Cooking on vacation: 4 tips and 3 recipes

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My “joy of cooking” isn’t what I’d consider a pure joy of cooking. I do it to support my healthy lifestyle – to have total control over what I’m putting in my body. Sure, in doing so, I’ve discovered and developed a fascination in making healthy cooking cheap, quick and easy, but I don’t love it so much that I want to spend what little personal time I have in the kitchen – especially while on vacation.

Last month, my husband, Nate, and I went on vacation with my family and stayed in a lovely home in a beautiful, remote lake town, so we ate all of our meals at the house. As I planned for the trip and drafted my grocery list, I found myself facing the following challenges:

  • Not really wanting to cook on vacation.
  • Few grocery stores with limited options at the lake.
  • Cooking in an unfamiliar kitchen with unfamiliar or few gadgets at the rental home.

Vacation is all about striking the perfect balance between fun and relaxation and minimizing the things that we don’t really want to do – which, for me, was spending time in the kitchen instead of being either on the lake or looking at it with my family. Since cooking on vacation was totally new to me, I kicked off the process with what I do best: planning!

I’d like to pass along a few tips that I discovered leading up to and during the vacation:

  1. Plan your meals, and grocery shop in advance. Pack all refrigerated or frozen items in a cooler with lots of ice.
  2. Plan to cook things that require as few kitchen gadgets as possible, and bring those gadgets that you need with you.
  3. Prepare food as much as you can ahead of time without sacrificing freshness.
  4. Make sure that all meals, whether prepared in advance or on site, are low-maintenance!

Note: I was only responsible for shopping for and cooking dinner one night!

Per the challenges and tips listed above, I’m sharing three recipes, each representing one of the following conveniences:

  1. A meal to make ahead of time that travels well.
  2. A meal to fix and forget on site.
  3. A *quick and easy* meal to make on site.

Make Ahead of Time: BBQ Turkey MeatballsIMG_9194

When I say “make ahead of time,” I mean make way ahead of time. The meatballs can last in the freezer for about two months, so, if you’re making them that far in advance, I recommend holding off on making the BBQ sauce until closer to when you plan to enjoy it.

Serves 6


  • BBQ Sauce:
    • 2 cup unsweetened ketchup mixture:
      • 2 Tbsp. water
      • 2 tsp. apple cider vinegar
      • 2-6 oz. cans tomato paste
      • ½ tsp. garlic powder
    • 1 cup molasses
    • 2 Tbsp. Worcestershire sauce
    • 2 Tbsp. Dijon mustard
    • 1 tsp. onion powder
    • 2 Tbsp. hot sauce
  • Meatballs:
    • Cooking spray
    • 1 Tbsp. olive oil
    • 1 white onion, diced
    • 2 garlic cloves, minced
    • ½ cup whole wheat bread crumbs
    • ½ cup unsweetened almondmilk
    • 1.25 lbs. 93 percent lean ground turkey, raw
    • 6 Tbsp. egg whites
    • 1 Tbsp. oregano, dried
    • 3 Tbsp. Parmesan cheese, shredded
    • ¼ cup BBQ sauce
    • Ground black pepper, to taste


BBQ Sauce:

  1. Place all ketchup mixture ingredients in a medium saucepan over medium heat.
  2. Once it starts to simmer, back it off to low so the tomato paste doesn’t burn.


  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.
  2. Line two medium or large baking sheets with aluminum foil, and coat with cooking spray.
  3. Heat oil in nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add onion, and cook for about 5 minutes or until translucent. Add garlic, and cook for another minute or two.
  4. Mix bread crumbs and almondmilk in a small bowl, and set aside.
  5. Combine onion/garlic mixture, turkey, egg whites, oregano, Parmesan cheese,¼ cup of the BBQ sauce, and add bread crumb and almondmilk mixture. Once mixed thoroughly, place in the refrigerator for an hour.
  6. Form turkey into about 35 1-inch balls, and place on lined baking sheet.
  7. Bake for about 20 minutes. Roll them over, and bake for another 5. Remove from oven to cool.
  8. Once cool, place in two gallon-size zip freezer plastic bags, and freeze for up to two months.
  9. When you’re ready to eat them, place them in a large pot with just enough water to cover the bottom of the pot in order to thaw the meatballs, and simmer over medium-high heat. Once thawed, add the BBQ sauce.

Fix and Forget: Pulled Chicken Ranch Lettuce WrapsIMG_9198

Serves 6


  • 1.25 lbs. or two chicken breasts
  • 2 cups water
  • ½ cup nonfat plain Greek yogurt
  • ½ tsp. Dijon mustard
  • ¼ cup unsweetened almondmilk
  • ¼ tsp.+ ground black pepper, divided
  • 1 tsp. garlic powder, divided
  • 1 tsp. onion powder, divided
  • ½ tsp. chili powder
  • ½ tsp. paprika
  • ¼ tsp. red pepper flakes
  • ¼ tsp. oregano
  • ¼ tsp. cumin
  • 2 cups reduced-fat cheddar cheese, shredded
  • 2 plum tomatoes, seeded and chopped
  • 1 bunch scallions
  • Cilantro, to taste
  • 18 leaves of Bibb or Romaine lettuce


  1. Place chicken breasts in a crockpot liner, forming an even later, and pour in water. Cook on high for four hours or low for eight hours.
  2. Ranch dressing: In a small bowl, mix the yogurt, Dijon mustard, almondmilk and ½ tsp. of the garlic powder and ½ tsp of the onion powder, and add some ground black pepper to taste. Cover and place in the refrigerator.
  3. Taco seasoning: In a small bowl, mix the remaining ½ tsp. garlic powder and ½ tsp. onion powder and ¼ tsp. ground black pepper with the chili powder, red pepper flakes, oregano, paprika and cumin.
  4. Once chicken is cooked, transfer to a separate dish, and shred with two forks. Mix in taco seasoning.
  5. Divide the lettuce leaves among six plates, and place the pulled chicken on top of the leaves. Then drizzle with ranch dressing and other toppings.

On-Site: Baked Tilapia with Georgialina SalsaIMG_9200

Augusta is right on the border of Georgia and South Carolina, so this area is often referred to as “Georgialina.” Since the state fruit of both states is the peach and the pineapple serves as a symbol of hospitality and friendship – two wonderful things – in South Carolina, I thought it would be perfect to make salsa with both fruits! The peach and pineapple are very sweet, but the combination of shallot, jalapeno, lime juice, cilantro and garlic cuts the sweetness. Together, they make a rather refreshing combination!

Serves 6


  • 1 peach, ripe, peeled and diced
  • 1 cup pineapple, diced
  • 1 shallot, finely diced
  • Your choice of one of the following peppers:
    • 1 jalapeno, seeded, deveined and finely diced
    • 1 red or green bell pepper, seeded, deveined and finely diced
  • 2 Tbsp. lime juice
  • ¼ cup cilantro, chopped
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 6 tilapia fillets
  • Olive oil


  1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit.
  2. Place all ingredients – except for the tilapia and olive oil! – into a food processor, and pulse about 10 times or until the pieces are diced small and mixed.
  3. Transfer mixture into a bowl, cover and place in the fridge for about an hour so the sweet and spicy flavors have the opportunity to blend.
  4. After the salsa has been marinating for at least 45 minutes, lightly coat pan with olive oil. Place the tilapia on the pan, and flip them a couple of times to lightly coat them with oil. Bake for 15 minutes.
  5. Remove tilapia from oven. Once cool, divide among six plates, and top each fillet with salsa.


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