For many people, grocery shopping is Decision Overload. Here are just a few of the decisions:
Where to Shop? Online? Store? Which Brand—National Chains (Walmart, Target), Local Chains (Kroger, Publix, Trader Joes) or Discount Chain (Aldi’s, Win-Co)?
How frequent? Daily? Weekly? Monthly? As Needed?
Fresh or Frozen? Organic? Non-GMO? Brown or White Eggs? Fat-Free or Whole Milk? Low Carb? High Protein? Processed? Whole Grain? Kosher?
And the average grocery store has over 50,000 products on its shelves today (compared to only 7000 in the 90s)! That’s a lot of choices! It is easy to see why FOOD has become the 3rd largest expenditure of a family’s budget, just behind shelter and transportation.
The USDA has 4 Food Plans with estimated per month spending. These totals are for a Family of 4 (male, female, 2 children under age 11). Updated for Sept 2021
Thrifty (SNAP program recipients)
How does this compare to your family’s monthly grocery bill?
Some things to consider if you want to cut back on your spending…
Waste Less and Less Waist:
Meat and Fresh Produce are the most common food products tossed out. Keep produce in bins (high humidity for more veggies and low humidity for most fruits). Put meat on the bottom shelf to stay colder (heat rises even in a refrigerator and the door is the warmest). Tupperware Fridgesmart containers are amazing!
Michael Pollan points out in his book “Omnivore’s Dilemma” that we have become a nation obsessed with Cooking Competition Shows while at the same time, spending less time in the kitchen actually cooking. A HEALTHY EATING PLATE is ½ plate of Fruit & Veggies, ¼ plate of Whole Grain, and ¼ plate of Healthy Protein.
Sorry, but we don’t need bread and butter, or biscuit and gravy at dinner like Grandpa always had. He did a lot more physical labor than most of us do today!
Tip: Start with Family Favorites! Most families have between 7 and 10 regular meals they make. These are the easy Go-To meals. You will typically have the ingredients on hand or at least can shop quickly for the ingredients.
Portion Control AT the STORE
Buy chips in small single servings—they will be fresh when you open, you can get more variety, and you won’t have a ¼ bag that goes stale and must be tossed out. Other portion control items are small single-serving sodas or juices, smaller frozen vegetables, even Boil in a Bag Rice limits how much you make at one time.
Cook for Double Duty
Grill both Chicken and Steak. Immediately put grilled Chicken in the refrigerator to use the next night. Brown both ground beef and ground turkey and put ½ of the mixture in the freezer to use later.
Check your Inventory–Pantry, Freezer, and Refrigerator
Take an inventory before heading to the store.
Check your calendar
If you have a dinner date or an after-hours event you may not need to cook. And remember that most restaurant servings are LARGE, so get a “To Go Box” and take some home to brown-bag for lunch the next day.
If you are hosting a get-together at your house, you may need to add a few items to your shopping list. And be creative with any leftovers or extra ingredients! Just make sure items did not sit out too long and reach an unsafe temperature.
Fresh items FIRST
Produce like Avocados, Pears, even Bananas are often too “green” when you first bring them home, but in just a few days they are “perfect” and in a few more they are “past ripe”. These items need to be used first and frozen items later.
One of my first blog articles (November 2018) was titled Holiday Planning: Menus, Rooms, and Entertainment Ideas. It came from a week of Facebook posts in 2017 where I broke down each area and provided tips for each day leading up to Thanksgiving. Another post was about Social Gatherings in a Physically Distant World (2020). This article is a merging of ideas from both of those articles.
I’ve written several blog articles about event planning, holiday planning, meal planning, and travel tips, yet due to the continuing pandemic of COVID-19, I feel I need to share some ideas you can use to entertain family, friends, co-workers all while preventing the spread of the virus. The reason I think we still need to take extra precautions is no one plans to infect another person and since we are seeing breakthrough cases, why not take a few easy steps to prevent or limit the spread?
We have learned that Sanitation, Ventilation, Individualization, and Communication are most effective to stop the spread. And like in my article about Restaurant tips for your home kitchen I will share ideas for how you can adjust your home entertaining from lessons learned at restaurants, hotels, airlines, and classrooms.
Communication may be the most important aspect of the planning process this year. Let’s use the airline industry as an example. Airlines and other travel industry companies are looking at how they can build consumer confidence so they can get their bookings and revenue back up. Much of what they are doing is informing and communicating the steps they are taking to clean and sanitize their planes, their rooms, and their parks. (Each airline and hotel chain has published their new cleaning protocol on their websites. Please visit before booking your rooms or flights.)
Honestly, some of these steps probably needed to be done before (like wiping off tray tables between flights) yet when the consumer did not require it, the airlines did not spend the time or resources to do it. Now to build consumer confidence back, the airlines are not only taking the time to wipe down every tray table and to sanitize restrooms, overhead bins, and other high touch areas but they are making sure that you know about these extra steps.
In my article about traveling after COVID-19, I said to do a HEALTH CHECK before traveling. Just like you make a disaster preparedness plan, make a travel plan, and let your family know your plans. Communicate your expectations to anyone coming into your home and ask about preparations for anywhere you are traveling to. If you are protecting your elderly mother or little children, you need to know that everyone is practicing steps that also protect them.
SANITATION of surfaces frequently and especially in the kitchen area. The first stop when anyone comes into the kitchen for anything should be the SINK to wash hands or a least a quick squirt of sanitizer. Before opening a refrigerator for milk or juice, before pouring a cup of coffee, before grabbing a muffin or cinnamon roll, wash your hands. And then after eating, wash your hands again. If in doubt, WASH YOUR HANDS AGAIN. This also helps with other viruses like the flu!
If you have been to a doctor’s office or school classroom you see frequent wiping of surfaces. Practice the same steps at home. Buy extra Lysol wipes and use them frequently on countertops, light switches, faucets, and handles, charging stations/plugs and remotes, or game controllers. Wipe off things you bring inside after trips to the store. Set up a “drop area”, preferably not the kitchen counter or dining table.
Anything that is touched by several people. Wipe it off at the end of every day.
Ventilation of rooms is going to be determined by the weather. If you can move some of your activities outside or at least to the patio, garage, or carport, the better the ventilation will be. More ideas about this later in the article.
Individualization is being practiced by more and more businesses in everything from disposable items to changes in packaging. Sanitation and Individualization are co-dependent. If everyone washes their hands before coming to the table then touching the same serving spoon isn’t as much of a concern! But if everyone is eating chips and salsa or popcorn from the same bag or bowl, then you have hands and mouth close by and the chances for the spread of germs (FLU, Colds, Pink eye) and diseases are much greater.
Taking the 2018 article apart by sections I will make specific suggestions for adjustments to today’s new normal.
Food & Beverages
Meals: Simplify, Simplify, Simplify. Instead of one GIANT meal, plan for 2 or 3 smaller meals. You can still fix all the items you normally do, but just don’t fix them all at the same time.
Split up the GIANT meal into smaller meals like:
Turkey and Dressing with Gravy, Green Beans, Cranberry Sauce
Ham, Mashed Potatoes or Sweet Potatoes, Broccoli, Jello Salad, or Fruit Salad
Large meals like this are hard to INDIVIDUALIZE—you can put some of the side items in small bowls or ramekins, and you can have one person serve or dish the food onto clean plates. But once you put leftovers back in the refrigerator, you increase the chance of multiple persons touching and contaminating the dish and possibly spreading germs. There is less risk if all of the food is consumed at one time. And also less risk if everyone is washing hands before opening the fridge!!!
Snack items: INDIVIDUAL SERVINGS. Here you can get creative and even use holiday decorating ideas to make these items more fun. Check out Pinterest for ideas—that’s where I always go for inspiration/ideas.
Mixed Nuts, Snack Mix, Chips: Buy large bags and then put in small bags with colorful ribbons and tags. Put small bags in a large basket and set out for “self-serve”.
Beverages: Again think smaller sized, individual servings. Instead of “handles” 1.5L of liquors and 2 L sodas, you want to go to “minis”.
I know these can be more expensive and more waste, but when the priority is to stop the spread of germs, you must reduce the number of times a container is touched.
For example, a 2 L bottle of coke. You will get 4 – 8 oz servings or if using for cocktails, you could get as many as 8 – 4 oz servings out of each bottle. That could be 8 different people picking up the bottle. Whereas, if you get the small cans, they are a “one and done” solution!
Other beverages like beer are easy—they are already single-serving cans or bottles.
I know that many restaurants were selling small bottles of liquor during the pandemic (375 ml) as part of their To Go Menus. This may be an option for your holidays or even purchasing the airplane minis. Again, get creative and decorate the bottles with name tags or use colorful ribbons. As crazy as it may sound, why not buy each person their own bottle, and label it. Or have them BYOB, and no sharing!
Wine is going to have 4 to 5 servings per bottle depending on the size of glass, and FYI-a 12 oz can of wine is 2 servings (6 oz = 1 serving) or there is the option of the 4 pack minis (not a good tasting option, but an option).
If you can’t go to single servings, then have sanitizer wipes available to wipe bottles and countertops often. And it never hurts to, WASH YOUR HANDS AGAIN.
Rooms in the Home
If you have traveled during the past 18 months you have noticed that hotels and vacation rentals have all removed “extra” bedding. No more do you have comforters and throw pillows on beds. You also will not find pens, paper pads, or magazines in the rooms. Whether or not you choose to remove these from your guest room is up to you. You could make a “care pack” for your family with a small water bottle, notepad, pen, toiletries, and even a phone charger and put it all in a gift bag with a note tag that has the WIFI password on it. They will think you are very thoughtful, and you can rest easy knowing that will have what they need and not be rummaging around in your “junk drawer” or grabbing one of the chargers from the hall table.
As I mentioned in the post in 2018, if you are converting a kid’s room to a guest room you have to deal with the kid’s STINK factor. Every piece of bedding down to the mattress pad and pillow covers needs to get a washing. If your washer has an extra rinse option when using fabric softener, I encourage you to use it. If your guest room hasn’t been used in a while, it is also a nice idea to freshen up the sheets with a wash or at least a spray of Fabreze.
Do you have small quilts, blankets, and throws? Be sure all of them are washed before your family and friends arrive and then have each person pick one that is theirs to keep for the entire visit. I know cuddling up with one on the couch is a great way to spend the afternoon, and again we don’t know how long the virus can survive outside of the body so try and keep each person’s blanket to themselves and wash them all again when the family leaves.
Plan to use extras. Just like at a buffet, food can only be placed on clean plates. If you are going back for second servings, then get a fresh plate. Why? You’ve just eaten off that plate. You have transferred saliva to the plate. And now if a serving spoon touches it, then your saliva is now on the serving spoon and in contact with the serving dish and any remaining servings of food (YUCK!)
Many restaurants have gone to plastic ware during the pandemic. If you are recycling everything you can, a few extra plastic spoons are not going to overflow the trash can, truck, or landfill. Again, taking the lead from restaurants, space your seating out whenever possible, and move outside if possible.
If you are going to use “real” plates, glasses, silverware, be sure that your food preparation area is separate from your cleaning area. Restaurants never have the dish room by the food prep. You don’t want dirty dishes stacked up in the sink when you get ready to wash fruits and vegetables.
Here’s a tip from my “catering manager” days—set up an area just off the kitchen/dining room where dirty dishes can be taken, food scraped off, and the dishes stacked in tubs. Then once the meal is complete and all food items have been stored properly, you can bring the dirty dishes into the kitchen to wash.
A trend that started with the pandemic was more outside activities to enjoy. I hope the trend continues because it is a more healthy option in many ways. Take walks around the block or find a new neighborhood to walk around. Have a campfire and roast marshmallows for s’ mores. Find a new hiking trail or visit a local zoo, botanical garden, historical site, or state or national park. You can even set up games to play in the garage with the door open—Charades, Pictionary, Texas Hold Em, Dominos. Or do crafts and puzzles in the garage or on the patio. Everyone doesn’t have to be inside all the time with the TV on or their eyes on their phone. Get outside and move!
In the original post, I discouraged talking about POLITICS, SEX, MONEY, AND JOBS. And although these may still be difficult conversations, I hope that we can start to talk more about politics. Not argue, not demonize, not criticize but actually TALK. We don’t need more bullies or mean girls we have plenty of those on the national level.
In our families and with our friends we need to start listening with the intent to understand, not to defend our views. Everyone deserves to have their opinion considered. Because we stopped talking to people with different opinions, we have become more and more polarized and now only get more of the same from social media. Challenge yourself to listen to a different opinion. You may not change your opinion on an issue, but you may have a better understanding of why they feel the way they do.
All of these ideas and suggestions are shared with the hope of keeping all our families and friends healthy this holiday season. If you would like help planning your holiday menus or gatherings, please contact us. And of course, we can shop, deliver and stock all your food and beverages to enjoy the holidays at the beach.
Happy Holidays! Stay Well! Eat Well! Wash your Hands! Be Kind!
Overcoming the current Restaurant Challenge??? How can you eat out when all the restaurants are short-staffed and you know you are going to have to wait an extra-long time for a table? And take-out doesn’t always work either because it’s not as good by the time you get home.
My goal for this article is to give you some ideas of how you can make and enjoy Restaurant Quality Meals in your home using restaurant products you can buy at the grocery store or put on your Grocery Delivery Form and let Grocery Concierge deliver to your vacation beach home!
You may not have noticed, but there are lots of items in the grocery stores now with Restaurant names on them? Everything from Chick Fil A’s Polynesian sauce to Olive Garden’s Italian Dressing, plus lots of frozen products to reheat are now available for you to create some of your favorites.
So where would you like to go to dinner?
Famous House Salad and Bread Sticks. This is easy to replicate at home.
Items needed: Iceberg garden salad mix (in a bag), sliced Red Onion, whole Black Olives, Mild Pepperoncini, sliced Roma Tomatoes, Croutons, and Olive Garden’s Italian Dressing. Toss all items together and sprinkle freshly grated parmesan cheese and black pepper on top! Ta-dah Olive Garden’s House Salad is served.
*I like to add a few extra items like more grated carrots and sliced radishes and sliced cucumber, but if you want to make it feel just like you are at Olive Garden, stick to their list of items.
Garlic Bread Sticks-several varieties can be found in the freezer section and there are several good Marinara sauces available for dipping.
Looking for a soup to add to that salad? Most stores now carry fresh soups from Panera Bread. I know it’s a little like sneaking food in from another restaurant, but I promise not to tell. 😊
For an entrée, you could make an easy Fettuccine Alfredo (multiple canned sauce options) and use either Rotisserie Chicken breast (pull off and slice) or fresh sautéed shrimp. If you do not want to spend time over the stove checking if the pasta is done, cook a frozen lasagna in the oven.
*One reason I like frozen lasagna on vacation is that the hour-plus time it takes to cook is plenty of time for everyone to get showers after being at the beach all day or out hiking, kayaking, fishing, or any other favorite activity.
I immediately think of Lettuce Wraps (the best use of Iceberg lettuce ever!). A few years ago, I found a really good recipe for these online—and easy. The flavor comes from the sesame oil and hoisin sauce.
PF Chang’s also has a salad dressing for sale at the grocery store. Sesame Dressing with a recipe right on the label. And of course, there are frozen appetizers and entrees from PF Chang’s available to purchase and cook at home.
Another option would be to stop by the fresh sushi counter (most grocery stores have these now) and pick up fresh sushi or fresh dumplings to enjoy! And fresh egg rolls are also available in the deli or salad area of the store (check out ones from Van’s kitchen—made in Dallas, TX and sold across the country, a family business, and personal friend)
Navarre and Pensacola Beach have the pleasure of enjoying authentic Cajun cuisine at their 2 restaurants. And many more products are available on their Bayou to Table items. Items like Andouille sausage, Boudin, Boil in Bag entrees, Crawfish pies, and seafood gumbo base.
The first night of vacation can be difficult to plan. Not sure when you will arrive or how hungry you will be but ready to start your vacation. My suggestion…a couple of bags of seafood gumbo and minute maid white rice. All you need is a couple of pots to boil water—drop the bags in and within minutes you have what tastes like a restaurant meal. Of course, the restaurant is going to serve toasted garlic bread with the gumbo, so be sure to purchase either a frozen garlic bread loaf to heat and enjoy or pick up a fresh loaf of French bread from the grocery bakery.
Bar Food from TGI Friday’s or another Local Bar
Playing cards with friends and in the mood for “bar food”? Bar food includes things like Chicken Wings, Potato Skins, Crispy Green Beans, Spinach & Artichoke Dip with pita bread triangles, and Chili’s famous Queso and Chips. I promise you can duplicate these items right at home very easily.
Winn Dixie has a Hot Wings bar with a variety of flavors. Pick up a few of your favorite flavors—add blue cheese dressing or ranch dressing (buy the extra rich stuff in the fresh produce section), fresh carrots, and celery sticks.
TGI Friday has potato skins in the freezer section to heat. Add sour cream and chopped chives for a more authentic taste.
PF Chang’s and Bird’s Eye both have Crispy Green Beans you can reheat in the oven.
You can find fresh Spinach & Artichoke Dip and Fresh Pita bread in the deli section. Heat the dip in either the microwave or spoon into a baking dish to reheat in the oven and cut the pita bread in triangles and heat on a cookie sheet.
Did you know that Chili’s famous Queso is nothing more than Velveeta Cheese with canned Chili (no beans) and a few spices (paprika, cayenne, chili powder, and cumin)? Be sure to serve with thin and crispy tortilla chips or my personal favorite—Fritos Scoops.
I don’t know about you, but the Arby’s Beef & Cheddar has always been a favorite sandwich of mine. I didn’t realize how easy they are to make.
Beef & Cheddar Sandwiches: Warm Onion Rolls, Thin Sliced London Broil Roast Beef, Cheddar sauce (melted American Cheese slices with a little milk to thin and some garlic powder), and Arby Sauce (also known as Catalina Dressing)
Arby’s Curly Fries are available in the freezer section. Without a convection oven, these will take longer to get crispy than the package instructions recommend.
Chick Fil A
I know that you can’t duplicate the Chick Fil A chicken strips, but Tyson Crispy Chicken Strips are rated the best of the frozen products available and when you top them with CFA sauces (found with other condiments in the grocery store), you have something that is pretty close. Of course, you will need, frozen Waffle Fries too from the freezer section. Again, you may have to cook longer to get the really crispy fries like the ones you get from the restaurant. Lightly spraying the fries with Pam or other cooking spray seems to help them get crispier and the salt to stick better.
Although you may just call and order delivery if you want to upgrade your frozen pizza, here are a few ideas.
Other ideas to make your “eat at home” lunch items feel more like eating out:
Use different breads and rolls—instead of typical sandwiches on sliced bread, pick up freshly baked rolls (onion rolls, Hawaiian rolls, or croissants) or try some flavored wraps.
Have lots of toppings—various condiments like spicy brown mustard, or different bottles of ketchup and BBQ sauces also, pick up an oil & vinegar dressing to make it taste just like the deli sandwich! Purchase jars of sliced pepperoncini, and sliced olives, along with fresh pickles (sweet and dill). Enjoy lots of fresh vegetables like spinach, red or green leaf lettuce, red onion, sliced tomatoes, avocados, sprouts, cucumbers, and bell peppers.
Combine all the above with assorted cheeses, various meats, and some bacon and you’ve got the makings of a delicious lunch without leaving home or the vacation home (if you are lucky enough to be enjoying a vacation).
Restaurant items are also available for breakfast (coffees and iced coffees, Krispy Kreme donuts, Cinnabon cinnamon rolls). And you can make yogurt parfaits with vanilla yogurt, fresh berries, and granola (use clear plastic cups for an easy clean-up and to look like the ones from McDonald’s).
In the bakery, you can also find different sliced sweet loaves like banana nut or lemon poppyseed and if you are lucky you may be able to find ready-to-bake quiche as well. Don’t forget to check and see if the bakery is offering fresh bagels or loaves of bread that you can toast and enjoy!
One of my favorite things to make for breakfast reminds me of a trip to San Francisco—a smoked salmon bagel. A toasted plain bagel topped with cream cheese, thin-sliced smoked salmon, fresh chopped red onion, capers, and chopped hard-boiled egg. And if I can enjoy with a glass of champagne, I am immediately transported back to the streets of San Fran!
Finally, let’s talk about dessert! Maybe you are traveling, or you don’t want to bake, but you want something more interesting than just ice cream or Oreo cookies.
Go ahead and start with the best-refrigerated cookie dough: Click Here
Everyone loves hot fresh cookies.
Or you can use fresh items from the bakery in a whole new way—
Strawberry Shortcake is made from glazed donuts. Slice the donut in half, spoon on fresh sliced strawberries (no need for more sugar with the glazed donut), and top with fresh whipped cream (even Reddi Whip will work).
Fresh or Frozen Cheesecake topped with a chopped candy bar, and a drizzle of chocolate and caramel syrup can look just like a dessert from a restaurant (but cost a fraction of the amount!)
If fresh pies are available and in local flavors, I suggest picking up one to enjoy. Of course, Key Lime is always popular in Florida, and then locally the Bushwacker (it’s a very boozy frozen drink from nearby Pensacola) pie is a favorite.
As I mentioned all these items are available in the grocery store—you just need to look for them (or have us look for them for you!). And more items are being developed by the large chains to distribute into the supply chain to help retain customer loyalty as we continue to emerge from the epidemic and the current staffing situation.
If you have a favorite restaurant salad, entrée, or dessert, you may be able to recreate with a little online research to find the recipe and some of the key ingredients at the grocery store.
The concept for Grocery Concierge was based on our travel experiences. I dreamed of checking into our vacation rental unit and seeing the food and beverages we were going to enjoy during the week already in the unit. The idea that vacation could start IMMEDIATELY, not after hours of shopping and unloading, sounded like heaven or at least sounded like a vacation.
As an organizing professional and event planner, I tend to plan EVERYTHING! I make a packing list for every trip-the clothes, the shoes, the jewelry, or accessories I will need. I research area attractions and plan which days to go based on current weather forecasts. And of course, I pre-plan meals and make a grocery shopping list. I created this Vacation Meal Ideas document just for such occasions. I hope you find it helpful as you begin to plan your next vacation.
Having now operated Grocery Concierge in Navarre Beach since July 2019, I am familiar with most family’s grocery lists. During the week most will have Taco Night, Pasta Night, and depending on the type of grill available to them either Burgers or Hot Dogs with Chips or Steaks with Baked Potatoes for Dinner. Lunches are usually Sandwiches, and Frozen Pizzas and Breakfasts include Donuts, Cinnamon Rolls, Bacon & Eggs. PLEASE VISIT MY WEBSITE AND CHECK OUT FREE RESOURCES (under Grocery Delivery). Here are some pages that will help you plan better—Breakfast Ideas, Pasta Night, Taco Night, even Drink Ideas.
1) Consider any special diet needs (food allergies, or major dislikes) of your travel companions. Always be considerate of each other’s needs and be willing to try new foods and flavors.
2) Pre-plan meals so that you can utilize ingredients multiple times. For example, Rotisserie Chicken can be purchased and used to make either Tex Mex entrees (fajitas, quesadilla, tortilla soup) or for Pasta Night (Carbonara, Alfredo). Tortillas can be used for Tex Mex dinners and Breakfast Tacos or as a Sandwich Wrap.
3) If traveling with kids and teenagers, purchase snack foods in the LARGEST containers. The amount of snack items needed on a vacation is often underestimated! Kids get hungry playing on the beach all day and everyone enjoys snacks during games or movies in the evening. COVID precaution: Individually packaged treats are recommended. Take any leftovers in the car for the drive home or put them in your carry-on bags for snacking on the plane.
4) Purchase condiments (mustard, mayo, ketchup, salad dressings) in the smallest size possible to avoid throwing away leftovers at the end of your trip. Sometimes it is hard to find smaller sizes as your personal shopper we are going to consider the number of guests as well as the number of days you are staying. We will make an extra stop at the dollar store for a smaller size so that the couple staying for a long weekend doesn’t have to throw away an almost full bottle of laundry soap.
5) Plan for easy clean-up (YOU’RE ON VACATION)! Paper plates, plastic knives, forks, spoons, and cups mean no one is washing dishes. Foil is great for lining baking sheets, steaming fish, and veggies on the grill or in the oven and you can even crumple some to make a grill cleaner for the public grill by the pool. Plastic wrap or storage bags help to keep foods fresh in the refrigerator. And if you are going to be using a crockpot, purchase the liners and just toss when you are done.
6) Don’t forget the nonperishable items. Most vacation rentals only provide an initial amount and unlike hotels, you can’t just go to the front desk for more. Nonperishables include paper products (TP, Kleenex, paper towels, paper plates, napkins, plastic cups/K, F, S) storage (plastic wrap, foil, ziplock), cleaning (dishwashing soap, laundry detergent) as well as personal care (sunscreen and after-sun lotion, hand soap, shampoo, etc.)
Some families that travel frequently have created a “bin” of these items. Below is a picture of a laundry basket filled with items and you can use our Basic Set-Up List to shop at your local dollar store for small sizes or load with extra items from your home.
If you are flying into your vacation destination, be sure these items are on your shopping list.
7) Check the type of grill available before making your list. If the grill is charcoal, I suggest getting pre-soaked briquettes, plus matches or lighter. If you don’t have a grill you may have to adjust your cooking method (broiling or high heat in the oven) or your items (hot dogs and burgers instead of steaks or grilled chicken).
8) Once you arrive you can check out your unit’s cooking utensils. Look at the size of pots and pans, as well as any baking pans you may need. I mentioned in my last Blog post—Thrift Shopping on Vacation that you can pick up large glass casserole dishes and other kitchen essentials for just a couple of dollars if your vacation rental unit does not have what you need.
9) Vacation always ends too soon, but at least you gained the first day when you used Grocery Concierge. Most rental units have a 10 am check out and your last morning can feel rushed. Depending on your drive time, we’ve seen families leave as early as 5 am. You don’t want to clean out food early in the morning. Plan for this the day before. Keep items that can be used for breakfast (milk, juices, fruit, bread items) or taken for snacks, but try to use up and clean out the rest of the food. If you have unopened nonperishable items, you can request a Donation Pick Up and we return to the unit to remove the items and donate them to our local We Care Food Pantry.
Our best advice is to take some time to review other Blog posts about Vacation Planning on our website.
1 Month in advance: Start researching local attractions and arrange for delivery BEFORE YOU ARRIVE with Grocery Concierge. You’ll appreciate the hours saved as soon as you open the door!
1 Week in advance: Submit your Shopping list and decide which local restaurants you want to support and see if you need to make reservations. While at the beach, I encourage you to visit local restaurants that serve FRESH & IN SEASON seafood and to order some for delivery (only Grocery Concierge can shop local specialty stores for you).
Please support locally owned and operated businesses when you travel. You are helping the local economy and experiencing the culture through the food.
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 months 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 promoteGrocery Conciergeand 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
START YOUR VACATION SOONER!
I encourage you to visit locally owned and operated restaurants. Most chambers offer lists of local restaurants and many locations have visitors’ guides.
In Navarre, you can find information on the Navarre Beach Chamber’s website and membership directory
and our county Tourist Development office puts out a visitor’s guide as well (available in print and online) on its website: https://www.getrelaxing.com/
Also remember, as of today, most restaurants are still only allowed to operate at limited capacity, so you may experience longer wait times. Please be patient and respectful of other diners in terms of physical distancing. Look for ones offering outdoor dining for more open-air options and be sure to follow requirements for shirts or cover-ups, and shoes.
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 speaking of wine, as a Boisset Ambassador I can help you select wine for your vacation, and ship to you. If coming to Navarre, I can receive it and deliver it to you when you arrive.
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.
Day 1 (arrive)
Day 7 (depart)
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 having a plan but also having all the items you need on-hand, you can easily adjust the days as needed due to weather.
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.
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.
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.
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?
Reinvent leftovers and have a “use it up” day built into your plan.
Shop Local & try new things—look for local seafood shops, local produce, and even local spices to use to make your meals more exciting and interesting.
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. Below 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!
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 suggesting 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.
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
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 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?!
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,
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, relish as desire. 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, 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 (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 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
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
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, sliced avocado.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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!
As you already know I am a Boisset Ambassador, and my love of wine goes back many years! 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 that a Texas winery, McPherson Cellars makes an outstanding one. 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 and less earthy than OR ones or go with a Red Blend. 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 on the beach! You may have to pour the bottle into a plastic container to transport to the beach or on the boat. 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. To review and download a sample of the Vacation Menu Planner and a sample of the Long List Grocery Order with the items for the meals on the planner, please click here and see how it all comes together from idea to order form.
If you are coming to Navarre Beach on vacation and would like to arrive and have your groceries in the unit, please contact me and let me know your arrival date. I look forward to helping you EAT WELL ON VACATION!
Have you ever gone to the grocery store hungry and tired? Add in kids or a hungry husband and you are guaranteed to spend $300 or more on that trip!
Have you ever planned on starting a new “diet” and realized you don’t have any of the items listed for the week? And pay day is a week away!
Have you ever started cooking a recipe and realized that you are missing an item? Before calling for Pizza Delivery, check Google. You may be able to find a substitute (Skim Milk + Butter = Heavy Cream)
If restaurants ran their kitchen’s like many of us do, they would not be able to stay in business! Their customers would not be able to order their favorite items from the menu because the chef didn’t have all the ingredients to make that item. Or the food cost would be so high with last-minute deliveries, they couldn’t pay the rent or the employees. So how does a restaurant have what they need to make the items and satisfy both their customers and their budgets?
One tool they use is a PAR sheet. PAR stands for Periodic Automatic Replenishment. In other words, a system to get the items they need when they need them. The major advantage of a system like this is that you can adjust your PAR levels depending on factors like storage, budget, menu changes, and purchase frequency while still having all the ingredients you need on hand to make all of your family’s favorite meals and snacks.
Another tool they use is inventory rotation—using up the oldest items first. FIFO means First In, First Out. There is lots of confusion about “use by” dates and “best by” on food packaging. Use By Dates are related to safety—think meats and prepared salads. Best By (Before) Dates are about quality—food may still be safe to eat just not the best quality. You need to get in the habit of using up the older items first so that you are getting the best quality and keeping your family safe.
Having worked for both a food management company and a restaurant, these tools and practices come almost naturally for me. As I explained in a previous blog post (Menu Planning: System or Style-Feb 5, 2019) I cook almost every meal at home. I rotate our inventory so that meat purchased and frozen in May, is used before meat purchased and frozen in July. And although we have some “family favorites” that I can prepare at any time (just pull some items out of freezer and pantry), I try new preparations and new items depending on the season and availability (fresh fruits and veggies and fresh seafood). What’s the saying…Variety is the Spice of Live!
One of my favorite activities is Meal Planning! I know it sounds crazy, but I love to plan Dinner Parties—just thinking about which foods go well together and of course what wine to serve makes me happy. I will sit on the couch with cookbooks all around me looking for the perfect combinations and imagining how the flavors will complement one another. If this isn’t your favorite activity, please see previous blog post (Holiday Planning-Nov 2018) for some tips or give me a call and we can plan your event together.
Of course, not every meal is a “dinner party”! Lunches are often leftovers either reheated or using the cooked protein on a salad. And breakfast can range from fruit smoothies on the way out the door or a breakfast casserole. Most importantly, I try to make every meal nutritious.
I believe the saying “Feed your body, Feed your passion” and I am passionate about helping others make positive changes in their lives through nutritional coaching!
So how does a Nutritional Coaching Session work?
Let’s walk through the steps together and if it sounds like something you would like to do then you can contact me, and we can plan a time to work together. The cost of a session is $99 and includes the Customizable Google Sheet ($19.95) and 2 hours of Onsite Kitchen Organization and Coaching. Details can be found on our Meal Planning page.
First, I will have you complete a Meal Planning Questionnaire (online and PDF version available) and send to me. This questionnaire will give me some general information about your current situation and your goals. Then when I arrive on-site, we will do a complete Inventory of your pantry, freezer, and refrigerator. If we find out of date items we will discard those, and if we find items that you want to eliminate from your diet (wheat, sugar, dairy, etc.) we will determine whether to discard or to place in an “out of sight/out of mind” area to be recovered at a later date.
Next, we will look at your upcoming Monthly Calendar. Are there any Special Events or Get Togethers that we need to plan for? Any dinners out on the calendar—girls’ night out/sports celebrations/concerts? We will pull recipes together for these events and plan to incorporate the ingredients into your final shopping list.
And now we move to your daily and weekly meals—breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks. Do you use a delivery meal plan like Blue Apron, Hello Fresh, Home Chef? What are some of your family favorites? What diet plan are you following? We are focusing on your goals, whether it is to save money or replace packaged foods with more wholesome items or something else.
And lastly based on what you are planning to prepare and consume we will create a Customized Google Sheet (link to download) that includes your PAR for every item. The Sheet will automatically determine your shopping list by comparing Quantity Needed to Quantity on Hand. And as you update the quantities on hand, the sheet will update so that you are only buying what you need.
Any time remaining can be spent organizing your kitchen for easy preparation, clean up, and storage.
Shopping and Delivery Service:
Organized Occasions Concierge is a full-service concierge that will shop for and delivery your groceries, paper products, and beverages. Email me your shopping list and we will schedule your delivery (mutually agreeable day and time). More details about Grocery Delivery Service (link) can be found under the services page.
I know there are a lot of meal plans out there—I have downloaded and subscribed to several myself as well as reviewed almost every major diet program. The difference between all those meal/diet plans and what I am describing is treating your kitchen like a restaurant. Establishing a PAR to purchase only items needed, rotating inventory to maintain quality and creating variety in your menus.
Whatever your goals for Meal Planning are, you can reach them! If you want to save money, you can. You will only be buying what you need. If you want to change what you are eating, you can. You will have a shopping list to use and the best way to control what comes into your house (and body) is to control what goes into your cart! If you want to eat at home more, you can. You will have all the ingredients you need to make the meal without stopping by the store (saving both time and money).
You may find that Home is Her Favorite Restaurant too! (A song lyric—Walker Hayes-Don’t Let Her) Check out the video—but be prepared to shed a tear or two.