Vacation Food: Lessons Learned

Good morning! I’m so excited to share our Yellowstone adventures in future posts- but first: Yellowstone adventure food planning!

I had a hard time planning. This is kind of our 4th try to visit Yellowstone. A friend’s schedule change and a job change altered our 1st two tries to visit Yellowstone, but that was early in the planning stage.

Last year, we had reservations early, but plans changed. In May, we were able to cancel and refund our reservations (made in December!), but I had started ordering magazines and brochures, researching and planning in January.

Previous vacation planning booklets

This year, we were also able to reserve in December, but I was planned out. I could not get in the mood to research, menu plan and day plan like I usually do for a vacation.

Yellowstone was not a last minute-ask friends for lots of advice-leaving soon-vacation like our North Shore trip, but I still didn’t start planning.

In May, I finally decided that we might actually go to Yellowstone on June 3rd- and we might need to eat while we were there!

Thankfully (maybe?), I had old menu plans and grocery lists from our 2nd South Dakota vacation and our North Shore vacation.

The menu plans had worked well then, so I mainly copied them. I did pay attention to my after vacation notes. I try to write ‘More’ or ‘No’ or ‘Plenty’ on my vacation menus and grocery lists for the next trip.

But, I had not taken into account that children change.

Places Change

I had figured out that places change. At South Dakota, we grilled/cooked almost every lunch at a park. The kids where happy eating lots of hamburgers and I always love a picnic. The husband (who grills) was mostly happy, except when he was grilling in the heat at Badlands National Park while I fretted and followed kids.

Cool Wyoming rest area near Greybull -I wish the Air Museum had been open!

But Yellowstone is not the same as South Dakota.

Lunch would not be grilled at Yellowstone. Bears and yummy, hamburger smelling grills in the back of a truck are probably a bad combination.

So I figured out that places change, and I planned cold sandwiches, salads, chips, fruit and pudding cups for lunches at the park. And that worked fine.

We packed lunches, a snack bag, and the picnic basket each night before heading into Yellowstone. The small cooler and small water igloo were packed quickly in the morning. We bought ice every morning, but the $3-$4 bag of ice was cheaper than buying lunch out.

Nice Yellowstone picnic area, but within 30 minutes cars were parked on both sides of the loop and in the road! It was kind of hard to get the truck out when we left!

We quickly learned that eating an early lunch at 11:00 was a great way to actually get a picnic table. Picnic areas get very busy at noon!

We also noticed that our decision to not grill was probably right. There were plenty of picnic areas and plenty of picnickers -but no grills.

It worked great to bring most of our food and drinks from home. We saved lots of money and time by not eating out much. We didn’t do as well as on our South Dakota vacation when we only had pizza once and breakfast out once(parents only while the kids slept in!), but we did pretty good.

I did not do ‘pretty good’ with the food I brought though. The meals were fine and I had plenty of food, it just wasn’t always the right kinds of food.

Children Change

To save money, in addition to packing lunches, I pack snacks and drinks. Convenience store snacks and drinks can be expensive, especially with a few hungry adults and a few hungry children. Sometimes, there isn’t even a convenience store nearby!

I always buy tooo much vacation food!

Our vacation snacking has changed though.

The South Dakota vacation that I copied menus and food from was in 2012- 9 years ago! Our kids are bigger now, so I thought more of everything was a good idea.

I forgot that they are bigger and older and are actually making better eating choices. I had forgotten that children change and that my snack bag also needed to change.

They started calling my snack bag- the bag of sugar.

Chocolate granola bars, poptarts, chocolate chip granola bars and cookies changed to crackers with meat and cheese, peanut butter crackers, string cheese and cut up fruit. Much healthier choices, even though I had to buy some of it on vacation.

Many of the sweets and chips rode in the camper to Yellowstone and then back home again! Out of 22 bags of potato chips, half of them came home from vacation. About half of the 9 granola bars boxes and 9 pudding cup packages also came back home.

My Buying Extras does Not Change

I did over buy food for vacation, I always do. But I did not want to run out of food and I have plenty of storage places in the camper. And it is a fun bonus to not buy groceries for a few weeks after a vacation!

Plenty of extra storage after I took the pans out, but this is only part of what came back home

For us, camping and vacation food are different. We camp and cook often near home, but when we are on a long vacation we are busy sightseeing. Between early mornings and long days driving, hiking and sightseeing, I want an easy super.

I was glad to have plenty of easy food from home- cheesy hot dogs, grilled cheese, scrambled eggs and bacon, marinated chicken for grilling and frozen hamburgers. 60 hamburger patties and 27 pork patties fit in the camper freezer, even though 1/3 of them went home- we had lots of easy grilled meals and leftovers while on vacation.

Such a pretty Yellowstone picnic area by a stream, but 10:30 was too early for lunch

I planned on buying bread, buns and milk while we were gone. The camper refrigerator only holds 6 gallons of milk.

We were gone 15 days and we usually drink a gallon of milk each day!

It is fun to compare grocery prices in different areas though. At Cody, Wy, milk was the same price as at home, but at Custer, SD, it was double price! Thankfully, that was at the end of our vacation and I only needed 1 gallon!

While I didn’t schedule and plan like I normally do for vacations, we did get to leave on June 3 for Yellowstone and we ate frugally. When we got home, I still marked ‘More’ ‘Plenty’ and ‘No’ on the grocery and menu lists, but the next time I plan I will not just copy the lists. While I will always over buy vacation groceries, in the future I will remember that places, children and food preferences can change.

Happy Camping (and still eating granola bars!)

Frugal Campasaurus

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