Updated: Nov 20, 2021
I feel like such a pioneer woman while we are boondocking and I am trying to plan and prepare meals for the week in our RV. I’m sure that statement would be mildly offensive to a real pioneer who has to grow and hunt their own food prepared over a campfire. Maybe preparing food while boondocking is not as complicated as being a hunter or gatherer would be, but from a girl who did not grow up camping it sure does feel that way to me.
I am going to preface this article and make a confession and disclaimer. I am not a gourmet chef. I do NOT enjoy cooking, but I do enjoy eating and there lies the problem. Unfortunately, neither my husband nor I "enjoy" cooking, but considering he always dumps our tanks on the RV, I choose my battles.
Camping or living in an RV does require some additional thought when it comes to meal planning. We shop once a week for our family of three, and this seems to work out for our family. We have an 8 cubic foot refrigerator and freezer that gets us through the week comfortably. We’re often asked to share our favorite boondocking and RV meals. I have always shied away from it because cooking is not my strong suite. However, I have decided due to popular demand to open up our kitchen and share with you some of our tips and strategies for easy meals.
Know your Camping Schedule
Since we grocery shop for a week at a time, I can get a good idea of our situation for the upcoming week. Will we have electric and water hookups? This is always an important question for me as I prepare, because it will determine the type of meals I prepare. If we have electric, I know I can use the microwave oven and Instant Pot as much as I need. Also, having a water source affects the meals I will make based on cleanup. Some meals I prepare are what I call “Full Hookup Meals” because they require lots of dishes to wash and the oven to prepare. These are special occasion meals in a sense.
When it comes to these type of meals, having full hookups does not change your cooking much from a sticks and bricks home. The only difference I have noticed after living in an RV was the size of the microwave oven. I could cook the same, just had a smaller preparation area due to counter and oven space. Other than that, there is not much of a difference. When this happens, I prepare turkey meatloaf muffins with cauliflower mashed potatoes or Baked Lemon Shrimp , rice, and lemon butter green beans. The meals require more cleanup, so we only get this as a treat on the menu when full hookups are on the agenda.
If you plan on living or camping with only full hookups, no need to be worried about meals. I was worried and overwhelmed initially, but after making the transition it was nothing to be intimidated by. If you love to cook, you can still prepare some amazing meals while camping or full time living.
Boondocking Cooking Tips
Okay, so this is the intimidating part. How in the world do you cook without hookups? I will say this has gotten easier over time as we learn our way through the dark when it comes to boondocking. Just this past year we have gotten more and more comfortable boondocking and we actually really enjoy the special places it takes us when you are willing to give up some amenities. When we know we are going to be boondocking, this means I want to cook using as little electricity as possible or none at all if I can help it.
If you have a generator this may not be as big of a deal as you would expect. With our Class A having the generator on board made it super simple to hit a button to crank up the generator to run whatever I needed to prepare meals. Keep in mind, some places you will be boondocking could have generator hours meaning you are only allowed to use it during those designated times. I found myself needing to prepare meals outside of these timeframes at times, so if you rely on the times note you will be on their schedule for cooking.
Now in the Airstream, accessing the generator is not as simple as a push of a button, and we actually try and only use it when absolutely needed due to the inconvenience of it. We are working on making that more simple to have on hand and adding additional solar, but until then we do the best we can with very limited generator use. Without a generator, boondocking means having a game plan for preparing meals. My favorite boondocking meals are the ones that require taking the heat outdoors and very little cleanup.
Breakfast: For breakfast this means stovetop cooking such as oatmeal, eggs, turkey bacon, pancakes, and toast. We mix it up by adding black beans, salsa, and avocado to our eggs for extra protein.
Lunch: For this time of the day we keep it nice and simple. If a place does have generator hours, this is usually the gap they block out for prohibited use. They will generally give you morning and night hours, but this is not always the case. Lunch will consist of sandwiches, fruit, nuts, LOTS of salads topped with tuna or chicken, and leftovers that can be heated on the stove. For us, we catch ourselves out and about during this time of day quite often. Since eating out is the biggest budget breaker while living the traveling lifestyle or any lifestyle for that matter, we pack our lunches whenever possible.
Dinner: Grilling is a camping favorite. It not only creates yummy meals, but it keeps the heat out of the RV. We tend to do this a lot for dinner, while we are back from our adventures for the day and just hanging around our home on wheels. We prepare most of our meats this way and add sides or a salad. Using the stovetop, I can saute fresh veggies to complete a meal.
I also really enjoy using essential oils for cooking. It is healthy and saves space in the fridge without items spoiling before I can use them. Lemon is my favorite and a couple drops in my water taste great and easy for on the go. Basil, Orange, Rosemary, Peppermint, are all great for adding flavor in your meals while saving space and money.
The Instant Pot is one of my favorite go-to appliances. It is initially very intimidating! We purchased ours and didn’t use it for months and my anxiety level just kept rising. I finally got the nerve after watching a fellow RVer using hers and it looked so easy and the meals turned out great.
It is a little bit of a learning curve, but I started out simple and I am still learning meal by meal. You can make just about anything in the Instant Pot including Ribs, Roast, BBQ, Meatloaf, Spaghetti, even Cheesecake! We try and eat on the healthy side “mostly”, so I will share some of my favorite Instant Pot meals to keep us on track.
Just know they may not be as good as the items listed above. Chicken is so easy to prepare and is the base for lots of our meals. This chicken and black bean recipe is our go to meal and I always have it on hand during the week. You can top it with cheese, sour cream, or my favorite avocado and cilantro. I also like cooking chicken with salsa and shredding it up for my favorite soup or tacos.
A lot of time, if we know we are going to be boondocking, I will cook items ahead and prepare foods in the Instant Pot. I will cook a large portion of quinoa and use it throughout the week to include in my salads or recipes such as Black Bean Mango Quinoa or this superfood black bean, kale, and quinoa favorite. I will also prepare boiled eggs in advance for recipes, meals, or snacks while we have power and water sources on hands.
For more information on pressure cookers, check out this great article.
Desserts If you are like us then you love your deserts! This is our weakness. I have not attempted desserts in the Instant Pot, but that is a great option. Also note, a lot of campers use campfires to cook. We only use this method for s’mores and usually the only reason we build a campfire sadly enough.
If we have a sweet tooth while boondocking, we eat frozen fruit and whip cream or dark chocolate. Chocolate oatmeal no bake cookies can be made on the stovetop and are a family favorite of ours. Energy balls are also great to satisfy a sweet tooth and we love having these on hand for hikes and day trips.
There are lots of great resources and ideas out there for cooking such as Pinterest and Youtube videos, which makes it easier and less stressful. I promise you, if I can do it, anyone can do it. It has taken a little bit of practice and I am still figuring out simple and easy meals while on the road. Don’t let cooking intimidate your journey. A lot of living on the road is figuring things out as you go and they usually end up not being as “scary” as you had in mind.