Hello, my fellow van life friends! Are you looking for a list of excellent camper van meal ideas? Well, you have come to the right place. When we first started travelling around in the van we struggled a bit with what to cook. After a little research and a whole lot of fantastic food, we’ve decided to share what we’ve learned with you! In this blog post, you will find a list of our go-to van meals that are easy, delicious, and easy to modify for any dietary requirements!
Making the switch from cooking in a full-sized kitchen to cooking in your campervan can be intimidating. When we first made the transition, I had an irrational fear that we would be living off van meals of ramen noodles and peanut butter. Ridiculous? Maybe. But a fear nonetheless.
Even though we have a small fridge, a pantry, a two-burner propane stove, and all the spices I could ever ask for, I had a hard time coming up with meals. And when I did, I felt like there was no way I could cook and store everything I wanted to with the space I had.
If you are feeling stressed about what to cook, how to cook it, or how to pack your veggies in as you transition to van life, I’ve got you! And I promise, it’s simpler than you might think.
In reality, cooking in a van isn’t all that different than cooking at home. Sure you’ve got less counter space, fewer appliances, and a smaller cooking surface but you’ll get used to it! In no time you will be whipping up meals, laughing as you squeeze around your partner to grab a knife, and storing your leftovers like a pro!
The first tip I have for you when it comes to meal planning in your van is to keep it simple. The second tip, try to stay organized. The more you can batch cook and buy things for multiple meals, the better! Here is a list of things we typically keep in our fridge or freezer to make cooking easy and save on space.
Cut up veggies
It’s no secret that space in a campervan fridge is limited. By cutting up your favorite veggies before putting them in your fridge, you will save a ton of room in your veggie drawers. This also saves time down the road when you want to grab them out for a snack.
While we do cook meat for some of our meals in the van, we love keeping pre-cooked meat in the fridge or the freezer. For example, when we know we are going to be making a few different chicken dishes we will buy a rotisserie chicken and debone it into smaller containers to store in the fridge or freezer. We will also regularly cook an entire crockpot of pulled pork or pulled chicken when we’re home and separate it into smaller freezer containers for van trips. This way, if we want some meat for a meal, all we have to do is let it thaw and add it in!
I know that these have a reputation for being high in sodium, but we like to keep taco mix, fajita mix, and gravy mix in our spice cupboard. You can’t beat the convenience and there are certain brands that offer lower sodium levels and more natural ingredients.
In our pantry, we have containers filled with pasta, rice, oats, and other bulk dry goods. It’s a lot cheaper and more convenient to buy some food items in bigger packages and then transfer what you need into your van pantry as you need it.
Now, without further ado, let’s get into it! Here are 9 of our favourite camper van meals with variations for any dietary restrictions.
Since the day David and I realized we could make pizza in the van, it has been one of our most cooked van meals by far. I mean, who doesn’t love homemade pizza?! All you need to make this is a stove (propane, induction, or a camp stove), a large pan with a lid, and your favorite toppings.
- 1 Precooked Pizza Crust
- 1.5 cups shredded cheese
- 2-4 tbsp Pizza Sauce
- *Toppings of choice – here are some of our favorites*
- Precooked Chicken
- Pulled Pork
- Black Olives
- Sundried tomatoes
- Artichoke Hearts
- Fresh Basil
Compile your pizza on top of the pre-cooked crust layering the pizza sauce, fresh basil, cheese, and the toppings of your choice. Turn your stove on low, and grease the bottom of the pan. Pop the pizza into the pan and cover it up with the lid. Let the pizza cook on low for 10-15 minutes, or until the cheese is melted.
Make it Vegetarian/Vegan: This is super easy since you’re choosing all of your toppings and the type of cheese you use! Load your pizza up with veggie toppings and swap out regular cheese for vegan cheese or even goat cheese if that floats your boat.
Make it Gluten Free: Swap out a gluten-free pizza crust and you are good to go!
It’s unlikely that you’ll find anyone who loves Pad Thai quite as much as I do. Now, as someone who became obsessed with this dish while sampling street vendors in Thailand, I do have to provide this disclaimer. This recipe is not a traditional Pad Thai recipe. It is, however, absolutely fantastic, full of veggies, and easy to make.
- 1 package rice noodles or udon noodles
- 1/2 medium red onion, sliced
- 1-2 tbsp garlic
- 1/2 red bell pepper, sliced
- 1 carrot, sliced
- 1/2 zucchini, sliced
- Optional: baby corn, broccoli, celery, or any other veggies you would like to add!
- Optional: 1 egg per person
- Optional: precooked chicken(we like to keep deboned rotisserie chicken meat in our fridge or freezer for recipes like this)
- 1/4 cup peanut butter
- 3 tbsp soy sauce
- 1 tbsp brown sugar
- 1.5 tbsp lime juice
- 1 tsp garlic
- salt & pepper to taste
- bean sprouts
- green onion, chopped
- fresh cilantro
- crushed peanuts
- lime wedges
- chili flakes
First up, cook the rice noodles or udon noodles according to the directions on the package. In a separate pan, sauté the red onion and garlic for approximately 3 minutes or until translucent. Add the red pepper, carrot, zucchini, and any additional veggies you have chosen, and put a lid on the pan.
In a bowl, mix all the sauce ingredients together. We usually add about 2 tbsp of the hot water from the noodle pot to help melt the peanut butter.
Once your veggies are tender, you can add your optional pre-cooked chicken, mixing it into the vegetables as it warms up. Drain the noodles and add them to the veggie pan with the sauce. Cook for 1-2 minutes or until everything is hot.
If you are adding eggs, empty the ingredients of the pan to the pot in which you cooked the noodles. Fry up 1 egg per person in the pan. To serve, put the noodle/veggie/chicken mixture to your bowls followed by bean sprouts. Add a fried egg and garnish with green onion, crushed peanuts, cilantro, lime juice, and chili flakes.
Make it Vegetarian/Vegan: To make this recipe vegetarian or vegan, you can simply omit the chicken and the egg.
Make it Gluten Free: Use rice noodles and swap out the soy sauce for Tamari.
We probably have tacos once a week in the van because they are easy, fresh, and heavenly. One of my favorite things about this meal is that you can mix up your meat and have several different variations so it never gets boring! In this recipe, I will outline a few of our go-to options, but feel free to get creative with the substitutions.
Option #1 Traditional Taco Meat: Ground beef sautéed with garlic, onions, peppers, and 1 package of taco mix
Option #2 Chicken Fajitas: Chicken breast sliced into strips and sautéed with garlic, bell peppers, onions, and fajita mix
Option #3 Pulled Pork Tacos: We like to make a batch of pulled pork at home and then freeze it in individual containers for the van. These tacos are a super easy last-minute meal because you just heat up your precooked meat and you’re good to go!
Option #4 Cauliflower or Mushroom Tacos: If you are vegetarian or vegan, you can fry up some veggies with a package of taco or fajita mix for an easy, meat-free meal.
- 1 package of tortillas (corn or flour)
- meat of choice (ground beef, chicken breast, pulled pork, or cauliflower/mushrooms)
- 1 onion, chopped
- 1 bell pepper, chopped
- 1 tbsp garlic
- taco mix or fajita mix
- grated cheese
- 1 tomato, chopped
- sour cream
- guacamole (I make this by mashing up 3 avocados with 1/2 chopped tomato, 1/4 chopped red onion, 1 tbsp garlic, and salt & pepper to taste)
In a frying pan, sauté your meat of choice with chopped onion, bell pepper, and garlic. Once cooked, add taco or fajita seasoning according to the directions on the package. Next, lay out your tortillas and add the meat mixture to the center. Top with a combination of cheese, chopped tomato, salsa, sour cream, and salsa.
Make it Vegetarian/Vegan: To make this recipe vegetarian or vegan, use the cauliflower or mushroom option and substitute vegan cheese and sour cream.
Make it Gluten Free: For a gluten-free option, use corn tortillas and seasoning packages.
CopyCat Olive Garden Salad with Chicken
The Olive Garden Salad has been a fan favorite in our house for years, and it’s incredibly easy to make! This is one of our staple van meals in the summer or if we are craving a fresh, light dinner.
If you live in North America, chances are you can buy a jar of the Olive Garden dressing at Costco or online. Because it has Parmesan cheese in it and I cannot eat dairy, I always keep a bottle of homemade copycat dressing on hand in the fridge. I will share the dressing recipe below, please feel free to use either option!
- 1 head of romaine lettuce, washed and chopped
- 1/4 red onion, thinly sliced
- 1 pint of cherry tomatos, sliced in half
- 1 can of black olives
- 4-6 whole pepperoncini peppers
- 1.5 cups of croutons
- 1-2 chicken breasts (again, we tend to use rotisserie chicken meat because it is so convenient, but you could also cook some up with Italian seasoning and some salt & pepper!)
*This recipe makes approximately 1 mason jar worth of dressing that you can store in your fridge for up to 2 weeks. For the salad, you will use about 1/3 of this dressing.*
- 1/2 cup of mayonnaise (can sub vegan mayo)
- 1/4 cup white vinegar
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 1 tbsp lemon juice
- 1/4 cup nutritional yeast (can sub Parmesan cheese)
- 1/2 tsp garlic salt
- 1/2 tsp Italian seasoning
- *optional* 1/2 tsp dried parsley
Add romaine, red onion, cherry tomatoes, black olives, and croutons to a large bowl. Heat up chicken in a frying pan. Mix all dressing ingredients together in a bowl or a mason jar and add 1/3 of the dressing to the salad. Mix well. Top with hot chicken andpepperoncini peppers. *We make this salad ALOT as a side dish, as well!*
Make it Vegetarian/Vegan: To make this recipe vegetarian or vegan, use vegan mayonnaise in the salad dressing and omit the chicken.
Make it Gluten Free: For a gluten-free option, use gluten-free croutons.
Making “Joffles” is a family camping tradition that has gone on for longer than I can remember. I have actually never met anyone else who makes these, but I have made several people believers over the years. So, my friends, get ready. You are in for a treat.
The best way I can describe the traditional Joffle is like a grilled cheese with taco meat cooked over the campfire. YUM! Over the years, we have had several “Joffle Off” competitions where we have created masterpieces involving brie and prosciutto, mac & cheese and bacon, and even desert Joffles with peanut butter, chocolate chips, and various types of fruit.
Below, I will give you the recipe for the traditional Joffle. The options are endless, though, so feel free to adjust it however you’d like! Being creative with your fillings is one of the best parts.
You do need a fire and a pie iron to make these, so plan for them when you are heading to a campsite for the night. We got our pie iron from campers village and always keep it in the back of our van, ready to make one of our most beloved meals!
- 1 loaf of bread
- 1 container of taco meat (ground beef, onions, peppers, garlic, and taco mix made in advance)
- Cheese, goat cheese, or vegan cheese
- butter or vegan margerine
- Optional: ranch dressing, mayonaise, nacho cheese sauce, hot sauce, etc.
First up, you are going to want to warm up the pie iron (AKA Joffle Iron) in the fire. It doesn’t need to sit in the flames for more than a minute or two, just enough that the butter will melt when you grease the insides. Next, open up the Joffle iron—we usually place it on the bench of a picnic table—and add a small amount of butter or oil to each side.
Once the iron is greased, add a piece of bread to each side. Stack your taco meat, cheese, and sauce on one side of the iron, and then close it, bringing the second piece of bread on top. Do your best to tuck any extra crust inside the Joffle iron or rip it off so that it doesn’t burn in the fire.
Place the pie iron into the fire and rotate it every minute or so. There is no exact time limit here, it’s a bit like roasting a marshmallow. Keep an eye on both sides of your Joffle until it is golden brown on the outside with gooey, melted cheese on the inside.
Make it Vegetarian/Vegan: To make the Joffles vegetarian or vegan, sub the cheese for vegan cheese, the butter for vegan margarine, and the taco meat for plant-based ground meat.
Make it Gluten Free: Substitute the bread for gluten-free bread.
Stirfrys are a great way to clean out your fridge with a healthy and tasty meal. We always keep rice in the van, but you could also do this with rice noodles or udon noodles. Below is the recipe I like to use if I have all the ingredients, but I am always substituting and adjusting based on what we have and what we need to eat from our vegetable drawers!
- 1 cup rice or 1 package of rice noodles
- 1 sliced red pepper
- 1 carrot sliced
- 1 onion sliced
- 1/2 zucchini sliced
- 2 handfuls of chopped broccoli
- 1 handful of sugar snap peas
- 1/2 can of baby corn
- 1 small can of water chestnuts
- 1/4 cup soy sauce
- 1.5 tbsp garlic
- 2 tbsp brown sugar
- 1/2 cup chick broth
- 1 tsp sesame oil
- 1 tbsp cornstarch
Cook rice or rice noodles in a separate pot according to the cooking instructions. Heat up a large pan with olive oil over medium-high heat. Add red pepper, carrot, onion, zucchini, broccoli, baby corn, and water chestnuts. Sauté for about 5 minutes or until almost tender. In a separate bowl, whisk together all of the sauce ingredients. Pour the sauce over the veggies and continue to cook until the sauce has thickened.
Make it Vegetarian/Vegan: This recipe is vegetarian. To make it vegan, sub the chicken broth for veggie stock.
Make it Gluten Free: Sub the soy sauce for Tamari and make sure to use rice or rice noodles as a base!
Tomato Soup, A Grilled Sandwich, & Veggies
This is one of our go-to meals on a rainy evening or when we’re having a lazy afternoon in the van. There is a ton of room for modifications with this, but we usually end up making tomato soup and some version of a grilled cheese sandwich. Most grocery stores offer endless soup selections from packages to cans to fresh soup in containers so get creative and mix it up!
- Tomato Soup (we like the happy planet refrigerated soups)
- bread of choice
- sandwhich fillings of choice (we like cheese, caramelzed onions, and tomato)
- cut up veggies (carrots, celery, broccoli, cauliflower, cherry tomatoes, etc.)
- dip for the veggies
In a pot, heat up the soup based on directions on the package. Heat up a separate pan under medium-low heat. You can use butter or a cooking oil here, but I prefer to use mayonnaise to cook our grilled cheese. It might seem a little weird at first, but trust me, you won’t go back once you’ve tried it!
Fill sandwiches with cheese, caramelized onions, tomato, and any other toppings you would like. Place them in the pan and put a lid overtop. Cook for 3-5 minutes on each side or until bread is golden brown and cheese is melted. Plate with soup,cut-up veggies, and dip.
Make it Vegetarian/Vegan: Choose a soup that is vegetarian or vegan and substitute the cheese for vegan cheese.
Make it Gluten Free: Choose a soup that is gluten-free and substitute the bread for gluten-free bread.
Quesadillas are a flavorful dinner idea that is easy and inexpensive to make. As with a lot of the other van meals on this list, you can completely customize your quesadilla to your liking based on the ingredients you have. Here is our basic recipe, feel free to add or substitute as you see fit.
- tortillas (corn or flour)
- chicken (we use rotisserie, but you could also fry some up prior to beginning)
- green onion, chopped
- 1 red pepper, diced
- 1 tomato, diced
- sour cream
- guacamole (I make this by mashing up 3 avocados with 1/2 chopped tomato, 1/4 chopped red onion, 1 tbsp garlic, and salt & pepper to taste)
Add red pepper and tomato to a frying pan with a bit of olive oil. Cook on medium heat until tender, about 2-3 minutes. Remove items from the frying pan, turn the temperature down to medium-low, and add another splash of oil.
Build your quesadillas by adding the fried veggies, chicken, cheese, and green onion to each tortilla and folding them in half. Place each quesadilla in the frying pan and cover with a lid. Cook on medium-low heat for 5-6 minutes per side, until the outsides are golden brown and the cheese is melted. Serve with your choice of dips and a side salad.
Make it Vegetarian/Vegan: To make this dish vegetarian or vegan, omit the chicken and substitute the cheese for vegan cheese.
Make it Gluten Free: Choose a gluten-free wrap or a corn tortilla.
Mac & Cheese
For the most part, we try to eat relatively healthy while travelling around in the van. Every once and a while, though, we crave some comfort food! Especially after a chilly day of cross country skiing or an evening of skating. There are several ways that you can go about making Mac & Cheese, but in our opinion, the easier, the better!
We always keep a few quick and easy meals in the van just in case we run out of food or are feeling lazy. If you don’t have any dietary restrictions, you can go with a trusty box of Kraft Dinner. Although not the best to be having every night, we fully support the decision every once and a while. If you are gluten or dairy-free, don’t worry! You still have options.
Daiya makes gluten and dairy-free mac and cheese that is actually really good. They also sell the cheese sauce packets separately, which is what we typically end up doing. This way, we can cook our own pasta and add the dairy-free cheese sauce once it’s cooked. I usually throw in some vegan margarine, almond milk, and salt and pepper to spice things up. Pair it with a salad and some shredded rotisserie chicken and voila! An easy and delicious comfort meal. van meals van meals