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  • Writer's pictureJoel Shapiro

Eat Well On Vacation

Meal Planning for Vacation: Tips & Tricks to Eating Well

If I asked you “What does eating well while on vacation mean, what would you say?”

Eating all the junk food I want.

Eating out every meal.

Eating local and fresh items.

Eating healthy, fresh, colorful foods from the local farmer’s market.

Eating favorite foods with friends and family.

That’s the dilemma—everyone’s definition is a little different.  And if you are like most Americans, the past few years you have spent more time cooking and eating at home.  And vacation seems the best time to eat out, but if you are traveling to someplace new, you don’t know what’s available or how long to expect to wait, and ultimately, is it going to be any good? 

This article is going to focus on ideas for cooking and EATING IN instead of recommending local restaurants because I want you to be able to use these ideas anywhere–on your favorite beach, at a lake house or a cool mountaintop cabin.

I will still shamelessly promote Grocery Concierge and even include a sample order form, vacation meal ideas, and recipes. These are just guides designed to help you be more creative. You have your family favorites to consider and of course your budget.

The advantage of using a service like Grocery Concierge is that you save hours driving to and from the store, parking, shopping, loading & unloading groceries. Doesn’t it always seem like vacation days fly by and you want to enjoy every moment of your vacation? Extra time to relax on the beach, to take a boat ride, or read a book in the shade. Are you willing to pay someone else to grocery shop for you to have those extra hours? Do you want to get everything you need to enjoy the week, and not be the one stuck doing all the work? Then schedule delivery and



I encourage you to visit locally owned and operated restaurants. Most chambers offer lists of local restaurants and many locations have visitors’ guides.

Our friends at the Navarre Beach Area Chamber and Pensacola Beach Chamber both offer a membership directory. Santa Rosa County Tourist Development office puts out a visitor’s guide as well (available in print and online) on its website: And VisitPensacola has an entire section dedicated to Eat & Drink.

Look for ones offering outdoor dining and be sure to follow requirements for shirts or cover-ups, and shoes. Remember life is better in Flip Flops and Flip flops count as shoes at the beach!


One of the benefits of staying at a vacation rental unit is that you can control the contents of your diet and your expenses better than if you stay in a hotel. You can be more specific about the beer, wine, and alcohol brands you select as well as the brand of peanut butter and toilet paper!

And yes, Grocery-Concierge can deliver all your alcohol requests!

Since I enjoy cooking and trying new recipes, I find it relaxing to chop and prep while listening to the waves or playing some Jimmy Buffet tunes on my Bluetooth speaker. Somehow being in a different setting makes it seem more fun—and it is a great time to talk and catch up with the family and friends who have joined us at the beach.

Here is a breakdown of how I typically plan my vacation week in terms of days to eat in and to eat out for the various length of stays.

A Couple’s Weekend Getaway is the evening of Day 1, Day 2, and depart on Day 3 after breakfast

A Family Vacation can be 6 nights or less with most check-ins allowed after 4 pm (Day 1-Dinner) and check out required at 10 am (Last Day-Breakfast).

During a typical week on days when eating lunch out, I plan to also visit local attractions or shop for souvenirs. If I’m going to go to the trouble to put on makeup and style my hair, I might as well show it off for a bit! But if I am hanging out on the beach all day, I will wait to do all that until ready to head out for dinner. I know my women readers understand!

And by having not only a plan but also all the items you need on hand, you can easily adjust the days as needed due to weather. See blog article about Rainy Day Activities!

Vacation Strategies to Stress Less, Relax More and Eat Well

Use these for faster meal prep, tastier meals, and more time with friends and family.

  1. Start planning with your family’s favorites—you know them by heart and you’ve probably figured out ways to make them quickly and easily.  Now just add some “extras” to change it up for the area.  For example, if your family loves tacos, and you’re at the beach, make the traditional beef tacos and add fresh shrimp salsa or make fish tacos instead. 

  2. Plan on using basic kitchen tools—check beforehand if the unit has a crockpot or blender—if not and you can bring your own, do it.  I took a crockpot and a bread machine to Colorado for a week’s vacation and we ate really well (Pot Roast, Chili with “homemade bread”), but I didn’t spend much time fixing the meals, just enjoying them with friends and family.  If you don’t want to do a lot of extra chopping, buy pre-chopped produce and a Rotisserie chicken is very versatile.  

  3. When planning your meals look for recipes that use similar ingredients, so you aren’t buying an entire jar of something for just one recipe.  And be willing to substitute—can green onions work for shallots?

  4. Reinvent leftovers and have a “use it up” day built into your plan. 

  5. Shop Local & try new things—look for local seafood shops, local produce, local spices and local bakery items to use to make your meals more exciting and interesting.

  6. Look for inspiration before planning menus (Cookbooks, Magazines, even Meal Kits) We had an Orzo and Shrimp dish in one of the meal kits that we now always have at the beach and the bigger, fresher shrimp make it even better.     Feature Picture is a picture of a recipe I found online—Pineapple Shrimp Boat—it’s more fun eating out of the pineapple boat than just on a plate! 

  7. Double-check each recipe to be sure you have a complete list of the items needed and place your order.  The hard part is done—now you can relax and have some fun!


I typically suggest planning to eat in your unit since for most families not having to get everyone up and into the car at a specific time is much preferred when teenagers want to sleep late or you just want to sip coffee and enjoy the view!

I have a list of Breakfast Ideas on my website you can use for ideas. I also like to make a big batch of sausage balls the first morning, so they are ready for anyone to grab a few to add to other breakfast foods during the week.

Sausage Balls recipe

Add canned green chilis to add extra spice. It can be doubled or tripled if needed for a large group.

Bloody Mary Bar

Bloody Mary Mix (Zing Zang or homemade recipe)

Vodka (plain or flavored—Pepper, Pickle, Lime or Lemon) * *750 ml bottle = 16 servings (1.5 oz)

Condiments: Celery Sticks, Carrot Sticks, Olives (stuffed: pimento, blue cheese, jalapeno), Pickled Okra, Asparagus & Green Beans, Lemon and Lime wedges, Hot Sauces (Tabasco, Frank’s), spices (Old Bay, Tony Chachere’s) Salt & Pepper to rim the glasses

Mimosa Bar:

Sparkling Wine: Prosecco, Cava, American Sparkling—Brut ** Bottle = 5 servings (5 oz)

(use Sprite or Club Soda for non-alcoholic)

Juices-Orange, Ruby Red Grapefruit, Pomegranate, Cranberry**Fresh Squeezed is best or Simply brand –no pulp preferred.

Fruit-Seasonal Berries, Sliced peaches (fresh or frozen), Seasonal Melon

*Be sure to eat lots of fresh fruit and juices. These will help provide additional water and it is easy to become dehydrated at the beach.


Eat-in on days when you are going to be near your unit.  The ideas I am sharing are nothing new and don’t require much cooking.  Since it’s a vacation I like to add a few extras—UPGRADES!

If you are spending your day, on the beach, I encourage you to rinse off the sand, and sunscreen before going up for lunch so you don’t track it back into your unit. Just be sure to reapply the sunscreen for the afternoon when the burning rays are at their worst! Another use for the shot glass—according to the American Academy of Dermatology, a shot glass (1 oz) is the amount of sunscreen that needs to be applied to the average adult to fully cover and prevent burning and possible skin cancer! 

Hot Dog Bar-who doesn’t love hot grilled dogs, with all the trimmings?!

Beef Hot Dogs, Brats, or Smoked Sausage links

Buns (white, wheat, or sliced hoagie)

Toppings: Chili, Grated Cheddar Cheese, Onion, Sauerkraut, Relish

Condiments: Mustard, Mayo, Ketchup, BBQ Sauce

Side items: Canned Baked Beans, Chips, Slaw

Sandwich Bar

Favorite Sliced Deli Meats—Boar’s Head is my personal favorite brand-Turkey, Ham, Chicken, Roast Beef, Salami, Bologna

An assortment of Sliced Cheeses (Cheddar, Pepper Jack, Swiss, Provolone, Gouda)

Lettuce or Spinach, Sliced Tomato, Sliced Onion, Thin Sliced Cucumbers, and Bell Peppers, Sliced Black Olives and Sliced Pepperoncini’s, and Avocado

Sliced Bread and Buns

Condiments: Mustard, Mayo

Side Items: pasta or potato salad, pickle spears, chips

Fresh Salads

Washed Green & Red leaf lettuce, spring mix, or combination of lettuces

Chef or Club Salads can be made using deli meat, hard-boiled eggs, and bacon

Tuna Salad made with either leftover cooked tuna or high-grade canned Albacore tuna packed in water, add a squeeze of lemon juice and salt & pepper to freshen up.  Add onion, celery, and relish as desired.  Mayo and touch of Dijon mustard.

Chicken Salad—every family has a favorite recipe!  Try using Rotisserie chicken instead of canned chicken or try adding grapes, dried cranberries, and nuts (almonds, pecans, cashews) for a new favorite.

*** Tip:  Wash and trim up all vegetables at one time.  Slice & dice for recipes and then put in sandwich storage bags-label bags with a Sharpie pen so everyone knows if available to use or off-limits.

Baked Potato Bar

Wash Baking Potatoes, rub with oil, sprinkle with coarse ground salt and wrap in foil.  Bake at 400 for approximately an hour-should be able to squeeze and tell done.

Toppings: Butter, Sour Cream, Crumbled Bacon, Grated Cheddar Cheese, Chopped Chives or Green Onion Tops, chopped BBQ brisket or pulled pork, Chili

Assorted Crackers and Bread

Chips & Dips: lots and lots of different chips, and at least 2 favorite dips (French Onion, Ranch, Avocado-Ranch, Queso, Bean Dip, Hummus, Salsa)


***Option: If traveling with couples or all adults, have each be responsible for making one night’s dinner. Just be sure all items needed are included on the list.

Crock Pot Ideas

Pulled Pork

Season a boneless pork butt shoulder, add 1 cup water, cook in crockpot on LOW 6-8 hrs, or HIGH 4-5 hrs. Place on large cutting board, let rest 10-15 minutes, then chop, pull, slice, and add BBQ sauce as desired.

Serve on butter and toasted Hamburger Buns

Sides: Tator Tots, Pasta or Potato Salad, Slaw, Baked Beans, Corn

Italian Sausage

Brown Sausage, place in a crockpot.

Add sliced Onion, Peppers & Mushrooms

Cover with favorite Pasta Sauce (tomato), Cook on LOW 6 hrs.

Serve over cooked Pasta with Green or Greek Salad, and Hot Artisan Bread

Beef Pot Roast (depending on the time of year and location this may or may not be appealing)

Roast, Potatoes, Carrots, Onion, Salt & Pepper

Add 1 – 2 cups of water. Cover and Cook LOW 6-8 hrs, HIGH 4-6 hrs.

Remove meat and vegetables from crockpot and thicken gravy with flour or cornstarch.

Serve with Dinner Rolls

Tex Mex Ideas

Taco Bar or Taco Salads

Taco Soup made in the crockpot (several recipes available online for both chicken and beef-based)

Chicken Fajitas from Rotisserie Chicken with sautéed onions and peppers.  Pull chicken from bones, slice and saute’ in oil with Fajita Seasoning add peppers and onions.  Toss in a few fresh peeled shrimps to UPGRADE your fajitas.  Squeeze a wedge of lime over, and serve with flour tortillas, sour cream, cheese, pico de gallo, and sliced avocado. 

Pasta Ideas

Tip: Use fresh pasta found in the refrigerated section for faster cooking.

Meats: Ground Beef or Turkey, Ground Italian Sausage, Grilled Chicken Breast or Rotisserie Chicken, Fresh Shrimp (peeled)

Sauces: Family Favorite Spaghetti Sauce, Marinara & Alfredo (canned and refrigerated options), Carbonara (Pancetta or Bacon, Garlic, Eggs, Grated Parmesan Cheese), Piccata (Lemon, Butter, Capers)

Frozen Lasagna UPGRADE: Stouffer’s makes a family size lasagna that is good on its own. But try this idea—called Lifesaver Lasagna from Anne Bryn’s Saves the Day Cookbook (pg 143). My sister and I purchased this cookbook in 2014—we have served lasagna like this ever since.

Thaw lasagna 1 hr on the counter. Preheat oven to 350. Make a Bechamel sauce. Put lasagna in a casserole dish and pour Bechamel over. Top with ½ cup grated parmesan cheese. Cook 45 minutes, let rest for 20 before cutting to serve.

Fresh Seafood Ideas

Shrimp Recipes — purchase shrimp at the local seafood market

Fresh Fish

The local seafood market should be able to tell you what has come in fresh and how each fish will taste and cook. Depending on your recipe you can get light flaky white fish or more dense and fleshy fish.

If you don’t have access to a grill, foil or parchment paper envelopes are a great way to cook fish in the oven. Here’s a step by step guide from The Food Network:

Seafood Boiled or Steamed to go—

Most seafood markets will offer to steam shrimp, crab legs, and possibly even potatoes, corn, and sausage for a “low country boil” for you. Add a fresh garden salad or slaw and crusty French bread and you are all set!

Snacks or Appetizers

Marinated Cheese

This is one of those recipes that looks “fancy” but once you’ve made it a couple of times you can easily do without a recipe. This makes a big tray, so it will last for several days to supply that “bite of something” while waiting on everyone to get ready to go to dinner or waiting for guys to bring up stuff from the grill, and of course for the late-night card and board games.

Assorted Nuts, Snack Mixes, and Popcorn

In my last article, I included information about having a Popcorn Bar on a rainy afternoon. Here’s the link to the article Making Vacation More Affordable & Enjoyable (very end of the article).

Of course, you need to consider if anyone has nut allergies, but if not, I suggest some plain or salted, some spicy, and some honey roasted to satisfy everyone’s preference. If allergies are a problem, look for snack mixes (Chex Mix) that don’t include nuts.



There’s nothing better than the smell of fresh-baked cookies so I always add a few of “break & bake” to my grocery list for vacation. Are they as good as homemade? Yes, they are when you don’t want to spend hours baking and still want a treat. Plus you can do just a few at a time and always have them hot and fresh!


I suggest buying a disposable 8 x 8-inch pan to bake up a batch of brownies. And get creative with toppings like mini marshmallows, nuts, caramel, or chocolate sauce to top right when removing from the oven. Then add some ice cream! A treat the whole family will love.

Fruit Pizza

Pillsbury offers a recipe online for easy Fruit Pizza, but I have found that I can use the Philadelphia brand Brown Sugar and Cinnamon Cream Cheese for the topping and it works great (don’t have to soften and blend sugar and cream cheese). I do recommend using the parchment paper for both easy cleanups and to keep the dough from sticking to the pan. And if you have Wax Paper that is great to use to press the dough and keep it off your fingers.

Instead of 1 large pizza, you might consider making more “personal size” pizzas –think 3 to 4 times normal sugar cookie size. This can be a fun exercise for everyone to get to assemble their own dessert pizza.

Be sure you have bite-size fruit and instead of the apple jelly as suggested in the recipe, drizzle chocolate or caramel sauce over top. Another reason to make smaller pizzas is that once you top with cream cheese and fruit, you will have to store in the refrigerator which can be a problem if trying to find space for a large pan. Also, some fruits will turn brown (bananas, apples) so they won’t look very appetizing the next day. Smaller pizzas can be made as wanted and always be fresh, not soggy!



Be careful with bottles—no glass allowed at the beach and not recommended for boating.  Google search for local taprooms and any local breweries and stop by for a flight or pick up some to try and experience the local flavors.  It’s amazing to me how different beers can be depending on where they are brewed! Book an in house Beer Tasting from Grocery Concierge to sample 5 local beers before deciding if you want to visit the Brewery/Taproom.


My two favorite places to be are a beach or a winery! Some of my favorite white wines for the beach are Sauvignon Blanc, Rose’, Pinot Grigio, Albarino, and a lesser-known French varietal called Piquepoul Blanc.   These are wines with higher acidity and go well with seafood, salads, grilled vegetables—think southern France—Provence, Saint-Tropez, Cannes,  the French Riviera. 

As for red wine, I recommend CA Pinot Noirs since they are typically more fruit-forward or a Spanish Rioja, Grenache & Tempranillo blend and Italian Chianti’s or Tuscan blends.  If you are in a cabin in Colorado or Utah and enjoy sipping on a fuller red wine around the campfire, go for it. 

Again, be careful with bottles—do not take them on the beach unless you have a carrying case or something like a Vinglace’!  And yes, I have bought box wine for boat trips—and they are just fine for that. 

Also depending on the temperature and if enjoying inside or outside, put a bottle of red in the refrigerator for 10 minutes to chill down a little (optimally between 65 and 70 degrees) so that the heat doesn’t make the alcohol seem so heavy.


Be sure to include any garnish needed like lemons, limes, oranges, cherries, or olives. And if you’d like some easy drink ideas with a limited number of ingredients and able to make non-alcoholic, click HERE!

I hope this has given you some new ideas for your next vacation. If you are coming to Navarre Beach or Pensacola Beach for your next vacation and would like to arrive with all your groceries in the unit, please schedule your delivery as soon as possible.  We look forward to helping you EAT WELL ON VACATION!

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