In the past year I’ve been really lucky to have had multiple opportunities to experiment with camper van travel – and I totally LOVE IT!
I’ve had three different adventure van trips with a very sweet man and camper van named Beluga. In Summer 2018 we traveled for four days on Vancouver Island, and in September 2018 we traveled for eight days from California to Arizona. And this past June we traveled for a few weeks from California, Arizona, and Utah between five national parks, three hot springs, many river campgrounds, and lots and lots of big trees. In fact, when I originally drafted this article, I was sitting above the North Rim of the Grand Canyon.
I love to travel, and I love to eat well. In this article, we’ll talk all about how to eat well on the road and best plan for camper van travel. Whether you’re a vegan or vegetarian, camper van meal planning is a bit easier than vegan backpacking, and offers a lot more opportunity – and no shortage of awesome views!
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Adventuring through Utah and Arizona 🌵with this lovely human. We visited Zion National Park, Bryce Canyon National Park, Lake Powell and Antelope Canyon (those swirly rock formations!), and North Rim Grand Canyon, and then Sedona. We’ve lucked out with awesome weather (super hot during the day and very chilly at night), and had tons of adventures finding the perfect campsite each night. Most nights we take advantage of free ‘boondocking’ sites that are not sanctioned campgrounds, like our super secret sunset Lake Powell spot and the forested beauty of Grand Canyon. Overwhelmed with gratitude for this beautiful southwest corner of the US and for all the FUN I have had on this trip with @personal.finance.coach 🌞
I’m settled at home now, and I have had some time to reflect on why I’ve enjoyed camper van life so much. And really, one of the main reasons I’ve taken to camper van life so happily is that it makes it super easy to maintain my healthy lifestyle while on the road – wherever we might be. Having good food and great green tea is a priority for me at home, and it’s really delightful when I can enjoy my favorite food and drinks while on the road.
Initially, I wasn’t sure what to cook while on the road, yet through experiments across the country, we’ve had some awesome meals. In this article I will detail some of the strategies we used on our trips to ensure that we have wholesome, delicious food everyday, along with some of the easy and delicious breakfast, lunch, and dinner recipes we made along the way.
How to Prepare for a Camper Van Trip
Often, when people plan for camping they base their meals on convenience foods: dehydrated foods, meals-ready-to-eat, and snacks. These are the primary foods on offer in general stores, national park towns, and ‘camp’ stores. But it doesn’t need to be the basis for your diet if you plan correctly and have a strong desire to cook under less-than-idea conditions.
What It’s Like to Cook in a Van
Our little van has a single gas burner stove (a Ninja stove), and a small mini fridge. I would say to eat your best on the road, having both of these things (a heating thing and a cooling thing) are pretty dang important. It means we have hot tea and coffee each morning, along with fresh fruits and crisp veggies every day. It also means I can bring along my favorite fridge staples like vegan cheese, sauerkraut, and coconut milk. With these conveniences of home on the road, it was easy to eat as good as we do at home, with just a few exceptions:
- We used more prepared foods than normal (canned beans, store-bought hummus and kraut, and some premade meals for quicker dinners. This meant slightly higher costs and some more plastic waste than I would have liked;
- We created much more simple meals: we have a very small cutting board and only one pan, so more involved meals (a relative concept, I know) are sparse. I used just 1-2 veggies per meal, rather than my standard 5 or more.
- We’re eating fewer organic options, as we’ve been sometimes limited to small town grocery stores.
- And forget washing veggies: water is limited and reserved for drinking and showers.
How to Plan Food for a Camper Van Trip
You got your park passes and hiking gear ready to go. Now it’s time for the fun part: planning for food!
First, do an inventory of your cooking options: do you have pots, pans, and cooking tools? How will you eat the foods: do you have bowls, plates, and utensils? In our van we use a non-Telfon, non-stick skillet and a pressure cooker that we mostly use as a saucepan. This mirrors what I have at home too: a pot for cooking grains and beans (and heating water), and a skillet to sauté veggies, warm leftovers or tortillas, and more.
Then, plan out food for each day. Assuming you need a breakfast, lunch, dinner and snack each day, what does that look like? How many days of oatmeal do you need? How many times will you eat kale during the trip? How much coffee fuels a day of travel? How many banana chips can I eat in between my singing marathons?
Mapping out your daily meals (whether or not you stick to it perfectly) can be really helpful. This ensures you have an ample amount of meals and gives you flexibility to choose among some options. Also recommended: my sweetie always has what he calls ‘bail-out’ meals: cans of soup, pre-made dinners, and pre-cooked rice for times when you either need an extra meal, are unwell and don’t feel like cooking, and/or you need to stay out an extra day before going into a town. This was helpful as we both got quite sick on this trip and had many days when we didn’t feel like doing much cooking.
For example, we mapped out meals like this:
- Breakfast: He eats oatmeal, I eat chia pudding for breakfast. However, when we traveled to some really cold locations, so I ate oatmeal many days, too. So our grocery list includes organic oatmeal + all the mix-ins (cranberries, chia seed, hemp seed, pumpkin seed, banana chips, and more) multiplied by the number of days on the road.
- Lunches: We usually eat really simple lunches: crackers and flatbreads, sliced veggies with hummus, avocado, sauerkraut, fruit with nut butter, and such. We rarely bust out all the pots and pans for lunch, and these light meals are great for roadside attractions and pull offs – wherever the day might take you! See picture above for one example of our daily spread.
- Dinners: I’m mostly vegan and he’s mostly vegetarian, and on the road it’s super easy to eat tons of plant proteins and get in all our daily veggies. We planned out a few simple meals for each week, then brainstormed each day about what sounds best depending on our mood and our ever-changing climate situation. I made a list of some of our vegan camper van meals below.
- Snacks: Choose your favorite snacks for hiking or just munching: we always have chocolate bars, some snack bars like Kind or LaraBars, nut butter packets, along with tons of nuts, seeds, and dried fruits. I really like to travel with the Amazing Grass powders to ensure I’m getting a bonus amount of greens while on the road.
- Tea + Coffee: These beverages are my most favorite things on the planet. I always travel with my favorite green tea and with matcha, and he loves his fresh ground coffee each morning. I like to ensure there is honey for my tea in the morning, and that I have some herbal teas for nighttime. There are few things more lovely that sitting by the campfire with warm tea or hot chocolate on a cold night in the forest!
What to Cook While You’re On the Road
Most of the meals we made used just a few veggies, some veggie protein (almost always beans or lentils), and a grain of some sort. Some of these meals are so simple and straightforward, it makes we wonder why I overcomplicate things at home (a lesson for food and for life…?!). Most nights a quick meal takes about 15 minutes with a few veggies and some staples from the food bin. Here are some of the best healthy foods to eat while on the road.
Homemade Tacos: Found some really cute ‘street taco’ size mini corn tortillas, which were begging to be made into tacos. Diced and sautéed some veggies, warmed the tortillas with cheese/vegan cheese, then dolloped on some canned refried beans, served with a little can of salsa and hot sauce.
Lentil & Veggie Stew: Sautéed veggies (onion, carrot, zucchini, red pepper) with a can of lentils and half a can of diced tomatoes, along with some salt and my new favorite condiment, Everything but the Bagel (EBTB). We served this over quinoa.
Homemade Red Lentil Curry: One night we had some extra time and put in the extra effort to make homemade red lentil curry. We sautéed veggies (onion, zucchini, red pepper), added a half can of coconut milk, a half can of tomatoes, red lentils, and some curry powder. With the pressure cooker it took about 10 minutes to turn it into a flavorful curry. We served this with fresh made jasmine rice.
Soup + Quesadillas: An easy, quick meal. One night when we were both sick, I warmed a can of Amy Lentil Soup, and served alongside simple cheese quesadillas made with corn tortillas, cheese/vegan cheese, and sautéed spinach with EBTB, along with hot sauce.
Quick Indian Curries: Normally I don’t buy premade little dinners of this sort, but they are great to have on the road. They are super affordable, usually quite good, and can be improved by adding fresh veggies. I like the Tasty Bites or Maya Kaimal brand – both have simple, whole-food ingredients, and many are vegan. Sweetie made one version one of the nights I was sick: he sautéed some broccoli and onions, then added one of the packages, and served over rice. Super easy and yummy.
Chickpeas and Kale: This combo is great over rice or in wraps of any kind. Sauté a lot of onions in olive oil, add a pinch of salt, then toss in a ton of kale. Cook until fully wilted and bright green. Add in some drained, canned chickpeas, and enjoy. I also like to add chopped dates or raisins to this. Serve with rice, bread, or wraps.
Pasta: An easy, homey meal to make on the road. Sauté veggies, add jarred pasta sauce, and then toss over noodles of your choosing. Serve with cheese/vegan cheese, and/or covered in nutritional yeast.
All of these foods are, of course, easy quick meals for the home too. For this longer trip, we had time to plan out weeks, and also we had ample time to prepare the foods and enjoy them in locations across NorCal, SoCal, Utah and Arizona.
Happy trails! Andrea