Round up: Van-friendly foods

You live in a van and have unreliable refrigeration — or none at all. Which foods should you keep in your van?

This is an adjustment for people used to house-dwelling. A fridge and freezer make perishables possible for longer. One thing we’ve noticed about folks our parents’ age is a love of buying lots of meat and stocking it in the freezer. Chris and I love things like yogurt and hummus, and relied heavily on refrigerators to enjoy them for days on end.



Couscous cooks quickly and is a tasty side to sauteed greens and rotisserie chicken


Van-dwelling poses a challenge in either scenario. Even if you do have a mini-fridge in your van, it likely takes too much energy to get the freezer temperature low enough. Or you may be somewhere without hookups or enough sunlight for your solar panels to power your fridge. Or, if you’re like us, you have a very small cooler and get sick of replenishing the ice so you try not to rely on it too heavily.

Looking for ideas on food for van travel? Here are the kinds of items we keep in our van pantry.

We use the following criteria:

  1. Longevity: Will keep for approximately a week or longer without refrigeration
  2. Ease of Cooking: Relatively painless to cook with a camp stove
  3. Healthy(ish): Not junk food or loaded with preservatives/processed stuff
  4. Good Flavor: Doesn’t taste totally sad and gross

This is not the only food you can keep in your van. The idea is to have these staples at hand, and then you can supplement them with fresh, perishable things. 


Difficulty: Easy

  • Oats: Keep a little cinnamon, dried fruit and nuts to add to these too
  • Dry cereal: Toss the box to save space
  • Rice or couscous: You can buy the quick-cook kind or pre-cooked and vacuum-sealed
  • Grits or polenta: Good for breakfast OR dinner
  • Pasta: Avoid cooking pasta in windy weather…it takes forever for the water to boil!
  • Instant mashed potatoes: Just add water and you’ve got some starchy deliciousness in one minute


Difficulty: Easy

  • Fruit with peels: Bananas and oranges keep well, are sturdier than berries or stone fruit, and are easy to eat in one sitting
  • Dried fruit: Tasty but can have lots of added sugar, so choose wisely


Difficulty: Medium

  • Root vegetables: Carrots, onions, yams, parsnips or other roots can be cooked alone or added to other meals
  • Small squash: You don’t have an oven for a big spaghetti squash, but you can handle zucchini, sunburst or other soft-skinned squash
  • Soup in cans or cartons: It’s hard to get leafy greens, but some fancier pre-made soups have kale along with celery, peas, carrots, etc.



Our homemade produce keeper… It uses space more efficiently in the back of the van



Difficulty: Medium

  • Farm-fresh eggs: Store-bought eggs in the U.S. are power-washed which breaks down the shell and requires refrigeration, but farm eggs from farmer’s markets can last longer without refrigeration
  • Legumes: Canned beans, canned peas, dried lentils and other legumes are an excellent source of plant protein
  • Nut butters: Peanut, almond, cashew and other nut butters are great on toast, crackers or added to oatmeal
  • Tuna packets: Tuna or salmon in vacuum sealed packets have good flavor and are packed with protein; you can even find chicken in cans but we haven’t tried it
  • Jerky and cured meats: Not necessarily the healthiest, but good if you’re looking for some red meat


Difficulty: Hard


Is this an exhaustive list? No, I’m sure we’ve missed something. Please share your ideas in the comments!

  6 comments for “Round up: Van-friendly foods

  1. 2017-04-14 at 7:26 pm

    Love this post! Cooking is probably my least favorite part about van life mostly because of the clean up lol. I usually make big bags of trailmix and quinoa salads that are usually good for 3-5 days in my cooler. The farm fresh eggs is a good idea, I got easily frusterated with regular eggs and gave up, I will have to try it out. 🙂 Thanks for the tips!

    • Tamara & Chris
      2017-04-15 at 7:41 am

      Yes, clean up is the worst!!! And quinoa salads are a great idea. 🙂

  2. Bill
    2017-05-08 at 6:37 am

    Two words that may help: “Dollar Tree.” Surprising what you can find in one- or two-serving sizes in the refrigerated and freezer section, like 5 oz of turkey bacon, 8 oz of frozen chicken thighs, 4 oz of flounder, a few ounces of cheese (not the fake kind, but some reasonably good 6 oz Nevada cheeses and 3 oz feta ). Oh, and ultra-pasteurized milk quarts that don’t have to be refrigerated until you use them. Package sizes are small, because everything has to sell for a buck. There’s some questionable choices in the refrigerated section, but if you use your judgment there’s some good stuff there.

    • Tamara & Chris
      2017-05-08 at 6:50 am

      Thanks for the tip, Bill!

  3. 2017-10-06 at 7:11 pm

    Have you ever tried the dehydrated back packers food? Use an immersion water heater (12 or 120 volt) in a wide mouth stainless thermos jar, Yeti Mug, or insulated wide mouth carafe to heat your water. (When you heat the water in the thermos to a boil, it tends to stay warm for four to six hours. Without having to pre heat the thermos.) Then add your freeze dried eggs and bacon for breakfast, or chilli or stew for dinner. Also cooks rice, beans and noodles with thermal cooking.

    It’s not as fast as a microwave but it’s simple without watching and no chance of burning..

    Clean up is easy with a “pump up” sprayer like an aquabot, or a quart garden sprayer, and a soap dispensing brush.

    • Tamara & Chris
      2017-10-06 at 9:21 pm

      Yes! Freeze-dried backpacker meals are a great option. We didn’t use them all the time because they can be pricey and packed with salt, but they’re easy and tasty too!

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