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Van Cooking Hacks from Pros

After over 2 years of living in our van, we’re tiny kitchen pros and we’ve put together these vanlife cooking hacks to help you get through the learning curve.

Cooking in a Van can be challenging and many van dwellers eat out a lot or eat prepared foods.  However, we’re typically out in the woods or the desert more often than not, which means we can’t go out to eat super often.  In addition, we like to eat healthy and are always on a budget.  Therefore, we cook a lot and these van cooking hacks help us every day!

At the same time, we don’t really like cooking that much.  We have other things we’d rather spend our time doing.  Our go-to meals are typically simple, easy to cook, and easy to clean up after.  This leaves more time for exploring, which is why we moved into a van in the first place!

If you’re curious about more of our van tips check out these blogs:

Vanlife Without a Bathroom

Vanlife Kitchen Essentials

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Clean up Clutter Before you Start

If your kitchen is like ours, there’s usually stuff all over the counter most of the time.  Our clutter usually includes phones, note pads, camera gear, and sunglasses or keys.  Before you get everything out for cooking, put all of this stuff away (or in a pile on the bed, like I do) so that you have as much space as possible before you start.

Use One Pot

When possible, pick meals that only require one pot.  We do a lot of meals where everything is mixed together and served as a big pile of food.  For example, ground turkey, rice & veggies is a perfect one-pot meal.  If you cook your meat first, then set it aside on a plate, you can continue cooking your veggies and rice with the same pot, incorporating it all at the end.  It does take longer this way, but leaves less to clean at the end of the meal.  We use the Primus Nesting Pot System.

Use As Few Utensils as Possible

Similar to the one-pot concept, the less utensils you use to prepare and cook your meal, the less you have lying around on the counter and the less you have to clean at the end.  You typically don’t need more than a knife, a spatula, and forks to cook and eat an entire meal.  Don’t dirty another utensil if you can use one of your eating utensils along the way.  

van cooking hacks

Buy Ready Rice

Even though they are much more expensive than uncooked rice, we save a lot of time, water, and propane by buying pre-steamed rice.  Uncle Ben’s Ready Rice comes in a variety of flavors and is our go-to brand for easy meals.  You can add a packet to some steamed veggies and let it steam together for a few minutes until the rice is soft.  It’s so easy and is one of our favorite vanlife cooking hacks!

Clean as you go

This is a good practice no matter how big your kitchen is.  But, it’s even more crucial to stay organized in a small kitchen.  When we prepare to cook, I get everything out that I need at the same time, spreading out to every available surface.  But as I use things, I put them away so as to reduce the clutter and make for an easier clean up once our meal is over.  This isn’t necessarily specific to vanlife, but it’s a good cooking hack regardless.

Keep it Simple with Spices

THey say flavor is the spice of life.  But you can also clutter up your kitchen with a lot of spices that you don’t use very often.  Pick out a handful of your favorite spices to keep on hand at all times.  We have Salt, Pepper, Seasoned Salt, Onion Powder, Cumin, and Curry Powder.  This collection is more than enough for what we typically eat, and if we want more flavor for a specific meal, I’ll buy fresh onions, garlic or jalapeno for a meal.

Plan Simple Meals

As I mentioned, we do a lot of one-pot meals.  In addition to that, most of our meals are basically the same ingredients, just composed in different ways.  On the most basic level, our meals are a combination of vegetables, meat, and rice or mashed potatoes.  We’ll throw in a pasta dish or a noodle stir fry once in a while to change it up.  When you plan your meals, keep your ingredient list short and sweet.

Cooking in a small space can be easy and fun, and we hope these vanlife cooking hacks help with your tiny kitchen cooking routine!  I used to hate cooking, but I realized it was because I was making it harder on myself than it needed to be.  We have simple tastes, so vanlife cooking is very compatible with what we like to eat.

And if we ever want to eat something special, we just go out to eat!  We typically only go out to eat for things we can’t make in the van, which makes it more of a treat!  For example, pizza or a good burger are our favorite things to get when we eat out (besides the local taco shop, of course!!).