Just because you're living in a van, doesn't mean you can't enjoy nice home cooked meals.
It's actually a common misconception that I must dine out all the time since I live in a van. That's just not the case. Eating out gets expensive and I find it way less healthy. In the two years I've been living in a van, I actually make most of my meals right in the van. I love being able to look out over a beautiful view and make delicious and nutritious food.
I had a fully stocked kitchen prior to Vanlife, so my problem wasn't needing to buy kitchen items, it was deciding what couldn't come with me. And trust me, it was hard deciding. The first time I returned to my storage unit after being on the road for 6 months, I did a major purge and left behind only the items that I actually used on a regular basis. To my surprise, I don't really miss any of the items I removed and the lack of clutter made it easier to move around the kitchen.
There is not a lot of extra space in your van's kitchen, or well in your van in general, so having the right kitchen essentials, and nothing more, is key. After two years on the road and a few purges later, my van's kitchen is dialed in. It's simple, but more than enough to make my favorite meals. This post will help you fill your kitchen with the right appliances, cabinets with the right tools, and make sure you don't forget anything important behind.
Let's start with the appliances
Isotherm Refrigerator: When I started my van design, most van's I had seen up to that point had a chest style refrigerator, but I really wanted a stand up fridge. I didn't want to have to play Tetris anytime I wanted scrambled eggs. That's when I found the Isotherm fridge. It seems to be the most efficient stand up 12volt fridge available and I was so excited that it came in stainless steel. Overall, it's a fantastic fridge and looks great in my tiny home. The fridge holds it's temperature very well and I have a little thermometer that I use to monitor it. When I'm in hotter locations I do have to put the fridge on the lowest setting. My only complaint is that the freezer doesn't fit a Ben & Jerry's pint!
Sink: The design is a personal preference, but I knew I wanted an undermount sink with a pull down faucet and for it to be large enough to actually wash dishes in. I highly recommend installing a soap dispenser pump next to your sink. It makes doing dishes and washing your hands so convenient and you don't have to worry about a bottle rolling around your van when your driving. The sink I purchased actually came with a matching soap dispenser. I also recommend getting a suction cup sponge holder.
Stove: There are so many options when it comes to choosing a stove. You could have a fixed or portable stove and then choose your heating source from propane, butane, or induction. Again, this comes down to personal preference. I went with a two-burner fixed propane stove and love the look. Initially, I was hesitant on carrying propane in the van, but I a propane leak detector installed next to the tank for peace of mind. I also have the tank stored in a convenient location and close the valve whenever it's not in use. My thought was that induction or electrical stoves would use too much power for my system. If you go that route, just make sure you have enough solar power and battery bank to run it.
Oven: I do not have a traditional oven, but I recently got an Omnia Stove Top Oven to satisfy my baking needs. Honestly I can't believe I waited this long to get one. If you do want to have an installed oven in your van, the Dometic Ovens seem to be very popular and the brand is known for their high quality appliances.
Silverware: I have two sets, but you can adjust this for the number of people living in your van.
Dinnerware: I recommend getting melamine dinnerware. Melamine is a hard plastic that doesn't chip, crack or break. I've had no issues with mine in the two years I've been in the van. I really didn't want to use paper or enamel dinnerware while living in the van full time and glass or ceramic didn't seem like a practical option.
Coffee mug and/or travel mug
Wine glasses: for some this might not be necessary, but for me it was.
Medium sized pot, but if you're going to make a lot of soups then I'd recommend a large pot instead.
A grease splatter screen really help to keep your cabinets, walls and curtains clean when cooking greasy foods like bacon. Especially in a tiny van, grease flies everywhere.
Use pan protectors to keep your pots and pans from scratching.
When it comes to coffee, I know people have their preferences. I'll share what I use and a few other options that are popular among Vanlifers. I did try a mini Keurig in my van and my electrical system couldn't handle it. Also when picking your coffee maker, keep in mind, an easy clean-up is favorable, which is why I didn't like the French Press for the van.
I use a Chemex to make my coffee and surprisingly I've only broken one during my two years on the road. Keep the box for storage. The Aeropress and Clever Coffee Dripper are also common among Vanlifers.
Pour over coffee is definitely better with freshly ground beans. I use an electric coffee bean grinder and it doesn't have an impact on my battery bank. If you're worried about it you could go with a manual grinder.
A milk frother is definitely not necessary, but makes delicious cappuccinos and Instagram worthy photos. I allow a tiny bit of space for unnecessary items to make my van feel like home.
Utensils: This is where your drawer can fill up fast so stick with the basics. Wooden spoon, spatula, tongs, whisk, ladle, can opener, reusable straws, and a peeler.
Knives: These knives are very affordable and sharp. The sheath has probably saved me from so many cuts since they are stored in my one drawer with all my other utensils.
1 medium mixing bowl
Immersion blender: great for smoothies and soups. The one I have also comes with a chopper attachment which is great for making tuna fish sandwiches and hummus. I know some Vanlifers bring their fancy blenders along, but the immersion blender has worked perfect for my needs and takes up way less space.
Cutting board: 1 small, 1 large
Collapsable Tupperware: you'll need something to store leftovers and collapsable tupperware does't take up a lot of room.
Measuring Cups and Spoons
Cheese grater: Ok, this may not be necessary for some, but cheese is one of my main food categories.
BBQ Utensils: Most of the time I cook in the van, but I love having the option to cook over a fire too. The BBQ utensils come in handy for this, but I've also gotten by with using my regular kitchen utensils over a fire too.
Note: Some items you might want in your kitchen means ensuring you have the power to run it, so keep that in mind when filling your cabinets or building your electrical system.
That's everything in my tiny kitchen. It's more than enough to make great food on the road and simple enough where my kitchen doesn't feel over-crowded.
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