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I love to eat and this did not change once we moved into our campervan, in fact, my love for food only grew. We had to be more intentional with our money and time which ended up translating into making delicious new meals. Not only is it important to have great recipes but it’s important to be smart about your vanlife kitchen and vanlife cooking.
Vanlife cooking can be easy, delicious, and enjoyable with these top tips and recipes!
Top 10 Vanlife Cooking Tips
Vanlife cooking on the road is an important part of how Shawn and I stay on such a tight budget. If we were constantly eating out then we would spend so much more money which would mean less travel. To us eating out isn’t as important as seeing the world. Plus cooking together is part of how we spend time together and bond every night. If you are prepping for vanlife then I highly recommend you think about making sure you have a full kitchen set up so you are able to cook on the road. Cooking in a van can be a wonderful experience and you can make full delicious meals that no one would ever guess was in such a tiny space. Learn from our mistakes and triumphs with these vanlife cooking tips.
1. Invest in Kitchen Appliances
Of all the vanlife cooking tips this might be the most important. In vanlife you DO NOT have to have a sink, running water, or electric refrigerator, you truly don’t. I have so many vanlife friends who don’t have a kitchen set up and are completely happy. BUT if you are like me and LOVE food then invest in a full vanlife kitchen setup. Buy the refrigerator, install the sink and campervan plumbing, get a hand pump, or install a 12v electric pump for running water, and have the inset gas stovetop or oven. It’s an investment for your future self so you can save money in the long run.
2. Have 2 or 3 Nice Pans
The great part about having a vanlife kitchen is you don’t have the space for unnecessary gadgets and especially not several different sizes of pots and pans. You learn to make do with a few and I can’t imagine ever going back. My suggestion is to purchase one medium-sized pot, 1 large pot for soups or stews, and 1 medium-large sized skillet. You are covered for most things and have the ability to cook more than one thing at a time. You don’t have to spend a ton of money and can often find great pots and pans at Goodwill or on Craigslist! Shawn is a big fan of stainless steel pans because they last forever and can be cleaned with ease if properly set up.
3. Clean as You Cook
Truly this should just be a life rule. In a van cleaning as you cook enables you to cook more often and not have to worry about the dishes piling up in your already tiny sink. This way once your meal is cooked you can relax knowing that clean up is basically done. If you have a partner the I recommend that one cleans while the other cooks. Depending on the layout of your van then this is completely possible if you work together to make it happen. Shawn cooks most days and you will usually find me cleaning up beside him! Vanlife cooking doesn’t have to be messy!
4. Plan Out Your Meals
If you are going out into the mountains or desert for a week or so at a time then you need to learn how to plan out your meals. Find three to four meals that you really enjoy and use those as a base for your weekly grocery haul and substitute items to adjust for local/seasonal fruits and veggies. This way you don’t find yourself an hour away from a grocery store and you don’t have all the items to make a full meal! No one wants to go hungry in the desert!
5. Have go-to easy meals
Part of planning out your meals is having recipes ready to go. Meals that you love all year long and are easy to make. For instance, I can not and I mean CAN NOT live without tacos. We have tacos at minimal once a week and sometimes once a day. We also go through different recipes with each season, for example, we always make oatmeal stew, soup or chili in the colder months and salads, sandwiches, and wraps in the warmer months. Our favorite recipes that we eat no matter what season we are in are definitely tacos, some form of pasta, stir fry, burritos, and curry.
6. Cook Enough for Leftovers
Leftovers make my world go round. When Shawn and I make a big meal we always make enough for one or two extra meals. Cooking a nice healthy meal can feel like a huge chore and when you are able to have something quick and easy to heat up the next day it saves so much time. Consider this when you are grocery shopping as well so you have the extra food to cook!
7. Consider Vegetarian meals
Although we can’t speak from experience there is a reason MOST van-lifers tend to go vegetarian when they live in a van. Chances are you don’t have hot running water which means there’s a larger chance for salmonella when handling and cooking meat. You don’t have to worry about getting raw meat on your counter or your dishes if your vegetarian or plant-based.
There are so many plant-based meat options available at even Wal-mart now that you can substitute! We even have some vanlife recipes to get you started!
8. Learn how to make artisan Coffee
Although this doesn’t directly apply to vanlife cooking it is an important part of vanlife. It’s much more difficult to have the power to use a drip coffee maker. This means you’ve got to make coffee like a barista. There are many easy ways to make coffee in a campervan from Aeropress, French Press, and Pourover. These all include grinding your beans, heating up water, and then pouring it over your beans in different methods. Pick your favorite and learn how to do it! Not only does it use little to no-power but your coffee will taste so much better! Your view doesn’t have to be the best part of your morning coffee break.
9. Experiment with Recipes
No one ever feels like there is enough time in a day and vanlife is no exception. Despite this, living life on the road is your chance to learn and try new things. Make the time and learn how to cook different meals. Change it up and learn new recipes that you can make your own. One great way to do this is to invest in a cookbook. Our favorite is from vanlifers Eamon and Bec’s Weekday Whipups!
10. Have an Outdoor Stove
Shawn and I originally had an induction stove inside our vanlife kitchen. It didn’t work for us as it pulled way too much power and we were finding ourselves at the end of the day with little power and no way to cook dinner. This prompted us to purchase a portable Coleman gas stove. The stove packs up and can likely be stored in one of your cabinets as it isn’t super large. Since it is portable we were able to have fun with where we cooked. We cooked in city parks, outside on the camping picnics table, and even inside other people’s vans. There are going to be days when it’s nice outside or even hot, and you won’t want to be in your van. It’s such a nice change of pace when you can enjoy the outdoors and cook a nice meal while enjoying the view or a great conversation with your neighbors.
Top 10 Vanlife Recipes
These vanlife recipes are recipes we made our own or came from friends we met on the road. We also highly recommend the cookbook Weekday Whip-Ups which has quite a few van friendly recipes. All of these recipes also happen to be vegan which in vanlife is quite common since dealing with raw meat can be a pain. I hope these easy to make recipes help your vanlife cooking journey be that much more enjoyable!
1. JUST Egg Breakfast Burritos
For breakfast, my favorite new item is JUST eggs. If you haven’t heard of them, JUST Eggs are a plant-based egg product that scrambles and tastes just like real eggs. It is made out of Mung Beans and comes in a plastic 12oz container. I have introduced JUST Eggs to quite a few people and I am yet to have complaints. The small downside is that a 12oz container costs about $8.99 BUT I’ve already seen that price come down and I often find it for $5.99 or $6.99 at Publix or Kroger. For reference, each bottle makes Shawn and I together about 2-3 breakfast meals. They have set a mission to produce more at a lower cost which is exciting for our budget and for the planet!
We use the JUST Eggs to make various breakfast items allowing us to mix it up so we don’t get tired of JUST Eggs.
Makes: 2-4 Burritos
- 1/3 container Just Egg
- Follow Your Heart Smoked Gouda
- 1/2 Onion
- 4oz Mushrooms or Litelife Sausage
Using about a teaspoon of olive oil to coat your pan and heat it up on medium-high heat. If you are going to use onion, sausage, or mushrooms, throw them in now. I like my sausage pretty crispy so I let it cook until it’s darker brown. Once cooked to your preference add a small bit of olive oil to the pan as JUST Egg can really stick. Throw about a third of your JUST Egg container inside the pan. Begin scrambling immediately.
Add in your smoked gouda and continue to scramble until it looks slightly fluffy. The eggs will stick to the bottom of the pan. During and at the end, scrape the pan. It takes a little effort but the egg will come off and the crispy bits are actually quite tasty.
To finish off the burritos, add the scramble into the burrito, fold it, and then sear the burrito on all four sides. Add your favorite hot sauce and you are good to go! My current favorite is Valentina!
2. JUST Egg Breakfast Tacos
Makes 4-6 tacos
- 1/3 Container Just Egg
- Follow Your Heart Smoked Gouda
- Corn Tortillas
I like my breakfast tacos pretty basic. I simply cook my JUST Egg as described above and add in the gouda. Remove the eggs from your pan and scrape clean. Throw the corn tortillas in your pan on medium-high heat. Let cook for 1-2 minutes on each side just to warm and make them flexible. Add in your eggs to your corn tortillas and fold them in half. Heat each half until slightly crispy.
Add in your favorite hot sauce and/or avocados! If you really want to spice it up then add fresh cilantro and lime!
3. JUST Egg English Muffin Sandwich
I am in love with this English Muffin breakfast Sandwich, Shawn made it for me when we first started experimenting with JUST Eggs. Let’s just say it only took one bite for the addiction to start. They do take more effort than the tacos or burrito vanlife recipes so we don’t make them quite as often.
- English Muffin
- 1/3 Container Just Egg
- Follow Your Heart Smoked Gouda
- Onion (optional)
- Litelife Sausage
- Banana Peppers
Add olive oil to your pan on medium-high heat and begin sauteing your onion until translucent. Crumble the Litelife sausage by hand and add it into the pan. Saute until golden brown or crispy. Throw in about a third of the JUST Egg container and scramble until fluffy.
Scrape the pan until clean. Toast the inside of your English Muffin and add scramble to make a sandwich. Toast your sandwich on both sides for 2-3 minutes. Add Banana Peppers, Avocado and hot sauce then enjoy!
4. Avocado Toast
Oh, the millennial dream….avocado on toast while living in your van down by the river. It really is all possible. Try out this super quick and easy vanlife recipes for breakfast, lunch, dinner, or a snack!
- Bread (sub tostadas for toast)
- Sriracha Salt
- Diced fresh tomato ( optional )
- Basil ( optional )
- Sauteed black peppered mushrooms ( optional )
Making toast in a van doesn’t have to be difficult if you have a gas cooktop you can easily toast your bread with a toaster accessory. If you have induction then simply butter the toast and treat it like a grilled cheese. Add Avocado with a touch of Sriracha salt and you will have the perfect breakfast or snack.
P.S. If you haven’t heard me gushing about Salty Stu’s incredible Sriracha Salt then I recommend you go check out his Instagram and order some asap! He will ship! Tell him Brie sent you!
Taco Tuesday, Taco Wednesday, Taco’s everyday! Truly though tacos have been a staple in our household before vanlife and will continue after vanlife. The great thing about tacos is there are so many different ways to make them and mix it up every time you have them. This top vanlife recipe is a simple way to enjoy what Shawn calls “Taco Foldovers” which is corn tortillas made into a taco that you saute on both sides until it’s slightly crunchy.
- 1-2 Cans Black Beans
- ½ teaspoon Better than Bouillon broth mix
- White Onion
- Corn Tortillas
- White Rice
- Cumin, cayenne, chili powder, salt, smoked paprika, and pepper.
Chop up a white onion and saute with olive oil until translucent. Rinse 1-2 cans of Black Beans until the water runs clear. (When you rinse the beans supposedly it helps with removing starches in return eliminates gastrointestinal discomfort and in a van that can go a long way).
Add beans to onions and let simmer for 2-5 minutes (depending on patience and hunger level). Boil about an ounce of water and add to the broth mixture in a small cup. Once mixed add to beans. Season with dry spices to preferred taste, then lower heat and cover to seal in the flavor.
Heat up corn tortillas on both sides in pan for 2-3 minutes until flexible. Add beans and white rice to tortillas and place back in pan. Fold in half and saute on both sides until slightly crunchy. Add avocado, lime, and cilantro with your favorite hot sauce and enjoy!
P.S. The great thing is that if you want leftover tacos you can simply add the rice and beans to the tortilla and throw it back in the pan directly. Let cook for 5-10 minutes with the lid on top to steam and heat up the food inside the tortillas! Easy to cook and easy cleanup!
We just recently discovered how delicious fajitas can be in the van. Truth be told we first made them at our friend’s house in Florida. They are super easy to make and the reward is delicious heavy. The great thing is you can swap leftovers between the tacos for fajitas or even a taco salad. Feel free to make this your own and add different ingredients, there is no wrong version.
- Leftover Black Beans (see above)
- Red and orange / yellow bell Peppers
Slice up peppers, onion, mushrooms, and saute in pan on medium-high heat. Season with cumin, cayenne, chili powder, and salt/pepper. Heat corn tortillas for 2-3 minutes on each side.
Add Beans, red peppers, onion, mushrooms, and hot sauce. Then Enjoy!
7. Butter Pasta
I love pasta. I mean I really love pasta. I will make pasta almost every single day and never tire of it. It’s one of the things that I am good at making compared to Shawn. I prefer a butter or olive oil-based pasta and you will notice spaghetti is not on this list and for good reason. If you don’t know how to make spaghetti then chances are this list isn’t for you anyway.
- Bowtie Pasta (I love Barilla)
- Earth Balance Butter
- Fresh Lemon Juice (or lemon pepper)
- Nutritional Yeast
- Sriracha Salt
I refuse to overcomplicate this vanlife recipe for you. It’s meant to be a light and easy to make lunch or dinner recipe. Feel free to play with it and add your own ingredients and spices.
Boil water and throw in pasta until cooked to desired softness. Add 2-3 tablespoons of butter, the juice from 1/2 lemon, and 1/2 cup of nutritional yeast. Mix until you get a slightly cheesy consistency. Throw in chopped up basil and tomatoes. Add in sriracha salt or seasoning of your choice. Enjoy your light delicious meal!
8. Buffalo Tempeh Wrap
You can thank Katie Larsen for this incredible vanlife cooking recipe. She was making this about once a day when we were in the Tetons and I quickly followed suit for good reason. It’s a spicy filling snack that is still light enough when it is hot outside. It’s also great as a salad. Simply swap out the tortilla wrap for romaine lettuce and add in your favorite salad vegetables.
- Diced onion
- Buffalo sauce
- Follow Your Heart Caesar Dressing
- Black olives
- Green Leafy Lettuce
The trick for this recipe is in preparing the sauce and tempeh. First mix the caesar dressing with buffalo sauce, Shawn likes a 2:1 ratio of buffalo to Caesar. Sauteed the diced onion after the onion is slightly caramelized add the tempeh and cook until lightly golden. Remove from pan and toss with half of the sauce mix. Return tempeh and onion mix to the pan and finish cooking, cook until the tempeh is slightly crunchy. Throw Tempeh and onion mix into the remaining buffalo dressing then add, avocado, black olives, green leafy lettuce to your tortilla, and enjoy!
I am a huge fan of one-pot meals. Soups or chilis are so great to have during cooler weather and typically yield leftovers which make me even happier. One of my favorite recipes is from Eamon and Bec’s cookbook Weekday Whip-ups which has chili and two soups and both are so delicious. The recipe below is my version of the recipe in the cookbook (which I highly recommend since it is a great book and you are supporting vanlife entrepreneurs!).
- Potatoes (sweet or your choice)
- 1 can Black Beans
- 1 can Red Beans
- 1 Yellow Onion
- 4-6 oz white or Bella mushrooms
- 1 large can of chopped Italian tomatoes
- 32oz Vegetable broth
- Cumin, cayenne, chili powder, salt, and pepper
Chop up Onion and saute until translucent, season with cumin, cayenne, chili powder, salt, and pepper. Throw in potatoes, carrots, mushrooms and saute until the potatoes can be cut in half with your wooden spoon. Season with all the above again. Add Italian Tomatoes and vegetable broth. Heat to boiling then simmer for 20-30 minutes. Enjoy!
10. Green Curry
Another vanlife recipe that we learned from a friend on the road, is curry. Vanessa taught me how to make it when we were cooking for a large group and I was immediately hooked! It’s Vegetable heavy and super easy to make. You truly can’t mess it up which is why it’s one of my favorite vanlife recipes.
- Thai Kitchen Green Curry Paste
- 1/2 head of Cauliflower
- 1-2 large florets of Broccoli
- ½ Package of Mushrooms
- Soy Sauce
- White Rice
This is probably the easiest of the vanlife recipes in the post aside from the avocado toast of course. Saute the onion until translucent then add the rest of the ingredients. Once all of your vegetables are cooked to your preference create a small space in the pan add-in 1/2 to the entire container of green curry paste. Let heat up and then mix into vegetables. Add 1 can of coconut milk and 2-3 splashes of soy sauce. Let simmer for 5-10 minutes. Add sriracha if you like it spicy then pour over white rice!
Vanlife cooking does not have to be complicated nor does it have to be expensive! I hope that these top vanlife recipes and vanlife cooking tips add some variety to your mealtime. If you try a recipe I would love to hear how it went!