Meal planning is a big challenge for group trips. Do you take everyone to a restaurant, wait for seating for a large party and then for everyone’s food to arrive, only to choke when the bill arrives? Or instead, end up eating at fast food joints to speed up the process and save money, until you realize that French fries are the only vegetable your kids have eaten for a week? Cooking at your vacation house can often solve these problems, but food prep and cleanup isn’t often on people’s list of must-dos on a holiday.
From the start, our group has cooked at the house for most, if not all of our meals. In the beginning, cooking seemed like a decent trade off for not having to keep 4 or 5 babies and toddlers busy at every meal for 5 or 6 days. Plus, with 4 families, kitchen duties have always been split between the adults, and now, between the older kids. For years, our teens have been baking cookies and quick breads to bring along before the trip. Last year, our tweens baked strawberry shortcake for dessert one night! And the kids all help with clean-up since we long ago established the rule that you load your own dishes in the dishwasher after each meal.
Of course, breakfast is by far the easiest meal to adapt for a group trip. Even if you are planning to eat out for lunch and dinner, you can save time and money by eating the first meal of the day at your vacation home. It’s also easy to adjust for dietary preferences and restrictions. Plus, people can eat while others are getting ready to head out for the day.
Breakfast planning for our group usually includes a mix of items people can grab and eat quickly, as well as hardier fare for mornings when we have more flexibility in the schedule. Grocery list staples are cereals, milk, fruit, juice and toast. These can be the whole offering on mornings when we have to make an early departure, or can be eaten by picky eaters who don’t want to eat whatever hot dish is being served that morning.
Egg casseroles and overnight french toast are favorites with our group. These are generally easy to scale depending on group size and easy to adjust based on the ingredients you have on hand. You bought an extra dozen eggs? Just add them in. Someone drank the last of the milk but we have extra half-and-half. That works! Leftover onions from tonight’s burgers? Chop those babies up and mix them into one pan of egg casserole. Additionally, while things like scrambled eggs don’t make great leftovers, breakfast casseroles generally reheat well, making breakfast prep lighter on future mornings.
We make breakfast casseroles in the evening and throw them in the fridge in disposable foil pans. We buy these pans in bulk because it makes clean up so much easier. No scraping baked-on egg off a glass pan! Because who wants to do that much work on vacation?? Plus they usually come with lids, although stacking more than one pan in a crowded fridge can become a problem as the pans are sometimes pretty flimsy. Stacking cookie sheets between them can help.
Breakfast prep has become a personal favorite time for me since we often drag the kids into helping. Many of them seem to enjoy this time as they all look forward to eating their handiwork in the morning. Lots of fun conversations are started while everyone is chopping ham and cracking eggs. The next morning, the first person out of bed turns on the oven and pops the casseroles in to bake. One added benefit is the scents wafting through the house help rouse sleepy-heads.
Pancakes are another item that often appears on our menu since Costco has big bags of pancake mix. You will need a larger griddle to make this work though. You can check with your vacation home owner to see if the house has one already. If we are driving to our destination, one or two families will bring along our personal griddles as well. They come in handy and it helps to have more than one griddle cooking when you have to feed lots of people. We’ve even used one griddle in the kitchen for pancakes and a second one outside on the deck to make bacon or sausage and still keep the smell out of the house.
Breakfast sliders are a newer addition to our menu, but these are easy and fun to make. The kids can help with this since most of the work is piling toppings onto rolls. We usually make ours with ham, cheese and scrambled eggs, but you could mix it up with different meats or veggies.
With a little planning and some teamwork, you can start your day off right with a good breakfast!
Here are some recipes we use:
Overnight Egg Casserole
8 slices bread (we often use more), toasted (or not) and cubed
4 cups diced ham
2 cups grated cheese
8 eggs (or more), beaten
2 cups milk
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon pepper
Put cubed bread in a 9×13 pan. Top with meat and cheese. Combine eggs, milk, salt and pepper and pour over top. Put in fridge overnight. Bake at 350 degrees for 1 hour. Let rest for 10 minutes before serving. Optional: Feel free to play with the recipe. Chop up veggies or exchange sausage or bacon for the ham. Try different cheeses or use sourdough or a hearty multigrain bread. Serves 15.
Creme Brulee French Toast
I got this recipe off a morning news show probably 15 years ago. It’s been a well loved staple for several groups ever since.
½ cup butter
1 cup brown sugar
2 Tablespoons corn syrup
1 large loaf sourdough bread
1 ½ cups half and half
1 teaspoon vanilla
Melt butter with brown sugar and corn syrup, stirring until smooth. Pour this mixture into a 9×13 pan. Cut the bread into 1 to 2 inch slices and place in a single layer over the sugar/butter mixture (okay, here is where we improvise: we usually use thicker slices and squeeze them in to get as much bread in the pan as possible. Sometimes if we have extra bread, we use two layers). Whisk together the eggs, half and half and vanilla until combined well and pour over the bread, trying to soak the top of each piece. You may want to mix up more eggs and half and half, or just add a little milk to keep it from drying out. Cover and refrigerate overnight. Preheat oven to 350 degrees and bake French toast, uncovered, until puffed and edges are golden, 35 to 40 minutes. To serve, cut into squares and lift with a spatula onto a plate, flipping over so the caramel goodness is on the top. Serves 6 to 8.
24 Hawaiian sweet rolls
1 lb sliced ham
2 cups shredded cheese
1 dozen eggs
½ cup milk
¼ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon pepper
2 Tablespoons maple syrup
2 Tablespoons butter
Carefully cut the rolls in half, cutting the entire package at once. Reserve the tops and place the bottoms in a 9×13 pan. Top the bottom rolls with ham. Beat the eggs and add the milk, salt and pepper. Scramble the eggs until cooked through. Layer the scrambled eggs over the ham and top with cheese, then the tops of the rolls. Melt the syrup and butter together in the microwave, then brush over tops of rolls. Bake in a 350 degree oven for 10 to 15 minutes until the cheese is melted and sliders are warmed through. Serves 8 to 10.