#vanlife cooking

How do you cook (more than Cup o’ Noodles) when you live in a van?

Let us begin by saying that Googling “camping meals” and related search terms is a waste of time. Because everyone will suggest either a) cooking a grand feast in your full kitchen, freezing it, and reheating at your campsite, or b) making something in a Dutch oven over the fire that takes six hours. Neither of those are practical for van life.

Our first meals started out pretty, well, sad:

 

Mac and cheese poo

Is it cheese…or poo?

For those of you on our email list, you’ve already come to know and loathe this photo. We made it somewhat healthier by adding broccoli, but come on. Now that we’ve been on the road for a few weeks, we’ve figured some things out.

A Typical Breakfast

We usually make breakfast at camp; it’s nice to take your time in the morning rather than rush to leave. When we used to go camping on weekends, we loved making bacon and eggs — they were the perfect accompaniment to fresh air and forest. But we can’t eat that every day. Instead, our typical breakfast looks like this:

 

Typical breakfast

Black coffee, hard-boiled eggs with salt and pepper, toast with jam, and fresh fruit

 

We hard boil the eggs so we don’t have to be too obsessive about ice in the cooler. For the toast, we fry up the bread in the frying pan with some butter (like when you’re making a grilled cheese). And coffee is made by French press, so all we need is boiling water. Simple, filling, and tasty.

A Typical Lunch

We usually eat lunch out. Why? Lunch at restaurants is cheaper than dinner, and trying local food is the hands-down best way to get to know a place.

For instance, Chris found a map of the best BBQ joints in Texas, so we’ve been eating a lot of chopped brisket sandwiches for lunch. But the best one by far was at The Salt Lick outside of Austin:

 

Salt Lick brisket

The sauce was mustard-based. YUM. Thanks for recommending, Ben and Chuck!

 

When looking for restaurants, we usually go for inexpensive to moderately priced, as in $7-12/person. Looking on Yelp usually helps, as does driving around to see where everyone else is.

A Typical Dinner

Because we’re usually eating big for lunch, we tend to keep dinners simple yet fresh. This has been the hardest to get right: the balance between things that are fresh AND easy. The key is knowing:

  1. You’ll need to stop by the grocery store at least every other day, and
  2. It’s OK to get pre-made things, like pizza crusts or sausages, if you pair them with fresh things.

Some of the meals we’ve enjoyed most so far:

 

Cheese board

When the weather’s good, a meat and cheese “board” with wine makes for a tasty meal.

 

Sausage and salad

Spinach and kale caesar with avocado and pre-cooked (then reheated) jalapeño sausages. Usually we top the sausages with sauteed onions and sweet peppers, but, as you can see, it was raining and we were in a hurry.

 

Bagged salad is actually a real lifesaver for getting some fresh greens. The all-in-one packs that already include dressing are great because then you don’t end up with extras of everything.

 

Fajitas

We’ve even made fajitas! There’s lots of chopping involved, but the actual cooking is simple. Don’t forget to buy a spicy chile to add to the meat and veggies, as well as the guacamole. And heating the tortillas in a pan makes a big difference.

 

Stovetop pizza

Stovetop pizza with pre-made crust, tomato sauce, Italian-blend cheese, sausage, red onion, corn, and tomato. Cook it slowly, and cover it briefly to help melt the cheese.

Don’t Forget a Nightcap

Lastly, there’s nothing better than sitting under the stars with a hot apple cider spiked with bourbon or whiskey. We buy the just-add-water packets and add liquor.

 

Drive thru liquor

In line at our very first drive-thru liquor store in Louisiana

Our “Kitchen”

To make all of these things, we have a fairly basic kitchen that includes the essentials. Here’s everything we have, along with links to the exact items (or reasonably similar ones) if you want to stock up:

Hope you all found this useful and inspirational for your camp cooking! To close us out, here are some fun photos from the remainder of our time in Texas and our first day in Louisiana.

 

Texas state capitol

Texas State Capitol in Austin

 
Food trucks

One of Austin’s many, many, many food truck stands — and Chris pretending not to know me as I embarrassingly take a photo of the scene

 
New York snow

This is not Texas — it’s New York! I spent a few days there for work and was very happy to come back to…

 
Austin park

…the beautiful weather in Austin

 
Tamara park bridge

Wandering around Zilker Park in Austin

 
Barton Springs

Barton Springs Pool — a pool in the middle of a spring

 
Barton Springs 2

An old amphitheater in Zilker Park, given back to the spring

 
Tamara Courtney

A super fun reunion with my friend Courtney from high school who’d just moved to Austin the previous week; Chris and her husband David played golf together too

 
Courtneys kids

Courtney’s two boys love adventuring

 
Courtneys cookies

A demonstration of Courtney’s already excellent southern hospitality!

 
Quickie Pickie

Wandering around East Austin

 
Live a great story

The best advice we’ve ever received from a concrete pole

 
Matt the Electrician

A live show with Matt the Electrician, who graces our Spotify playlist

 
Pedal Pushers

Free beer at the bike shop! A guy flagged us down as we rode by on our bikes

 
Fire

Our last campfire in Texas

 
Working by the fire

Nighttime work by firelight…and laptop light

 
Gators

Welcome to Louisiana! This is Sabine National Wildlife Refuge

 
Holly gator bait

Holly, code name “Gator Bait,” looking apprehensive

 
Sabine Wildlife Refuge 1

More Sabine National Wildlife Refuge

 
Sabine Wildlife Refuge 2

We looked and looked but didn’t see any alligators

 
Gulf of Mexico

The Gulf of Mexico from Holly Beach, LA

 
Holly Beach

Beach houses, prepared for possible flooding

 
LA 82 car ferry

On the car ferry on LA-82, the highway hugging the Gulf

  10 comments for “#vanlife cooking

  1. 2015-02-14 at 10:05 pm

    Once again, you guys are having way too much fun. Looks like a real hoot. You’re making me hungry as I am dipping into my peanut butter jar. Wouldn’t you love to have one of those camping trailers? Seems as though it cost as much as a motorhome… Ha! And you guys are getting quite a tan there in Texas! I always enjoy your updates… Keep having fun, stay safe and keep those pictures coming in. Ciao, Lorenzo

    • Tamara & Chris
      2015-02-15 at 4:19 am

      Thanks, Lorenzo! Yes, the trailers look great — it would be awesome to have one someday. Hope all is well with you!! 🙂 Ciao!

  2. Arlene
    2015-02-17 at 6:24 am

    Awww if only Holly could talk…the look in her eyes says a lot!

    I have to agree with Lorenzo that you two are having too much fun. When the time comes that you get a trailer, please make sure it comes with an “in-law” feature in it so I can tag along! :))) miss you two…keep safe, love you!

    • Tamara & Chris
      2015-02-17 at 7:22 am

      Today, Holly is saying, “It’s cold!” It’s 36 degrees right now in New Orleans. Brrrrr. Love you!

  3. Esther
    2015-02-18 at 9:49 pm

    Greetings from your “neighbors” back in SF! We’re enjoying following your adventures!

    • Tamara & Chris
      2015-02-19 at 6:02 am

      Hi Esther! Hope you and Denis are well and thank you for following our vanventures. 🙂 We are currently in Mobile, Alabama, and crossing into Florida later today. Enjoying seeing new places, but simultaneously reminded that SF is an amazing place… – Tamara

  4. Marion Stade
    2015-11-29 at 1:48 pm

    I am preparing to go on a 6 week adventure with 2 of my sons. We are traveling in our van. I am hoping to travel cheap in order to do more. We will be sleeping in the van as much as possible and cooking at the camping sites. Do you still like your Coleman stove? Would you have any other advice to add to this post?

  5. 2017-04-03 at 5:29 pm

    HI there! When you are using your propane stove, how do you ventilate your van?
    Thanks!
    Hannah

    • Tamara & Chris
      2017-04-03 at 5:35 pm

      Good question. We only use our propane stove outdoors on a picnic table or on our folding table. It’s definitely not safe to use propane-burning appliances in a van unless it’s properly ventilated. I’ve seen setups where folks have a propane stove in the back on a shelf that pulls out, kind of like a drawer. And since it’s the back of the van and you have to stand outside under the hatch to use it, it doesn’t seem to be a problem. Hope this helps!

Leave a Reply