van life cooking

Van Life Cooking Essentials – Making the Most of the Small Space!

Van Life Cooking Hacks we love and use every day!

Our friends and family members are always asking us what we do for this and how we do that regarding van life.  The questions are almost endless. Van life cooking, how do we do it? What do we eat?

We love it though.  Teaching others about this alternative lifestyle has been very inspiring for some.   One of the more common questions we get is how do we cook in a van and what do we eat? (another popular question is how we handle our dogs while living and traveling full time in a van. (We talked about that in this post.)

It’s as if our friends who haven’t entirely wrapped their minds around us living and traveling full time in this van.  All of the changes in our lives are mind-boggling to some.  The truth is, many things in our lives have not changed that much.  While other things have changed drastically.

Van life cooking is not so different than cooking meals in our home. We eat and cook pretty much exactly how we did while living in a house and condominium.  Actually, in fact, we eat better now. We cook more simply and use much less than we used to.  

Van life cooking is such a small part of our lives whereas it used to be a driving topic of conversation when we were stationary and geographically anchored.

Options For Cooking In A Van

We have a few different methods and options when it comes to van life cooking.  There are some options that we have sacrificed, such as our Instapot, electric griddle, and our toaster oven.  We loved using those in our skoolie.  

In our van, they not only take up too much storage space, they also use way too much electricity.  We could handle it with our solar and house battery set up once in a while, but it just isn’t worth the storage space they take up. 

All of our van life cooking is done on our propane gas oven and stovetop.  We use the RecPro Stainless Steel Vented Range RV oven and stove.  

Three stove top burners and a 21” x 27” oven.  

Van life 3 burner oven
Cooking onion and potatoes on our Three stove top burners and a 21” x 27” oven.  

The oven is great when we want to cook a pizza, cookies, or biscuits, or bake a cake or casserole.  We could even cook a small turkey or roast in it.  

Admittedly, we haven’t used it as much as we thought we would.  We have done a few pizzas, a few dozen chocolate chip cookies, and biscuits once in a while.  (Don loves his sausage biscuits and gravy for breakfast)

Keep Van Life Cooking Simple

As with all other things when living tiny, van life cooking is simple. We basically cook with four items:

  1. Cast Iron Pan
  2. 2-quart saucepan
  3. Aero Press Coffee Maker
  4. Tea Kettle for boiling water

The Cast Iron Frying Pan cooks our food perfectly: eggs and veggies toast our slices of bread, and bake our casseroles and cakes (for birthday celebrations). Van life cooking is so much easier with this frying pan. It makes clean-up a breeze!

Our Lodge Cast Iron Frying Pan

We started using the cast iron frying pan in our skoolie.  Honestly, I don’t think we will ever use another frying pan, ever.

The 2-quart Saucepan boils our kinds of pasta, veggies, and sauces.  We make grits almost daily for breakfast and occasionally gourmet Ramen noodles.

Our Aeropress is the newest item in our food lineup.  We switched to it from a French Press.  The Air Press uses less water for a clean up and the coffee is richer and creamier.

The Tea Kettle is for boiling water for Kona and Kinzie’s food as well as tea, hot cocoa, or anything else that calls for hot water.

That’s it.  That is all we use.  We use each of those items on a daily basis.  

We use our tea kettle for coffee, tea, oatmeal, and our Huel Hot and Savory meals

There are a couple of things we would like to add to our arsenal of cooking items.

Cast Iron Dutch Oven

Cast iron is the shizzle!  We love how easy it is to clean and how evenly it cooks.  With the dutch oven pot, we could make stews, and soups and replace the 2-quart saucepan.

12-volt or USB-C Smoothie Mixer

We love a smoothie!  For breakfast, snack, lunch, or dinner, a smoothie is good anytime!  This 12-volt mixer won’t use up much of our precious batteries, and it will blend up a good healthy smoothie meal.

We miss our Ninja blender, but we do not miss the 1,500 watts of power or the storage space it took up.

We now use the 12v rechargeable Blend-Jet 2. This little blender is powerful, compact, and sexy! It makes for a delicious shake or smoothie!

Cleaning Up

Cleaning up the mess made while preparing, cooking, and eventually cleaning the pans and dishes is another thing to contend with while living full-time in a van.

Water is precious!  Having only 33 gallons on hand at any given time, you learn to conserve as much water as possible.

The cast iron frying pan is the easiest to clean up.  We simply wipe it out with a paper towel and it is good to go for the next meal.  Teflon-coated frying pans have nothing on this bad boy!

For the other dishes, we try to conserve as much water as possible.  Praying the food with a spray bottle with soap and water is a great way to “pre-soak” our dishes before cleaning them.

We only have 7 gallons of grey tank available at a time as well, so the importance of conserving water is to avoid emptying our grey tank as little as possible as well.

Van Life Does Not Mean Sacrificing Yummy Food

Some of our favorite meals to eat are the same foods everyone living in homes, apartments, or condominiums eats as well. Van life cooking has not forced us to change our eating habits. We do eat better and healthier however since becoming nomads.

We eat oatmeal, blueberry muffins, sausage biscuits, eggs, grits, and yogurt with granola at breakfast.

For a snack before lunch, we will have fruit, a muffin, yogurt, or something easy and quick.

Lunch is usually something like fruit, peanut butter with banana or an apple, and maybe even a sandwich occasionally.

For supper, Beyond Meat burgers, pasta, Ramen, soup, or sometimes a good pizza baked in our oven.

Basically, we eat whatever we want and what is driving our taste buds at the moment.   

Buddha Bowls: Sweet Potatoes, CousCous and Lentils

One thing that has definitely changed is that we do not “eat out” as nearly as much as we used to.  Getting local Chinese, Mexican, or some yummy Indian cuisine was too simple when we lived back in Central Florida.  

We knew the restaurants we good, clean, and affordable.  

Living on the road, always in a new town, you have to rely on Yelp, Google, or some other rating website to determine if the food is good.  That works out most of the time, but we have ended up on the short end of the stick one too many times.

Wrap Up To Our Van Life Cooking Essentials

We love living and traveling in our van.  We honestly can not think of a better and more appropriate lifestyle for us right now. 

As much as we love living and traveling in a van, we also love eating a good meal.  Van life cooking for us is easy and fun!

Don recently made some Chinese rice with mushrooms and vegetables.  This was the best fried rice he has ever cooked.  He did it in a van! That’s right! Van life cooking baby!

All that goes to show, is that not only can you cook and eat delicious meals while living in a van, but you can also improve your cooking and broaden your cooking repertoire at the same time.

Van life cooking doesn’t have to be about making sacrifices and accommodations.  It is all about pairing the lifestyle we have chosen with healthy, nutritious, and delicious foods.

If you would like to learn more about van life cooking or some Van Life Kitchen Essential items, we have a whole list we wrote about in the post linked above. Let us know what you think.

What are some of your favorite food recipes?  We’d love to try some in our van!

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