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How to Avoid Food Waste in Van Life


Whether you’re an eco-minded adventurer considering van life or a full-time van dweller trying to be more green, this guide to minimizing van life food waste is for you. Most van travelers have already drastically downsized their possessions and generally use fewer resources like water and electricity. However, we all still need to eat. Food waste in your camper van might be an area for improvement you’ve overlooked–until now. 

Americans have a monumental food waste problem, with around 30-40% of the country’s food supply going uneaten. Most of this food ends up in landfills, where it produces methane. Aside from releasing greenhouse gas, discarded food also wastes all of the resources used to grow, harvest, package, and ship the products. 

Luckily, reducing food waste isn’t difficult. It comes down to adopting a few new habits, which we’re sharing below. Still looking for a New Year’s resolution? How about one that reflects your love for the natural world and has a real impact? Start with a single tip from this list or challenge yourself to take on all eight.

Meal Plan

Wasting less food starts at the grocery store. When you wander around the store adding random items to your cart, you often end up with a strange assortment of ingredients that are more likely to go uneaten. Ensure you’re only buying what you can eat before it goes bad by creating a meal plan. Not only will you get the right amount of every ingredient, but you can organize multiple meals around the same ingredients. For more tips, check out How to Plan a Variety of Meals in Your Van Kitchen. Don’t forget to factor in the food you already have at home as well as account for any meals you’ll be eating out.

Grocery Shop Often

Most vans have smaller refrigerators, which is an asset when it comes to reducing food waste. You’ll need to restock fresh produce more often, meaning you’re less likely to have fruits and veggies rotting in the back of a shelf. In general, grocery shopping more often will allow you to shop mindfully and purchase ingredients for meals you’re currently craving. Buying local and seasonal produce is another way to reduce the environmental footprint of your grocery haul. 

Keep Non-Perishables on Board

If you do end up left with a random lonely vegetable at the tail end of your groceries, don’t despair. You can turn this straggler into a quick and easy meal with the help of non-perishable staples. Keep items like pasta, rice, jarred sauces, and canned beans in your cabinets at all times so you’re not tempted to eat out and let that solitary head of broccoli wither away. 

Store Food Correctly

Knowing the proper way to store fresh ingredients can extend their shelf life. Put a paper towel into packages of greens to prevent sliminess. Keep bananas, avocados, apples, pears, and stone fruits away from other groceries as they release a gas called ethylene which makes other items ripen and rot more quickly. Don’t wash produce until you are about to eat it to discourage mold formation. The ideal temperature for a fridge, 37 degrees Fahrenheit, will keep your precious cargo fresh for the longest time possible. A little-known fact is that the refrigerator door is the warmest part of a fridge, so you should avoid stowing milk and eggs there. 

Understand Food Dating Labels

Tons of good food is thrown away every year because people don’t understand what the dates on their food mean. With “Best if Used By/Before,” “Sell-By,” “Use-By,” and “Freeze-By” in the mix, it’s no wonder people are confused. In fact, none of these labels refer to the safety of the food. Instead, they show consumers when items will have the best flavor and quality and tell stores when to stop carrying items on their shelves. This means that you can safely eat products that are past any of these dates as long as you don’t notice any other signs of spoilage. The only exception to this rule is that you shouldn’t buy or use infant formula after the “Use-By” date. 

Be Creative with Leftovers

Avoid throwing out leftovers by making meals that keep well and are appetizing day after day. You should only store leftovers for about 3 or 4 days in the fridge. If you won’t be able to eat them in that timeframe, move them over to the freezer for a homemade microwave meal you’ll be happy to have after a long day of hiking. You can also mix up leftovers by turning them into something new, like a stew or wrap. Looking for more inspiration? The Netflix cooking competition show Best Leftovers Ever! highlights creative ways to transform leftovers into completely different meals. 

Utilize Less-Appealing Ingredients

Some of the best foods are innovative reimaginings of unappealing ingredients. We’re looking at you, french toast! Besides serving as the base of this delicious breakfast, stale bread can be turned into homemade croutons. Save the ends and skins of veggies in the freezer to make a hearty stock. Or turn the greens of carrots or beets that you’d normally throw away into a fresh pesto or chimichurri sauce. There are endless ways to keep perfectly good ingredients out of landfills.


Even if you utilize all of these tips, you’ll inevitably have to throw away some food. However, you can divert it from landfills by composting. Invest in a small compost bin to store under your sink. Since you’re living in a traveling home anyway, it is easy to find places to drop off your compost along the way. ShareWaste is a network that can connect you to people who are composting, worm farming, and raising farm animals. Your kitchen scraps will go to good use and you’ll get to meet interesting people. In a pinch, many farmers’ markets and Whole Foods stores also have bins to dump a bag of compost.  

Whether you choose to implement one tip from this list or all eight, give yourself a pat on the back. You are one step closer to living in harmony with our planet while getting to explore all the beauty Mother Nature has to offer.

Looking for more van life sustainability tips? Check out our “Guide to Slow Travel in a Camper Van” and “Ways to Reduce Waste on the Road.” Ready to join the van revolution? Browse a wide variety of game-changing new and used camper vans at RecVan.