Essential Tools

3 No-Brainer Summer Meals for 3 Types of Summer Trips

July  2, 2018

Since schooldays of yore, summer is basically synonymous with vacation. While we can fantasize about a trip to Mexico City or a week spent on Cape Cod, the reality is that the best (and most realistic) summer trips are the ones we can take at the last minute, when the mood strikes, and without too much money or lengthy collaborative planning. (S.U.M.M.E.R. does stand for Surely Ur Managing a Modest Escape, Right?...right?)

These summer weekend getaways generally require three things: a car, a destination (whether campsite or Airbnb), and lots of good food. Bringing meals with you can seem like a hassle, but the reality is that when you’re far from home, standing under the flourescent lights of a gas station mini-mart trying to decide which flavor Doritos you want for dinner, you’ll wish you’d brought that bunch of chard and those strawberries you got at the farmers’ market, and that half-log of chèvre that’s in the fridge at home.

Packing provisions for a long weekend is the key to enjoying more time outside on your vacation and less time trying to get service on your phone to search for the nearest grocery store. It’s necessary for staving off any bad moods that might result from post-swim snacklessness. And, with the right planning and tools, it’s actually really easy.

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Before You Go

Think about your destination and what tools you might need. Heading to an Airbnb? Double-check that the place has a full kitchen and the pots and pans you’ll need for the meals you’re planning. Going camping? Some campsites have grills you can reserve in advance, while others may require you to BYO stove. It never hurts to have a little pack of tools, wherever you’re heading.

Packing Conundrum #1: The Three-Day Weekend

You’ve taken Friday off because you’re worth it. Maybe you’ve even convinced some friends to do the same. Pack the large bottle of sunscreen, that novel you’ve been saving for this very relaxing occasion, and ingredients for the seven meals you’ll need to prepare over your extra-long weekend away. Don’t get overwhelmed! Get an enormous cooler. Barebones Living’s Structured Nylon & Leather Travel Cooler is the mother of all coolers. This beast can handle everything, from bottles of wine and cans of beer to Tupperwares of food you thought to prep in advance to piles of fresh produce, all in one easy-to-organize, water-resistant, 72-hours-of-cold bag. Plus, unlike those hard-sided plastic coolers of the past, it’s easy to move from your house to the car to wherever the weekend takes you. With wheels and a retractable handle, it’s like a designer suitcase for your most important cargo: dinner.

The trick to cooking lots of meals for lots of people is to think big—like sheet pan big—and make dishes that can be repurposed into the next meal. Sheet pan eggs are great for breakfast for a crowd; come cocktail time, any leftovers can be served on a cracker with herb- or chili-spiked mayo for hors d’oeuvres. Grilled corn at dinnertime is a summertime no-brainer; the next day, cut the cooked corn off the cob and mix it with greens and grains for a hearty salad. And always make a slab pie, which is not only a delightful dessert but the world’s best breakfast.

The Three-Day Weekend Menu

Packing Conundrum #2: The Day Trip

Whether you’re headed out to the beach or a state park for a few hours, you shouldn’t be without sufficient snacks (and a bottle of wine—it’s a vacation!). Millie | Lottie’s Picnic Tote was designed for just this occasion. The durable canvas bag comes with a lightweight bamboo cutting board that sits in the bottom of the tote, which gives the bag shape...and gives you a prep and service surface for your oh-this-lil-thing-I-just-pulled-out? meat and cheese plate. Plus, the bag is lined with thermal insulation, so your wine (which fits snugly the bag’s inside elastic straps) will stay cold, your cheese won’t sweat, and neither will you.

Day-trip foods shouldn’t require any on-the-spot cooking—you’re only out for the day, after all—which is why sandwiches are a logical choice. Toss in a hard salami and a piece of sturdy cheddar (and a folding knife that doubles as a bottle opener) along with a container of dip, a bag of crackers, and some perky pickles, and you’re all set.

The Day Trip Menu

Packing Conundrum #3: The Solo Trip

Sometimes you just want to get all Walden Pond and take some time in nature alone. But spartan living doesn’t mean you should be without good food—how else are you supposed to achieve transcendence? The Rig Tig Keep-It-Cool Bag is the perfect economical solution. The cooler backpack comes with a lunchbox that can hold your simple sandwich or salad (and has a nifty compartment for utensils, carrot sticks, or trail mix) and a thermos with a cup cap that’ll keep your spring water perfectly chilled. Pop the bag in the freezer while you prepare your lunch and it’ll stay cold all day. It’s just the thing to help you “suck out all the marrow of life,” as Thoreau put it...though maybe consider bringing more practical snacks.

No matter how much of an introvert you might be, we all need our energy from somewhere—which is why it’s important to pack foods that’ll fuel you when you’re on your own. If you’re really feeling minimal, a classic PB&J will never do you wrong. But treating yourself to something a bit more indulgent, like a thoughtfully made sandwich or a veggie-packed salad, is a good way for your current self to show your future self some love.

The Solo Trip Menu

What are your tricks for packing food for a long weekend? Let us know in the comments!

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Nancy
  • Sarah Whitman-Salkin
    Sarah Whitman-Salkin


Nancy August 13, 2018
Use one of the summer meal plans in New Way to Dinner cookbook.
They're meant for 4 people over 5 days, so adjust volume accordingly...about half volume for 4 people over 3 days.
Sarah W. August 13, 2018
Yes! Brilliant!