Growing-up, summer vacation for my family usually meant making the six-hour trip from central Pennsylvania to Cape May Point, New Jersey. The drive itself wasn’t uber scenic and the destination not as high-profile as many, but my younger brother and I couldn’t have been happier to spend a week splashing in the ocean and walking the colorful streets of Cape May.
A week of sun-filled activities was great, but I really loved dining out each night. Vacation, after all, feels like the ideal time to justify continuous nights out eating local fare. Who wants to cook on vacation anyway?! Though a week-long trip of eating-out may be feasible, it’s hard to justify on longer excursions.
As full-time RVers, we quickly realized the need to prioritize healthy eating while living on the road. Frequenting new cities presented a menu of exciting new restaurants at our disposal, while the many tiring travel days could easily push us toward the grab-and-go convenience of America’s endless fast food chains. Neither option seemed sustainable for our bellies or wallets, so we made a conscious effort to prepare our own meals the vast majority of the time.
We quickly found ourselves actually enjoying the process of whipping up healthier, delicious food each week. Not only did we feel better, but our monthly food bill shrank, too. Here are a few tips for eating healthy (and saving some coin) while traveling on the road.
1) Prepare in bulk
Whether you love the kitchen and tune into Emeril every afternoon, or you can’t stand the thought of slaving away each night, preparing food in advance is a big key to following through on dining-in.
Slicing, dicing, mincing, peeling … all these kitchen tasks take time and can grow old each and every day – especially for boondockers trying to conserve water. Rather than waiting until 6 p.m each night, set aside one day a week to grocery shop and prepare all the components of meals for the week ahead.
Clean, marinate and grill the chicken, cube potatoes, cook rice, chop onions, peppers and tomatoes. At a minimum, take care of everything requiring a cutting board to alleviate that task from the daily routine. Choose a medley of vegetables, starches and meats that can be mixed and matched into a wide variety of lunches and dinners.
Weekly food prep has become part of our routine and makes whipping up meals super easy.
2) Stock-up on food storage containers
All this preparation means you’re going to need a lot of storage. Stock-up on varying sizes of storage containers where you can keep foods fresh for the duration of the week. Depending on your RV size, refrigerator space can be tight. Storing your prepared food in containers that stack nicely make for an easy space-saving hack. My wife Brittany and I had no issue storing a week’s worth of food in our Winnebago View refrigerator.
Be sure to grab plenty of containers to hold all your prepped food and stack nicely in the RV fridge.
3) Plan ahead
It’s 7 p.m. You’ve just completed a nice long hike and returned to your rig. You turn to your spouse and pose the ominous question, “So, what’s for dinner?” We’ve all been there. Tired, hungry, and lacking the energy (and desire) to craft the evening menu.
The simple solution? Meal plan!
Instead of waiting until the last minute, lay out the meals for the week ahead. Not only does it make day-of decision making a breeze, but it helps with that shopping list too. Our Sunday evening routine on the road was to determine the week’s meals (and create a grocery list), grab everything at the store, and prepare food for the week ahead (generally with Netflix streaming or Spotify blasting our favorite tunes).
Similar to planning dinners, we made a point to prepare ahead for travel days, too. The Golden Arches or crafty cow-themed billboard ads can be enticing on a long drive. But if you’ve got prepared snacks and a few sandwiches or wraps ready to eat, lunchtime is as simple as snagging them at the next rest stop. A big bonus of a hand-crafted wrap with fresh ingredients is the avoidance of that afternoon food-coma (thanks to the countless preservatives in that fast food nonsense)! Ditch the drive-thru for good by preparing lunches and snacks (think almonds, fresh fruit, etc.) the night before a big travel day.
4) Buy a slow cooker (or Instant Pot)
While most RVs come equipped with everything you need to whip up great meals, the versatility and convenience of the slow cooker cannot be overstated. Meats, beans, roasts, soups, casseroles – you name it, and the slow cooker can cook it.
It’s great for cooking in bulk, and the ability to throw everything into the cooker, set the temperature and timer, and then go about your day is huge. We often toss the ingredients in before bed and let it work it’s magic while we’re snoozing. Make huge batches of staples (i.e. beans, rice, soups) and freeze what you don’t plan to eat that week.
For those wanting the benefits without the lengthy cook time, check-out the Instant Pot. These boast similar benefits to the Crockpot, but with a fraction of the cooking time. We haven’t personally used one, but a lot of friends swear by them.
5) Embrace the outdoors
It probably goes without saying for most RVers, but utilize the outdoors! Doing food preparation on an outside picnic table makes for a much more enjoyable experience. Be sure to fire-up the grill too, where you can cook in bulk for the entire week, or enjoy a beverage while grilling-up that night’s grub a few times a week.
Fire-up the grill and take food prep outside. Fresh air and good scenery make a world of difference!
6) Set a dining budget
Eliminating restaurants completely isn’t really practical nor fun for most people. After all, there are so many great local spots across America to explore!
Set a budget for the month, ditch the chain restaurants in lieu of supporting local businesses, and dine out accordingly. We routinely ask locals for recommendations and have stumbled into some of our favorite spots based on those suggestions. Eating out a few times per month and saving for the highly recommended local spots really leads to much more enjoyment of the overall restaurant experience, too.
Enjoying a post-hike lobster roll and lobster BLT at Thurstons Lobster Pound (Bernard, Maine).
By eliminating impulse decisions to eat-out, meal planning and shopping ahead for the week, we were able to reduce our monthly food budget to around $500! Our go-to supermarket is Aldi, where we love the prices and have been super impressed by selection and quality of fruits and produce (both which we eat a ton of). Our typical weekly grocery bill for two is sub $100, allowing us some extra cash to try a few local restaurant spots throughout the month.
A Few Go-To Recipes
In mid-2017, we converted to a plant-based diet, but here are some of our favorite (meat-themed and meatless) recipes to cook in bulk for the week while on the road.
Slow Cooker Chicken:
Ingredients: 2 lbs chicken breast, 2 cups water, 1 tbsp cumin, 1 tsp cayenne pepper, 1 tsp paprika, ½ tsp pepper.
Directions: Add ingredients to slow cooker. Cook 8 hours on low. Remove chicken & pull apart with forks. Serve in tacos, on a bed of rice, or in wraps. Extra chicken stores well in refrigerator up to a week.
Easy Homemade Vegetable Soup:
We use this recipe. But, instead of cooking on the stovetop, we toss ingredients in a slow cooker on low for 6-8 hours. Makes enough to eat at various points throughout the week. I enjoy adding rice to the finished product, too.
Black Bean Burgers:
If you’re skeptical of any burger that’s not beef, it’s time you give these a try.
Ingredients: 32 oz black beans, 16 oz red (kidney) beans, 16 oz chickpeas (garbanzo beans). (You can buy these pre-cooked, or in bulk and do batches in advance in the slow cooker.) Plus, ½ yellow onion (diced), 1 tbsp cumin, 1 tsp cayenne pepper, and a spoonful or two of flour.
Directions: Mash beans and combine with other ingredients. Mix together well. It will be cookie dough-like consistency. Form burger patties and sauté in olive oil on stovetop, or on tin-foil on an outdoor grill. Top with sliced avocado and serve on a brioche bun with your choice of condiments. Or, get crazy and serve on jasmine rice and top with mango salsa (recipe below) for one delicious ‘burger’!
Black bean burger on cilantro-lime rice topped with fresh mango salsa & avocado.
Ingredients: 3 roma tomatoes (diced), 1 ripe mango (diced), ½ yellow onion (diced), handful of cilantro (minced), juice of 1 lime.
Directions: Toss all ingredients together and enjoy with tortilla chips, or on top of tacos, burgers, etc.
Grilled Veggie Dishes:
If you want to dive deeper into the possibilities of veggies on a grill, there are a wide variety of recipes we frequently use here.