If “vanlife cooking” conjures up visions of Top Ramen and PB&J sandwiches, you’re not alone. Many people are concerned about getting a variety of nutritious and delicious meals while living in a van. Worry not—a little planning and preparation makes it easy to enjoy different meals every day of the week, regardless of where you’re parked.
One of the best parts of traveling in a van is that you can go wherever your curiosity takes you while bringing along many of the luxuries of home. Instead of constantly eating at restaurants or making do with the deli section at grocery stores, you can create fresh and satisfying meals from the comfort of your camper van. You’ll save money, eat healthier, and enjoy the quality time spent cooking. In this guide, we’re sharing eight pro tips for van life cooking and five simple recipes to get you inspired.
1. GAME PLAN
When shopping at unfamiliar grocery stores, you might be tempted to wander around and grab whatever foods catch your eye. Resist that urge and go into the store with a strategy. Know what meals you want to make and how long the groceries need to last. Do not overstock your van kitchen because it will be difficult to cook in and ingredients might be wasted. Instead, aim to restock fresh and refrigerated items often while keeping the basics like flour, rice, seasonings, and canned foods on deck.
2. MULTIPURPOSE INGREDIENTS
To make the most of small pantries and mini-fridges, buy ingredients that work for many different types of meals. The five recipes we’re sharing below illustrate how you can remix the same basic ingredients for a never-ending variety of meals.
3. BASE LAYERS
Do a partial meal prep by cooking a large batch of grains like rice or quinoa to serve as the base for several different meals over a couple of days. Having cooked grains ready to use drastically cuts down the time you need to prepare food, which is helpful when you want to whip up a quick lunch to fuel your adventures.
4. TRAVEL ON YOUR PLATE
Your palette will never be bored if you draw inspiration from cuisines around the world. One of the quickest ways to transform basic ingredients into an exciting and diverse menu is to stock up on spices and sauces. These relatively small ingredients pack a huge punch in flavor. We recommend buying bottled lemon and lime juice to zest up recipes without requiring you to buy new lemons and limes every time.
Transform the components of last night’s dinner into a different type of meal the next day for an easy lunch that isn’t just leftovers. The ingredients from a special dinner of sushi can be reimagined as a sushi bowl the next day, or a cozy bowl of mashed potatoes can be turned into crispy fried potato tacos. Take the ingredients and flavors of meals you already love and try creating versions of them as wraps, sandwiches, burritos, tacos, salads, and bowls.
6. IN THE FLAMES
When you’re in the mood for baked and grilled food, a campfire is just the thing. Take advantage of spots that allow campfires to spread out and cook meals you wouldn’t typically be able to make in the van kitchen. Some favorites are baked potatoes, grilled veggie or fruit kabobs, and campfire nachos.
7. SWEET SOLUTIONS
Even without an oven, you can indulge in your love of baking. Experiment with stovetop cake and microwave mug cake recipes. Pancakes, french toast, and crepes are ideal for satisfying sugar cravings because they don’t require any special equipment and can be dressed up with toppings for breakfast or dessert.
A small kitchen means you can only store the essentials. Limit yourself to just a few nonstick pots and pans. A cast-iron skillet is handy for cooking in the van and on a campfire. Invest in collapsible measuring cups and nesting Tupperware. Store spices in small rectangular plastic containers to save space. While plastic dishes are the go-to for van lifers, there are plenty of design-conscious dishes made of BPA-free plastic that will allow you to appreciate your masterpiece of a meal with all your senses.
Vanlife Cooking Photography: @cookanywhere
READY TO GET COOKING?
Below are five simple meals to make in your camper van. All of the recipes are made from the same versatile ingredients which can be found at almost any grocery store, in addition to some non-perishable spices, sauces, and recipe-specific add ons. To save time, prep the foundational ingredients all at once so they are ready to use in each recipe.
-Cook a large pot of white or brown rice
-Cut bell peppers, tomatoes, carrots, cucumbers, and onions and store individually in Tupperware
Mediterranean Rice Salad
1. Mix 1 cup of cooked rice with 1 can of drained and rinsed chickpeas.
2. Add 2 cups of cut bell peppers, tomatoes, and cucumbers.
3. Add 2 tablespoons of lemon juice and a splash of olive oil.
4. Mix all of the ingredients and season to taste with salt, pepper, dried basil, dried mint, and garlic powder.
5. Optional: Add in olives, artichoke hearts, and/or top with hummus.
Fajita Veggie Burrito
1. Use 1 teaspoon of olive oil to stir fry, 1 cup of cut bell peppers and onions until onions are translucent.
2. Add 1 can of drained black or pinto beans and 1 cup of rice to the pan and heat the mixture.
3. Season to taste with salt, pepper, garlic powder, cumin, chili powder, and lime juice.
4. In a different pan (or the same pan after the filling has been transferred to a bowl and the pan has been cleaned), heat flour tortillas.
5. Assemble burritos by placing the filling in the center of the tortillas along with sliced avocado and rolling it all up.
6. Optional: Add cheese, sour cream, cilantro, and/or salsa. Use corn tortillas instead of flour for fajita veggie tacos.
Vegetarian Sushi Bowl
1. Season 1 cup of rice with soy sauce and sushi vinegar to taste.
2. Add 1 cup of cut carrot and cucumber.
3. Top with half an avocado.
4. Add torn up nori seaweed, sesame seeds, and sushi ginger.
5. Optional: Add fried tofu for a more filling meal.
Pesto Pasta Salad
1. Make 2 cups of pasta according to the directions on the package.
2. Drain and transfer back to the pot.
3. Add 1 cup of cut bell pepper, cucumber, and tomato.
4. Add ½ cup of olives and artichoke hearts.
5. Stir in a couple of tablespoons of pesto, a splash of lemon juice or balsamic vinegar, and salt and pepper to taste.
6. Optional: Add chickpeas for protein and/or garnish with parmesan cheese.
Tofu and Veggie Stir Fry
1. Cube and fry half a block of tofu then set aside.
2. Stir fry 1 cup of cut carrots, bell peppers, and onions in a teaspoon of olive oil.
3. Add tofu back into the pan to make sure everything is hot.
4. Season with 1 tablespoon of soy sauce, a splash of rice vinegar. Add ginger and garlic powder to taste.
5. Serve over warm rice.
6. Optional: Experiment with different bottled stir-fry sauces. Alternatively, use a curry simmer sauce instead of the other seasonings for a tofu and veggie curry.
Many van dwellers follow plant-based diets to avoid cross-contamination in a small kitchen and because vegan foods generally have longer shelf lives than meat and dairy products. However, the recipes above can be altered by adding meat, fish, dairy, or eggs if you wish. The recipes make 1-3 servings of each meal depending on how hungry you are. If you’re looking for a place to find more road meals, check out our favorite camper van recipes website, Cook Anywhere by clicking here. So what do you think about vanlife cooking?
With these tips and recipes, you can easily and affordably make colorful, nourishing meals anywhere you choose to go. If you’re ready to ditch the old way of traveling and say hello to the convenience and freedom of van life, visit Rec Van today.