“Eat less from a box and more from the earth” – Unknown
* A VEGAN SPECIAL *
7 easy and healthy meals for life on the road
One gas bottle, a two-ring hob and three meals a day. We recently spent no less than 6 weeks living in a hi-top campervan, a converted Hiace with just about enough room to stand up in. With just one medium saucepan and one medium frying pan to play with, we’ve become experts at easy campervan meals that require limited resources. Our road trip was full of natural beauty, long days exploring and thousands of kilometres of new roads. When we stopped for a meal, we wanted it to be simple to make, but we also wanted to avoid junk food, fast food or processed food. This month, we’re sharing our top seven go-to meals for time spent on the road with a campervan kitchen.
What’s in a campervan kitchen and how does it work?
It varies on the style of van but a pretty basic one has a small fridge, a whistling kettle for the small hob, a small sink, and some basic utensils including plastic plates and bowls that remind me of my childhood. Ours also had a microwave but we didn’t turn it on once and actually found it to be a complete waste of valuable space. The fridge is powered by a battery which charges when you drive and when you are hooked up to power. The hob is gas-powered by a small gas bottle that is cheap to refill and lasts for weeks, even when cooking every day like us. The sink requires the water tank to be topped up and the pump is powered by the battery. The cupboards lock so that items don’t move around too much whilst you move. That said, go easy on the driving when you’re behind the wheel of a campervan so that you’re kitchen doesn’t require a clean up every night.
Shopping for food with a camper is super easy. There’s no need to make a list because you pull up your kitchen in the carpark and check what’s in the fridge and cupboards before you go inside. If you still manage to unpack the shop and realise you’ve forgotten something, you simply walk back in the shop and grab it. For those of us with poor memory, how wonderful! The real key to shopping for the camper is to buy exactly the right amount of things that could spoil, stock up on things that don’t spoil and do not buy things you don’t need.
So what did we eat on the road?
Below, are our top seven go-to meals from our recent road trip on Australia’s east coast. We reference local foods of the areas we passed through but you don’t need to be driving Australia to enjoy these meal ideas. They are all quick to make no matter how late you pull in to rest, they can all be varied to keep your taste buds excited on long trips and they are all guilt-free options with plant-based ingredients, no additives or nasties.
1. Chickpea Curry
Ingredients: rice, onion, coconut cream, chopped tomatoes, chickpeas, a natural curry seasoning and fresh vegetables.
Variations: We love red and green pepper with this curry, or try throwing in some pineapple for a twist! It works well as a coconut based curry, a tomato based curry, or our favourite is an equal mix of the two.
When should I make it? The best thing about this meal is it’s super filling so it’s a great option after a day spent outdoors when that intense hunger that fresh air brings on hits you.
Traveller Tip! I like to make my own curry seasoning using cumin seeds, paprika, turmeric and chilli, but if this sounds like hard work you can buy a seasoning for curries that already contains all these things. I recommend the separate herbs and spices as these are great all rounders and can be used in many other meals. For example, my simple Mexican seasoning contains cumin seeds, paprika, black pepper, oregano and chilli. Don’t worry about quantities just play around with the flavour that best suits your pallete.
2. Veggie Fajitas
Ingredients: onion, chopped tomatoes, a natural Mexican seasoning, wraps and fresh vegetables
Variations: Use peppers, carrots chopped thinly, green beans, black beans or lentils, and even rice if you want to bulk this meal out. This recipe is greatly enhanced with avocados which if you are passing through Coffs Harbour, can be purchased roadside. Smash them into fresh guacamole with lime and a natural salt, my preference is Himalayan pink salt.
When should I make it? This is the quickest meal to throw together and only requires one pan to be washed up so it’s the best option for those really long driving days.
Traveller Tip! Tins are your new best friend because they store so well. Stock up on black beans, kidney beans, chickpeas, lentils, chopped tomatoes, coconut milk, sweetcorn and anything else that takes your fancy. Tins are a great plastic free food source and can be recycled all over Australia.
3. Chilli Sin Carne (chilli without meat)
Ingredients: rice, onion, chopped tomatoes, a natural Mexican seasoning and kidney beans.
Variations: Mushrooms or red pepper are great fresh vegetable additions to this recipe, but our favourite variation is black beans and sweet potato. Again, you’ll want to rustle up some of that fresh guacamole with those creamy Australian avocados.
When should I make it? This meal is great for colder evenings in a campervan as it really warms you right through. We enjoyed this meal on New Years Eve in our van and as you can see from the photo above, we added a splash of red wine in celebration.
Traveller Tip! If you boil vegetables in a saucepan, i.e. sweet potato, re-use the water to boil rice. This is necessary with one saucepan at your disposal but also heavily nutritious, very tasty and it saves water. The less water you put down your campervan sink, the less you have to empty the waste water.
4. Fruit Bowls
Ingredients: whatever seasonal and local fruit you have available!
Variations: Try juicy watermelon, crunchy apples, sticky mango, filling banana, sweet strawberries or healthy papaya. The list really is endless. Bananas don’t keep well in the heat and cannot be refrigerated so should be eaten immediately and brought only when consuming. In Port Macquarie, we enjoyed strawberry picking for our own local strawberries for breakfast at Ricardoes Tomatoes and Strawberries.
When should I make it? Every morning for breakfast.
Traveller Tip! Keep cash on you so you can shop for groceries on the road. One free rest area we stopped at in Queensland, Bilyana Rest Stop, offered local pineapples for a donation coin. Along the road on Australia’s east coast, you will pass ample houses, markets and farms selling local produce. You know it’s seasonal, you know it’s fresh and your purchase supports local growers of the area you are visiting.
5. Hummus Dippers
Ingredients: hummus, cucumber, carrot and all colours of peppers
Variations: Not only can you vary the peppers you use, but with the luxury of being plugged into power on a caravan park, you can treat yourself to some toasted pittas to accompany your brightly coloured selection of vegetable sticks.
When should I make it? For beach picnics, outdoor BBQs and roadside munchies, the bucket is a great choice. You can chop salad sticks in the van, chuck them in a sharing bowl, grab your bucket and off you go.
Traveller Tip! Not only is that large hummus bucket great value for money ($5-7 for 1kg of hummus), but it also makes a great picnic box. If we knew we were heading out on an island trip away from the camper, we made more than enough dinner the night before and packed the leftovers in the empty and cleaned out hummus bucket. This is a great cost saving idea for day trips in Australia and it’s exactly what we did on our day to Magnetic Island.
6. Salad Wraps
Ingredients: wraps, hummus and fresh vegetables
Variations: Season your lunch wraps with black pepper or paprika if you like a little heat. You can mix up the salad items you use including but not limited to tomatoes, cucumber, carrot, avocado, peppers and sweetcorn.
When should I make it? For lunch, before or after a night of Veggie Fajitas (see above). Wraps are a great lunch option as they keep so much better than bread.
Traveller Tip! Camper fridges are small, need battery power and heat up quickly when being opened and closed in the summer in a hot van. It makes life so much easier if the food you eat doesn’t spoil too quickly so we recommend avoiding bread, milk, yoghurt and meat. By eating plant-based food, you reduce waste and take the worry out of getting ill on the road from something that’s not been kept cold enough. Also, a small fridge is actually better suited to storing your fresh vegetables and fruit because this is a great way to keep flies and other bugs off them when the doors and windows are open.
7. Tomato Pasta
Ingredients: pasta, chopped tomatoes, black pepper, a natural salt, garlic, onion and fresh vegetables
Variations: We love adding mushrooms or courgettes as our fresh vegetables to pasta dishes but you can literally add any veggies you like. Tinned sweetcorn is an easy addition if you haven’t passed anywhere with fresh produce. For a real variation, add cashew nuts which are also a healthy, easy-to-eat, driving snack.
When should I make it? This meal option is probably the most ideal one to make extra of and enjoy as a lunch the next day, whether you eat it from a bowl in the van or from that cleaned out hummus bucket in any destination you choose.
Traveller Tip! Try to park on level ground when you are cooking so that your pans distribute water, oil and ingredients evenly. Otherwise, you may have to awkwardly hold a pan level which isn’t much fun.
We can’t recommend cooking in a campervan highly enough!
A camper offers a kitchen that moves so it’s a hugely cost effective way to see Australia, as well as many other countries, because you avoid the need to eat out, saving lots of money. Unlike camping, you can store your food in a cold fridge, so there’s no need to decide meals too regimentally because everything you need for a few days can be carried with you. Also, there’s no need to reach a set destination in order to actually eat. When you are hungry, simply park up, jump in the back and start cooking.
Living from a van is an ideal way to get back to basics, both in the kitchen and in life in general. We loved making the most of our moving home in the sights we saw outside and the delicious food we created inside. In fact, we enjoyed this first road trip so much, we booked another one. The very BEST part about eating on the road is having a different backdrop for every meal. If you don’t like one, simply move on to a new location. But if you fall in love with a particular view, stay for another meal, or two, or three. So whether you choose to eat overlooking the sea, in the rainforest or with a road-side sunset, enjoy fast, fun and satisfying food with your camper.