Preparing meals on the road

Meal time in an RV

Electric stoves are basically not an option unless you have installed a heavy duty electrical system. Even tiny electric hot plates draw hundreds of watts. Most van dwellers either use a gas-burning stove or stick to a diet that doesn’t require cooking in the vehicle.

As always, when flames are involved, be careful. Keep the vehicle well vented while cooking and stay alert. If you’ve been drinking or are otherwise not in a clear state of mind, then eat a snack, take a nap, and cook up a meal some other time.

Staying within budget

If you’re on a tight budget, focus on staple foods with high calorie density compared to the price. These would include grains (wheat, oats, rice, and corn to a lesser extent), fats (butter, vegetable oil), legumes (especially dehydrated beans), starchy roots such as potatoes and sweet potatoes, and so on. Fast food and junk food tend to have a high calorie/price ratio, but remember, they are called “junk” for a reason.

Nutritional concerns

A diet high in fresh grains and starches is probably healthier than the typical fast-food/junk-food diet that sustains many people, but it is still not ideal. At a minimum, try to supplement with a multivitamin and other specific nutrients as needed. You will have to research this and adapt to your situation. Always watch for sales on more nutritious fruits and vegetables, which offer variety while adding enzymes and micronutrients to your diet. With careful planning and a sharp eye, your diet can be highly nutritious at a fraction of the cost of what you’ve been accustomed to spending.

Long-term storage

Because fresh produce is hard to store and work with in a van dwelling, maintain a supply of canned foods and top it off whenever you find a sale. Canned food has a number of nice properties. With soups and some other items, it is a form of long-term water storage. Most canned food is loaded with sodium and potent flavor enhancers that make your bland staple items more palatable. And most canned foods are perfectly safe to eat without heating, which might not taste very good but can be convenient.


Some people install small electric refrigerators or coolers in their vehicles. These are viable if you have some solar panels and a significant battery backup. Otherwise, a camp cooler with a bag of ice can provide temporary refrigeration. If you’re buying bags of ice every day, it won’t be long before you’ve spent enough that you could have just bought a solar panel, battery, and mini-fridge. In any case, keeping food cold is always somewhat of a burden, so it may be something to avoid altogether if possible.


Keep several gallons of potable water available at all times. Even more if you plan to travel through remote areas, especially the desert. Sometimes it can be a hassle to fill up a huge jug with water that’s known to be safe for drinking. You may have to deal with questionable water from, say, gas station restrooms. What you can do is fill up a few 2.5-gallon jugs with the questionable water, and then use a filter for the water that you intend to drink. Put a few drops of bleach in each storage jug as a precaution if you don’t intend to use it all within a day or two.