5 tips for cooking in a campervan–Learn how to feed a family with limited kitchen essentials.

My family and I went on an awesome trip to Portugal to visit our friends, who are a retired dietitian and nurse. They ditched the busy LA life for a chill one with her hubby and kids. After visiting them, we planned to explore a bunch of places while cooking in a campervan to make travel efficient and fun.

Our itinerary was pretty cool. We wanted to do a loop around the Iberian Peninsula in 10 days.

The plan was to start in Lisbon, swing by the Algarve where our friends live, then go on our way to check out some beaches in Spain, maybe visit Gibraltar, and then head up to Cordoba before looping back to Lisbon.

We’re leaving Cordoba now, and it struck me that we’ve been eating healthy despite our tiny campervan kitchen. How? Well, it’s all about keeping it simple and practical. You cook stuff you’d normally make when you’re tired and busy at home.

When choosing a campervan, cooking in a campervan was important, since we wanted to be able to cook indoors in case of bad weather, we’re glad we chose accordingly. We rented our campervan from Indie Campers, we choose a smaller campervan that required that we travel light.

So, we paid a bit extra for a small kitchen setup. Smart move, I’d say! Believe it or not, you can manage with just these kitchen items, although you must consider using your pots and pans wisely.

The kitchen essentials package we paid for included:

-1 medium pot with a lid.

-1 small pot with a lid. 

-1 medium-sized pan.

-1 spatula.

-1 large serving spoon.

-1 knife.

-1 wine opener/beer opener.

-1 french press.

-4 spoons.

-4 forks.

-4 butter knives.

-4 plates.

-4 bowls.

-4 cups.

Breakfast and Lunch

Our Dutch kids’ breakfast is easy because it’s either whole-wheat bread with peanut butter and hazelnut chocolate pasta, rice crackers with peanut butter or quesadillas.

The bread was not always whole- wheat bread, and my kids weren’t always up for it. Luckily, in Spain, we searched for corn or flour tortillas, which got them to eat more willingly.

Lunch was also the same, with the occasional sandwich with meat in it. As a mom, that really takes the mental load off worrying about what your breakfast and lunch will be.

I, on the other hand, love warm breakfast and lunch, so I whipped up some eggs with tortillas or had a quesadilla. 

There is always the possibility of eating out at a restaurant or café. We kept this option to the minimum, mainly because our kids eat fast and just don’t have the attention span to sit at a restaurant. 

They are kids, and sitting around waiting for Mama to sip on her coffee is not their strong suit. However, we do it once in a while and try to be mindful that it will be a short visit. 

Dinner

In Portugal and Spain, dinner starts at 6 pm or 7 pm, and that is just too late for our toddlers who are actually in bed and sleeping by 7:30 pm. 

You know that you don’t mess with your kids’ bedtime unless you want to deal with an overtired toddler who can’t settle down. 

Five Tips For Cooking In a Campervan With Kids

#1 Plan Meals for cooking in a campervan

They say knowledge is power, and google is your friend. Look for grocery stores near the places you will be visiting. Opening and closing times are important, but more important when there is a national holiday. 

Some countries take their holidays seriously and will close down grocery stores. We found out the hard way. May 1st is Labor Day in Spain, and we did not find any open stores to buy groceries, luckily I had saved some pasta, pasta sauce, and sausage so we didn’t starve. 

Also, some places close on Sundays, so make sure you buy enough to hold you over a few days. 

Portugal-Intermaché grocery chain was my favorite. They are everywhere, have a good variety of food and most have campervan parking where you can, empty out your grey water, empty out your chemical toilet, add water, some have a washer and dryer for laundry and you can stay overnight for at least 48 hours for free. 

We did this as we were leaving the Algarve region, we realized we were just too tired to keep going and opted for a free night at the grocery store chain. It was well lit and safe and was way better than driving too tired. 

Spain-Dia grocery chain was also my favorite. They had a variety of foods, were easy to find, and had plenty of the products we liked as a family. The grocery stores also have enough parking space for a campervan. 

#2 Find out the typical opening times of restaurants

You may have all the good intentions of cooking all meals for you and your family. However, do keep in mind that sometimes eating out may be necessary. You may run out of food sooner than you expected, the grocery stores aren’t open because it’s a holiday or Sunday. 

So it’s important to know opening times, In Portugal and Spain for instance dinners are typically later, so if you have a family that eats early you may want to consider arranging an early snack for those in your family that can’t hold out.

It doesn’t have to be a full size meal, it can be a sandwich or a fruit/vegetable platter. 

#3 One pot meals-Use your tools wisely for cooking in a campervan

When at home it’s easy to just use everything you need in your kitchen, but in a camper van you will have two stove burners and limited counter space. In my case, only one of my stove burners worked, no panic just adjusted accordingly. 

#1 Prep before meal time, if you have time to spare pre-cut vegetables and marinate meats a few hours before meal time. This will cut down on tasks while cooking and reduce the need to use all your counterspace.

An even better option, buy vegetables pre-cut, however keep in mind this may be more costly. 

#2 While cooking, choose the order of preparation. For example if cooking pasta. I recommend first cooking the ingredients like vegetables and meats in a pot, and setting them on a plate, rinse out the pot and then cook the pasta, straining the water and adding the cooked vegetables back into the pot with the pasta and add the sauce. 

You may wonder how is this helpful, well you only use one pot and a plate instead of two pots. A simple change that reduces your use of tools. 

#3 You can also use your bowls and cups as ingredient holders, I know that at home you may have prepping bowls or beautiful serving bowls but in a campervan, you have to use what you have. 

If you serve burritos on plates, you can use your bowls to hold limes and cilantro. These bowls are also great for serving fruit snacks on the go, because as 

#4 It’s ok if you can’t get vegetables every meal or every day. 

In an ideal world you would add vegetables to every meal, however we live in the real world and it may not always be possible. But you can now find many pre-made salads or salad kits.

Some of the best salads have a lot of ingredients and buying them pre-made can save you space and money. You also want to avoid buying foods that you will end up having to throw out. 

This is the time you feed yourself and your family vegetables that you are familiar with and enjoy. 

#5 Always carry protein snacks and water

Because of the limited space in the typical small refrigerator and storage cupboards, you may run out of food sooner than you expect. 

Having protein snacks like bars, nuts and seeds can hold you and the family over until you have access to food. 

This was a recurring theme for us; our kids are small and quickly go through their body energy stores when hiking and walking around. So when they get tired, having snacks gives them that boost they need to keep going. 

At some point, they are just too tired and the energy it takes to carry kids is also exhausting. These snacks are the quick energy needed to keep going. 

Campervans don’t have potable water, buying one or two large bottles can keep the whole family hydrated and can be used to wash fruits and vegetables. 

The 10 Day Menu Plan

So for the 10 days, I made four recipes in this combination with three days of eating out:

Day 1: Bean and cheese burritos with corn.

Day 2: Had dinner with friends in Portugal.

Day 3: Had dinner with friends in Portugal.

Day 4: Pasta with tomato sauce and cooked sausage.

Day 5: Bean and cheese burritos with corn.

Day 6: Pasta with tomato sauce and cooked sausage.

Day 7: Grilled pork tenderloin with potato wedges and a side salad.

Day 8: Refried beans with cheese on top with potato wedges, and a smidge of ketchup.

Day 9: Pasta with tomato sauce with corn and mushrooms.

Day 10: Had dinner at the campervan park restaurant.

I repeated the pasta and the bean burritos three times each, this reduced the ingredients that I had to buy, and turned out to be the kids’ favorite. 

Questions

Do you need to bring your child’s favorite food from home?

Nah, leave the suitcase space for souvenirs! Most grocery stores abroad offer similar options, so no need to lug a bunch of snacks from home. Trust me, when you’re there, everything falls into place.

Take my Dutch kids, for example. Bread is their jam, but the Portuguese and Spanish loaves didn’t quite cut it. So, quesadillas to the rescue! Flexibility is key, and they were totally on board with the switch-up.

How do we manage fruits and vegetables?

Ah, the eternal dance with fruits and veggies! Here’s how we waltzed through it:

For fruits, we went bananas over bananas, enjoyed some appley-ever-afters, and grape adventures. As for veggies, we mushroomed our way through, canned some corny jokes, sprinkled cilantro magic, tossed in pre-made salads for ease, added some avo-goodness, and squeezed in some limey freshness.

And when dealing with picky toddlers, I became a veggie magician, sneaking them into every dish like a culinary Houdini. Shh, don’t tell them, it’s our little veggie secret!

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