Thursday, January 12, 2017

Real Food on the Road--RV CRAZY?'s tips for fitting it all

When we eat mostly fresh or homemade foods we feel healthier and happier. Bonus Points: no one in our family gets hives. Yay for no allergic reactions! However, these foods don't have the additives that prolong their shelf lives. Most of our food needs to be frozen, or made within a day or two of eating in order to remain fresh. So how do we fit it all?

Okay, lets get serious here. We have five people traveling in a tiny RV. Five people who love to eat. Five people who I am constantly prepping, cooking or shoveling food into when we're AT HOME with all of our modern conveniences. At home, I have a large refrigerator and freezer in the house, and a huge freezer outside in our garage. On RV trips, I have this:
Yes, this little dorm-room sized refrigerator and freezer are all I have to use for our RV Trips. Mama!
Last month we went on a week-long trip which included celebrating Thanksgiving with our extended out-of-state family. 

I had to fit a full thanksgiving dinner for five, plus my contribution to the extended family's meal, plus our normal food for our beach camping trip leading up to the big holiday.

RV FOOD CHALLENGE!!!
In this freezer, I fit:
Turkey, mashed potatoes, gravy, cranberry sauce, sweet potatoes, stuffing, butternut squash soup (for 40 people), plus full meals for 5 straight days of camping for our family of 5 (ex.-chicken breasts, veggies, or steaks and veggies), snacks for the kids (ex.-frozen smoothies, cookies, muffins), banana bread, frozen packs of turkey for lunch sandwiches, frozen pancakes, bacon, sausage, marshmallows, and graham crackers. 
YES!!! 
WE DID IT!!!
CHALLENGE ACCEPTED AND ACHIEVED!!! 
I couldn't believe we were able to fit it all, but we did. 

Here are some tips I've found over the years which help us fit all of the food we need.

RV FOOD TIPS

1. Know Your Vehicle
A. Figure out which containers will maximize the space in your fridge or freezer, and use them. When we started RV'ing, I thought these cube food storage containers would be awesome, and would allow for labeling and perfect organization on the road. But when I actually put them in the freezer, I couldn't even stack two of them on top of each other. Grrrr....so frustrating, but that's life. Turns out, I can maximize space in my freezer by freezing foods as flat as possible. My foodsaver is my friend.

B. If the racks don't work for you, remove them! This goes for fridges, freezers, ovens and microwaves. Don't keep shelving or racks in your appliances if they don't work for you. I removed the lower freezer door shelf so that I could stuff more food in the bottom shelf of the actual freezer (and still shut the door). This works better for me. Customize for your convenience.

2. Plan Ahead
Make a meal plan. Even if you don't want to get totally detailed; a general idea of meats, veggies and sides you will want for each meal is extremely helpful. As you're making the list, make note the condiments you'll want for each meal as well (ex. Pancakes, note syrup and butter etc.). Make sure to plan easy meals for drive days. Since I am normally really busy the day before a trip, I usually make dinner that night that will easily be a leftover for the drive day (spaghetti and meatballs, or cold pasta salad are easy favorites). 

3. Freeze and Thaw as you drive
Easy breakfasts are the most valuable meal for us on camping trips. We have three kids who like to wake up early, REALLY early, and who wake up HUNGRY and ready to eat. Normally this is the very time when we're not allowed to use the generator to quickly heat up breakfasts, and we're blearily trying to make coffee on a stove-top so we can function. So, for our first trip, I made muffins, and banana bread and blueberry cake. And then I realized that I couldn't fit any of it in our tiny freezer with all of our regular foods too. Ackkk...learning curve for us rookies. So, I started making these breakfast goodies and freezing them at home. Then, the night before our trips, I put the frozen goodies in our RV Cupboards or refrigerator and allow them to slowly thaw as we drive. They stay nice and delicious for breakfasts on the road. You can also do this with granola bars, cookies, graham crackers or even homemade marshmallows. This "make and freeze ahead method" allows me to plan ahead for the trips (instead of frantic, last minute cooking and baking), without allowing food to spoil.  

5. Research Local Stores
Since we eat mainly home-made or fresh foods, we sometimes have to replenish our produce supply while on the road. Thankfully there are SO many more options for healthy organic foods now. We can almost always find a Whole Foods, or a local organic farm stand or store nearby. So on very long trips, we pack the bulk of our own foods from home, and plan on making a produce run while we're out. Just do a Google search for the city you'll be near and check out the stores nearby.

6. Buy a Fruit Basket
I found a huge hand-woven large basket that works perfectly for us. I place heavier items on the bottom (potatoes, then apples, etc.) and top with other fruits like citrus and pears and bananas. The basket travels well on our bed or under the dinette. It's perfectly convenient for snacking, and frees up tons of space in the refrigerator and cabinets. We've found that pears, peaches and strawberries don't do as well with all of the bumps of a drive, so if you pack those, plan on eating them quickly. You can also use those fruits to make smoothies or freeze for frozen snacking later. 

7. Plan & Pack Meals that work for RV'ing
Listen, I love good food, and I don't believe in eating tasteless junk or fast-food or pre-packaged stuff just because we're camping. However, some foods work much better for packing and cooking on the road. For example, my kids love waffles. We have a sweet Belgium waffle maker at home that the whole family loves. However, those Belgium waffles take up a HUGE amount of freezer space. So, I could either pack one breakfast of waffles for the five of us, or instead fit meat and veggies for two or three dinners. They take up the same amount of space! Of course, the waffles don't usually make it on the road. I opt for freezing pancakes and bringing them instead. I do use waffles if we're going on a quick weekend trip. It's a special treat that way. 

Similarly, we love baked potatoes. But when we're enjoying a great campout, I don't want to spend an hour or more baking potatoes in our RV's Convection Oven. So I usually make twice baked potatoes at home and freeze them to heat up on the trips. Or, we plan on baking potatoes in a campfire on a night that we're planning to be in camp, or using our Dutch Oven. 

Find recipes you love and tweak them to work well for you on the road. You can enjoy any types of foods you love, you just may adapt them to fit your needs. 

8. Expand your Horizons
Search the Internet for new recipes, read cooking blogs, or check Pinterest boards. Wherever creativity hits you, motivate yourself to try new foods and recipes. You can always change the ingredients to use healthier options that work for your family. Get creative! And enjoy delicious foods on the road. 

9. Value Convenience 
I know this may sound counter-intuitive, especially for someone who doesn't eat many pre-packaged or convenience foods. But my main priority on an RV Trip is getting away from it all and truly enjoying nature. I want to be in the woods, on the beach, hiking to waterfalls, playing with my kids, having fun with my husband...NOT...peeling veggies, prepping foods, and cooking for hours. Whenever possible, I prep foods ahead of time, or use a healthy packaged food that we are able to eat for part of a meal (refried beans, soup, pasta sauce, tortillas). 

10. Use Ingredients You Already Have
When we go on a last-minute trip, I often will just pack ingredients right from our fridge and pantry and use them for our meals on our impromptu getaway. I love our RV, because there is virtually no food waste. Any foods that aren't eaten on a trip can easily be placed right back into our home refrigerator and eaten there. No foods get soggy from melting ice, or spoiled from fluctuating temperature storage. There are so many meals you can make from ingredients that you already have in your kitchen. The great thing about RV'ing is that it is truly a tinier home away from home, no need to spend extra money on special foods or eating out. 

11. Use (and Value) your Team 
Another valued byproduct of RV'ing is the closeness and teamwork our family has developed. There's just something about living in a tiny little footprint, sharing one bathroom, and exploring nature's wonders together that really breeds family camaraderie like nothing else!

So whenever we are making meals on the RV Trips, I try to include all of us in the food prep, cooking, or clean up.  Even the littlest hands can help peel, wash, or cut foods. And my oldest daughter has recently been helping make the food menus on Google Docs. She loves it, and I enjoy the help and collaborating with her. 

My Awesome Hubby is master of packing up our homemade pancake mixes, prepping brownie mix packs, thinking of (and packing) that one ingredient or condiment that I always surely forget, packing the booze (YES, I have actually forgotten this before. Thank GOODNESS for my hubby!) And you can always depend on him to help me lug all these ingredients and foods to the RV the night before a trip. Actually all of us have become excellent Sherpas. My youngest little guy is great with a dolly and food or clothes bins! 

So find your team's strengths and USE them...and then be sure to give your team lots of huge hugs and thank you's while you're having fun together on the trip. 

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