Saturday, April 4, 2015

Learning is Fun!! Series: Food for Thought

 I've decided  to get back to my Learning is Fun!! Series. I have received some questions about how we do certain things, as well as how some things are set up that people are curious about. I think we are so used to the way that we do everything that I forget that others would like to know about these things too, so Learning is Fun!!, is back!!
Today our Learning is Fun!! post will be about food! oooo aaahhh
I often get asked from other vandwellers as well as friends & family (not in the life)....
What do you eat? Do you actually cook or just eat easy-to-grab snacks? Do you have a fridge or cooler? What do you cook on? Do you ever eat? (People think I don't eat, but I LOVE food!!! Among many other questions.
The answer is actually pretty simple, but I guess it's harder for some people to wrap their heads around living within such a small space, so it doesn't make sense that we would have all of the items necessary to make whatever we want, whenever we want.
So let's get our learn on!

We have two different cooking systems we use.
We have a Coleman grill that also has a burner, we usually use this outside due to how big it is and how cumbersome & messy it can be...although we have used it to grill hamburgers inside on a rainy/windy day (way back when)! When we set up our "kitchen" outside, which is mostly all of the time, except for Winter, we put this grill on a table with a (standard size) 20 lb. propane tank hooked up to a hose, which I usually try to keep in the shade or put a white towel around to keep out of the sun. It has two different piezo lighters, one for the burner one for the grill. I love it when we are able to set up our "kitchen" area because, to me, it makes cooking much easier. I can stand up, move around, I have more places for cutting, prepping and setting just makes for a nicer experience for the cook.

Click here to get one!
Click Image to get this grill!

We also have a Coleman portable propane camp stove, that uses the small green propane tanks. We were gifted this at an RTR, which I didn't think we even needed at the time, and now am so thankful for having it. It's a blessing for cooking inside! We use this mostly inside when we don't have the outside kitchen set-up, it's perfect for the rainy, windy days and barely takes up any room. We set ours on a flat space on the floor of the van and can make just about anything we can make outside with the may take a little imagination but that's okay, it's like a brain game!
Click Image to Get One!

Oh, I almost forgot, when we first started out we used a small butane backpacking burner with small pots that fit inside each other. It is very handy and very small, but we always had to be very cautious due to how small the burner was and the handle likes to pop out of the pots, but good for hiking, picnics or other day trips.|B00B4FY8YO|B00FQZEYWE|B00Q6QT99A|B00Q6QTCEM|B00ST0A3N2&linkCode=ur2&qid=1428261125&rh=k%3AB000KBH282|B00B4FY8YO|B00FQZEYWE|B00Q6QT99A|B00Q6QTCEM|B00ST0A3N2%2Ci%3Asporting&tag=startyourbest-20&linkId=PM54K5Z3YCTLL5IH
Click Image to Purchase

For cookware, we carry a 10 inch non-stick pan with high sides and a lid, this is our go-to pan, we use this pan for everything. We still use the little backpacking pots, they are good for rice and veggies and have a small stock pot with lid, good for low country boils and spaghetti.
We carry our silverware, yes I said silverware, in a fold-able pouch that has inserts for each utensil, it rolls up and closes with's very handy! And for our other utensils, I have a small zip bag, about the size of a notebook that I have put a few things, we may need but don't use every day, such as an extra can opener, an apple cutter, whisk, tongs, steak knives, rubber spatula, plastic ware for gatherings, hard plastic straws, a knife sharpener, etc.
Oh boy!
We have tried everything under the sun, it seems, when it comes to eating in and out of the van. We have tried the cheapest way, the healthiest way, a cheap and healthy way, the naughty way, the fat way, the all-around way, the organic name it we've done it...I think.
The thing for us is, we don't want to spend a bunch of money (we're on a budget) but we don't want to get fat from buying so much processed food because that's what is cheap(er/est). We try to get what we want while still trying to be somewhat healthy and enjoy what we are eating as well. 
For a long, long while every morning for brekkie we would cut up potatoes and onions with seasonings sprinkled on-top like; garlic powder, pepper, chipotle, cajun, steak seasoning, etc. whatever we have to give it a little pep. We would sprinkle some cheese on-top and BAM we've got breakfast! But, that got old...we had to start switching some things up...spice it up a little. That's when we found Chorizo...whoa momma! That's some good stuff! We still have this menu item for brekkie but not every single morning, probably better that way anyhow! The great thing about potatoes and onions are, they are cheap and you can get a lot for very little. 

Now for brekkie's we go between cereals like; Grape Nuts, Frosted Mini Wheats, Kellog's Fruit & Yogurt, & Fiber One, to spiced up potatoes & onions and egg concoctions that we make up. I also found a pretty healthy and super yummy breakfast item I have included at the bottom of this post. I will cook up some kind of meat that we have, ground beef, Italian sausage, chicken, chorizo, or link sausages then mix in onions, peppers, tomatoes, avocado, cheese, etc. then pour the egg mixture over that. I will mix Jamie up the whole egg and for myself I can only eat the whites, so I make two different pans full and serve them separately. We try to eat a bigger breakfast to keep us full longer, so we're not having 3 or more huge meals throughout the day. We also like to drink coffee, we don't make coffee every day but it is a nice comfort that we like to have. When we started the lifestyle in 2012, we didn't have solar panels so we decided to go with instant coffee, just add hot water. We drank it for a little bit but didn't like it very much so we stopped drinking coffee altogether. After we got our solar panels, we decided we missed our morning cafe' so we splurged and bought a "counter-top" coffee maker & grinder and went back to the way we like it! There are just some things that keep the quality of life and, for us, this was one of them!
During the day we might snack on things like greek yogurt, cheez-its, fruit; bananas, apples, oranges, bowls of cereal, chips'n'dips; salsa or spinach artichoke dip...YUM! Anything that's around at the time, we are always changing our snacks so one week we might have yogurt with granola sprinkled on-top and the next week we might have queso dip and tortilla chips. I find keeping lunch meat on hand is always a good thing because you can take some meat, spinach, plain yogurt, an avocado, wrap it up in a tortilla and BAM, there's your snack (pictured below)! I also like having canned meats on hand; chicken, roast beef, or tuna, with these you can either eat them straight out of the can or you can mix in some seasonings, cheese or whatever you like and always wrap them in a tortilla. Granola bars or energy bars are good, but we discovered the ones with chocolate in them always melted. 

Our nightly meals vary just as much as anything else. For about the first year, we would buy boxes and boxes of Hamburger Helper, they keep well, they're cheap ($1.50 a box) and you can eat them any time during the day. We then started buying more noodles to mix in with the helpers to make them go a little further. We realized these are not the healthiest option so we tried to steer away from them for a little while, not eating them for every dinner! "Back in the day" (2012) we only had a pantry and a cooler. A cooler is a nice thing to have but it was a learning experience every day...I'll get into the cooler in a bit, with a cooler we could keep fresh meat on hand but would have to eat it pretty quick so the ice water wouldn't spread the meat juice over everything else! Yummy!!! That's where I go back to the canned meats! Our dinners these days can be anything from pork chops, steaks, Velveeta, hamburgers, fresh or canned veggies mixed in, my awesome crispy chicken salad (pictured below), burritos, made-up meals consisting of meat, noodles and sauce (our own hamburger helper), hamburgers with mashed potatoes, spaghetti with Italian sausage or bowls of cereal! Pretty much anything you can eat at a restaurant or in your home, whether it be stationary or on wheels, we can eat in our van.

We like a variety of liquids on hand. We carry a ton of fresh drinking water, usually at least 21-23 gallons, with water we can drink it naturally or add a water enhancer that comes in a dozen different flavors, we get Mio but Powerade, Kool-aid and a few other companies have started making them. There are a few different Mio's that we like to buy; vitamins for energy, caffeinated, or just a regular flavor enhancer. They are nice to have to spice up your water and the bottles are tiny, so you can stick them in a backpack for a hike or bike ride. We also carry bags of tea like iced tea and other flavored teas, hot chocolate, and iced coffee. And, I already talked about our coffee situation. We also really like having nice cold sodas on hand, there's nothing like a nice cold soda on a hot day with chips and dip and good music!!! On occasion we might get a box of wine, yes...a box of wine...not too shabby of a taste, it goes much further, it's less expensive, NO glass and it fits perfectly in the fridge or a few beers. Say it with me... quality of life!

About that cooler.... we started out with a 5 day cooler. It was great, it fit perfectly in the spot we made for a fridge but couldn't afford at the time and it said on the label it was a 5 day cooler! Well, we put it to the test for sure! We started out using regular crushed ice you buy at any grocery store, it was around $2.75 -$3.50 for an 8-10 lb. bag of ice, we would have to buy 2 or 3 of them to make sure we had enough for all of the food we were going to put in it. The 5 day cooler, ended up being more of a 3 day cooler, with everything and I do mean everything (even sealed bags) soaked with ice water...the cheese, the meat, the lettuce, the creamer, whatever it was, if it was in there it had water inside of it. We got turned onto blocked ice...we thought we had a chance! Our 5 day cooler turned into about a 6 day cooler but the blocks of ice were so big, you could barely put anything in the cooler that needed to be in there! And we still ended up with the same problem of watered down everything. After we put solar on the van, we saw a plug-in cooler/fridge at Walmart and decided to give it a try...we gave our 5 day cooler to a homeless guy in the parking lot! We went back to our camp 55 miles away from town and set up the didn't work, after 2 days we went back to town and got our money back for it and bought a much bigger 7 day cooler! From there on, we only bought block ice and I really tried to keep the water out of all of our just didn't happen that way. Finally one day we had an ah-ha moment after a friend gave us a "cooler shelf", a little box that hangs on the top of the inside of the cooler to put meats and cheeses and whatever in it so it doesn't get into the ice!!!!! That was a game changer for our food, we stopped throwing money away from food going bad, getting water in was awesome! 6 months of working later (due to a broken tooth), we had enough money to buy an actual fridge and get rid of the cooler altogether. We bought a Dometic CF-35, the gross capacity on it is 33 qt., it can be used as a 12 volt or a 110 and has a Danfoss compressor. We can change the temperature on it so it can be used as a refrigerator or a freezer but, for now, we use it as a fridge only. We no longer have to buy ice (we can now use the ice money to buy more food), no longer have to buy just enough food to last through the ice, worry about water getting into our food or any of that old nonsense. Although the Dometic was an expensive item, it was definitely the right thing, for us.  It has been so nice to not worry about when the ice is going to melt or if the food is getting ruined, the only thing we "worry" about now is keeping it full of yummy things! One more time... quality of life!

For those of you that have not seen the inside of Joon, we do have a pantry. It is a bi-level little closet for our food. Inside we keep canned items of veggies, meats, soups, chili, etc., dressings (if they are stored in a low, cool place they don't have to be refrigerated, eggs as well) all of our seasonings, noodles...pretty much anything that doesn't have to be refrigerated goes in the pantry. The pantry has a lock on the outside of it, so the dogs don't sneak into it at night....just kidding...the lock comes in handy on the crazy roads we travel on, we go up hills, we go down hills, we turn corners and when we turn a corner everything stays where it belongs because of that's a sanity saver!

I think I touched on pretty much everything. From time to time we may go out and get a $5 Lil' Caesars pizza or a hamburger from Burger King but we're usually out in the wild eating just as good if not better than what those places can cook up. All you need is a little bit of imagination. For example, before we got the fridge it was hard to keep milk in the cooler it would mostly always go to waste, so we would buy dry milk (just add water) and make just enough to put in a Gatorade bottle, put the bottle in the cooler to cool it down...the milk never went to waste and I'd always have a little bit on hand to cook with! Voila, imagination!!!
There are times when I miss having an oven because I love to bake, but I have come up with and have found creative ways to make some fun things using the pan or the grill and aluminum foil! Aluminum foil can be a campers best friend. Cut up some apples or peaches, add a little bit of butter and cinnamon, pocket it up in aluminum foil, place on grill for about 6-8 minutes or until golden brown and you've got yourself a nice sweet dessert! I know a few people that carry solar ovens so they can bake all of their goodies but we just don't have the room for a solar oven, while totally awesome, it's just too big for our rig.
I hope I'm not leaving anything out, I know everyone has their own little ways to do the necessary things or the things they love, these are all (I think) of ours. If you have any creatively awesome ideas for cooking, baking, eating, cooling or "keeping" in a rig that could be helpful to us or anyone else, please do leave a comment. We love to see how other people do things and if it can help others as well, then bring it!!
Thanks for tuning in for this series of Learning is Fun!!
See you next time!

***Don't forget this healthy breakfast idea***
Whole Wheat English Muffin
Low-fat cheese
Turkey bacon
Tomato slices
Cook the Turkey bacon until done
Cut English muffin in half
Place Tomato slices on muffin, top with cheese, top with Turkey bacon
Cook in Pan with lid for 5 minutes or until cheese is melted


  1. Have you ever used a sandwich iron? Place bread in each side, fill one side with egg or meat or fruit, close, place over hot fire, and eat something wonderful!

    1. No, we haven't. Do you have to heat it up? We usually try to stay away from anything that we have to heat with power, draws too much on the solar! Thanks for the idea though!

    2. yes, you place it in coles in the fire pit. makes the best ever pies.

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