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How to Pack Groceries for a Long Weekend Away

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Just how much thought you put into packing up groceries for a weekend away depends quite a lot on where you're going—plus who will be in attendance, and how big the trunk of your car is. A few Novembers ago, I needed to feed a dozen people for a whole weekend away: We were spending it in a rental house on Fire Island, where there are no cars and (in the middle of winter) no grocery that's open for business.

We'd have to bring everything we planned to eat in the car, somehow packing it portably enough that upon arrival we could tote it all down a boardwalk to the house. I packed everything from beef to butter.

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Photo by Mark Weinberg

While there's no science to packing for a weekend away, there's certainly strategy. Here are my tips!

Come up with a meal plan—in some sort of text doc.

A weekend getaway shouldn't require Thanksgiving-level preparation, but still: The more planning you put in, the more worth your time hauling groceries will be. Decide in advance on breakfasts, lunches, and dinners—plus snacks, alcohol, sweets—for however many days you need food, and localize all recipes in one document. Work in some no-cook meals (like assembly-line sandwiches) and adaptable recipes; eating sausage and eggs for the second breakfast in a row won't feel repetitive if there's a pile of cold leftovers to accompany them on day two.

Something to graze on—like a big bowl of spicy shrimp around 4 P.M. on a Saturday—will keep you from having to double or triple dinnertime recipes unnecessarily.

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Grocery shop at multiple stores.

I realize this sounds counter-intuitive with all the errands going on before a vacation. But if you're buying food for more than a few days, a.k.a. a lot of it, make a list for the butcher, another for the big grocery, another for the cheese counter, etc. Either divvy those errands up to people texting you "What can I bring?" or go to the stores over the course of the week. My local butcher gave me a discount when I called in a batch order and even threw in some extra artisanal hot dogs. Yours might not, but there's a chance.

If there's a deli or a small grocery or a farm stand where you're going, don't plan to get things there (where it would likely be expensive and/or unreliable). Just think of it as a backup, since you're guaranteed to forget something. And don't forget: Olive oil, butter, salt, and a pepper grinder are always a good idea.

Plan on recipes you've made before.

You'll be in a kitchen unfamiliar to you, very possibly without every last supply you wish you had, so a sense of knowing what you're doing with a recipe will help things run smoothly. It will be easier to delegate tasks to your friends/sous chefs, to know what should start cooking and when.

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Do some prep work before you pack the cooler.

Shred and bag vegetables for a salad, make beans in the slow cooker, prep stuffed potatoes and wrap them tightly in cellophane like you're king of the deli counter. It's not so much about sparing yourself time in the kitchen once you arrive—since we all end up there anyway and it's a very nice place to be—but is instead a step towards surmounting the unexpected.

This way, if you're feeding a lot of people and/or if your sous chefs are eager but might possibly be inebriated during dinner prep, there's not too much complex work to be done. It's also nice not to have to bring your super sharp knife on vacation, in case the rental's is dinky, because you've already chopped all your vegetables for salad.

Read recipes closely: Do you need lemon zest? Break out that microplane at home, put the zest in a little airtight container, and you won't have to worry what tools are in the kitchen you're going to at all.

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Bag it up in many bags.

Rather than one enormous, overstuffed cooler, take some reusable grocery bags to stuff with snacks and dry goods. You'll be happy, when you're lugging it all into the house, to pass some off to helping hands, and the totes can double as take home containers for anything you need to get back.

And don't forget some take-home containers! If you're lucky, there won't be any leftovers—but nothing would be worse than leaving them behind if there are!

Tags: prepwork, grocery shopping, groceries