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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, 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!
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 vanlife 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 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.
Vanlife cooking doesn’t have to be a huge production but rather it can be an easy fun part of your journey. Do you have any questions or any vanlife cooking tips that I missed?