I decided to write this piece about what we eat and cook in the van because people are curious. There’s nothing earth shattering here. It’s just one more glimpse in to our version of van life.
Before we started this trip I had a Pintrest board entitled “Van Life Cooking” and I was pinning the hell out of ideas that fellow campers, RVers and Van Lifers had posted. I had visions of hot savory fireside meals complete with color and creativity. And then, we started traveling and I realized that my tendency to cook anything other than what I would cook in our normal non-van life probably wasn’t going to go away. Jon and I love food. We love the taste, smell and look of food. The more random stuff someone can throw together and present to us, the more we are intrigued. However, I tend to save those creative and exploratory moments for when we eat out and it’s the same inside the van.
As someone who has struggled with my weight & body image “stuff” since the dawn of time, I am very cautious of the food that we keep in our house/van. My will power is slim to none because I love flavor…and salt…and sweets, so not storing temptation in the house/van has become a habit in my adult life. Therefore, when it comes to van life cooking, we tend to eat the way we do at home; a zillion vegetables cooked a handful of ways with or without a bit of lean turkey, chicken or fish. I was a vegetarian for 12 years and vegan for two. While fully committing to one of those lifestyles is not right for me, I tend to maintain a 70/30 balance in favor of vegetarianism. I have never ever ever liked red meat. Ever. Still don’t. Nor do I like pork (except bacon, duh!), roast beef, pot roast, lamb…get it? And Jon will eat anything. ANY. THING. Have you met him? Have you seen his Instagram account? But alas, in van life, his daily meals are likely a bit basic and it’s my fault. In the van I tend to be in charge of the menu and it’s a joint effort to execute the meal. Over the past 7 months this has basically looked like a lot of the same meals over and over again, but they are complete, balanced and not over indulgent. They absolutely serve a purpose of feeding our bodies, brains and emotions with lots of veggies. We save our indulgences for the rare occasion that we eat out. Life in the van mimics life not in a van. If it wasn’t a habit before life in the van, it’s probably not going to be a habit just because we are living in 72 sq ft. So, despite all my pinning and envisioning of beautiful meals of various ingredients and flavors, we tend to eat simply and similarly to when we live in a house. Needless to say, I’m about to delete the “Van Life Cooking” board.
Living in 72 sq ft does, inevitably, force you to be observant of the people and space around you. I have noticed, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that when Jon’s diet is balanced, he is balanced and I’m no different. If he has a day where he eats too much sugar (pastries, bread, beer, treats), his mood the following day is, well, unorganized, for lack of a better word. But when he’s had plenty of greens, fruit and nuts, his mood is way more stable and predictable. Previously we have disclosed that Jon deals with depression following a series of head injuries over his lifetime, the most recent of which was 3 yrs ago. He doesn’t think about it much but I do because it’s the population I work with as a physical therapist and this is my husband. I’m observant, for better or worse ;). As I’ve taken time to write this piece about what we eat, it’s given me a chance to highlight the patterns I see in Jon & myself. I don’t think he likes being under a microscope, and that’s not my intention, but he has a lot more control over his mood, if he feels like he needs/wants it, we both do. I have diagnosed and, thankfully, controlled, anxiety, and I absolutely feel more grounded in reality when the sugar and crappy carbs are at a minimum. So yea, maybe I’m inflicting some of my control freak-ness on the food we prepare for dinner, but it makes us both feel good. I have a saved note in my phone called “Roaming Robos Fuel” and there are about 20 items on it. As long as we have those basics, the Roaming Robos are in a good place. Diet is a powerful tool. The end.
Coffee: A must every morning. Jon makes it with a percolator and our trusty Coleman camp stove. Our friends from Pablo’s have kept us well stocked with our favorite Danger Monkey. I take mine with a bit of cream and Jon takes his black.
- Yogurt with granola/fruit
- Eggs with left over greens
- Granola with almond milk and banana
Lunch: we are usually riding bikes through lunch, but if we are not…
- Turkey sandwich. I prefer to have sandwiches on corn thins
- PB & J
- Almonds with craisins.
- Veggies to dip in guacamole
- We do keep a good amount of chips and popcorn around. Popcorn is a “go to” for me and I’ve tried recently to steer away from chips, which is serving me well from a salt/calorie management stand point
- Bubbly water
- Hard boiled eggs
Dinner: Ok, this is the one of most interest…
- Greens !!! Can’t live without these salad in a bag deals. Not the nasty iceberg with a singular shredded carrot bag o’ salad. I mean these kale, spinach, Brussels, etc. beautiful combos that can be found in any grocery store in North America. Literally. They usually come with a dressing kit and some sort of seed topping. We skip the dressing but add the seeds. Usually we cook it up a slight bit on the camp stove because cooked up Brussels & kale are a little softer. These sweet concoctions are the base to almost every meal. On top of that we often will add an organic chicken sausage, turkey burger, green beans. Sometimes we grill Portobello mushrooms.
- Corn tortillas can make little camp fire pizzas or quesadillas, basically the same thing. A bit of melted cheese over greens with or without a salsa base.
- We do have a rice cooker that has a vegetable steamer. We often use it for broccoli or fingerling potatoes. Sometimes we simply add rice to our veggies in order to bulk them up a bit.
- On a rare occasion we make soup. I have to watch the amount of salt I eat because of my inner ear condition so soup usually scares me. If we have a soup I have a small portion and usually pour it over some cooked up leafy greens.
- Good to Go Meals. Totally real food in a pouch. Jon’s mom turned us on to them and they are a Maine-based company. The meals are designed as backpacking meals so their high salt content (although not as high as competitors) is welcomed when you are working in the backcountry. Again, I do not need that much salt in my life. So, we usually split one (well ¼ for me) and I throw it over…yup, greens.
- Sometimes we use our cooked up leafy greens and scramble some eggs for a frittata..,just kidding. I tell myself that’s what it is but it’s just a veggie egg scramble.
- Marinated beets – pre-packaged. They are too messy to cook in the van, but we love ‘em.
- Organic Chicken Sausage
- Zucchini Noodles – I have a device to make our own or if I’m lazy I’ll get them from Whole Foods. We usually add diced toms or spaghetti sauce with cheese.
Flavor: In true Skratch Labs fashion, the van is a traveling flavor box. We have the following at the ready to spice up every meal:
- Olive oil
- Mountain Standard spices
- Sri Racha
- Bragg’s Amino
- Sri Racha Salt
- Ghost Pepper Salt
- Maple Syrup
- Skratch Labs hydration mix + Fruit Drops
- UnTapped Maple Syrup + Waffles
- Justin’s Nut Butter packets
- Nature’s Bakery Fig Bars
- Skratch Labs homemade Cookies !!! Ok admittedly we have not yet perfected this art but we are close. So far we come up with these cookie pancake things but they totally work. I believe the key to success will come with use of the rice cooker more as an oven versus a frying pan. We are so so close. Either way they are delicious. Their portability is a bit suspect but as the cooking improves so will the final shape and durability and then… home/van made cookies in our pockets!
- Penny Food
- PB & J
- Greens (Bags of salad)
- Corn Thins
- Baby Bell Cheese
- Almond Milk
- Bubble Water
- Chicken Sausage
- Shredded Cheese
- Zucchini for noodles