There’s so much to love about traveling and vacations, but meals and food prep isn’t usually one of them. It can definitely get tiresome eating out every day for an extended period of time, or having meals that only consist of shelf-stable packaged foods. That’s why we love traveling by RV. Having a kitchen in our RV means that we can create our own meals!
But it can also get complicated to prepare meals for a lot of people in a small space. And with a family of seven, we’re always cooking for a crowd! Whether you’re preparing food for just your family, or whether you’re RVing with friends or relatives, here are some tips on how to cook for large groups in an RV kitchen!
The number one most important thing for us to be able to use our RV kitchen in a functional way is to organize our food and supplies! It can be maddening to try to cook and to either not know where to find the things we need, or to know where they are but not be able to quickly and easily access them.
In our particular RV, we have a sink and cabinet area that has our most frequently used food storage. The cabinet right under the sink has some basic cleaning supplies, and the one right next to it has our dishes and shelf-stable breakfast foods. That way, if our kids wake up early, they can easily and quietly get themselves breakfast. The drawers under the sink hold utensils, spatulas, ladles, and other kitchen supplies, while the cabinets above the sink hold more lightweight items like bread and crackers.
We also have a fridge, which is wonderful! It’s not as big as our fridge at home, so we try not to overpack it but it’s great to keep perishables like yogurt, milk, cheese, berries, and fresh veggies. The cabinet underneath holds heavy grocery items like canned beans.
Finally, we love using the cabinets above the seats to hold shelf-stable meals: rice, quinoa, snacks, and other cooking supplies. We love using dividers up there to create little shelves so we can see everything and fewer items disappear into the back. We also attached baby locks to the doors to help ensure they stay closed while we drive. We also have a plastic bin of some extra foods like peanut butter and nuts in the trunk holding space. It’s great to have a few options to refresh our supplies if we can’t immediately get to a store!
Meal planning is important for us at home to ensure we have enough of the right supplies to make meals for a lot of people. It’s even more important in an RV kitchen with limited space!
Since we can’t hold tons of fresh veggies at once, it’s important that we plan ahead for what will work together for a meal. It’s a lot harder to throw things together if we have a bunch of disparate meals, so we like to keep meals simple and within similar flavor profiles. For instance, we may have a mix of Indian and Mexican-inspired meals, which use similar spices. We also may do vegetarian chili one day and veggie burritos the next, which use similar ingredients. It’s much easier to store and locate just a few ingredient varieties instead of searching through tons of stuff for just one specific item.
By meal planning, we make sure we use up all the ingredients we buy with much less waste, and it ensures we have what we need on hand when getting ready to make a meal far from a grocery store!
Consider Meal Shortcuts
At home, I always use dry beans and cook them myself because I prefer the flavor and texture. In an RV, however, we often are out and about and don’t necessarily have time to babysit food. We want delicious and healthy homemade meals that come together quickly.
So instead, I try to focus on homemade meals that have equally healthy but faster alternatives. For instance, I always use canned beans instead of dry in the RV. Or I may use a fresh, store-bought pasta sauce instead of making my own, or use a pre-mixed bagged salad. We can find minimal ingredient, well-made versions of these and they save a lot of time and effort when cooking for a group in an RV.
Along that line, consider meals that don’t have several different ingredients that require lots of cleanup. One pot recipes are wonderful, and there’s no shame in using pre-chopped frozen veggies to minimize chopping. Consider simple, healthy, fresh recipes that everyone will love.
Bring Only A Few Appliances
I use my stand mixer pretty heavily at home, but would never consider bringing it in the RV. It’s bulky and heavy and just wouldn’t make sense in that space.
The Instant Pot pressure cooker, on the other hand, is a kitchen appliance that is actually really useful in the RV. It cooks food quickly so we can make a soup in less than half an hour or will cook an Indian curry very quickly. While it is still kind of bulky and heavy, the benefit to us is that it allows us more time to explore and makes much less mess in the RV than cooking on the stove. It’s also a multi-functional tool – it can pressure cook, slow cook, cook rice, and more – super helpful when we want to get the most use out of our space.
Figure out which kitchen accoutrements you use the most heavily and if they add to or take away from the amount of time and effort you spend in the kitchen. For instance, you may love your pasta maker at home and use it often, but will it save you time and be functional in your RV kitchen when cooking for a crowd? Which pot is the most versatile? Do you have an oven where you can use a cookie sheet?
Consider Functional Additions
Adding more stuff isn’t usually the answer, but sometimes there are some really helpful additions that help keep things organized and add more useful space. We have a hanging fruit basket by the sink – this is perfect for organizing fruits and produce like apples and oranges while keeping them off the minimal counter space. We also have hooks to hang utensils like ladles and pot holders so they don’t take up drawer space.
Consider whether there are ways to make your space more functional based on what your pain points are. Are you always running out of chopping space? Consider an over-the-sink cutting board. Do drying utensils always fall back in the sink? Consider a hanging wire utensil holder to allow utensils to dry off the counter.
Clean As You Go
While at home it may be tempting to use every serving spoon you own because you can just throw them all in the dishwasher, this might not be the best option in a small RV kitchen. Instead, consider what kitchen tools you can clean as you go and even reuse.
For instance, instead of using one spatula to saute vegetables and another to stir a sauce, just quickly wash the same spatula and reuse it. Likewise, instead of pulling out a second cutting board for fruit after chopping onions, give the first one a quick scrub and put it back down – no drying necessary!
Get Everyone Involved…But Not In The Same Spot
Sometimes when cooking in a small space, it can feel like more trouble than it’s worth to get everyone involved in helping. Too many cooks in the kitchen can feel very real when cooking for a lot of people in an RV! Still, I don’t want my kids to just feel waited on; I want them to contribute, too.
Instead, find unique ways for everyone to help out. Perhaps everyone has a different responsibility that is their unique skill. Maybe one person sets up the beds for the night while someone else makes dinner and another takes out the trash. Or perhaps someone can chop vegetables on the picnic table outside the RV instead of in the kitchen. Or maybe someone can take a shower while another helps wash dishes, and then you switch.
Find a job for everyone and use ALL of your space – indoor and out!
I hope those tips for cooking for large groups in an RV kitchen are helpful. I’d love to hear anything you love to do to help make small cooking spaces more functional and fun!