Cooking on the Road – Food Storage in Your RV

Written by on July 12, 2013 in Campskunk, How Tos with 13 Comments

When we made the transition from a sticks and bricks house to fulltiming three years ago, one thing that didn’t change much was the menu. I had wooed my beautiful bride with my cooking during our courtship – 30 years ago this July 4th for our first date she invited me over for dinner and presented me with the raw ingredients to prepare, and I’m still doing all the cooking today.  I’m beginning to suspect that I got beat on this deal.  But enough about my personal problems – here’s how I managed a graceful transition from cooking in a full kitchen in a regular house to the galley of our 2003 Roadtrek 190 Popular.

My armiore right after I installed it, and before I cluttered it up with stuff.

My armoire right after I installed it, and before I cluttered it up with stuff.

As in all things Class B, the main difference is space. There just isn’t much of it, so organization and careful selection of cooking utensils and food are crucial to being able to prepare three meals a day. We don’t eat out much – maybe a celebratory meal when we get back to civilization after weeks in the wilderness, but over 95% of our meals are prepared in the Roadtrek.  When we first got it in 2007, there just wasn’t much space – one three-shelf cabinet under the countertop held all food, dishes, plus the pots and pans. It was a mess. As I described in my last article, an armoire replacing the third seat to hold the dishes and cooking equipment freed up the original cabinet for food storage alone, and that’s the way it’s been since we started fulltiming.

My cluttered-up food cabinet.

My cluttered-up food cabinet. The rectangular plastic containers hold bags of flour and sugar.

Here’s what I carry in the food cabinet: top shelf is spices and cooking ingredients like Parmesan, dried onion flakes, and dried parsley, condiments, peanut butter and jam, a few fresh items like tomatoes and rutabagas, a sugar dispenser, and a few shorter canned goods. Middle shelf is crackers and dry pasta, a bag of potatoes, more smaller canned goods like soups, and the all-important cat food container.  Bottom shelf is flour, regular and brown sugar, and rice in plastic containers, the tall stuff like oil, vinegars, maple syrup, salsa, coffee and creamer for when we run out of fresh milk, dry stuff like Ramen and trail mix, and many more canned goods.  In the armoire, in addition to the pots, pans, and dishes, I store bulky food items like bread, chips, candy, and cookies.

Utilizing space efficiently in the three cubic foot refrigerator is also essential to being able to cook well for a week or three when you’re out in the wilderness. Those styrofoam trays for meats and vegetables make for an attractive display in the grocery stores, but they all have to go if you’re going to get anything to fit in your tiny refrigerator. When I get back to the Roadtrek with a new batch of groceries, the first thing I do is wash my hands well, get out my Ziplock plastic bags, and repackage the fresh meat. I divide the hamburger, chicken, steaks and chops up into meal-size parcels, which go in the freezer, with one or two left out to eat in the next couple of days.

The same treatment is given to the vegetables – I have plenty of brussels sprouts and cauliflower, but that styrofoam tray the sprouts came in was replaced by a freezer bag in the grocery store parking lot. Things that are bagged within boxes like cereal and cookies lose the box. Everything that didn’t come in a bag is in one before we drive away, and I usually have a full trash bag of excess packaging I can discard before we hit the road.  Egg cartons are cut in half and stacked behind the gallon of milk – they fit exactly.  I use eight and 16 ounce plastic containers for leftovers, which stack nicely and save space. The day before we shop, I freeze one of those big blue ice things in the almost-empty freezer, and put it in the refrigerator compartment to help the refrigerator cool off when the new food goes in.

I also save refrigerator space by not keeping anything in there that doesn’t absolutely have to be refrigerated.  I leave root vegetables in the cabinet – they keep fine at room temperature.  Same with ketchup and mustard- they sit on the restaurant table for weeks, right?  Jam, salsa, and maple syrup are also ok if you keep an eye on them – we’re not likely to forget about anything, with our limited storage space.  I have found that fancy homemade jams and stuff like that lack the vital preservatives necessary to last at room temperature, though. Buy the cheap stuff ;-)  For salad dressing, I make oil and vinegar with dried herbs mix – those bulky bottles took up too much refrigerator space to be worth carrying. I usually take apples, oranges and bananas when we head out into the wilderness – the bananas end up as banana bread once they get too disreputable. Delicate stuff like cherries, plums and nectarines are left unrefrigerated and eaten within a few days of purchase.

Use a a combination of fresh and storable ingredients to vary the menu. This can give you a big meal that came mostly from the cabinet, not the fridge. For instance potato or tuna salad – the only refrigerated things I use to make them are the eggs, the mayo, and the celery.  Spaghetti? Only the hamburger is frozen.  I cook  almost everything from scratch anyway, so this helps.  A rotisserie chicken from the store tastes great, but that packaging will take up half your refrigerator. Frozen chicken pieces you cook yourself are preferable.

After two weeks in the wilderness, fresh bread tastes pretty darn good.

After two weeks in the wilderness, fresh bread tastes pretty darn good.

I also have a supply of non-refrigerated staples I can make a meal out of.  We spent six weeks up in the Colorado Rockies in 2011 without going to a real grocery store, thanks to our staples – salmon, tuna, chili, spam, corned beef, and a few vegetables like beets and green beans, plus soups, spaghetti sauce, etc – all in cans and used often enough to rotate the stock.   I carry a huge jar of peanut butter, extra jam/syrup, at least 5 pounds of flour, 5 pounds of sugar, 3 pounds of rice, all the stuff you would have in a real kitchen. That way, if we find a great place we’d hate to leave, we can stay for a week or four without undue hardship.  Homemade bread tastes great out in the wilderness.  Once we hit town, we replace whatever we used and we’re good to go again.



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About the Author

About the Author: "Campskunk" is a blissfully retired former public servant who has left the challenges of how to run the government to younger and less cynical hands, and wanders the continent in his Roadtrek Class B RV with his wife and cat. In addition to his work in the public sector, he has also at various times been a mechanic and delivery driver, skills which come in handy in his new role. Because his former job involved the forensic evaluation and sometimes the subsequent detention of some not-so-nice people, he uses the name Campskunk instead of his legal name on the Internet. His was not the type of job where customer service feedback would be welcome. .

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13 Reader Comments

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  1. Lisa says:

    Hmm…. Lots of ideas there. Thanks, Campskunk,

  2. Stu says:

    I think this article will really help many people, Now if I could borrow a cup of sugar, where are you?

  3. Bigfoot Dave says:

    Dr Campskunk, you are hitting home runs on these articles! Keep up the great work and enjoy the country. Thank you, Bigfoot Dave

  4. RAY says:

    always enjoy the info you all share so miss my old motor home class b .thank you all for letting me post

  5. Allison says:

    We have had our Roadtrek for a year now and are learning a lot from checking out posts like yours. Thanks for sharing. I need help with how to use the half-time, convection oven. This is a new tool for me. and ideas?

    • Campskunk says:

      it’s a new one for me too, allison – my roadtrek is a 2003 and the convection ovens showed up in 2006 on the 210s. i don’t think the 170s and 190s ever got them – must be a space issue. i sure wish i had one – maybe someone with a 210 model can let us know how it works.

  6. Gail says:

    Hello Campskunk, we love your articles, in fact one of the first things I do every morning to check this website for new information. We just bought our first RV two years ago and we are still learning new things everyday. I feel like we eat out too much on the road and we know it isn’t healthy for us and we spend too much money eating out. My question about cooking in our small class B is about the amount of water it take me to clean up after cooking. We hardly ever stay in a camp ground so getting water and dumping are always a concern and every second day we looking for water and a dump station just from showering and bathroom use. Can you give us some ideas on how you manage your water supply when dry camping. Thank you so much for all your great advice. Gail

    • Campskunk says:

      that’s an excellent question – i think i’ll cover that topic as soon as i finish with food topics. thank you for the suggestion. it’s a matter of vital importance to boondockers.

  7. Cheryl says:

    Thanks! Another great article!

  8. Laura H Postema says:

    Another great read. By the way, I might just have saffron for you. My daughter just returned from Turkey…she brought home a large bag of saffron… :) We’re in an SS Agile so space is really at a premium! I’m looking forward to your future food posts and your water usage post! Thanks.

  9. Tim Mallon says:

    Another article worth keeping, Campskunk! Plenty of useful informative tidbits. I’m impressed with your culinary expertise, and will share your ideas with my wife….except that you do all the cooking. ;)

    • Campskunk says:

      sharon told me when we got married than in Canada all the husbands do the housework, and the wives sit around and supervise them. she says it’s in the constitution up there or something like that. she said that i had to honor her country’s customs if we were going to get along.

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