This Meal Planning article was originally published in the September 2020 issue of MotorHome Magazine.
Meal Planning to Make a Single Shopping Trip Last Two Weeks
As an enthusiastic motorhome owner since 2002, I found that one of the things I love most about the RV lifestyle is creating great food and sharing it with friends and family. That passion led me to start this blog where I share recipes, tips, and travel adventures with fellow RVers. The recent pandemic made me realize that meal planning to minimize grocery store visits during the lockdown has a lot in common with preparing for a long motorhome trip.
The tips in this article will help you feed two people healthy and delicious meals for two weeks with one grocery shopping excursion. Meal planning for motorhome trips varies depending on where you are going and for how long. Dry camping in remote locations requires more preparation than staying at an RV resort with restaurants and grocery stores nearby.
I have a small “one-butt kitchen” in a 31-foot class A motorhome, but I don’t want to sacrifice good food just because we’re in tight quarters. Most of the meals we have on the road are the same ones I make at home. Tasty home-cooked meals range from very easy to extra-effort preparation for special occasions, and from simple meals for two to crowd-pleasers.
1. Plan ahead
Before heading to the grocery store, make a 2-week meal plan. An article on AARP.com entitled “How to Shop for Food and What to Cook during a Pandemic” lists vegetables and fruits that can last a month. Longer-lasting vegetables include cabbage, kale, winter squash, potatoes, sweet potatoes, carrots, cauliflower, bell peppers, onions, garlic, and avocados. Buy avocados when they are rock-hard and store them in a plastic bag in the refrigerator for up to two weeks.
In Week 1, use the most perishable veggies and fresh seafood and meats. Make salads with lettuce, arugula, or spinach. Green beans, asparagus, corn, and sugar snap peas are great veggie side dishes.
In Week 2, use longer-lasting veggies, frozen foods, and ingredients from the pantry. Cabbage, kale, and broccoli slaw can be used for salads. Winter squash, potatoes, and sweet potatoes don’t need refrigeration, which frees up precious storage space.
2. Make-ahead meals
In the days leading up to an RV trip, I prepare several dishes in advance. I’ll happily devote a few hours to cooking at home in exchange for hours of freedom on the road. Sometimes I make a double batch of whatever I’m making for dinner and freeze the extra. If I’m feeling especially motivated, I’ll make two or three soups in an afternoon using my Instant Pot. On the road, I’ll take soup out of the freezer in the morning for a quick and easy meal of soup and salad at our destination.
Make-ahead meals also conserve refrigerator and freezer space. The finished products take up less space than the individual ingredients. Here are some of my favorites:
- Egg muffins are loaded with veggies, cheese, and nuts.
- Breakfast oatmeal cookies are ideal when you’d love a bowl of oatmeal but can only spare 15 seconds to heat an oatmeal cookie in the microwave.
- Pulled pork in the Instant Pot takes a fraction of the time required for traditional slow cooking. Since my recipe serves 8 to 10, I bring one or two meals with us and leave the rest in the freezer at home.
- I use a small amount of Paprika Vinaigrette in garden salads with lettuce, carrots, tomatoes, and any other veggies I have on hand, slivered almonds or pine nuts, and feta or blue cheese crumbles. Add some leftover rotisserie chicken or grilled salmon and you’ve got a fabulous summertime meal.
3. Prep ahead
Meal planning for dry camping is significantly different from meal planning for an RV resort with full hookups. For dry camping, do as much prep work as possible at home to take advantage of a dishwasher and plenty of hot water. This might include frying and chopping bacon, shredding cheese, or cutting vegetables. If a recipe calls for a specific amount of an ingredient, take only what’s needed rather than the whole bag.
When camping with friends, I usually volunteer to provide Ziploc omelets for breakfast. Most of the prep work can be done at home. At the campsite, everyone puts their favorite ingredients in a Ziploc quart-size bag with two eggs. The omelets are all boiled to perfection at the same time, and cleaning up after this meal is a snap.
4. Use leftovers wisely
This tip will help you enjoy one rotisserie chicken four times. Make that five if you count smelling it on the way home from the grocery store. We eat most of the legs and thighs for dinner that night. The rest of it gets shredded into small bite-sized pieces and put into Ziploc freezer quart bags. Store them in the freezer for meals in the second week and beyond.
Each bag contains about 1 cup of chicken, which is the amount required for 2 to 4 servings in the following recipes:
- If you like Buffalo wings, you’ll love Buffalo chicken dip. It’s easy to make with just six ingredients. Serve it with corn chips, celery, and carrots. Use leftover dip to make Buffalo chicken spaghetti squash.
- Almond chicken salad can be served as a main dish, on a bed of salad greens, on a sandwich, or as a dip with crackers.
- Using leftover chicken and store-bought salsa, you can whip up chicken tortilla soup in less than 15 minutes. Top it with tortilla chips and cheese.
- White bean chicken chili freezes well for make-ahead meals. If you are cooking for two, note the directions for making less of it.
- Chicken peanut sauce can be served over zucchini or yellow squash noodles, spaghetti squash, rice, or pasta. Garnish with green onions and peanuts.
5. Take shortcuts when possible
Top chefs may enjoy making everything from scratch, but time and space constraints when traveling in a motorhome demand shortcuts. I use store-bought items like pesto and carnitas, and substitute simpler ingredients in other dishes when possible. Even people who love to cook don’t want to prepare elaborate dishes for every meal.
Decades ago, I fell in love with a recipe from Fine Cooking for Pesto-Crusted Salmon. In my home kitchen, I was content to devote 15 minutes to making the pesto. In my one-butt kitchen, with limited counter and refrigerator space, I discovered that store-bought pesto tastes just as good. I later found a recipe for an orange sauce. Now one of my favorite meals is pesto salmon with orange sauce. I used to spend an hour making orange pilaf for this dish until I discovered that Uncle Ben’s Ready Rice — zapped for 90 seconds in the microwave and smothered with orange sauce — tasted even better.
Homemade carnitas are absolutely delicious, but they take a day or two to make. Del Real® makes a tasty version of this Mexican slow-cooked pork available in many grocery stores. Leftovers? Lucky you! Read on.
6. Make up your own recipes.
In spite of the best meal planning, you may end up with some uneaten food. By combining ingredients in creative ways, you may discover some new favorite recipes. Dare to experiment. Your worst mistakes are probably still edible, and you’ll learn how to do better next time.
As much as we like Del Real® carnitas, one package is too much for two people. Rather than serving the leftovers the same way, I’ve used them to make carnitas nachos and carnitas poppers. The poppers recipe was the result of cleaning the refrigerator. I found mini bell peppers, a few strips of bacon, and leftover carnitas, all of which needed to be used or tossed. I combined the carnitas with shredded cheddar cheese, stuffed that mixture into the mini bells, and wrapped them with bacon. One makes a nice appetizer, and two or three are enough for a filling entree.
7. Cook outside
Cooking outside expands the size of your one-butt kitchen. Whether it’s grilling a steak over a portable grill, boiling water for Ziploc omelets on a gas stove, cooking salmon in foil over a campfire, or roasting a marshmallow, there’s a special pleasure in eating food cooked outside.
How much outside cooking you do depends on several factors. If it’s raining, cold, windy or blistering hot, being outside quickly loses its appeal. When returning to the RV after a full day of activities, it’s nice to have a quick, easy meal inside. For eating outside during mosquito season, come prepared with insect repellent or, better yet, a gazebo that can be set up around the picnic table. Cooking and eating outside is much more appealing while camping in a state park or boondocking than while squeezed into a tiny space in an RV park. When conditions are right, there’s nothing better than enjoying the great outdoors.
8. Repackage foods to take up less space in the freezer and refrigerator.
No matter the storage space in your motorhome, this tip can maximize it. Consider storing packaged frozen foods without the box they came in. Remember those carnitas I like so much? The meat is in a shrink-wrapped package inside a tray for cooking in the microwave. Since I prefer cooking them on the stove for a slightly crispy finish, I toss the tray and save the cooking instructions. This saves me several inches of storage space, which adds up. Without its packaging, a cauliflower crust pizza can fit in the top of my freezer.
Shredded rotisserie chicken can be stored in Ziploc quart freezer bags. This takes up less space than using storage containers. Freezer burn should not be an issue if you use them within a couple of weeks.
For most other make-ahead meals and leftovers, I use Ziploc containers. They stack easily. I used to have a hodgepodge of square and round containers that wasted inches of storage space. That doesn’t sound like much until that odd-shaped one won’t fit.
Since storage space for produce is tight, I’ll trim some veggies before I put them away. Kale stems take up a lot of space, so unless you like to eat them, remove the stems and ribs and cut the kale leaves into bite-sized pieces. Fennel adds a mild licorice flavor to flambeed shrimp, but I only use the bulb. I toss the stalks and feathery fronds. Only the kernels are edible on an ear of corn, so unless the menu includes corn on the cob, I cut off the kernels and store them in a Ziploc bag.
Plan and Go!
By following these simple meal planning tips, you should be able to get close to two weeks of meals out of a single trip to the store. And if you’re not dry camping in the wilderness or limiting contact during the pandemic, you probably don’t need to plan this far ahead or do all the cooking. Try some new restaurants. Sample foods at local farmers’ markets. Most of all, have fun!