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One of the things we are forced to problem solve when on the road is food. Where are we going to get it? When are we going to get it? And how are we going to keep it fresh? Though we’ve already written about our top road trip tips, we wanted to spend a little bit more time on food. In this post we talk about some of our top strategies for eating on the road. Van life: how to keep your food fresh.

Keep it simple.

Don’t get us wrong, you can still eat really well on the road (bonus points for buying from farmers markets as well as organic), but don’t make it harder for yourself than you have to. We often skirt actual cooking by assembling our meals. Think salads and sandwiches rather than steak and seafood. When we do cook proteins, we often make enough for two or three meals. It cuts down on propane for the stove as well as dishwashing.

Van Life: Keeping Your Food Fresh

Visit the food store often.

Some vans and rigs have refrigerators in them. Our old Chinook had a fridge in it but our current van does not. We use a cooler that I borrowed from my parent’s garage back in my twenties. It doesn’t even have a handle anymore but with a little bit of ice it keeps things cold for about 30 hours.

Get cool.

Okay so if you’re using coolers like us the name of the game is ice packs (or ice if you don’t have ice packs). Cool early and often. When you can, put the ice packs or ice in the cooler for about an hour. This will help the cooler itself get cold. That way your food is going into a cool space rather than a warm one. Then put food on top of the ice. Add another layer of ice. Put more food on top. We learned this layering system in college when chilling really bad beer but it still works for food. Pro tips: Pack your cooler full, it’ll keep it colder longer. Also, keep in the shade when possible (or in the air conditioning) and get in and out of it as quickly as possible. We used to use an old Igloo cooler but have recently upgraded to the Ozark Trails 26 Quart Cooler and we love it. To learn more about it head on over HERE.

Fresh Food 3

Dry ice.

I don’t know why we didn’t think of dry ice sooner but it just didn’t occur to us. It can be a little difficult to find. In the south, certain Publix carry it. The benefits is that it lasts a bit longer than regular ice. (It’s -109 Degrees Fahrenheit!) While cooling your food is awesome, the drawback is that it can hurt you if you’re not careful. Always use gloves and let the ice ventilate because when it “melts” it turns to CO2 and can be very dangerous.

Storage is key.

Right, so you’re using the layering method with ice are you? Just keep in mind that while this method works great for cooling beers, it’s really bad if water gets into your food. At that point your food is far from fresh. It’s soggy. And gross. And basically inedible. Wet cheese doesn’t sound so bad until you realize there’s a pool of cheese juice on top and that it’s more lipstick-y than cheesy. Gross. Do yourself a favor and make sure your food is in lock-tight bags or containers.

Van Life: Keeping Your Food Fresh

Buy food that doesn’t need cooling.

Sounds like a no-brainer but by default, choosing foods that can deal with fluctuations in temperature is super helpful. Think pasta, dried fruits, canned foods, cereal, granola, breads, etc.

Fresh Food 4

Plan your meals.

It can sometimes take the spontaneity out of things when you p l a n your meals but the upside is less wasted food. We try our best to buy food that can be used for several meals. For example, avocados can be eaten at breakfast, lunch or dinner. Same for cheese and tomatoes, tortillas … even rice. Some things that aren’t so appealing at all times of day are fish and beef. If you plan your meals so that there’s some crossover with ingredients, you’re more likely to keep your food fresh.

Van Life: Keeping Your Food Fresh

Van life: Keeping Food Fresh

One time we ate blue cheese ravioli that was supposed to be refrigerated but had been sort of lurking in the back of our 4Runner for several weeks. In a moment of weakness (okay maybe it was desperation) we ate them. And we lived. And we didn’t even have a stomach ache. We got lucky and we don’t recommend doing things like this.

But we get it. Keeping food fresh on the road can be difficult as well as annoying. But a little bit of planning and preparation can go a long way. Fresh food is essential to keeping morale high as well as maintaining a healthy lifestyle.

Do you have any good tips for eating on the road? If so we’d love to hear them. Please leave your comments below!

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9 Comments on “Van Life: How to Keep Your Food Fresh

  1. Your posts are always so fresh, unlike those blue-cheese ravioli. We would love to have a fridge-freezer, but for now we have a relatively small cooler and ice. Ice is pretty easy to come upon and it does a pretty good job keeping things cold. Lately I’ve been considering a soft cooler because when it’s not being used it can be collapsed. It’s the same reason we use duffle bags for clothing because they can be smushed, molded and collapsed. I can’t wait to see what you come up with next!

    • Haha yeah those blue-cheese ravioli were something else. We were definitely taking a gamble when we ate them. Have you ever done an experiment on yourself like that when road tripping? Good call on the soft cooler – I think we have one of those around somewhere! What I really need is a backpack cooler …

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