Taking Freezer Meals on Vacation to Save Money on Food

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Hitting the road? Plan on taking freezer meals on vacation with you to save money on food costs. You’ll eat well without breaking the bank.

Freezer Meals on Vacation | Life as Mom

Cheese Enchiladas

The activity, hot weather, and entertainment factor of summertime can wreak havoc on one’s grocery budget. How can summer fun affect your food costs, you say?

In summertime we venture out and about more often; we have more random schedules than the rest of the year; we tend to avoid hot kitchens and want someone else to do the cooking. And the justification factor of “it’s summertime,” can lead us to spend more than we might otherwise spend.

Whether it’s the temptation of the drive-thru after a long day at the zoo or the high price of food at the  baseball field, we can find ourselves spending more money on food than we do during the more hum-drum days of the year.

Furthermore, summer travel can take a big bite out of our funds. Between transportation and lodging costs, vacation spending can escalate before we know it. And eating out at restaurants and fast food joints will jack that bill even higher.

One way to offset these costs is to take freezer meals on vacation with you.

Have Lasagna, Will Travel

Freezer meals have served me not only at home, but also away. When we go to the grandparents, I pack several meals to share during our visit. Not only does it ensure food I know my kids will eat, but it also allows us to make the load a little lighter on Gramma, particularly when we arrive on a Friday night and she’s fighting traffic to get home from work.

It’s been so fun to spend the afternoon with Grampa, pop a lasagna and garlic bread in the oven, toss a salad, and set a nice table for her to come home to. Even though I’m a guest, I get to pamper my hostess at least once during our visit.

Freezer Meals on Vacation | Life as Mom

Fresh Basil and Garlic Chive Lasagne

I’ve even packed freezer meals on full vacation-vacations as well. A few months ago we took a trip to Mammoth. Since we had reserved a condo with a fully equipped kitchen, I grabbed an assortment of meals from my freezer and packed those in the cooler.

Not only did we avoid wasting money on restaurant food we might not have liked, but we also saved a bundle of money. For the two days that we were away, we would have eaten six meals at a restaurant. This could have cost our family anywhere from $120 to $300.

Even if I had bought groceries at the local market, I would have paid a lot more for food than I would have at home. Packing food allowed me to tailor our meals to our tastes as well as our budget. Since my youngest has severe nut allergies, I could affordably make sure that all her meals were safe.

We’ve had too many bad tourist attraction meals over the years. And unfortunately, you don’t always get what you pay for.

By packing our own freezer meals on vacation, we eat like kings and didn’t feel guilty about it. Plus, the money we save on food justifies the little extra we might pay for more deluxe accommodations, a pleasure I would gladly pay for again and again.

Freezer Meals on Vacation | Life as Mom

Make Ahead Breakfast Ideas Your Kids Will Love

Taking Freezer Meals on Vacation

Wondering what you should pack on your next trip? Think about what’s quick, easy, and possibly a “one dish dinner.” You want to enjoy whatever it is you’re doing on vacation, so you probably don’t want to spend a lot of time preparing meals — unless, of course, that is what you love to do.

You may be limited on kitchen resources, depending on your accommodations, so choosing easy meals is a good call. And an “all-in-one” dinner can cover all your bases without a lot of work. Serving bread, fruit, and a salad on the side is easy to pull off wherever you roam.

Here’s a list of make ahead and/or freezer friendly foods that have served us well over the years:




How do YOU eat well and spend less on the road?

Originally published June 21, 2011. Updated May 12, 2017.

Freezer Meals on Vacation | Life as Mom

About Jessica Fisher

I believe you can get great meals on the table -- and still keep that pretty smile on your face.

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  1. Jennie says:

    For full vacations, how long will the frozen food stay frozen? How should I pack my cooler? I’d read dry ice somewhere but that seems like a lot of extra work.


    • @Jennie,
      We’re taking a vacation 4 hours away, I pack our freezer food (marinated chicken, burritos etc). deep in ice and stick it in the freezer when I get there. I thaw throughout the week according to the menu. Solid frozen food will last a good while if it’s packed tightly.

    • Jessica Fisher says:

      @Jennie, the length of time depends on what facilities you have to store it when you get there. We’ve never gone for more than a few days, so I just put them in the refrigerator when I get there.

      As for packing, my stuff stays frozen for so long, I don’t really worry about it thawing before we get there. That has never happened in the standard cooler.

  2. Lori F. says:

    So true! I’m already planning our trip to the beach with extended family next month. My niece and my own sons requested my spaghetti for one night’s meal. I’ll make the sauce at home and freeze it then seal it in FoodSaver bags. I’ll buy the pasta here on sale and bake my own bread. The only thing to buy will be fresh salad greens and fruit for dessert. Our night to host dinner will be easy-peasy (and inexpensive) thanks to some advance planning. :=)
    I’m also packing laundry/cleaning/paper products for our beach house from my stockpile. Less shopping once we get there and we won’t break the budget.

  3. Love the article!!

    The last time we went on a family vacation for any extended period of time was a few years ago to the beach. We rented a house, had a full kitchen and a outside grill. It was awesome with small kids!! We were there for a week and the way we worked it was to have breakfast and lunch either at the house or packed along to the beach. We ate dinner a couple nights at home and then a couple nights out at a restaurant. After all we are seafood lovers and we were at the beach. Cooking at the rental house and bringing snacks and such from home really saved us!! We were able to stay within our food budget and got to eat out a bit too and not have to worry about feeling deprived of the vacation experience!!

    • Jessica Fisher says:

      @Dana, absolutely dine out if you know it’s good! And the money you save eating in on some nights helps ya feel better about spending when ya go out.

  4. I use this same strategy!!! I like to make a pan of frozen chicken. I clean the chicken, sprinkle it with spices, put it in an aluminum pan, and pop it in the freezer. When we’re on vacation, I leave it in the freezer till the night before we’re going to eat it. I defrost it in the fridge overnight and then bake at 350 for 1 hour. If I have a few potatoes I throw those in the oven for a quick side dish of baked potatoes. A perfectly satisfying dinner.

  5. That does make sense when I think about it. Make a good meal, freeze it, defrost it to wherever you’re going. Good looks mama.

  6. I like to bring the crockpot and use the crock pot liners for easy clean up.

    • Jessica Fisher says:

      @Nora, I’ve always been hesitant to do that hotels, but in condos, absolutely. I don’t know why it should matter, though. Hmmm.

  7. We do this all the time! First off we love packing picnics to eat at rest stops along the way . . . doing what we consider “fancier” sandwiches like egg salad or chicken salad, fresh fruit, perhaps a chocolate cake–we really try to make it a special kind of picnic. And then once we reach our hotel we make use of our itty bitty microwave and heat up stuff like shredded bbq chicken (or pork), taco meat for softshell tacos or taco salad–all things I have premade and frozen to limit the eating out. For a family of seven this saves us a lot of money!

  8. We did this last year when we went to Disney World. We stayed at a condo with a full kitchen so I packed our coolers with our freezer meals and put them straight into the freezer when we got there. Super easy! We took pre-cooked taco meat, granola bars, dump meals for the crockpot, and took a whole chicken to cook in the crockpot. It was good!

  9. We must be on the same wave length b/c I’m talking about the same saving money by taking freezer food on the road too. I just did a post on freezer cooking and camping and vacation in my Tasty Travels series. I love saving money on food and spending it on the FUN stuff.

  10. Jess says:

    This may sound stupid, but I noticed that you freeze marinated cooked chicken. How do you thaw/re-heat it?

    • Jessica Fisher says:

      The chicken is usually uncooked and frozen in the marinade. It marinates as it thaws. I have frozen extra grilled chicken as well that we’ve used on salads.

  11. I have taken freezer meals to grandma’s too! Several of us are dairy intolerant, so it was helpful to bring our own food, and my mom got a break.

    When we go on vacation, we often take our slow cooker. Last year I browned up a pound of beef, brought it with us in a cooler and just added manwich at the hotel. It simmered in the crockpot while we were away, and we came back to the hotel and had sloppy joes.

  12. i love making freezer meals too. my aunt and uncle fly down to visit us about 4 times a year. they stay in a condo on the beach. they always barrow my electric skillet and a good knife. those condo kitchens don’t really come with kitchen stuff that is usable for “real” cooking. so if you visit family try that! it might help :0)

  13. Lyjing says:

    I have been looking everywhere for those foil pans with a flat lid that wraps around the pan. The only lids I can seem to find are plastic and poke up quite a bit from the top of the pan. Any suggestions on where I can get those?

    • Jessica Fisher says:

      I found mine at Smart and Final, but I’ve also found them online. Someone else told me that Sam’s sells them.

  14. Great idea- Thanks for the tip!

  15. This is such a great idea! We vacation at a condo for a week every summer and I usually pack all our food for the week, but usually just the ingredients, then I have to make it. To have it made already and just have to thaw and eat would be so much easier!! Thanks! I just found your site and I’m enjoying it immensely!

  16. I love make ahead meals for vacation!! One of my faves is to marinate chicken, and freeze then once you get to your condo or set up camp you just let it thaw and grill. I normally cheat when camping and bring instant rice and then spice it up with broth and spices. Grilled marinated chicken, grilled onions and peppers over kicked up rice= awesome dinner either while in a condo or at the campground!!!

  17. FYI: The link to ‘beat this lasagna’ goes here http://www.babyzone.com/mom/ instead, doesn’t look right to me…

  18. Katrina says:

    I am curious as to how you pack your coolers. I am interested in taking freezer meals for our upcoming beach trip but worry about the ice melting and ruining the food. Do you pack them in ice and how do you wrap your meals? We will be traveling for 8-10 hours. Thanks for any tips!

    • We haven’t done it in the middle of summer, but when we’ve done it in winter (with the heater running in the car) we’ve loaded the frozen casseroles in the cooler with only a layer of ice over the top and they’ve been rock hard when we arrived 8 hours later.

      • Katrina says:

        Good to know. To you just pack your meals in foil pans with foil on top or ziplock bags?

        • Or I use glass dishes with plastic lids. Depends on where we’re going and how my freezer cooking session went down. Lasagna freezes pretty rock solid, you know? Things in ziptop bags thaw more quickly so I often place those in a plastic food box and pack with ice.

        • Ann says:

          I don’t use loose or bagged ice. Freeze up half gallon plastic milk jugs, the thawed water stays in the jug, not all over your cooler.

  19. Kristal says:

    Has anyone did freezer meals and used the hotel microwaves to reheat in? We are going on vacation in a couple weeks for a week and to save us money I am thinking of freezing meals to take along. i know i can do taco meat and pulled bbq pork…has anyone ever did Chicken alfredo? with the noodles frozen in with everything else? I was thinking this could be a good go to meal but i have never frozen it and then ate it. We are staying in a hotel for the week and im looking for recipes of stuff that i can reheat in the hotel microwave. Will not have a kitchen and don’t want to eat out the whole time we are there.

  20. Kandi says:

    Anyone ever thought of freezing your water bottles that most of us take with us and use those in place of ice in the cooler? I know we’ve done this before and it worked very well for those long road trips where melting ice may be a factor. Try it! No mess, no fuss and your water is cold when you get to your destination and your food is still frozen;)

    • We usually do this when we’re overseas since it’s tough to find gel packs in Europe. Works like a charm and the bottles fit in those miniscule apartment rental refrigerators.

  21. Kim in az says:

    I’m curious – since you have updated this past – has anyone had luck doing vacation meals like this and taking an instant pot pressure cooker to cook the meals? I would think the speed of pressure cooking would be ideal for hotels without kitchenettes

  22. We do this all the time too! My mother-in-law always thinks I’m crazy but I don’t want to spend all my husband’s hard earned money eating out.

  23. Just last week, we planned grocery trips to make sure we were eating Real Food, Real Cheap on a long drive and cabin stay, and the planning paid off! We spent right at $180 on ten days of road snacks and three meals a day for two adults and three children; two breakfasts and dinners, we hosted extended family (20 aunts, uncles, and cousins). My three pickiest niblings (children of siblings) even ate curry and naan for the first time, and loved it. We were able to accommodate food allergies and preferences, and the happiness on one teenage niece’s face when I responded to her hesitant, “What should I avoid if I need to skip dairy and gluten?” with “Everything is dairy-free AND gluten-free–help yourself!” was just awesome. I got to be Best Auntie Ever. 😀

    “Home Food” on the road is just basically awesome.

  24. We will be leaving on a camping trip on a Friday along with a large group of friends. Wondering if I make burritos ahead of time and freeze them after individually wrapping them in aluminium foil and sealing them in ziploc bags? On the Friday that we leave can I shift them to a freezer box with ice at the bottom and top of box and use the burritos on Saturday for dinner ? Do you think they will stay frozen without getting soggy for almost over 24 hours? Please suggest. Thanks.

    • I think they “might” get soggy by Saturday night, at least the tortillas. I usually reheat these from frozen. I recall thawing over night once and they were okay because the deli papers I wrap them in soaked up some of the moisture. Not sure how they will do with aluminum foil. Might want to make one today and try the experiment at home before you go.

  25. Lynette says:

    We’ve been going to Disneyland for years – the six of us, my parents, and sometimes my brother. All 9 of us in one big suite style room that’s across from the park. We drive there, so we can bring a lot with us. A number of years back I figured out that we spent so much in food it was crazy, so I budgeted us to only eat at McDonalds every day (of course we were savy enough by then to know to bring our own breakfast in the room before the park) It still ended up being a fortune and we got tired of fast food – even with coupons. The last trip Mom and I decided on crock-potting at least one meal a day, and one meal – could be fancy in the park or McD’s – out. We still spent a lot, and just were underwhelmed with all of the food we ate out. The part we loved was the crockpotted meals in the room. This next time we go, we are doubling up on the crockpots and meals in the hotel and only splurge on a couple meals out – and while driving (from Colorado) there. There is nothing better than spending an entire morning in Disney, and then coming back for a break with a hot meal in the crock waiting for you. We’ll start another easy short meal that can heat up in a couple of hours while we take our rest, eat and then head back into the park for an evening of fun again. Best way to travel, hands down.

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