Self-catering holidays are an ideal holiday choice for families. Having cooking facilities in holiday accommodation gives families the flexibility they need to provide early breakfasts and second breakfasts (or is that just us!), to make up healthy meals for toddlers, create picnics for days out and to cook evening meals for the whole family.
That said, you are on holiday after all. You don’t want to be tied to the kitchen stove for hours, slaving away cooking meals to please every member of the family. So how do you feed the family and have a relaxing holiday while self-catering and without eating out for every meal? Here are our tips to having a relaxing self-catering holiday, including meal plan ideas and recipe hacks.
The Self-Catering Holiday Meal Plan
The cornerstone of a relaxing self-catering holiday is a meal plan. There’s no need to plan every single meal of a two week holiday, but having an idea of what you might cook in your holiday accommodation for some of your evening meals, what you’ll want for breakfast and what you’re likely to do for lunch will take some of the pressure off thinking about what to cook while you’re on holiday.
Planning your meals will save you time on that first big trip to the supermarket on your holiday. It might save you some money too if you stick to the list and resist, as much as possible, all those local specialities as you browse the shelves. As you create your meal plan think about where ingredients can be used more than once and what kind of meals are easy to create with minimal kitchen equipment.
We created a meal plan, together with the friends we were holidaying with, for our self-catering ski holiday in February 2020. It made for a more relaxing holiday as there was never any stress, after a long day on the slopes, of what we were going to feed the two families in the evening.
Strike a balance
When we go on holiday we don’t like to be responsible for cooking every single meal. We tend to balance a picnic lunch with a restaurant meal in the evening, or have a slap-up lunch out but cook a light and simple supper. Nothing wrong with a takeaway pizza, especially when you want to avoid washing up!
You can also use takeaway food to supplement a home-cooked dish. On our campsite in the Ile de Re we cooked fresh fish and langoustines bought at the morning market but added a box of takeaway hot frites (French fries) from the campsite café to complete the meal.
Our top tip is to choose self-catering accommodation on city breaks as it’s great to have the extra space to spread out in when relaxing after a long day’s sightseeing. We usually have a light breakfast before heading out for the day and sometimes pop back for lunch. We love eating out on our city breaks but appreciate having a kitchen to cook in if we need a night off (or feel that the children do). We’ve even had food delivered on a city break using apps like Deliveroo. For us country bumpkins having food delivered is a real treat! It’s a useful solution if you want to eat in without going to the effort of cooking. Having Korean burgers delivered to our self-catering apartment in Berlin was a highlight of that trip!
What to pack & what to buy
Armed with your meal plan and knowledge of your family’s favourite breakfast food and lunches, including holiday treats (for us, that’s Nutella and Crunchy Nut Cornflakes!), you can now create your list of what you need. Split this into items you’ll need to buy and items you can bring from home. Your ability to pack items to bring will depend on how you’re getting to your accommodation and its location.
If you’re driving you’ll be able to bring a lot of items from home, even food which you might have pre-cooked and frozen. On our self-catered ski holiday we drove to France from the UK, so we packed the car up with many basic kitchen items and some food, but did a big shop at a hypermarket before getting to our accommodation.
Here is our list of essential kitchen items for a self-catering family holiday. Click on the picture to download and print for your next holiday.
Self-catering Holiday Recipe Hacks
We love to cook from scratch and often do this on holiday too, however there are times when having some easy recipe hacks up your sleeve are appropriate. Over the years we’ve developed some fab recipe hacks, saving on shopping, chopping and washing up! A lot of our hacks include using a shop-bought item to create a meal (we’re not talking ‘ready meals’ here) whereas sometimes it means making the most of an ingredient and finding a way to use something for more than one recipe.
Whether you’re camping, staying in a holiday cottage or a caravan it’s likely that your holiday kitchen won’t have the same facilities and utensils as your home kitchen so it’s worthwhile planning easy meals for your self-catering holiday.
Easy meal ideas with recipe hacks
- Ready-made meatballs added to tomato sauce for easy spaghetti and meatballs. Make the tomato sauce from scratch or simply use a jar from the supermarket.
- Create bolognaise using fresh mince and a ready-made tomato sauce. Use leftover bolognaise to create a delicious lasagna (in France you can buy fresh ready-made bechamel sauce in pouches, one of my favourite hacks!).
- Pasta pesto is always an easy go to. Consider adding in some frozen peas to the pasta water or spinach for some extra vitamins. It’s a great one to make extra of and serve up as a pasta salad for lunch or side for supper.
- Packet risotto can be a good meal, especially for kids. Making risotto from scratch is very time-consuming. It’s one of my kids favourites so sometimes on holiday we’ll sometimes use a packet. It’s easy to add vegetables at the point of cooking and some grilled chicken, fish or roasted butternut squash to create a larger meal. Risotto packets can often contain more salt than you’d use at home. Knock back the salty flavour by adding some crème fraiche or a squeeze of lemon.
- Add a packet of ready-made curry sauce to your choice of fresh ingredients. On our campervan road trip in August 2020 we fried up some chicken breasts before adding the curry sauce and some homegrown runner beans to the pot. We served it over rice (we used boil-in-the-bag) and had a delicious meal.
- Jar of antipasto (roasted peppers, artichokes etc) added to pasta to create pasta salad
- Packet ready-to-eat couscous or quinoa to serve as a side or add vegetables and feta cheese to create a yummy salad
One of our favourite things about being on holiday is eating local specialities. On a seaside break in the UK we’ll have our fill of fish. In France we’ll enjoy fresh croissants for breakfast. In Spain we’ll have some form of chorizo with most meals! However, you don’t need to rely on eating out to eat local. A browse of the markets will unearth delicious local delicacies and most supermarkets will showcase local produce. Leave some flexibility in your meal plan to include creating new dishes based on local food.
In Lisbon we created a tasty lunch of sardines and smoked mussels, bought from Conserveira da Lisboa, on toast. In France we’ll have duck confit, at least once, served up with chips or frozen parmentier potatoes, and we’ll probably treat ourselves to a rotisserie chicken or paella from a local market. For summer holiday lunches we’ll fill a table with local cheese, fresh tomatoes, local salads, fresh bread, olives, nuts and cured meats or smoked fish. We love strengthening our holiday memories through food.
More easy self-catering holiday meal ideas
It’s all too easy to fall back on simple pasta dishes like carbonara, pesto and bolognaise to feed a family at home or on holiday. We cycle through these dishes frequently whether we’re at home or away! Here are a couple of other family favourites which are easy to cook up in a holiday kitchen, whether that’s a ski chalet, a seaside holiday cottage, a tent or a campervan.
The basic traybake – throw whatever veg you have to hand in a roasting tin and add a selection of herbs and spices, some olive oil and maybe a dash of vinegar or squeeze of lemon before popping it in the oven for about 45mins. If you haven’t got potatoes in the pot you could serve up with pasta, couscous or some crusty bread. You can keep it veggie or add in some protein. Chunks of chorizo are a delicious addition. Chicken pieces (skin on) or sausages both work well. Or add white fish or salmon fillets to the roasting tin for the last ten minutes or so of cooking.
Ratatouille – the same principle as the vegetable traybake but cooked on the stove top rather than in the oven. Serve as a side or simply toss through some pasta. Add in some locally sourced cured meat like chorizo or pancetta for a dash of holiday flavour.
Steak – buying steak feels like a luxury, but if you have access to good quality meat while you’re on holiday we say go for it! On our camping holidays we love serving steak with coleslaw and garlic bread. You can make the meat go further by slicing it thinly to create a beef stroganoff, very quick and easy to cook.
Grilled fish – our kids are big fans of fish and shellfish. If we have access to a BBQ at our self-catering holiday accommodation we usually cook up a delicious fish supper at least once. Going to a fishmonger or a fish stall at a market is an assault on the senses and our boys love it!
What are your favourite dishes to cook when you’re on holiday? Please share in the comments below. We’d love to add them to our recipe bank of ideas.