Hello my lovely readers! I am back from the last of my summer vacations and in the process of making my way through a pile of laundry and unpacking from a week away. It was well worth it though. We spent the week up north at a cottage with a big group of friends and their kids – amazing weather, wonderful company and delicious food.
I am feeling refreshed and happy, and best of all, healthy! Surprised? Cottage eating can cause stress. People assume there is a trade-off – either spend a large part of your vacation in the kitchen, or resort to quick and easy meals (which usually involves a lot of hamburgers, hot dogs, chips and other processed foods).
I think you can have it both ways! You can eat lots of Real Food so that you come back feeling great, without taking too much time out of your sunbathing/swimming/boating/building sandcastles/having campfires or whatever else it is you like to at the cottage. All it takes is a little pre-planning.
I’ve been to four cottages this summer and I have come up with a great system for making sure I’m still eating pretty healthy while enjoying vacation time with family and friends. Here are my key factors in Eating Healthy at the Cottage:
Make a Meal Plan
The first step in Eating Healthy at the Cottage is to make a meal plan. This is something I do every week anyways, but it is even more important when cottaging as people typically buy the groceries ahead of time and/or bring food from home.
I know what you’re thinking. You don’t want things too “structured” while on vacation. Don’t worry, you don’t need to plan every single meal. For a week at the cottage, I would suggest you make a rough plan with 2 different breakfasts, 3 lunches and 3-4 dinners plus snacks. This gives you something to work with in terms of preparing ahead, but also the flexibility to play things by ear when you are up there (i.e. heading into town for lunch, or sleeping in and skipping breakfast). If you have kids, try to make meals that they can eat too or plan a few separate meals for them. Having meals ideas ready ahead of time means you won’t be standing in the grocery store trying to decide what to buy – which is a recipe for disaster.
Once you’ve finished the meal plan, write out a grocery list with every single ingredient you will need for all of your pre-planned meals. If you already have an ingredient at home, set it aside or make a separate list of what to bring from home when packing.
You will want to pick up all the non-perishables before you go, plus any items for dishes that you plan on preparing ahead of time (see below). Remember – grocery stores in small towns are often more expensive and have limited selection. Plus, they are always really crowded – especially on weekends. The more you can get done ahead of time, the sooner you will be sitting on the dock reading a book.
Prepare Food Ahead
This is the step that most people skip, but I think it is the most important. I know packing and cooking the week before the cottage it seems too hectic, but it is SO worth it. Think of it this way, would you rather be cooking when you are on vacation, or when you are not on vacation? I think the answer is obvious.
The best things to prepare ahead are breakfast, lunch and snack items. Most people expect that they will be cooking a big dinner (and even enjoy doing it) but it’s really nice to have easy and ready to grab food to eat during the rest of the day.
Typically, I try to prepare the following before heading to the cottage:
- 1 breakfast item: a big batch of homemade granola, some breakfast bars or muffins, mini Quiche (store in freezer), oatmeal muesli mix (pre-mix oats with nuts, seeds and dried fruit so all you have to do is add water or milk and cook), or layered yoghurt cups with fruit and nuts.
- 2 lunch items: a quinoa salad of some sort with lots of veggies (keeps well and is an easy and complete lunch), roasted chickpeas or pre-cooked fish or chicken portions (store in freezer) to throw on salads, overnight kale salad, some sort of soup, tuna or egg salad filling, pre-chopped or shredded vegetables to put on salads or wraps, a lasagna or other casserole.
- 2-3 snack items (see below)
For Tyson, I prepare a few of the following:
- Steamed and frozen veggies – broccoli, turnip, cauliflower, green beans, beets, sweet potatoes etc.
- Cooked beans and shrimp.
- Some lunch/dinner options, individually portioned and frozen. For example, frozen Vegetable Fritters, or a curry, chill or casserole or some sort. For this past week I made this Chicken, Tomato and Olive Casserole with rice and brought 3 servings of it for Tyson.
- Some sort snack, like Healthy Snack Cookies.
Bring Healthy Snacks
Being on vacation usually means that schedules are thrown out the window, and you are just living moment to moment. I find that sometimes instead of 3 big meals, we are snacking a lot throughout the day. That is why it is super important to have lots of easy to grab snacks for both you and the kids.
I bring a lot of the same healthy snacks that I eat at home, plus a few packaged snacks that are on the healthier side (organic tortilla chips, Lara Bars etc), and I make sure to make a couple of items ahead of time, such as:
- Homemade bean dip or hummus with pre-cut and washed veggies
- Energy bars
- Homemade granola
- Premixed trail mix
Indulge More than Usual….you are on vacation after all!
All of this however, brings me to my last point – don’t forget that you are on vacation! Yes, some pre-planning goes a long way in terms of eating healthy while cottaging, but you shouldn’t feel guilty for indulging in some less-than-healthy foods as well.
I certainly don’t eat healthy at all times. I typically try to live by the 80-20 rule – eating Real Food 80% of the time, and the other 20% of the time I don’t worry about those dinners out and occasional treats. Real Food is SO delicious so I don’t feel like I’m depriving myself and I need to “cheat”. It’s usually lack of time that is the big factor for me in eating out or eating processed foods to pull meals together more quickly.
However, when I’m on vacation that ratio is more like 60-40. As a rule of thumb, I eat a healthy, nutrient-filled breakfast and lunch full of lots of healthy protein, vegetables and fruits. That way, it balances out a heavy dinner that may be lacking in vegetables, happy hour appetizers, a fire-roasted marshmallow and perhaps one or two cocktails throughout the day Eating some Real Food is a whole lot better than eating no Real Food so any effort you make to stay on track is helpful and will help you to come home feeling healthy, not heavy. Even Tyson enjoyed the food at the cottage!
Just a few other tips for planning cottage meals:
- If you are cottaging with multiple people or families, why not divide up meals between the families? This means less cooking for everyone, and some creative and yummy meals. We did this at our cottage this past week and the menu each night was outstanding. Jon and I decided to make a vegetarian chili with all the toppings, with corn, salad and garlic bread on the side. It was a hit, and there were lots of leftovers for the kids to eat for the rest of the week.
- On a similar note, if you are travelling with multiple families, have each family bring a pre-made items for kids lunches and dinners. On some nights, we did a “buffet” style dinner where we all added a few items and the kids could pick what they wanted – everything from steamed veggies, shrimp, beans and avocado to homemade corn fritters, tuna calzones and quesadillas. Luckily, all the moms on the trip liked to feed their kids lots of Real Food so it worked out well.
- Plan to stop at a local fruit and vegetable stand along the way for fresh, local produce. When the vegetables taste amazing, you are more likely to eat them.
- Make sure to print out any of the recipes you will be making ahead of time. That way you have a reference if there is no internet or your phone does not get a signal.
As I finished writing this I realized that most people are probably finished with cottaging for the summer (boo!) However, hopefully this will give you some inspiration for next summer – and of course I will post it again when cottage season rolls around again next year. Only 10 months to go!
What are your strategies for healthy (and quick) eating at the cottage?