own ‘grocery store’ in your pantry, and have them on hand for several months to come. Having bought these items on sale can save big throughout the rest of the year. If you have not had time to stock up, remember to check Deals to Meals before you go shopping to find the best deals in your area.

4- Plan your vacation around the ability to make homemade meals where you will be staying.

Families, depending on the size, can easily spend anywhere from $30-$100 on one meal. This can add up quickly if you are needing to eat out three meals a day. That can be as much as $100-$250 a day spent just on food, depending where you choose to eat. Could you eat at Taco Bell for less, yes, but who wants fast food three times a day? So, the better option is to find ways to eat homemade meals where you will be staying. Whether you are sleeping in a hotel, a rented home/cabin, camping in the outdoors, or in a condo, you can easily cook homemade meals and cut your food budget in half.

My family has made nearly 20 week long trips to Disneyland (I know, my husband is a Mickey-fanatic). In the beginning we were spending nearly $800 on food for a week at Disneyland. Food in Disneyland is not cheap and with a family of 7 eating outside the park wasn’t a great option either. We found we could eat homemade breakfasts, lunch, and dinner meals from our own hotel and spent less than $150 for the entire week. How did we do it? Here are a few tips of how to cook simple meals and save hundreds of dollars for the week.

a. Book a hotel with a microwave and/or a mini fridge.

If they offer free ice, you could even do without a fridge. Many times a hotel with a mini kitchen or microwave is only a few extra dollars a night but can save you big on your food budget. Having a microwave can make meal prep easy in your hotel.

b. Bring the right tools.

When I travel and plan on cooking in our hotel there are a few must-haves that make it much easier for me. I always bring an electric skillet. Not a flat griddle, but the skillets with the two inch sides. It is amazing what you can cook or warm up in these skillets. I can cook nearly every breakfast, lunch and dinner recipe I want between a microwave and a skillet. The skillet can be easily packed and is large enough to cook food for a large family of 7 like my own. It is also smart to bring paper products, plastic utensils, a kitchen scrubber, paper towels, and a small container of dish soap to make clean up a cinch.

c. Choose hotel (or accommodations) that allow you to prepare homemade meals in your room.

Booking a hotel with a continental breakfast is not always the least expensive way to go. Most of us can eat a pretty simple breakfast and be fine (toast, bagels, cereal, fruit, yogurt, etc.). Many times the hotels that offer the free breakfast will charge you more than it would cost for your family to eat your own breakfast in the hotel room. If you can find a hotel with a reasonable continental breakfast and the price is not more than you could feed your own family breakfast then that is a good option.

Below are several meal options for breakfast, lunch and dinner that are easy to prepare and serve in a hurry. If you are flying to your destination you could easily make a quick shopping trip for some of these meals to make in your hotel without a lot of effort. Preparing homemade meals and serving in your hotel will save $100’s on your vacation budget.

BREAKFAST MEALS:

*Cereal and milk
*Bagels, cream cheese and fruit
*Yogurt and granola
*Pancakes (can be cooked on an electric skillet brought from home)–bring a box mix or put the dry ingredients for a homemade pancake mix in a Ziploc bag and bring the wet ingredients separate.
*Eggs (can be fried on an electric skillet or in the microwave)–add some cheese and hashbrowns and you could make breakfast burritos without a lot of effort.

LUNCH MEALS:

Lunch meals are easy to pack and can be brought around easily on the road as you are traveling. You can feed a family a healthy lunch for under $10, where as going out for lunch (even at a fast food chain) would cost most families over $25-$40. Here are a few of my favorite lunch options that can be brought from home. Add a bag of chips, some veggies or fruit and you have a complete meal at a low price.

*PB&J sandwiches
*Chicken Salad Sandwiches
*Lunchmeat sandwiches (Monte Cristo’s, Cubans, deli sandwiches, etc.)
*Tuna fish sandwiches
*Simple Salads (Rumbi’s, Golden Gate Chicken Salad, Sesame Salad, etc.)

DINNER MEALS:

Here are a few of my favorite simple dinner meals I pack from home when going on an extended vacation. One time saving tip is to make a few of these meals 1-2 weeks prior to your vacation. Double the recipe and eat one batch for dinner the week you make them and then freeze the second half for your vacation. It takes a little more thought and prep, but makes cooking on the vacation simple and hassle free.

*Tacos (cook up the taco meat ahead of time, freeze and warm in the microwave or skillet for a quick meal). Pack along shredded cheese, salsa, lettuce and taco shells and you have a quick and inexpensive dinner. I usually bring extra taco meat and serve the rest in a taco salad later in the week (just bring more lettuce, cheese, tomatoes, ranch dressing, chips and a can of kidney beans).

*Soups or Stews–soups can easily be made ahead of time and frozen for your vacation. Warm up in the microwave and serve with store bought rolls for a quick dinner. If you are in a hurry you could even just use canned soups or stews.

*Shredded BBQ Pork Sandwiches–crock pot a large pork loin, shred and freeze the meat for your vacation. Frozen pork thaws perfectly. You can add some bbq sauce for a nice sandwich or serve in a burrito as a wrap. Serve with fresh fruit and chips and you won’t be disappointed.

*Shredded Pork Tacos or Carne Asada Tacos-these tacos are my favorites and are simple to make on the go. Just cook and shred the pork ahead of time and all you have to pack is some salsa, corn tortillas and cheese. Make these tacos on your skillet to melt the cheese and you have a simple dinner.

*Quesadillas or grilled cheese sandwiches are simple and inexpensive to make. Add some refried beans to the quesadillas to help fill your family up or some ham to your grilled cheese for extra flavor.

*Breakfast for dinner is another simple approach to dinner. A good old pancake dinner never hurt anyone for dinner and is much less expensive to make than most meat-heavy dinners.

*Potato Bar – this is simple to make away from home if you just microwave the potatoes and cut up the toppings ahead of time at home. When ready to serve just open up the potatoes, place the toppings on top and you have a dinner ready in just a few minutes.

*BLT Sandwiches – Buy the precooked bacon that can be warmed in the microwave, throw on a piece of toast with lettuce and tomatoes and dinner is done! Serve with a side pasta salad made from home or a store bought salad to share

If you don’t have room to pack all of the ingredients for these meals, I often pack the frozen meat and dairy items (usually the most expensive parts to a recipe) in our cooler and then shop for the produce and bread at a grocery store on vacation. With a membership to Deals to Meals you can login to our website anywhere in the U.S. and know what the best grocery deals are in your area.

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Jill Nystul (aka Jillee)

Jill Nystul is an accomplished writer and author who founded the blog One Good Thing by Jillee in 2011. With over 30 years of experience in homemaking, she has become a trusted resource for contemporary homemakers by offering practical solutions to everyday household challenges.
I share creative homemaking and lifestyle solutions that make your life easier and more enjoyable!

About Jillee

Jill Nystul

Jill’s 30 years of homemaking experience, make her the trusted source for practical household solutions.

About Jillee

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  • I absolutely love your blog and find many of your post’s to be just what I’m looking for.
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  • I followed you on pinterest and FB and the tip I like is bringing my electric griddle with me to prepare breakfast n other meals. Super great tip! On vacation now, so I wish I had known or thought of this myself before leaving! :)

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  • Enjoyed reading about saving $$ on meals while on vacation.. going to share with my family. Liked Deals to Meals on FB. Please enter me in the drawing.

  • I liked you on facebook! I really do love getting my produce for a lot less by using your website to price match at Wal Mart. I am eating a lot healthier because of it!

  • Love your site Jillee! Thanks for all the great tips and ideas. I am following Deals to Meals on FB and Pinterest. I really like what I have seen. Who wouldn’t want to save money on your food bill. Love the idea of cooking on vacation to save money. Thanks!

  • I love deals to meals! It has saved me so much money already with a free trial. It has truly changed the way I shop for my family of four. I just liked Deals to Meals on Facebook.

  • Thanks for the great ideas. Love the recipe suggestions. Gonna try some of those for our upcoming Fisneyland vacation. Starting flowing dealstomeals on Facebook and Pinterest.

  • I love One Good Thing and already follow Deals to Meals on Pinterest and like them on Facebook. These food travel tips are great. Using Groupons, Resaurant.com, Living Social, etc. for deals in the area that you’re traveling to has also helped us A LOT. It’s always nice to get 2 for 1 or a big chunk off the check.

  • LIKED on Facebook. As a military family
    who travels a lot with four small children, these tips will come in handy!! Thanks and God bless you. :)

  • I love all of your info! I stumbled upon this site when looking for ways to make my own cleaners. I love them! I found that my son has an allergic reaction to many of the chemicals in store bought products and would break out in hives. Yuck! Love all of this info and am now following deals to meals on pinterest. Love all of your ideas for food on trips. I will definitely be using these on our vacation.
    Thanks

    Liz

  • I wish I read this post last week when I spent way too much on our family vacation! Just found your blog from deals to meals which I “love” on Facebook, twitter, and Pinterest. And can see myself addicted to another blog! Thanks for the great money saving tips!

  • I like Meals to Deals on FB, Twitter and Pinterest. We are planning a trip to Disneyland this fall and $50 gift cert and Meals to Deals will be a huge help!

  • Thank you for the amazing tips! I never would have thought to bring a skillet! Makes the family take a rest and its good home cooked food! :)

  • I’m so glad to have found this, what a great concept to save money. I never seem to have the time to look through all the ads so I’m super excited to find a service that does all the prep work!

    Liked on Facebook and Following on Pinterest :-)

  • Great tips thanks!!!
    We also do not travel without the waffle iron!! Just add water and shake waffle/panpancake mix as well as refridge cunnamin rolls!
    I follow on pinterest!

  • Great ideas! We have 14 of us traveling to Disneyland in October for 10 days. this will help sooo much!!Following Deals to Meals in Pinterest.

  • It would be nice if these contests included ways to enter that did not entail having to like or follow sites on other sites. I for one do not have the time for, nor interest in getting caught up in twitter, facebook, pinterest, etc.

    What I would like to comment on is the great tips offered in this post. My family of 4 either camps or gets a room with a kitchenette. When camping we take our groceries & eat just like we do at home. We we hotel stay we do the same. I precook everything I can for a week before we leave home so that food prep on the road is even more simple. Freezing flat in gallon bags saves a lot of room in a cooler. Often times we only have to reheat on the road or grill what we planned to grill. We always have continental breakfast. It’s true that the rooms cost more to stay at a place that has breakfast provided AND a kitchen, BUT we use a reward MasterCard for our favorite hotel. We put every purchase on the credit card, and we pay it off in full each month. All purchases made earn points towards a hotel stay, so they can pile up over a year’s time. We can get a whole week free sometimes.

    Also, when we do Disney we always plan ahead & save to buy more days than we need. The more days you buy, the cheaper the per day price is. We also get the No Expiration option. So, for example, the first time we went we used 5 days, but bought 10. The next time we went a few years later we went to the parks for free. We had breakfast at the hotel, lunch in the park & dinner at the hotel. We only had to pay gas & food for that trip. When we eat in the park we do our homework before we leave home to find he least expensive place in the park to eat at & go back to that place each day. Also, we all wear a fanny pack with a pack of trail mix & an empty water bottle – we use the 16 oz disposable bottles because they are so light weight & can crush without cracking if they get bumped on a ride. Plenty of water fountains in the park to fill the bottles & the trail mix is the perfect amount of protein, fiber & carbs to tide us over between lunch & dinner.

  • Following on Pinterest! I actally have been talking to my hubby about getting deals to meals! We just moved to WA from UT and things are more expensive here!! I really hope I win this cause we need it!!!

  • Deals to meals is an interesting site I love the granola recipe and I will be making it. I joined up and I hope to get some good saving along the way. Thanks

  • I liked Deals on Wheels on FB and Pinterest.
    I love your ideas for bringing food along.I always pack paper toweling forks/knives,and of coarse our wine and bar stuff;-)
    Many times its just easier to eat in rather than going to a restaruant.
    You are usually tired and ready o relax!

  • I love everything Jillee sends me. This one about how to cut vacation expenses in half is my most recent favorite. I liked Deals to Meals on FB and am following it on Pinterest as well. Please enter me for a free membership.

  • My husband thought I was nuts last year when I packed oatmeal to cook in the coffeepot on our trip to Disneyland last year. By the end of the week, he realized not only did it save us a ton of money, it saved us a ton of time getting out the door to hit the park! I would love to learn more tricks like this, since we are a bigger family and vacations are rare b/c of the expense.

  • This article came just in time! My family of 10 is going to Chicago in 3 weeks. I am excited now to start doing some planning in hopes to save some money while there. Thanks for the tips!

    I am now following Deals to Meals on Pinterest and I always love everything from Jillee.

    THANKS again!

  • What a great post! Oh am I gleaning ideas!
    My biggest tip–feed everyone before you enter the attraction, bring granola bars & fill your water bottles. Attractions will usually refill the water bottle & add ice for free because it is easier than treating the masses for dehydration/heat exhaustion.
    Hotels usually compete for your business. We find a hotel that offers a truly free breakfast & it works for us. We have cereal, fruit, & juice at a table and take out a bread selection, cream cheese & hard boiled egg if it is offered. Cereal is what the family is used to eating, its quick, doesn’t weigh you down, & helps maintain your weight (unlike full breakfasts everyday). Doing this gives us breakfast & a light lunch (add your own chips). DH felt embarrassed doing this until I pointed out how much food the folks seated at the tables had. We are still eating way less than most people. I pack all those take out s & p’s, and condiments we get throughout the year & use them–no mess, no refrigeration for the mayo. Those individually wrapped take out fork, knife, spoon, s & p and napkin are worth their weight in gold!

    Something else we do is order take out & eat it in the hotel. Take out means no pricey drinks to buy, no appetizers & no dessert temptation (it also saves time). Many places tend to boost the portion sizes because they fill the container. We buy dinners and split them. I order in person & pay in advance–I add a nice tip and the server usually adds extra rolls, bread sticks or chips & condiments. Eating in the hotel also allows for a more casual meal where we can talk about the day & plan tomorrow with mouths full, while we stretch out.

  • We just got back from a national dance competition and we did similar things to save money. 10 days was a long time and a lot of meals. However, we took a crockpot. Frozen already fried hamburgers make easy tacos and sloppy joes. You can also precook noodles and throw in a ziplock. Dump the noodles sauce and hamburger in the crockpot for spaghetti. Basked potatoes also worked well for easy cleanup the last night.

  • Love this stuff! I can’t get enough of the helpful hint and recipes esp. when it saves so much money. I’ve been rebelling about how high prices keep going. Don’t mind paying a fair price for something but many things are ridiculous.

  • I LIKED ON FACEBOOK DEALS TO MEALS AND I’M FOLLOWING ON PINTEREST I ;m not sure if i did comment right so here we go again I love the one good thing by jillee site use it a lot I still use the laundry soap i love the powder I would love to try deals to deals for two week if i won it for a year it would be a blessing with two special needs kids i need to save where i can and the 50.00 gift card i would use that day thanks and god bless Shelly walker Tn

  • I would so like to try deals to meals for two weeks as a mom of two special needs kids i need to save money where ever I can the best thing i got from your site was the laundry soap i still use the powder today it would be a blessing to win it for a year and the 50.00 gift card would be great thanks and god bless you

  • Looks fantastic! Always wanting to save money & get help with the “what’s for dinner?” problem. :) Liked on Facebook & followed on Twitter & Pinterest!

  • I follow deals to meals on Facebook. We always took our portable grill and I cooked almost all our meals when we went on vacation. We actually ate better for less that way.

  • What a great idea! I just like Deals to Meals on Facebook and followed them on Twitter and Pinterest. Look forward to seeing all the great info they share.

  • I liked facebook page and also now a follower on Pinterest.

    I also wanted to add, that we went on a family trip last May for two weeks and we visited 13 states! We budgeted $3400, and spent just less than $1800 total! We stayed at hotels, ate continental breakfast, and I packed our food/coolers with meals in mind. I made a bunch of buns before the trip and made sandwiches up so they were easy to grab, plus homemade bread/buns is so yummy! Another thing we did before we left, was we purchased an electric skillet. I also canned chicken and beef specially for this trip, so when we made it to our destination for the evening, I just needed some veggies, rice/noodles and supper was made! (all of these items I had packed and placed into large baggies for ease of use) I also packed pre-cooked brats and hot dogs with buns and we also used the microwave for them, (which was odd since we never use a microwave at home). We all enjoyed our trip so much and will for sure plan like this again! It saved us so much $$$! Plus we never had to worry about what we were eating and having tummies be upset.

  • Adding that I am going to super clean my husbands white (yellowed) t-shirts per instructions from Goodbye to Yellow Armpit Stains! {Best Of Jillee}.

  • Love these ideas. Since our “vacations” always revolved around tournaments or races and I had athletes to feed for competition I had to plan healthy filling meals. Traveling with a crock-pot is great! You can make some “dump” bags (Jillee tip) and freeze them ahead and or freeze some pork or chicken and then they help keep stuff in the cooler frozen until you set and forget them. I would get half gal milk and freeze as well. Many times I ended up having to thaw something because it stayed frozen in the cooler longer than I expected! I always made local grocery runs for fruit and veg and often bread as you suggested they just don’t hold up as well to travel or we eat them during travel and need more! Trail mix is great for car trips too, I mixed my own from Costco runs. PB&J if you don’t have allergies is a must, PB& banana with choc milk provides all the needs immediately after (asap no more than 15-20 min) a game match whatever the exercise if gearing up for more. Love that I’m not the only one traveling with my own kitchen, never thought about an elec skillet great tip! Following you on Pinterest, will tweet and “like”.

  • We remember to pack spices and even butter because it all adds up when you travel. we usually fly. sometimes we will pack
    Dry spaghetti noodles, rice, tuna and our good tools such as our favorite knife. I find it insanely rewarding beeing so frugal! I am so happy that you made it easy to pin and like on facebook. I am following it all now!

  • Already a follower on Pinterest! Thanks for such an awesome giveaway! Our family is getting ready for a fantastic trip – across the country from Utah to Ohio taking the long way through New Mexico, Texas into LA, Alabama and then home….Can not wait! Thank you for the awesome tips on how to save $$$$ as well as time!!!!

  • I liked Deals to Meals on Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest!

    I always look forward to your blog, with 4 kids and one on the way I get so many great ideas and recipes from you! I’ve tried and made so many of the things on your site, a ton of your recipes and even the bandana blanket, though I hand stiched mine (no sewing machine) lol. Keep up the amazing work! And enjoy your vacation!

  • Great tips. This gives me nore choices when we wabnt to plan our vacation. I too am planning a trip to Disney. Was wondering if you stayed at Disney or off the park.

    • We have found some great hotels surrounding the park that are very spacious, Disney themed, 5-10 minute walk to the front gate, and 1/2 or less of the price. These deals vary with the season and based on occupancy. If you staying in the park is within your budget then you’ll love it. Otherwise you can have almost the same experience at much less cost and still be right next to the park- Enjoy your vacation and let us know if we can answer any other questions!

      • Oh I have TONS of question about WDW…plan to take my daughter(s), older sister (so she’ll stop whining about going without her 40 years ago) and younger sister will meet us there. And maybe niece will come along.We are planning to drive from Houston (easier physically on big sister). I was planning to take along food & grocery shop there if I needed to.Maybe if we do the major amount of our own food, then we can stay at the Victorian (like I would love to!)

        Susan

  • Good ideas! I travel often for business, and really get sick of eating commercial restaurant meals. I utilize the frig & micro frequently, but don’t take crock pots or skillets with me.

  • I am following ‘Deals’ on Pinterest! I used my slow cooker for the first time on vacation this week. I packed the cooker with frozen ingredients and it stayed good in the cooler for a couple days until I could cook it. My 4 boys said it tasted like a meal grandma would serve, score!

  • Jillee you have done it again! You have saved my bum and and budget!

    I have started following deals to meals on FB, TWITTER, and PINTEREST!

    THANKS!

  • I have been following Deals to Meals on FB and Pinterest since DtM was a guest a few weeks ago. I made the overnight french toast with fresh blueberries instead of peaches last weekend and it was delicious! I am looking forward to trying the Monte Crisco sandwich :) But I am not a “Twitter-er” yet.

  • Jillee: I love your blog and make your home cleaners religiously
    and even share them with others (recipes and soap!). We’ve
    done a lot of medical travel this year, and I thank you for
    these tips that will allow us to eat both more healthfully and
    more economically on the road. I will be following
    Deals to Meals on Pinterest now!
    I particularly appreciate the info on when the travel snack
    Foods will be on sale. I will put it on my calendar. Just all
    All great information, thanks! Amy

  • I enjoyed these tips from Deals to Meals. I have liked them on Facebook, followed them on Twitter and Followed them on Pinterest. Please enter me in the contest!

  • Actually, I would also do my research on the local area farmer’s markets and wholesale food stores as well that would be cheaper than the local retail stores. Like in the LA area, there are early morning seafood markets that sell fresh salmon, tuna, yellowfin steaks etc on Saturday that you can grill or cook.

  • I liked Deals to Meals on FB!

    Thanks for the great ideas. I’ll be trying these out in a couple of weeks. So glad you posted it when you did.

  • I Like Deals to Meals on Facebook, and am following Deals to Meals on Twitter and Pinterest :) I’m going to go see how I could use this with a “picky eater”!

  • Adding that I am going to super clean my dishwasher tomorrow, (actually later today) per instructions from “Best of Jilee” week.

    Love your post! Lots of great tips!

  • I love everything that “One Good Thing by Jilee” sends. I am loving this link to Deals to Meals.

    I just followed “Deals to Meals” on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest. I am about to go look their Pinterest boards now.

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