We spent five weeks this summer driving across the United States with 3 kids, 2 parents, 1 fifth wheel and a whole lot of excitement – check out the trip highlights on Instagram. Weekly updates are posted HERE.
One of the first things I learned after we started traveling with a fifth wheel is that not all recipes are created equal when it comes to cooking on the road. The first time we took the camper out for a weekend, I planned a 20 minute stir fry for dinner. Ha. An hour and a half later, I was still waiting for it to finish cooking and I may have been a wee bit grumpy.
There are a couple of different reasons why it took longer to cook in the camper than at home. (And let’s be honest, my camper’s kitchen is not half bad. The counter is tiny, but it really is just like having your own kitchen, albeit much smaller.) First, slicing and dicing a bunch of vegetables and meat might only take a few minutes when I can spread out in my full-size kitchen at home, but in the camper? It wound up taking a ridiculous amount of time.
I quickly learned that having to clear each thing from the counter to make enough space to prep the next ingredient was far more time consuming than I expected it to be. Second, a camper stove just will not reach a screaming high heat for a large stir fry skillet like the full-size stove in our house. So, instead of taking 7-8 minutes to cook from start to finish, it took about 30 minutes to cook the meat and vegetables through and a good bit longer to reduce the sauce.
Lesson learned – Buy ingredients already prepped or close to ready to cook and avoid recipes that require super high heat. Give yourself a break and don’t plan on chopping and prepping a whole lot of ingredients for your recipes in the camper unless you have an abundance of time (and really want to wash the extra dishes too). When possible, I’ll buy meat and vegetables pre-sliced or chopped. I also lean towards ground meats or things like kielbasa that only require a few minutes to slice.
Side note: At home, I use regular dishes for most meals, but on the road? We eat on a lot of paper plates. Especially for days when we were on the go or for mornings when we were trying to get on the road early.
Taco Salad was my go-to dinner after a day spent exploring a new city. I cooked up a couple batches of Best Ever Taco Meat before we left and kept them in the freezer. (This was also easy to repeat while on the road.) Warm the meat, toss it over a giant bowl of pre-made salad mix, squeeze lime over it all, add cheese or avocado if desired, add some Fritos or the chips of your choice and toss well. Feel free to add your favorite dressing, but honestly, between the flavorings on the meat and the lime juice, I rarely add dressing anymore.
For our driving days, I often choose to make a cheeseboard for our dinner. Sometimes it’s served on a cute board and other times it’s simply piled onto paper plates. I can usually assemble a snack dinner in the time it takes Sean to set up camp. And I can do this before I even have power in the camper, making it a truly hassle-free meal. So, I’m not waiting for everything to be set up before I can “cook” something for us to eat. These ingredients are all ready to go in the refrigerator and cupboard and I can just pull things out and serve dinner quickly.
Dill Pickle Chicken Salad was easy to pull together using a rotisserie chicken that we could pick up at any grocery store. (Recipe from The Weekday Lunches & Breakfasts Cookbook, shared by my friend Kelley at Mountain Mama Cooks.) This chicken salad works beautifully for sandwiches, lettuce wraps, with crackers, or on a salad.
Garlicky Rice and Peas with Kielbasa is another dinner that comes together quickly both at home and on the road. (Recipe from The Weeknight Dinner Cookbook, shared by my friend Melissa at Bless This Mess Please.)
I made Slow-Cooker Pulled Pork, Slow-Cooker Baked Beans, and Tangy Memphis Coleslaw for dinner more than a couple of times. I’m sure it comes as no surprise that I served all of that BBQ Sundae style.
Another advantage to making BBQ Sundaes is that there are usually a lot of leftovers. I wound up with a couple of meals worth of pulled pork leftover that I was able to stash in the freezer. A few days later, I just needed to pick up hamburger buns and toss together some coleslaw and dinner was ready in a matter of minutes.
Speaking of prepping ahead of time, I cooked a couple pounds of bacon in the oven before the trip and stashed it in the freezer. I also cooked and crumbled a few pounds of sausage and packaged it in portions for meals. I was able to thaw a package of cooked meat, scramble eggs, char tortillas or toast some bread, and serve breakfast in about 10-15 minutes. Breakfast Tacos with sausage, scrambled eggs, and cheese were a road trip favorite this year.
I also stashed some of these Cheddar, Chive, and Sausage Biscuits in the freezer for easy mornings. (Recipe from The Weekday Lunches & Breakfasts cookbook, shared by my friend Erin at Dinners, Dishes, and Desserts.)
Before our trip, I decided it was worth it to tuck my waffle iron into a cabinet and I’m so glad I did. I made Ham and Cheese Waffles and Cheddar Chive Waffles with Sausage Gravy for a treat on a couple of lazy mornings at camp.
For days when we were scrambling just to get out the door or on the road, I had Make-Ahead Oatmeal in the cupboard. (Recipe from The Weekday Lunches and Breakfasts Cookbook.) My crew loves oatmeal and I have dozens of oatmeal recipes here on the site. I’m certain you’ll find one you love.
I have one last tip to make things easier on the road. I swear by spice mixes for easy cooking in the camper. There just isn’t space in the cupboard or on the counter for 20+ different spices. I packed Taco Seasoning, Italian Spice Mix, and Crazy Salt. I also had garlic powder, salt, pepper, and maybe 2-3 other spices. If you know you’ll be making a specific recipe on the trip, but don’t want to pack a ton of different spices for it, measure out the spices for that recipe ahead of time and combine them in a ziplock bag. I did that for the pulled pork and just wrote the name of the recipe on the bag.
It’s been a lot of fun sharing our summer road trip with you. Your comments, emails, tips, and suggestions for places to see have been priceless. I’m working on several more road trip posts to share in the coming weeks. If there’s anything else you’d like to read more about, just leave me a comment or email me with your questions. I’m wishing you a beautiful week full of things that make you smile!