When you make the announcement that you’re going to be living in a van down by the river (or in the desert, or the forest, or by the coast), one of the first questions you might have to field is how you’re going to eat.
After all, it’s one thing to chow down on Faygo and jalapeno kettle chips when you’re on the occasional road trip. And it’s another to subsist off tuna packets, freeze dried food, and salty ramen when you’re backpacking. But what do you load up your outdoor gas stove with when the road is your home and public lands are your dining room?
Finding a sustainable, healthy way to eat is key to making the vanlife work. Fortunately, it doesn’t have to be hard at all to strategize your new kitchen and pantry. You just have to get used to two things: space and timing.
What to Keep In Your Vanlife Kitchen
Since you aren’t backpacking or even car-camping, you can indulge in a more generous setup with multiple burners than you might expect. While some vans have spiffy solar-powered induction cooktops or built-in propane stoves, many vanlifers keep it simpler with an outdoor gas stove that can be set up at almost any campground.
You can certainly pare down your pre existing cookware to a few key pieces like a skillet, saucepan, knife, utensils, etc. that will work just as well an outdoor gas stove as on your range at home. Aim for minimalism and quality, and you’ll certainly be on the right track.
The other approach you can take is to buy nesting camping cooking set designed for tough environments and tight spaces in mind. Depending on your van’s storage setup, it might prove essential to not have to worry about the handles to your pots and pans taking up valuable real estate and to know that everything is designed to pack up as compact as possible.
How To Stock Your Pantry the Vanlife Way
It’s not unlike other housing shifts that might shake up your approach to cooking. Moving from a big house to a small urban apartment, for example, might mean less room to store cookware and bulk quantities, but gives you an opportunity to pick up fresh food to enjoy a few days at a time. Vanlife is similar, though a little more extreme. You’ll want to get used to more frequent shopping trips, but also adjust to finding ingredients in what are often quite remote corners of the country.
Many vanlife veterans recommend shopping for items that can be used for multiple meals. Peanut butter, for example, keeps well and can work on toast for breakfast, with celery for snacks, hidden in a smoothie, or mix with soy sauce for a Thai dinner. Cream cheese can top a bagel, add moisture and flavor to a lunch wrap, and add creamy heft to an evening pasta Alfredo. Shredded carrots play nice in everything from miso and rice bowls to salads to a side dish like slaw to pair with protein grilled on your outdoor gas stove.
Another trick is to vanlife is adjusting to the refrigeration problem. You don’t have to write off niceties like cream for your coffee or cheese for your crackers just because you’re essentially car-camping full time. Plenty of vanlife kitchen setups include coolers, refrigerators, or a combination of both.
For longer jaunts into the wilderness or trips to hotter climates, you can simply transition away from city habits like buying spring mix in bulk and pick up root vegetables like sweet potatoes and turnips that stay fresh on the shelf.
It’s also not a bad idea to keep a few canned veggies on hand, even in tight storage space, in case you pass through a town where fresh fruits and vegetables are hard to come by. When you’re cruising through rural areas, you might not encounter many farmers markets or even grocery stores, and might have to get a little creative about what you buy and the meals you plan. On the other hand, boondocking in a Walmart parking lot is one way to find fresh food and shelter in one fell swoop!