When it comes to van meals we generally tried to stick to meals that were vegetarian, easy to cook, nutritious and of course cheap! We both ate meat when living back in Australia however we decided to transition to a vegetarian based diet not long after travelling in the van. Primarily this choice was because it was cheaper and avoided having to worry about appropriate storage and refrigeration of meat. Later we noticed it also makes us feel and function better. Not to mention the environmental benefits of having a plant based diet and reducing consumption of animal (and dairy) products. This blog post ain’t about preaching a diet, however it does feel good knowing that something so simple as a shift in dietary habits can help reduce our carbon footprint.
So what did we eat in the van? (A question so commonly asked by others).
Surprisingly, we managed to maintain a healthy and somewhat varied diet whilst travelling on the road for the last six months. Anyone that has travelled extensively before knows that this can be challenging at times, particularly when visiting countries that are underdeveloped. Produce availability and food prices vary largely from country to country however with consideration, a little extra planning and creativity it is possible to eat well whilst on a budget.
In fact, we both believe our diets have actually improved whilst living in the van when compared to back home in Australia. I’ve always been somewhat conscious of consuming a healthy diet however up until now i’ve always been more interested in exercise and sports. Whilst travelling my interest in food and nutrition has definitely increased however I attribute the main reason to our improved diet to the need for planning. Back home on the Gold Coast I had five supermarkets, two health food stores, and countless cafes/coffeeshops all within walking distance of my home. Talk about convenient and spoilt for choice. Not to mention the major fast food chains and endless takeaway options! Consequently, little to no planning went in to what meals I was going to make for the week as I knew I could always grab lunch on the go if i had to, pop to the grocery store on the way home from work or eat out if all else (including motivation) failed.
This changed quickly once we started living in the van for the following reasons:
- The fridge was very small and therefore the amount of items you can fit in is limited (plus Blake’s beers always seemed to get priority)!
- The van kitchen consisted of a one burner gas cooker.
- We were on a budget.
- Produce availability and quality varied from country to country.
- We generally had no set plan which meant that we didn’t know if we would be wild camping in the mountains for four nights without services or parked up in a small coastal town with only one small and over priced convenience store.
- We no longer had the convenience to access food like we did at home. PUBLIC SERVICE ANNOUNCEMENT: SUPERMARKETS AND TOWNS ARE SHUT ON SUNDAYS IN EUROPE! I’ve lost count of how many times we got caught out with this.
- Time. Although we had plenty more free time given that we went from full time jobs to unemployment we wanted to spend all of our time exploring. (Turns out if we took the extra time to organise and prepare set meals for the week we could then go to the supermarket once and shop in bulk which then freed up time for the rest of the week so we could get on doing more of the fun stuff!).
Van life tips & tricks:
- I always tried to stock up the van cupboards with plenty of canned vegetables, legumes and non perishables. I would create “cupboard meals” which were completely made up of non perishable food items. This allowed us to continue to travel with no set plan. If we wanted to wild camp in an isolated destination for an extended period of time we could do so without going hungry or worrying about what services would be available or if power wasn’t an option.
- One pot meals became a priority. Van meals aren’t being plated up for an episode of Master Chef. They’re ticking boxes remember: vegetarian, easy to cook, nutritious and cheap!
- We became savvy at grocery shopping. You really can save a lot of money if you pay attention to prices and brands and shop at discount supermarkets or directly from the farmer/road side stalls. Where possible we shopped at LIDL (best thing since sliced bread. There’s free wifi and a customer toilet at each store.) and always ensured we went for the cheaper LIDL branded items. We also tried hard not to buy bottled water and instead found water refill points to fill up our 20 litre water container.
- We became more creative in the kitchen and less picky with what we ate. Simple meals with fewer ingredients doesn’t mean less flavour.
- We became more organised with grocery shopping. I always took the time to plan meals & write a grocery list. Otherwise it’s easy to fall in the trap of buying unnecessary items or buying items that don’t make a “meal”.
- Shopping frequency depended greatly on the season. Fruit and vegetables not kept in the fridge spoilt very quickly in the European heat wave and therefore we shopped more regularly when compared to the Winter months. In the cooler months it became so cold that the entire inside of our van resembled a fridge & therefore food could be left without refrigeration.
- Ensure you have healthy snacks on hand (fruit, nuts & seeds, muesli bars, crackers, tea & coffee), particularly on long driving days. Otherwise you’re generally left to overpriced service stations, fast food chains or unwanted intermittent fasting.
Generally speaking when we visited cities we usually ate out and splurged a little more than usual (after all, eating out and trying new cuisines is one of the best parts of travelling) however most regular days we cooked in the van to save money. We also regularly frequented bakeries as I could never go without good quality fresh bread. In the Summer time when travelling along the coastline seafood was never passed up easily. If I got a whiff of fresh seafood on the grill, we were in line for the next available table. The great quality and cheap prices (when compared to home) were too good to resist.
Here are our most common van meals we had on rotation. Blake has tried and tested and approved of all! Note well: vegetable cous cous has purposely been omitted from the list and will never be attempted again as it was voted “worst van meal by far” by Blake and thrown in the bin by the chef. Turns out it’s not the rice so nice they named it twice (at least not when I attempted it).
- Not pictured: breakfast burgers/wraps (with fried egg, mushrooms, tomato & avocado).
- Not pictured: Tuna & salad wraps, pre packaged salads from the supermarket, vegetable sticks with hummus and rice cakes/seeded crackers and bean tomato soup (canned tomatoes, canned corn, canned beans of some description, seasoned with Mexican spices).
- Not pictured: Teriyaki egg noodle stir fry with veg, Vietnamese noodle bowls (rice paper noodles, fresh salad & Vietnamese dipping sauce), veg soup with added canned veg, cheese platter with hummus & veg sticks.
- We’re not overly huge on snacks but we always make sure we have fresh fruit & fruit & nut mix on hand. Other favourites include veg sticks & hummus or rice cakes & hummus. And let’s be honest we also consumed our fair share of unhealthy snacks such as cookies (blame Blake), chips (blame me) & bakery treats! We’re only human.
If you’re doing a similar trip (or even if you’re just stuck for ideas at home) I hope you can find this post helpful in some way. Also, if you’ve got your own easy & budget friendly meals to share I’d love to know.