Van Life Cooking: Top Tips for Cooking in a Campervan

Updated: Sep 19

If you’re not a regular campsite cook and you’ve booked one of our Iceland camper vans, you might be feeling a bit daunted. Cooking in a motorhome or campervan kitchen can seem like a challenge, especially if you have no experience. With such a small space to work with, you will definitely need to get creative and streamline your cooking approach.

But fear not! Here comes our 101 guide to van life cooking. With a few tricks up your sleeve and a little forward planning, you’ll be whipping up fuss-free feasts in no time. In this article, we’ll be dishing out all sorts of campervan cooking advice, from how to plan meals successfully to shopping with limited storage space in mind. Here’s what we’ll be covering:

  • Van Life cooking essentials

  • Van Life cooking options

  • Meal ideas and what to buy

  • Van Life cooking gear and accessories

Van life cooking tips

Van Life cooking essentials

  • keep things ultra-simple. You’ll want to be able to put meals together quickly and easily without too much equipment. And remember that everything you use while cooking and eating will need to be washed up after. Therefore, keeping plates and cookware to a minimum saves time and water later.

  • Plan your meals in advance: This is great both for the environment and for your pocket. So think about each of your meals and how many people you’ll be feeding. Fuss-free breakfasts and lunches are usually pretty simple, but it’s the hot dinners that are the most involved.

  • Think about one-pot wonders: Pasta or rice dishes where you can cook everything up together work especially well. These are generally healthy and filling too which makes them perfect for fueling adventures in Iceland on a budget. Doubling up on ingredients from one meal to the next also helps save cupboard space.

Van Life cooking options

Cooking in a campervan can seem intimidating, but with the proper planning, it can be not only fun but also delicious and varied. Still, there are several things to keep in mind: you do need your ingredients to adapt to a small kitchenette and limited storage and freezing options.

Vegetarian vs. carnivore

It has to be said that vegetarian food is a much easier option for van life cooking in general. Storing meat or seafood is tricky, as is the clean-up process after cooking. Dealing with raw meat and seafood involves much stricter hygiene. You’ll need to use a lot of hot soapy water to clean up properly. Not to mention disposing of meat scraps and used oil properly is a task in and of itself.

Meat for van life cooking

But what if your camping crew demand meat? In this case, a good tip is to wait until you are staying at a campsite that offers BBQ facilities. Quite a few Iceland campsites have dedicated areas for BBQs and for washing up. This makes things much easier when the weather is fine. Burgers and hot dogs every now and again are sure to be crowd-pleasers.

But if you do eat meat usually, why not opt for cooking mostly veggie meals while you’re camping? If you’re not already used to it, use your time away as an experiment in meat-free cooking. And save on the cleaning up while you’re at it!

If you are a meat-eater, then you can save steak night or seafood feasting for a special night out instead. There are some great quality organic meat products to enjoy in Iceland, so approach it like a special treat rather than an everyday occurrence.

Choose a top Iceland restaurant and enjoy a proper night out. And if you are plant-based, don’t worry; being a vegetarian in Iceland is easy.

Meal ideas and what to buy

This very much depends on personal preference, group size, and budget, but here are a few ideas that work well.

  • Pasta and pesto with a few fresh veggies or bagged salad and tomatoes is a great go-to meal.

  • Pre-cooked packs of grains that you can simply heat up. Cans of beans and tomatoes are also fuss-free and budget-friendly for creating stews and curries.

  • Noodle pots are a firm favorite for something warming and speedy at lunchtime, as are packet or canned soups. All of these can be easily bolstered with fresh chopped veggies. Adding fresh veg to convenience food is a great way to manage more healthy cooking in a campervan.

  • Stock up on all dry and canned goods. Basically, anything that can be stored outside of the fridge and doesn’t go bad. Be careful not to overspend on fresh produce, as it will go bad quickly and use up precious fridge space. Topping up fresh produce as you travel works much better.

Van life cooking recipes

Campervan cooking shopping tips

You might have heard that in Iceland, prices for goods and services are on the pricier end of the spectrum. Therefore, if you are visiting Iceland on a budget, you’ll want to be savvy about where you spend your cash. For the best value and choice, you should stock up at the larger, more cost-efficient supermarkets.

On the whole, Iceland is a wonderfully wild country with vast uninhabited areas dotted infrequently with small towns and villages. There are just a few large towns and cities, and these are home to larger supermarkets. This is where you’ll be able to do the bulk of your shopping and get your food situation sorted.

Bonus is one of the larger supermarkets with a good range of products and economical prices. Kronan and Netto are both good choices too, each having a value range of own-brand staples. The small chain Kjarval has outlets in some more remote towns and villages, which makes them useful stops for topping up along the road.

Things to bring with you from home

One great piece of advice is to make the absolute most of your baggage allowance. Bringing a few choice items with you from home can make all the difference. You’ll be able to pack more of your favorite flavors into your meals. Plus, it’s also a great money saver too as you won’t have to buy so much in Iceland.

Think travel packs of your favorite spice blends or small jars of harissa or satay. Family packs of your favorite snacks are also a great idea. Things like dried fruit and nut trail mix, or your go-to healthy granola bar or biscuits are perfect. That way you’ll always have something healthy and/or handy to snack on.

If you are a coffee aficionado you might also like to bring your favorite blend from home. Likewise, those who like a little tipple will save cash by bringing a few bottles with them. Alcohol is very heavily taxed in Iceland, so it’s quite pricey. Bagging a few bottles of wine or your favorite spirit in the airport duty-free shop is a good bet.

Van life cooking tips

Van life cooking equipment

Any camper van or motorhome rental in Iceland will have a kitchen set up of some kind. Motorhomes are much better equipped with full kitchens, while campervans vary depending on the make and model. Even the most basic will have a campervan cooking set of some kind though. Just double-check so that you can come prepared.

Some extra campervan cooking accessories may of course be helpful. Interestingly, the most important piece of equipment for many is a coffee maker. It turns out that many people place a great deal of importance on that wake-up cuppa. After all, it is what sets you up well for your day of adventuring.

If you have the space you could opt to bring your own Aeropress. These are great little RV gadgets as they brew an excellent cup of Joe and are also compact. If this is a step too far, there are also some handy gear rental shops in Reykjavik. These stores are fully-stocked with a variety of rental camping equipment, including the all-important coffee maker!

Van life cooking made easy!

From giant bags of pasta to a quick Spanish omelet, you’ll be able to whip up your own creations with no problem. Just be careful not to overbuy on fresh produce that goes bad quickly and uses up precious fridge space. As mentioned, topping up fresh produce as you travel works much better.

Lock your campervan rental in today and get ready to unleash that untapped Jamie Oliver side of yours!