Compact Cuisine: Mastering Food Storage in the Van Life
One of the most challenging things about van life? Food storage. Because vans are such small spaces, finding enough room for van life food storage can be enormously difficult. Add in the challenges of storing cold foods and actually cooking those foods, and van life food can become a real pain in the butt.
The good news? There are lots of ways to make storing and cooking food in your van easier! In this article, we are going to focus on ways to store van life food so they are easy to access, ready to go when you are, and actually fit in your teeny tiny space.
Plan Your Meals
First and foremost, we highly recommend planning your meals when traveling in your van. This is helpful because it allows you to incorporate foods you already have, meaning you’ll avoid adding more foods until the ones you have are used up. It also gives you an opportunity to overlap foods so everything you buy gets used completely.
Lastly, we like meal planning because it ensures we buy everything we need and nothing more, something that is very important when space is limited.
Here’s the thing: You probably aren’t ever going to fit an entire week’s worth of food in your van. You might be able to buy and store enough dry goods for 7 days, but you won’t necessarily be able to store enough cold foods or produce to last a full week.
Instead, you really have to go into van life knowing you will be grocery shopping at least twice a week. This actually works out fine, even in remote areas. You can combine all of your errands into one trip into the city, making sure to get groceries, shower, and grab fuel while you’re there.
Prep in Advance
Depending on your situation, it can be helpful to prep van life food in advance. For instance, if you are leaving a house and heading out on a short-term van adventure, chopping veggies and pre-cooking meats in your house can be helpful down the road. Likewise, a van lifer who will be in a full-hookup RV park for a single night might find it helpful to do prep work while they have access to amenities and before they head out into the wilderness.
Choose the Right Foods
One of the most strategic moves you can make when it comes to van life food storage? Choosing the right foods.
Since cold food storage is likely limited, it pays to opt for shelf-stable foods whenever possible. Shelf-stable milk boxes, canned beans, and packets of tuna are all good examples of shelf-stable staples that will cut back on the amount of cold food storage you need.
It’s also important to pick items that are easy to prepare in the van (or outside at your campsite). One-pot meals or dishes that can be prepared entirely on an outdoor grill are ideal. Often, it’s much easier to go with pre-cooked protein options (like the aforementioned tuna and beans).
Ditch Excess Packaging
You can save a ton of space when you remove excess food packaging before storing your food. There is absolutely no reason foods need to be in both a bag and a box, and getting rid of that box will save you space. Produce packaging also tends to be unnecessary, and in some cases, you’ll save space by switching meat from its original packaging to another container.
Tip: We recommend removing items from excess packaging in the store parking lot so you can make use of the garbage cans there.
Find Stackable Containers
Some people take getting rid of packaging to the next level by transferring foods to stackable containers that fit together perfectly, making their van cabinets look much like a game of Tetris. This is an excellent idea for dry goods such as cereal, pasta, rice, and dry beans, as it ensures you aren’t wasting any space between boxes or bags.
Store Less-Used Foods at the Back
You may find that your van has very deep cabinets. This is annoying because it means you have to pull everything out to get to the things in the back.
To help with this, try putting the items you use the least in the back of the cabinet. While you will still need to dig to get to these items, the digging will occur less often.
Use All of Your Space
Because cabinet space is limited in a van, you might have to get creative about where you store food. A hanging fruit basket will give you fruit storage without consuming any cabinet space at all. A spice rack hung on an empty wall or cabinet door will give you easy access to your spices and reserve your cabinet space for other things. A dry goods dispenser on the wall also saves space.
We’ve seen people store food under the bed and even in the shower space if it’s rarely used. Get creative and use any inch of space you can find.
Be Bear Aware
One place you probably don’t want to store food? Outdoors. This is bound to attract animals and result in a giant mess to clean up, not to mention a trip to the grocery store to restock. Besides, human food is not good for animals.
In particular, you want to be careful of leaving food out for bears. When in bear country, even keeping food in your van can be dangerous, as bears have been known to rip open vehicle doors. For this reason, if you’re staying somewhere like Yosemite National Park or Great Smoky Mountains National Park, you might want to consider storing all pantry items in a bear box.
Invest in a Good Cooler
Many modern camper vans have a refrigerator built in. That said, this is not always the case. If your van doesn’t have a fridge and adding one isn’t an option, you will want to invest in a high-quality cooler to keep your food cold. These aren’t cheap, but they are worth it.
We recommend the YETI Tundra 65.
Use Waterproof Containers
If you plan to store your food in an ice chest, waterproof containers are a must. Put all of your food in waterproof containers before putting it into the ice chest to avoid wet, soggy, watered-down snacks and meals.
One item that is particularly difficult to store in an ice chest? Eggs. If you want eggs but only have an ice chest to work with, we recommend breaking the eggs into a waterproof container. This removes concern about broken eggshells and egg messes in the ice chest.
Keep Jugs of Water on Hand
Lastly, it is very important that you always carry enough water. If your van does have a freshwater tank, it probably doesn’t hold much, and most don’t have tanks at all.
For this, we recommend 5-gallon water jugs. Carry three or four full jugs in the cargo area of your van, on top of the van, or anywhere you can find space. This will ensure you always have enough water until you can get to a place to refill them.
Navigating the tight confines of a van and figuring out how best to store food can feel like solving a particularly challenging puzzle. But with a little foresight, creativity, and the tips mentioned above, even the most cramped van can be transformed into an efficient, mobile kitchen. After all, life on the road should be about the journey and the incredible places you’ll discover, not about fretting over soggy sandwiches or spoiling milk. So gear up, plan wisely, and enjoy every bite of your well-stored meals as you embrace the van life adventure.