Learning to cook in a smaller kitchen without making a mess takes time.
You’re trying to conserve the 10 gallons of water you have. You want a quick and easy clean up with as little dishes as possible. Maybe you don’t have much counter space to prep the meal. Or maybe you just want something simple that will fill you up. Either way, cooking with limited space in a tiny home has a learning curve, but it doesn’t have to be complicated. We’re here to help by sharing our 6 favorite simple and delicious van-friendly meals.
Thai Spicy Noodle Soup
Especially during colder seasons in the van, soup is an absolute staple for delicious, winter meals. They are easy and usually can be made in a single pot, so dishes will be minimal (our favorite!) As soup usually requires simmering for a bit, the heat of the stove will help warm your van and the hot meal will surely do the same for you. This is, by far, one of my favorite soups to cook in the van. It is vegan and vegetarian as is, but I prefer to boil some chicken thighs, hand-shred them, and throw them back in the soup.
- 2 tablespoons coconut oil
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 tablespoon fresh grated ginger
- 2 tablespoons Thai red curry paste
- 4 cups vegetable broth
- 1 (14-ounce) can coconut milk
- 1 cup of water
- 8 ounces of rice noodles
- 1 tablespoon lime juice
- Optional garnishes: fresh cilantro, green onions, crushed peanuts, and/or red chilies
In a large pot, heat the oil over medium heat. Add garlic, ginger, and curry paste and sauté for 2 minutes to release the curry’s aromas.
Stir in the broth, coconut milk, and water. Bring to a boil.
Add the rice noodles to the pot and allow them to sit for a few minutes until softened.
Stir in the lime juice and serve immediately, topped with optional garnishes if using.
Red Lentil Sloppy Joes
If you don’t know who Fresh Off the Grid is, I highly recommend you check them out. They will change the way you cook in your van! They focus on car-camping and backpacking recipes, so most of their recipes are one-pot meals with simple ingredients, mixed together for an amazing meal. Something I particularly love about following their recipes is that they tend to use some of the same 10-15 staple spices. After trying (nearly) all of their recipes, I now have a great variety of staple spices in my van. This way, I don’t have to buy a spice that will take up space in my tiny home, just to make one recipe and then not use it again for a while. Their site also includes many other van-friendly meals so definitely browse around!
- ½ tablespoon oil
- 1 small onion, diced
- 1 Anaheim pepper, diced
- 2 tablespoons tomato paste
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- ½ cup red lentils
- 1 ½ cup water, or broth
- 1 tablespoon mustard
- 2 teaspoons apple cider vinegar
- 1 tablespoon maple syrup
- 1 teaspoon vegan Worcestershire
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon chili powder
In a medium pot, heat the oil over medium heat and add the chopped onions and Anaheim pepper. Saute until soft and the onions just begin to turn golden 3-4 minutes. Add tomato paste and saute for a minute, then add the garlic and cook 1 minute.
Add the red lentils and 1 ½ cup water to the pot. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer. Cook 10-15 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the lentils are pretty tender but not falling apart.
Add mustard, maple syrup, apple cider vinegar, Worcestershire, chili powder, and salt. Stir to combine. Simmer until the sauce thickens a bit, 3-5 minutes more.
Serve on toasted buns with whatever toppings and sides you love!
Lemony Chicken and Orzo Soup
1 tablespoon olive oil
- 12 ounces skinless, boneless chicken thighs
1 medium leek, white and pale-green parts only, halved lengthwise, sliced crosswise 1/2-inch thick
1 celery stalk, sliced crosswise 1/2-inch thick
6 cups low-sodium chicken broth
Kosher salt, freshly ground pepper
1/2 cup orzo
1/4 cup chopped fresh dill
Lemon halves (for serving)
- Heat oil in a large heavy pot over medium heat. Add leek and celery and cook, stirring often, until vegetables are soft, 5-8 minutes.
- Add chicken and broth; season with salt and pepper. Bring to a boil, cover, reduce heat, and simmer until chicken is cooked through, 15-20 minutes.
- Transfer chicken to a plate. Let cool, then shred chicken into bite-size pieces.
- Meanwhile, return broth to a boil. Add orzo and cook until al dente, 8-10 minutes.
- Remove pot from heat. Stir in chicken and dill. Serve with lemon halves for squeezing over.
BBQ Chicken Foil Packs
Foil pack recipes are so easy, especially when you’re camping. I often have a campfire at night anyways, so these kinds of recipes essentially allow me to skip the entire cooking phase. It’s as simple as prep, wait, and clean up – let the campfire do the cooking for you! This recipe particularly talks about baking these foil packs in an oven, but I’ve been able to replicate nearly all oven and grill-recommended recipes in a campfire. These are also fun to make with friends, so you can socialize while also getting dinner ready. I would personally also cook some simple white rice on the side to supplement this recipe!
- 4 boneless skinless chicken breasts, cut into 1-inch pieces
- 2 cups barbecue sauce
- 2 cups drained pineapple tidbits
- 1 red bell pepper, diced
- 1 small red onion, diced
- Cilantro for topping
- Heat oven to 375°F. Cut 4 large sheets of foil; arrange singly on a flat surface.
- In a medium bowl, toss together 4 boneless skinless chicken breasts, cut into 1-inch pieces, and 2 cups barbecue sauce until chicken is fully coated.
- Divide chicken pieces evenly among sheets of foil. Divide 2 cups drained pineapple tidbits, 1 bell pepper, diced, and 1 small red onion, diced, evenly over chicken on foil sheets.
- Bring up 2 sides of the foil over the chicken so edges meet. Seal edges, making tight 1/2-inch fold; fold again, allowing space on sides for heat circulation and expansion. Fold other sides to seal.
- Bake 35 to 40 minutes or until juice of chicken is clear when the center of thickest part is cut (at least 165°F). To grill, place foil packs on preheated grill. Cook 10 minutes. Turn packs over; cook 10 to 15 minutes longer or until juice of chicken is clear when the center of the thickest part is cut (at least 165°F).
It wouldn’t be a recipe article without including chili! I feel like chili often gets overlooked but every time I have it, I remember how much I like it. It is fairly simple, saves well, and you can really spice up chili in so many different ways by the number of toppings you can choose from. My favorite toppings include shredded cheese, sour cream, green onions, cilantro, and avocado. If you want to really take this meal a step up, I recommend baking some simple cornbread in an Omnia Stovetop Oven. Once again, this fits in with the category of super van-friendly meals but pairs so well with chili!
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 medium yellow onion -diced
- 1 pound 90% lean ground beef
- 2 1/2 tablespoons chili powder
- 2 tablespoons ground cumin
- 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
- 2 tablespoons tomato paste
- 1 tablespoon garlic powder
- 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
- 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
- 1/4 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper* -optional
- 1 1/2 cups beef broth
- 1 (15 oz.) can petite diced tomatoes
- 1 (16 oz.) can red kidney beans, drained and rinsed
- 1 (8 oz.) can tomato sauce
Add the olive oil to a large soup pot and place it over medium-high heat for two minutes. Add the onion. Cook for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Add the ground beef to the pot. Break it apart with a wooden spoon. Cook for 6-7 minutes, until the beef is browned, stirring occasionally.
Add the chili powder, cumin, sugar, tomato paste, garlic powder, salt, pepper, and optional cayenne. Stir until well combined.
Add the broth, diced tomatoes (with their juice), drained beans, and tomato sauce. Stir well.
Bring the liquid to a low boil. Then, reduce the heat (low to medium-low) to gently simmer the chili, uncovered, for 20-25 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Remove the pot from the heat. Let the chili rest for 5-10 minutes before serving.
Crunchy Chicken Ramen Stir Fry
Step up the normal and boring regular top ramen with this veggie-filled recipe. I love meals like this because I can mix and match whatever I have in my fridge, or pack it with as many vegetables as I want. You can also just change up the flavor based on what you have in your van, such as sriracha, soy sauce, teriyaki sauce, or whatever else you find. If you’re on a budget or want something super quick, try this ramen recipe out.
- 2 Tbsp soy sauce
- 1 Tbsp toasted sesame oil
- 1/2 Tbsp brown sugar
- 1 Tbsp mayonnaise
- 1 Tbsp sriracha
- 1 boneless, skinless chicken breast (about 2/3 lb.)
- 2 Tbsp cooking oil
- 1 14oz. bag coleslaw mix (shredded cabbage and carrots)
- 2 cloves garlic
- 1 tsp grated fresh ginger
- 3 green onions
- 1 3oz. block ramen noodles (seasoning packet discarded)
Prepare the sauces first so they’re ready to use when needed. In a small bowl stir together the ingredients for the stir fry sauce (soy sauce, sesame oil, and brown sugar). In a separate small bowl stir together the sriracha and mayonnaise.
Mince 2 cloves of garlic, grate about one teaspoon of fresh ginger, and slice three green onions.
Without opening the package of ramen, use a rolling pin or mallet to crush the noodles into small pieces. Once crushed, open the package and discard the seasoning packet.
Chop the chicken into small 1/2-inch pieces.
Place a large skillet over medium-high heat. Once hot, add the cooking oil and swirl to coat the surface of the skillet. Add the chicken pieces and sauté until they’re cooked through (3-5 minutes). Add the garlic and ginger to the skillet about halfway through cooking the chicken.
Once the chicken is cooked through, add the coleslaw mix (shredded cabbage and carrots). Continue to sauté for about 2 minutes more, or just until the cabbage begins to soften slightly (do not overcook at this step).
Add the stir fry sauce to the skillet and continue to sauté for 1-2 minutes more, or until the cabbage has softened to your liking (I prefer mine still slightly firm).
Finally, turn off the heat, stir in the crushed ramen, and top with sliced green onions and a drizzle of sriracha mayo.