Food

Amazing meal ideas for the cottage — and how to make them super easy

A prep-and-pack guide with stellar recipes, so you can relax while you're away.

A prep-and-pack guide with stellar recipes, so you can relax while you're away

(Photo, left: Eric Wolfinger; middle: Gabriel Cabrera; right: CBC Life)

A cottage getaway is a time to unwind, spend quality time with friends and family, and luxuriate in being our easiest, breeziest selves. But of course we want to relax and eat well while we're away, and that means putting some thought into planning our movable feast.

To help, we've gathered some crowd-pleasing prep-and-pack recipes so you can get the most out of your time away. Many of the ingredients can be sliced, marinated or cooked ahead of time, and when it's time to eat, serving is just a matter of tossing everything together or warming up. These recipes shine in a cottage setting where kitchens may be unfamiliar or minimally equipped (not to mention that assortment of charming spice tins rattling around the pantry could be as old as the cottage itself!).

Strategies for planning your menu

Before shopping, it helps to create a meal plan. One approach is to consider menus that are made up of several make-ahead dishes that complement each other. Think a few dips, easy side salads and a simple protein or two. By setting out a spread like this, you can accommodate dietary preferences and restrictions while keeping the menu casual and manageable. Similarly, recipes with a DIY element allow everyone to assemble the meal to their own tastes. What crowd doesn't love a build-a-burger setup?

It can feel overwhelming to have to serve something different for every meal. With a game plan in hand, you can identify items that can serve double duty for several meals. For example, pre-washed and -sliced vegetables can pair with dips one day, and the leftovers, with a cold noodle dish the next. Speaking of dips, use half of your famous tzatziki with those veggies and the other half for a grilled chicken dinner or to be scooped up with chips beachside. It will lighten your workload and budget, and you'll cut down on food waste. 

Packing tips

Place any hearty ready-to-eat items — for example, marinated grain salads and overnight oats — in a sealable container that doubles as a serving dish. 

Pack delicate food, like tender salad greens or berries, separately to keep it protected. 

Make vinaigrettes and sauces ahead and store them in labelled jars, then pack them in a large resealable bag for transport. 

Keep any raw, marinated proteins well-chilled in tightly sealed individual containers. If possible, put them in their own cooler. 

Remember that prepared food should be kept chilled until serving. (Health Canada's food safety guidelines apply here.) 

Pack a few accompaniments to add zing to meals: lemons and limes to squeeze over grilled meats and vegetables, and fresh herbs — parsley, coriander, basil or chives — to sprinkle on pre-made dishes that need a lift. If you like things spicy, bring a few bottles of your favourite hot sauces to perk things up. 

Now, on to what to make!

Breakfast

Baked Oatmeal Cups

(Photography by Kyla Zanardi)

These baked oatmeal cups are a great make-ahead option for breakfast in the cottage, for toting on a morning hike, or as a grab-and-go snack. They freeze well too, so they can be prepared far in advance. 

Lemon & Berry Chia Yogurt

Whip up a batch of this chia pudding the night before, then everyone can scoop their own portion and top it with any berries and mint garnish you've thoughtfully set out.

Mango Lime Lassi Bircher

(Credit: Hungry Gap Productions Ltd.)

This Bircher muesli, inspired by the flavours of a mango lassi, is customizable at serving time too. And if you follow Nadiya Hussain's tip to mix the ingredients right in the sealable serving container, it means less time washing up and more time soaking up the rays.

Quiche Lorraine with Gruyère Cheese and Onions

(Photo: David Bagosy; Styling: Melissa Direnzo)

This one's for those of us who make a beeline for the savoury breakfast option. For ease, the homemade dough can be swapped out with a store-bought pie shell. And to make the quiche vegetarian, replace the bacon with sautéed mushrooms. You can bake it the day before and reheat it for an impressive yet leisurely brunch. 

Lunch

Sweet Potato and Labneh Dip

Borani-yeh Kadoo

(Photography by Eric Wolfinger)

These flavourful dips can be made in advance and easily assembled even as people are towelling off from their morning swim. Serve them with store-bought pitas, crackers, olives, pickles and cut-up vegetables for a choose-your-own adventure buffet. We love a midday cottage spread! 

Sweet Potato and Lentil Salad in a Lime Vinaigrette

(Photo: Shayma Owaise Saadat)

This is one of those dishes you'll enjoy just as much the next day. Simply make it ahead: pack the roasted sweet potatoes, lentils, red onion and pomegranate together and marinate it in half the dressing. To serve, top with tender salad greens or microgreens and the remaining dressing.

Sarosh's Chicken Jalfrezi Pita Pockets with Quick-Pickled Onions

(Photography by Gabriel Cabrera)

This chicken jalfrezi recipe uses store-bought rotisserie chicken and can be made a day ahead and refrigerated. The versatile filling can be served chilled or gently heated and tucked into pitas. 

Buckwheat Noodles and Assorted Vegetables with Gochujang Vinaigrette | Bibimguksu

(Photography by Leela Ceed)

Think of this hot weather showstopper as "bibimbap's cold noodle sibling." The rainbow's worth of veggies, the noodles and your protein(s) of choice can all be made well in advance. Everything can stay in the fridge or a cooler until lunch. And you can scale it up or down and serve it salad bar-style — along with mild and spicy sauces — so everyone can make a bowl to taste.

Ultimate Lobster Rolls

Prepare the lobster filling beforehand and toast the buns just before serving. Pass around a bag of salt-and-vinegar chips to go with and you're all set. 

Dinner

Sheet Pan Shrimp and Pineapple Tacos 

(Photo: David Bagosy, Styling: Melissa Direnzo)

While taco night is always a hit, it might be even better at the cottage. Instead of heating up the oven, grill one set of skewers with pineapple and veggies and another with marinated shrimp. They take no time to cook, so set out the toppings while the BBQ's heating up.

BBQ Chimichurri Chicken

(Photo credit: Adrian Harris and Jeremy Inglett)

Packing marinated protein makes a grilled dinner come together in no time. This particular recipe can be prepped up to a day in advance and will pair nicely with the salads below.

A (mostly!) make-ahead Citrus Salad

Kale Salad with Tahini Ranch Dressing

(Photo: David Bagosy, Styling: Melissa Direnzo)

Salads that travel? Perfect for cottage life! These two are simple to prep, plus they pack like a dream and assemble easily with impressive results. (PS: You'll want to make extra tahini ranch dressing because it's just that good.)

Make-ahead Eggplant Borani

(Photography by Leila Ashtari)

Serve this vegetarian option alongside a meal featuring grilled meat. Each element can be prepared well ahead and assembled just before serving. Make sure to include bread or pitas for dipping. 

Kalbi Beef Short Ribs

These short ribs can be marinated a day or two in advance and are ideal for outdoor grilling. Serve up this crowd-pleaser with kimchi, sliced cucumbers and plenty of leaf lettuce. A platter of pajeon (below) makes for a great starter to this meal.

Pajeon

(Photography by Soo Kim)

Fry these savoury green onion pancakes ahead of time at home and store them in sealable containers with parchment paper in between the layers so they don't stick together. Reheat them on a griddle, in a cast iron pan set on a grill, or in the oven, and serve with plenty of dipping sauce.

Chickpea Burgers With Halloumi and Roasted Tomatoes

(Credit: Shahir Massoud)

Smash Burgers

Burger night! Pack seasoned meat formed into patties and prepare all of the toppings beforehand. Then cook the patties on a griddle (a large cast iron pan placed on the BBQ works too) and set out a build-a-burger station for everyone to enjoy. For a vegetarian option, look no further than these chickpea burgers. 

For dessert or snack

Strawberry "Shortcake" Drop Scones

Bake these scones ahead of time; let them cool completely; then store them in an airtight container lined with paper towels (this keeps them from becoming soggy). They'll taste best warmed up and served within a day or two. The strawberries can be replaced with peaches, plums or blueberries, so use that fruit you've bought from local fruit stands. Whip the cream just before serving and you've got dessert — or a vacation-worthy breakfast — in a flash.

Orange-Scented Date Crumb Bars

(Photography by Michael Gozum)

Here's another make-ahead treat, ideal for breakfast or a mid-afternoon snack with your third coffee! If you're really organized, bake and freeze the squares up to three months in advance. Pack them frozen, and they'll be ready to eat by the time you arrive at your destination.


Flo Leung is a Toronto illustrator and noodle lover. You can find her work at floleung.com and @hungryeyesstudio.

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