5 Tips When Packing Food for an RV Road Trip

updated May 24, 2019
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(Image credit: Cheryl Sternman Rule)

“It’ll be an adventure,” my husband’s colleague Ketan said, emphasizing the last word, looking me square in the eye.

“An adventure,” he repeated, in case I’d missed it.

Ketan recently lent us his well-loved RV for an eight-day road trip through Oregon with our kids, and I learned a few things along the way about cooking well while on an RV adventure.

(Image credit: Cheryl Sternman Rule)

On day one — all buckled in, ready to go — we had our first adventure, right there in our driveway. The engine wouldn’t start. A mere four hours later, we figured out the problem, and off we went.

Here are some food and cooking-related tips when traveling by RV:

1. Stuff moves around, a lot.

Ketan’s RV, which he’d bought used, was 30 feet long – about twice as long as the average car. Anything not shut in a cabinet or tied or weighted down might slide, fall, or roll from one end of the vehicle to the other. This can be annoying or dangerous, as things can break or take flight, distracting the driver. So, contain your food: pack edibles in baskets and cartons instead of flimsy bags. Wedge your containers in spots where they won’t budge during hairpin turns (or non-hairpin turns).

To this end, bungee cords in all sizes are hugely helpful. We tucked this fruit basket in the fridge and bungeed it to the fridge’s wire shelves.

2. Lightweight tableware and tumblers are your friends.

Avoid breakables, if possible. Drinking glasses and heavy dishware aren’t practical for RV living. Glasses can topple out of high cabinets or slip out of soapy hands during clean-up in small, cramped sinks. Choose lightweight tumblers and inexpensive patio-style plates and bowls instead. (I made an exception for my favorite mug.)

(Image credit: Cheryl Sternman Rule)

3. When it comes to food, think shelf-stable.

One of the perks of RV travel is the ability to plug that sucker into an electrical outlet if you overnight at RV parks. When you do, your fridge will get cold. If you’re like us, though, and spend your days driving from place-to-place, that fridge might soon lose its mojo and anything in it could start to warm. For this reason, we shied away from bringing raw meat and other high-risk perishables and opted largely for shelf-stable items. (Small quantities of cheese, yogurt, and eggs did fine because we ate them quickly.)

Some of our favorite provisions included:

  • Canned oil-packed tuna and beans; taco shells; peanut butter and jelly; bread; dry salami; couscous; tomato sauce; tube polenta; olive oil; cereal; oatmeal; fruit; avocados; cocoa; and tea. And graham crackers, marshmallows, and chocolate for nightly s’mores.
  • Catch-all spices rather than individual bottles. I packed a small jar of salt and a packet of taco seasoning. I don’t normally use seasoning packets at home (where I’ve got a fully-stocked spice drawer), but taco seasoning’s as good over tuna-and-bean tacos (don’t laugh, they’re delicious) as it is over avocados and eggs.
  • If you do want to bring more highly perishable food, pack a large cooler you can replenish with ice. Transfer items from the fridge if necessary.
(Image credit: Cheryl Sternman Rule)

4. Avoid a few tricky foods.

My family loves pasta, but with limited propane, boiling a big pot of water in an RV is inefficient. Plus, any heat you generate will raise the temperature in your sleeping space, which can be problematic on warm nights. For this reason, couscous, quickly sautéed polenta, and the aforementioned tacos worked better for us than anything that needed to be boiled or fried. (The exception was hard-boiled eggs, since I turned off the heat as soon as the small saucepan came to a boil.)

I also shied away from making pancakes or other dishes requiring batch-cooking. In cramped quarters, I wanted to cook as quickly as possible, then get outside and enjoy time with my family.

5. Leave room for local finds

One of our favorite drives was along Oregon’s fertile Hood River Fruit Loop with its abundant orchards and U-pick farms. We stopped at Montavon’s Berries, which could accommodate our RV (not all can, as parking may be tight), and had a ball filling our buckets with blueberries. When Lee Montavon, the owner, weighed our abundant haul, we were shocked at the total price: $2.60. (The same berries would have cost ten times more at home.)

We’re glad we hadn’t pre-planned our meals and snacks too much.