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Van Life Eats: 8 Easy Campervan Meals On A Budget

Vanlife cooking

Living the van life is an epic adventure. One day, you’re sipping coffee overlooking a majestic mountain range. The next, you’re falling asleep to the soothing sounds of a forest creek. 

But let’s be honest. It’s not all breathtaking sunsets and picture-perfect picnic spots. There are challenges, too—like figuring out how to whip up a tasty, nutritious meal in a kitchen the size of a broom closet!

We’re sharing our favorite easy campervan meals that are budget-friendly and can be cooked right in your van. We’ve got you covered from dawn till dusk with meals that are simple to prepare on a stovetop, can fit in a mini fridge or freezer, and won’t make your wallet wince. 

Let’s get started with the basics of campervan cooking.

This post includes affiliate links but rest assured that we only recommend items we would use ourselves. And if you choose to make a purchase, we receive a small commission. No sponsorships, just the truth about our favorite finds.

The Art of Campervan Cooking: Embracing the Constraints and Advantages

Cooking in a campervan is like trying to solve a deliciously tricky puzzle. You deal with limited spaceminimal kitchen equipment, and unpredictable conditions. But don’t let that put you off. The key to easy campervan meals is embracing the constraints and turning them into opportunities.

Sure, you won’t have the luxury of a full-sized oven or a six-burner stove, but this means you’ll get terrific at one pot meals and mastering the art of stovetop cooking. And yes, your fridge and freezer might be on the smaller side, but this encourages creative meal planning and reducing food waste. 

Plus, there’s nothing quite like the satisfaction of creating a hearty meal in your cozy campervan after a day of outdoor adventures.

If you’re just starting your vanlife adventure, you can read about 6 things to know before you start vanlife here.

Essential Equipment and Tools for Campervan Cooking

When it comes to easy campervan meals, less is more. Space is precious, so choose your tools wisely. Here’s what we would consider the campervan cooking equipment essentials for easy camping meals:

  1. A good quality stovetop: This will be the heart of your kitchen. Opt for a model that’s sturdy, easy to clean, and has at least two burners for flexibility. An example of a stove top we have seen in a van build is the Camp Chef Everest 2X High-Pressure Stove.
  2. Pot and pan: Choose versatile ones that can go from stovetop to table. A deep pot for boiling and simmering and a large frying pan for everything else should cover most meals. Consider getting a pot and pan with removable handles to save storage space such as the GSI Outdoors Bugaboo Base Camper Cookset.
  3. Cutting board and knife: A decent-sized cutting board can double as extra counter space, and a sharp knife makes prep work easier and safer. You really only need one good knife, so leave your knife block in storage.
  4. Collapsible utensils: These are a space-saving miracle. Think collapsible bowls, measuring cups, and even a collapsible kettle if you’re a tea or coffee lover. We took the GSI Outdoors Destination Kitchen Set 24 from our camping set and put it into our van
  5. Portable spice rack: Bring your favorite spices with you. It’s an easy way to add variety and flavor to your meals. Consider using magnetic strips and mounting your spices in out-of-the-way places.

Organizing Your Campervan Kitchen for Efficiency and Space

Organization is critical When dealing with a small fridge, freezer, and stovetop. Here are some tips to help you maximize space and efficiency:

  1. Plan your meals: This allows you to buy only what you need, reducing waste and saving precious fridge and freezer space.
  2. Use every inch of space: Get creative with storage. Use magnetic strips for knives and spices, hang utensils on hooks, and use stackable containers in the fridge and freezer.
  3. Keep it tidy: Clean as you go. It not only makes the space more pleasant, but it also makes cooking easier and safer.
  4. Prep in advance: If you know you’ll have a busy day of adventures, consider prepping your meal in advance. Chop veggies, marinate meat, or even fully cook your meal so that it just needs reheating.

Remember, campervan cooking isn’t about recreating gourmet meals on the road. It’s about fueling your adventures with tasty, nutritious food that brings joy to your journey.

Stocking Your Campervan Pantry: The Adventurer’s Guide

Easy campervan meals to cook in your van

Now, let’s talk about stocking your tiny but mighty campervan pantry. Just because space is limited doesn’t mean your easy campervan meals must be bland or boring. With a bit of planning and some smart choices, you can always keep a stash of versatile and tasty ingredients on hand for your van recipes.

It’s essential to remember nutrition when buying groceries for food ideas. The University of Hawai’i tells us that humans require six classes of nutrients to survive:

  • Carbohydrates: think grains, milk, fruit, and vegetables like sweet potatoes (starchy vegetables).
  • Lipids (fats): Think meat, nuts, seeds, and oils. 
  • Protein: Think meat, soy, eggs, and seafood.
  • Water: Think..well…water. And lots of it!
  • Vitamins: A, D, E, K, C, Thiamin, Biotin, Niacin, etc.
  • Minerals: Calcium, Potassium, Magnesium, Iron, Zinc, etc.

Try to incorporate various foods in your meals to ensure you get proper nutrition on your road trip.

Versatile, Non-Perishable Items to Always Have on Board

Start with the non-perishables. They’re long-lasting, versatile, and perfect for creating various meals. Consider this your campervan food list essentials. Here are some staples we always keep in our campervan:

  1. Grains and Pasta: Think rice, quinoa, and pasta. They’re great bases for various dishes, and they store well. 
  2. Canned Goods: Beans, lentils, tomatoes, tuna, and corn are all fantastic for stews, salads, and pasta dishes.
  3. Spices and Condiments: These are the flavor bombs of your pantry. Salt, pepper, garlic, chili flakes, cumin, and your favorite herbs can transform a simple dish. Remember condiments like soy sauce and hot sauce.
  4. Oils and Vinegar: Olive oil, avocado oil, and a couple of vinegars (like balsamic and apple cider) can add depth to your meals.

Choosing Fresh Produce and Dairy for Longevity

The key to fresh produce and dairy is choosing items that last longer and storing them properly. Here are some tips for your camper van adventures:

  • Choose Hardy Veggies and Fruits: Opt for fruits and veggies that can withstand a bit of rough and tumble on the road and don’t spoil quickly. Think apples, oranges, carrots, potatoes, and red onion.
  • Buy Smaller Dairy Portions: Instead of buying a large container of milk or yogurt that might spoil before you finish it, opt for smaller portions. Or consider long-life dairy and non-dairy alternatives.
  • Store Properly: Keep your fridge at the right temperature and store fruits and veggies correctly. For example, don’t store apples and carrots together, as the apples can make the carrots bitter.

Budget-Friendly Shopping on the Road

Living the van life doesn’t mean you have to break the bank when it comes to food shopping. Here are some tips:

  • Shop at Local Markets: You will support local businesses and often find fresher produce and better deals than at chain supermarkets.
  • Buy in Bulk: For non-perishables, consider buying in bulk to save money in the long run. Just be sure you have enough storage space!
  • Use Apps and Coupons: There are numerous apps and websites that can help you find the best deals in your current location. Don’t underestimate the power of a good coupon!

Stocking your campervan pantry might seem challenging, but once you’ve got the hang of it, you’ll be whipping up road-worthy meals in no time.

Kickstart Your Day: Easy, Budget-Friendly Campervan Breakfast Recipes

To help you start your day, we’ve gathered four easy, budget-friendly breakfast recipes perfect for vanlife. They’re simple, delicious, and won’t leave you with a ton of leftovers. 

Most of these recipes are meant as a single serving, but if you want easy campervan meals for two, double the recipe!

Let’s get cooking!

Making ceral in your van for an easy campervan meal

1. DIY Instant Oatmeal with Yogurt and Chia Seeds

This hearty bowl of overnight oats is an easy campervan meal packed with nutrients to fuel your day. It’s one of the perfect healthy campervan meals to start the day right!

  • Ingredients: 1/4 cup quick rolled oats, 1/4 cup vanilla yogurt, 1 tablespoon chia seeds, 1 tablespoon maple syrup, 1/4 cup fresh fruit of choice.
  • Preparation: Mix the oats, yogurt, chia seeds, and maple syrup in a bowl. Let it sit overnight in the fridge. In the morning, top it off with fresh fruit, and voila! A healthy and satisfying breakfast is ready.
  • Cooking time: Overnight + 5 minutes
  • Cost estimate: $2 per serving

2. Campfire Pancakes

Who doesn’t love pancakes? These fluffy breakfast bites are easy to prepare and take less than 25 minutes to make.

  • Ingredients: Your favorite pancake mix, water, cooking oil, your favorite pancake toppings.
  • Preparation: Follow the instructions on your pancake mix to prepare the batter. Heat your pan over the stove, add a little oil, pour some batter, and flip when bubbles form on the surface. Serve with your favorite toppings.
  • Cooking time: 15-20 minutes
  • Cost estimate: $3 per serving

3. Breakfast Burritos

These are easy to make and incredibly filling. Perfect for those mornings when you have a big day of adventures ahead. 

  • Ingredients: 2 eggs, 1/4 cup shredded cheese, 1 small tortilla, salt and pepper to taste, and optional fillings like cooked bacon, bell peppers, or onions.
  • Preparation: Scramble the eggs in a pan over your stove, season with salt and pepper, then stir in the cheese and any additional fillings. Once cooked, spoon the mixture onto your tortilla, roll it up, and enjoy!
  • Cooking time: 10 minutes
  • Cost estimate: $3 per serving

Easy campervan meals aren’t so bad, right?

4. Campfire Frittata

This one-pot wonder is a great way to use up any leftover veggies you might have.

  • Ingredients: 4 eggs, 1/4 cup of diced veggies (like bell peppers, onions, spinach), 1/4 cup shredded cheese, salt and pepper to taste.
  • Preparation: Beat the eggs in a bowl, then stir in the veggies and cheese. Season with salt and pepper. Pour the mixture into a hot pan over your stove, cover, and let it cook until the eggs are set.
  • Cooking time: 15-20 minutes
  • Cost estimate: $4 per serving

With these easy breakfast recipes, you’re all set to start your day of adventure on a delicious note. So grab your spatula, fire up that stove, and let’s make breakfast the highlight of your van life mornings!

Savor the Sunset: Easy, Budget-Friendly Campervan Dinner Recipes

Easy campervan meals to cook in your van

As the setting sun paints the sky with hues of pink and orange, there’s no better way to end your day of adventure than with a delicious, homemade dinner. 

Cooking in a campervan might seem daunting, but with these four easy, budget-friendly recipes, you’ll be dishing up scrumptious meals in no time. They’re quick, simple, and perfectly portioned for one or two people.

1. Rice, Beans, and Salsa Skillet

This hearty meal is as simple as it gets – just three main ingredients, but packed with flavor!

  • Ingredients: 1 cup cooked rice, 1 can of black beans (drained), 1/2 cup of your favorite salsa, salt and pepper to taste.
  • Preparation: Heat up your stove and toss all the ingredients into your skillet. Stir until heated through, season to taste, and serve hot.
  • Cooking time: 10 minutes
  • Cost estimate: $3 per serving

2. Quick Quinoa Stir-Fry

A versatile dish that lets you use up any leftover veggies or proteins. Feel free to mix and match based on what you have on hand.

  • Ingredients: 1 cup cooked quinoa, 1 cup diced veggies (like bell peppers, onions, zucchini), 1/4 cup chopped protein (like tofu, chicken, steak), 2 tablespoons soy sauce.
  • Preparation: Sauté the veggies and protein with 1 tbsp olive oil in your pan until cooked. Add the quinoa and soy sauce, stir to combine, and heat until warm.
  • Cooking time: 15-20 minutes
  • Cost estimate: $4 per serving

3. Bacon Avacado Grilled Cheese With Tomato Soup

This is one of our favorite easy campervan meals. We cook this at least once a week! It’s super easy to make and tastes delicious. Plus, grilled cheese is the ultimate comfort food for those long days of hiking.

  • Ingredients: 1 can of tomato soup, 2 slices of bread, 2 slices of cheese, 2 strips of bacon, 1 avocado, butter, and garlic seasoning.
  • Preparation: Prepare the soup according to the directions on the can. Heat butter and garlic seasoning in a pan and place the bread, cheese, and bacon. Top with the remaining slice of bread. Cook until the bread is brown, flip, add the avocado and brown the other side. Dunk the grilled cheese in the soup for a deliciously flavored sandwich!
  • Cooking time: 15 – 20 minutes
  • Cost estimate: $3 per serving

4. Simple Spaghetti And Sauce

An easy campervan meal that can be made in just 15 minutes. It requires 3 ingredients and is another perfect comfort meal after a big adventure.

  • Ingredients: 100g pasta, 1 can pasta sauce of choice, parmesan cheese.
  • Preparation: In a pot, boil water and add pasta. Cook to desired tenderness, drain water, and set aside. In the same pot, empty 1/2-can of pasta sauce and heat until warm. Add the pasta to the sauce, stir, add freshly shredded parmesan cheese, and enjoy!
  • Cooking time: 15-20 minutes
  • Cost estimate: $3 per serving

With these easy, budget-friendly recipes, you can enjoy a delicious dinner under the stars without breaking the bank or spending hours in the kitchen.

On the Side – Quick and Affordable Campervan Snacks and Sides

When you’re spending your days hiking up mountains, exploring hidden trails, or playing fetch with Fido, you need fuel that’s both satisfying and easy to make in your campervan kitchen. 

Here are some quick, affordable, and downright delicious snacks and sides perfect for your next adventure.

Snacks On-the-Go

  • Trail Mix: This classic snack is a no-brainer. Mix your favorite nuts, dried fruits, seeds, and maybe a few chocolate chips for a sweet treat. It’s lightweight, easy to pack, and gives you a quick energy boost during outdoor activities.
  • Cheese and Crackers: Simple yet satisfying, this combo is perfect for a quick snack while on the road. Opt for hard cheeses like cheddar or gouda, which last longer without refrigeration.
  • Fresh Fruit: Apples, oranges, bananas, and berries are great choices. They’re not only refreshing but also packed with essential vitamins and minerals.
  • Hummus and Veggies: Hummus is a nutritious and versatile dip. Pair it with sliced cucumbers, bell peppers, carrot sticks, or pretzels for a healthy and filling snack.

Campervan-Friendly Sides

  • Grilled West Virginia Corn: It doesn’t get much easier! Empty a can of corn into an iron skillet with butter and sugar. Cook until it’s warm, and it’s ready to go.
  • Stovetop Stuffing: This comforting side dish can easily be made on your small stove. Add some canned green beans and a little bacon fat for extra flavor.
  • Garlic Potatoes: Dice fingerling potatoes and toss them in a pan with butter, garlic, salt, and pepper. You’ll know they’re done when you can easily stick a fork through them.
  • Salad: Salads are nutritious and can be paired with most meals. Choose your vegetable base, such as spinach, chopped lettuce, or field greens. Add croutons, sunflower kernels, cherry tomatoes, dried cranberries, or any other toppings of choice. Top with freshly shredded cheese and your favorite dressing.

Remember, these snacks and sides are great accompaniments to your main meals and fantastic fuel for your hiking or climbing adventures. And the best part? They’re all easy to make in the limited space of your campervan, without an oven, and won’t leave you with a ton of leftovers. 

Easy Campervan Meals: The Grand Finale – Wrapping Up Our Culinary Adventure on the Road

That’s a wrap! A collection of quick, affordable, and downright delicious recipes designed to fuel your adventures and satisfy your taste buds, all from the cozy confines of your campervan.

We can’t stress enough how important it is to plan and prepare your easy campervan meals in advance when living the van life. Not only does it save time and money, but it also ensures you’re nourishing your body with good food, even while on the move. Plus, who can resist the charm of a home-cooked meal savored against a backdrop of stunning landscapes?

But remember, these recipes are just a starting point. Feel free to mix things up and experiment with different ingredients based on what’s available or what tickles your fancy. Try swapping quinoa for couscous in that refreshing salad, or add peanut butter to your trail mix for an extra protein kick. The possibilities are endless, and the joy of cooking on the road lies in these creative culinary experiments.

We’d love to hear about your own campervan cooking adventures. Have a tried-and-true recipe or a handy cooking tip you’d like to share? Drop a comment below and join the conversation. After all, the road is best traveled when we learn and share together.

Here’s to good food, great adventures, and unforgettable memories. Happy cooking and even happier eating, adventurers! Want more tips about the nomadic lifestyle? Check out our vanlife blog!

The dirtbags hiking square top mountain. Getting a picture of the family taken!
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15 comments

  1. Love the grilled cheese and stovetop ideas. My go to quick +healthy one pot meal. Sautéed spinach with olive oil , garlic , salt / pepper , walnuts or any protein and a squeeze of lemon when it’s done 🙂 also to have in handy honey. It’s good on everything , lasts a long time , and even in your coffee or tea and it’s good for you.

    1. That sounds awesome! We will try that idea out. Also we will add honey to our list of things to get. Might try to find some local honey! I Apppreciate the feedback and ideas.

      1. Yes ! Local honey is the best. I know that beer place in Burgettstown you guys like sells some local honey. I meant to add that it’s way better for you than sugar so sub it for your sugar in your coffee or tea or any meals where you would add sugar. It also adds a really good flavor to anything 🙂

  2. My ancestry is Bohemian so when I saw this post my heart skipped a beat. I grew up traveling every summer in a truck and camper-oldest of 7 kids. We loved it! But my husband of 30 years can’t stand any outdoor adventures. I sure miss the campfire pies!

    1. That is awesome! Thanks for sharing and who doesn’t love a good campfire pie?! My wife and her side of the family love making mountain pies (I’m pretty sure it’s the same thing)!

  3. I’m impressed. My family would go camping every year, and I fancy the idea of traveling again, sometimes thinking about camping, but I’ve gotten spoiled to Airbnb’s with full kitchens. Plus, my husband isn’t much for camping. Your food sounds delicious though!

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