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Eat Well, Spend Less: Things to Do in Your Kitchen Before You Leave

This month’s Eat Well, Spend Less theme is summer menu planning at home and while traveling.

While the other participating bloggers are talking about food for airplane travel, hot-weather mealtime solutions, and more, I’m going to talk specifically about preparing your kitchen and pantry for your time away and your return.

I don’t know about you, but I hate coming home to a messy, dirty house, so I usually spend days leading up to any vacation cleaning, straightening, and organizing. Although it adds a little stress on the front end, it makes it a lot less stressful to come home and readjust to life as normal. Since we usually drive to our vacation destinations, this is even more important since we usually walk in the door exhausted as it is!

Along those lines, there’s nothing worse than coming home to food that’s gone bad or an empty pantry. Who wants to grocery shop or clean out the fridge right when they walk in the door from vacation? Not me, that’s for sure. Here’s how I avoid both of those scenarios:

Freeze or Use Perishables

A week before you leave for vacation — ideally before your menu plan for the week — take a look through your pantry and fridge, making note of anything that will expire or go bad before you return. Incorporate these things into your menu for the week, using up what you can and freezing anything that can be frozen so that you don’t waste food (and money!) while you’re gone.

You can also pack some of your perishables, such as apples or other travel-friendly produce, to take with you on your trip. Just be realistic about how much you’ll actually use while traveling so that it doesn’t go to waste on the road or take up unnecessary space.

Freeze a Meal for Your Return

I’ll admit this is something we’ve just started doing ourselves, but it really does make a huge difference. When planning your menu for the week before you leave for vacation, be sure to include a freezer meal that you can prepare and freeze for your return. Having dinner taken care of already will make coming home much less stressful.

A few things to think about when preparing your welcome home meal:

  • Consider the time of day you’ll get home. If you’ll be arriving late in the afternoon, you probably don’t want a meal that needs to thaw before cooking or takes several hours to cook unless your house sitter can help with those steps.
  • Think about the sides. Casseroles that include meat, veggies, and starch are a good choice because you don’t need to make any sides at all. Similarly, pasta dishes can be served with bread, which you can also buy or make ahead of time and freeze with the meal. Making homemade french fries or another side dish that requires several steps and a good bit of time probably defeats the purpose.

Stock Your Pantry

Avoid having to rush to the grocery store right after you return home by stocking your pantry and freezer before you leave. Of course, you’ll want to pick up fresh produce, dairy, etc. as soon as possible, but living off your pantry for a day or two can make a huge difference in avoiding the “need a vacation from my vacation” feeling. Since we live 30 minutes from the grocery store, this is especially true for us!

Other Tips

Finally, here are a few other tips we’ve learned over the years:

  • Crack your dishwasher open. Our dishwasher has an extremely tight seal, and the first time we traveled after moving into this house, we made the mistake of closing our dishwasher with just a couple of dishes in it. With the a/c off, our home was toasty warm, and the humidity inside the dishwasher caused mold to begin to grow on those damp dishes. Now, we always leave it cracked when we travel, whether it’s empty or not.
  • Don’t leave produce on the counter. Fruit flies multiply at an alarming rate, so you’ll want to be sure that you don’t leave any produce out while you’re gone, or you could come home to a nasty surprise!
  • Seal open packages. Similarly, look through your pantry or cabinets for open packages and ensure they’re tightly sealed with chip clips or in zip bags. No one wants to come home to bugs or rodents in their food!
  • Vacuum up any crumbs. Check these areas for crumbs and vacuum those up as well.

I don’t mind a little stress before we leave for vacation if I know it will pay off while we’re away and when we get home, but knowing that I will come home to a messy kitchen or empty pantry can make it harder to really enjoy our time away, so I try to prepare ahead of time to avoid those stresses.

Shaina recently shared her tips for on-the-go picnics here at Life Your Way. I’m looking forward to discovering more strategies for spending less on food without sacrificing nutrition while traveling! Be sure to visit Jessica, Aimee, Shaina, Katie G, Alyssa, Carrie, Katie K, and Tammy for more summer menu planning strategies.

How do you prepare your kitchen and pantry when you travel?