Van life meals need to be three things. Healthy, cheap and easy peasy lemon squeezy!
We are not vegetarian but on the road we eat a mostly vegetable-based diet. It’s good for us, good for the planet, and it’s easier to store and travel with vegetables and vegetable-based meals. A vegetable based diet is also significantly cheaper than eating meat. Additionally, we are often traveling through countries where the quality of meat can be questionable.
Our van life meals and recipes come from all corners of the world. Many are recipes we have taken from our favourite recipe books and websites and adapted for cooking in a van.
We have been slowly whittling down our top van life meals. Some recipes have come and gone, some are old favorites from way back and others are recent additions on the list. I’m sure this list will continue to evolve as we continue our van life adventures. But right now these are our favorite easy vegetarian van life meals!
Van Life Kitchen Essentials
Cooking in van means you don’t have access to a full kitchen, but these van life recipes assume you have access to some basic equipment. Our van life kitchen essentials consists of:
Additionally, we also carry with us a couple of key kitchen gadgets and cookware items that help make cooking in van easier and a little bit more special.
- High quality cast iron cookware including a dutch oven
- A zester for quickly grating, zesting, or mincing cheese, citrus peel, garlic, and ginger
- Bialetti coffee pot
- Coffee grinder
- A spice grinder
- A juicer
- A whisk
We also try to have on hand several key ingredients that can easily elevate your van life recipes to new heights.
- Spices take up almost no space at all and can turn the most ordinary dish into a culinary masterpiece. For best results, you can use whole spices and a grinder but pre-ground spices from the supermarket work well for most of our favorite recipes. You don’t need every single spice under the sun. We get by with the following:
- Garam masala
- Cayenne pepper
- Ground coriander seeds
- Fresh herbs are another simple ingredient that makes a huge difference to the end result of your cooking. We always have plenty of:
- Fresh garlic
- Fresh ginger
- Cilantro (coriander)
- A squeeze of lemon or lime is a great way to add acidity and freshness to many dishes. We always have ample lemons and limes on board.
14 Easy Vegetarian Van Life Meals
#1 Rice Paper Rolls: Unbelievably Quick and Healthy Van Life Food
Vietnamese rice paper rolls take out the number one spot in our list of go to van life recipes right now.
Fresh and healthy this dish can be whipped up in less than ten minutes. This van life “recipe” requires little more than cutting up some fresh veggies, boiling some water to blanch vermicelli noodles and rice paper wraps, and mixing up a delicious dipping sauce.
Assembling the rolls can make for an interesting if not competitive meal (awards and bragging rights going to the neatest, the largest, and the most uniquely shaped roll).
We get excited for “ricey” night each week, and it is probably the thing we eat most frequently.
Our standard rice paper rolls include vermicelli noodles, carrot, cucumber, lettuce, mung bean sprouts, shallots, chili, Vietnamese mint, crushed peanuts, and tofu, rolled up in rice paper and dunked into a dipping sauce made from rice wine vinegar and hoisin.
But ultimately, rice papers are nothing more than a vessel for your wildest creations, experimenting with the filing of your own “riceys” is half the fun.
For those wanting to include meat in their meal, some diced chicken breast fried up with ginger, garlic, and soy is an easy addition. Roast chicken or Chinese barbecue pork from the grocery store works well too when you don’t feel like cooking. Different dipping sauces can change the experience, why not try a combination of salty fish sauce, soy, and tangy lime for a new flavor sensation.
Full Recipe coming soon!
#2 Shakshuka: a Perfect Weekend Breakfast Van Life Meal
Eggs are a great source of protein on the road. They are easy to store, they are cheap, and they keep well. We love our eggs poached, fried, boiled, or scrambled, but when we have the time on a lazy Saturday or Sunday morning it’s nice to dress them up once in a while.
The Israeli breakfast of shakshuka is a simple one-pan van life recipe that can dress eggs up so finely you could easily get away serving them for lunch or dinner.
While this dish looks and tastes impressive, it’s super simple to make.
Simply fry garlic, onion, and bell pepper together, add spices, a bit of tomato paste, and some crushed tomatoes. Simmer for 10 minutes. Crack four eggs into the pan cover and cook for another 10 minutes until the eggs are set.
Garnish with cilantro (coriander) and serve with some crusty bread. It’s that easy.
To really step your shakshuka game, consider crumbling in some feta or some fried chorizo toward the end of the cooking.
Full recipe coming soon!
#3 Saag Halloumi: Delicious Light Van Life Meals for Week Nights
A recent addition to our weekly dinner roster is saag halloumi. We think this delicious, fresh, and healthy spinach dish inspired by the Indian saag paneer will be a tough one to knock off.
Looking at the handful of uncooked ingredients that go into this dish, it’s a bit hard to imagine how the whole thing’s going to end up, but this dish packs a surprising amount of flavor into an incredibly healthy, awesomely easy meal.
After pregrilling cubes of halloumi and setting them aside, it’s a simple matter of cooking up onion, garlic, ginger, and chili with aromatic spices before adding some stock and leafy greens like spinach or silverbeet to wilt and soften. Finally, add the cheese back into the pan to warm and finish with a nice squeeze of lemon.
That’s it! Serve over rice and be amazed that such an easy and healthy dish could be so flavorful and so satisfying. A perfect van life meal to whip up when you’re short on time!
#4 Vegetarian Quesadillas: Easy Vegetarian Van Life Meals for Lunch
Quesadillas are quick, versatile, and delicious. Quesadillas are a lunchtime staple in our van kitchen because they take only about fifteen minutes, they are super healthy and more interesting than a ham sandwich.
Normally, we fill tortillas with cheese and homemade Mexican bean filling which we make with black beans, onions, peppers, tomatoes, and spices.
Fold the tortillas in half and heat in a large pan over a low heat until crispy outside and gooey inside. Top with some of Kelli’s famous pico de gallo and some fresh guacamole.
To mix it up, we’ll often make Italian quesadillas using homemade tomato sauce, fresh mushrooms, bell pepper, red onion, and grated mozzarella shoved in a tortilla and grilled.
Full Recipe coming soon!
#5 Pad Thai: Vegetarian Van Life Meals When Your Craving Take-Out
Only recently did we realized we could whip up our own pad thai in less time than than it would take to boil pasta and heat a jar of sauce.
It makes sense; a street food that’s quick and easy by design is perfectly adaptable for the van life kitchen.
Not the healthiest meal on this list, pad thai uses a fair bit of sugar and oil. We usually save this for a weekend evening when we are craving takeout but find ourselves somewhere far from any restaurants.
What’s more, restaurant-quality pad thai attainable with a handful of easily sourced ingredients. With a tiny bit of pre-preparation, this pad thai is shockingly simple.
Before you begin you’ll need to prepare some protein like crispy tofu, grilled chicken, or shrimp. Soak some pad thai noodles in boiling water for 7 or 8 minutes and drain well. Finally knock up a quick and delicious pad thai sauce of soy sauce, fish sauce, brown sugar, and rice vinegar.
In a hot wok or large frying pan add some peanut oil, shallots, garlic, and ginger and stir until fragrant. Next, make a well in the middle of the pan and add two eggs, and scramble gently before combining with the other ingredients already in the pan. Add the softened noodles to the pan and gently stir-fry for a few more minutes. Add the pad thai sauce followed by the pre-cooked protein. Finish with fresh chili, lime juice, chili flakes, bean sprouts, and chopped peanuts.
Done! Restaurant quality pad thai in around twenty minutes cooked in the van!
Full Recipe coming soon!
#6 Burrito Bowls: Vegetarian Van Life Meals With a Mexican Flavor
We love the flavors of Mexican cuisine, but without access to real Mexican ingredients and the questionable nutritional value of some of our favorite Mexican meals, we have had to come up with our own Mexican inspired meals for van life.
Our burrito bowl van life recipe may not qualify as authentic Mexican food, but it is healthy, cheap, and easy to make in the van. Most importantly it scratches the itch when we’ve got a hankering for Mexican on the road!
We can cook a number of servings of the different elements of this van life meal and keep them to make burrito bowls for lunches or dinners throughout the week.
Start by setting some rice on to boil. We like to use brown rice when we are not in the van, but it takes so long to cook we usually use white rice on the road to conserve our cooker gas. While the rice is boiling we make some of our Mexican beans by frying onions, peppers, tomatoes, chipotle chilis, and spices with black beans. Once that is simmering away, it’s time to get busy with the fresh ingredients. Kelli is in charge of her famous pico de gallo, while I cut up some fresh avocado, grate some carrot, shred some lettuce. Serve up fresh burrito bowls garnished with the pico, fresh veggies, cilantro, and yogurt!
The whole meal can be done in just 20 minutes and, as mentioned, if you make leftovers it’s easy to knock up more fresh, delicious burrito bowls as you need them!
Full recipe coming soon!
#7 Delicious Dal: a Healthy Hearty Dinner from the Van Life Kitchen
Dal is a nourishing superfood that warms and satisfies. We love dal on a cold winter night because it is hearty, filling, and warming without being heavy.
The ingredients are cheap, easy to find in the supermarket, and they keep well. What’s more, the recipe is simple to make and, while not the quickest on this list, takes no more than thirty minutes to create.
While turmeric seasoned lentils simmer and soften, a base of spices, shallots, garlic, chili, ginger, and tomatoes is prepared. Once the lentils are soft and the base for the dal ready, combine in a large pot and allow to simmer for another 15 minutes. Finish by wilting baby spinach into the dal and adding lemon juice and coriander. Serve over rice with some yogurt and chutney for a remarkably, tasty, and warming winter meal.
Full recipe coming soon!
#8 The Best Vegetarian Chili: a Winter Favorite from the Van Recipe Book
A one-pot wonder to warm a winter’s night in four super-simple steps. Our best vegetarian chili recipe is a van favorite because it is easy, delicious, and healthy. Better still, it’s made out of things we almost always have on hand, so we don’t have to go shopping!
This warming, spicy stew is best enjoyed on a cold night around a campfire or hunkered down in the van!
Vegetarian chili is also a great way to get rid of those vegetables that are about to go bad. You can use pretty much anything you have on hand to go into this rich, spicy chili.
This chili is a great van life meal because it’s so easy to make. It uses one pot for simple clean up, none of the ingredients need to be refrigerated, and it’s simple to store and reheat later. Because of this, it has been a consistent staple on the road since some of our earliest van life adventures.
Onions, garlic, and chili are sauteed with spices before adding chopped veggies and herbs followed by canned tomatoes and canned beans (or beans you have soaked overnight) (if using soaked beans you may have to let your chili cook for longer). Let this one simmer away for at least forty minutes if not an hour.
Serve up with flatbread, tortilla chips or over rice, a dollop of plain yogurt, and fresh avocado or guacamole. Garnish with cilantro (coriander)!
#9 Gnocchi with Butter and Sage: an Easy Van Life Weekend Treat
This is another go-to weekend meal when we want something super easy, but really delicious.
Gnocchi is great in the van because it’s so quick to cook, and it works well with simple fresh flavors. You don’t need a million fancy ingredients, special techniques, or a whole afternoon to create a truly special dinner.
There are plenty of gnocchi recipes that could have made this list, but when it comes to taste and simplicity this one scores high.
First, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil and add the gnocchi. The gnocchi will only take a couple of minutes and will float to the top of the pot when ready, scoop the pieces of gnocchi from the pot as they rise to the surface. Set the gnocchi aside to cool and dry.
Next heat butter and olive oil in a large pan and add sage leaves. Once the sage leaves start to crisp, throw in some halved cherry tomatoes and season well with salt and pepper. Sautee the tomatoes for a few minutes, add the gnocchi to the pan and fry before adding spinach. Once the spinach is wilted, season again and serve!
If you want to make your own gnocchi, it is totally doable in the van and tastes 1,000 times better than store-bought. But when you lazy or pressed for time, store-bought gnocchi and this simple butter sage recipe really hit the spot!
Prosciutto makes a nice addition to this meal and keeps well on the road if you are looking to add a little meat to your diet.
Full recipe coming soon!
#10 Quinoa Bowls: Super Healthy Vegetarian Van Life Meals
Quinoa bowls are another twist on the Mexican flavours we love to use when we cook.
Like many of our favorite meals, this simple dish is prepared using just one pot.
Aside from being simple to prepare and quick to clean up, this dish is loaded with super healthy quinoa and heaps of veggies. It fills us up, and the leftovers keep well.
Sautee onion, add some Mexican spices, and fry for about a minute. Add some chicken or vegetable stock, quinoa, and spices and bring to the boil. Set on low heat and simmer until the quinoa is soft and the water evaporated. Finally, add canned beans and corn and heat the mixture through. That’s about it. Serve and garnish with pico de gallo, fresh avocado, cilantro, and some natural yogurt.
Full recipe coming soon!
#11 Chana Masala: Vegetarian Van Life Meals With an Indian Twist
We love to eat Indian foods because Indian cuisine can make simple healthy vegetable-based meals into something special with the use of fabulous spices.
Chana masala has been a favorite dish of ours for over a year now and doesn’t seem to get old.
Turning canned tomatoes and chickpeas into an appetizing fragrant curry is a bit of a magic trick, but luckily it’s one that’s incredibly simple!
We will cook up a large pot of chana masala on a Sunday or Monday night and eat it for a couple of dinners or lunches during the week saving time in the evenings or during the days when we are working or exploring.
Chana masala starts by frying up garlic, ginger, and onion. Indian spices are added and cooked for about a minute before adding canned tomato and drained chickpeas. Leave the chana masala to simmer for at least 20 minutes. Finish with a squeeze of lemon juice and stir through some fresh cilantro.
Serve with some white rice (basmati if you have it on hand), yogurt, cilantro, and a wedge of lemon.
#12 Potato and Lentil Curry: Humble Ingredients to a Special Meal
This delicious van life recipe is an Ethiopian stew that needs only a handful of easy-to-come-by ingredients, a few spices, and some fresh herbs. It is the ultimate example of simple ingredients coming together with the right spices to make something delicious and satisfying.
It’s a great dish to meal prep, and we normally make a large serving that can feed us for a couple of meals during the week.
To make this dish, sautee red onion with garlic and ginger. Add fragrant spices and fry for another minute. Add a can of tomatoes (or a cup of fresh chopped tomatoes), a cup of lentils, two cups of water, and some diced potato or sweet potato.
Finish by stirring in some fresh chopped cilantro and a squeeze of lemon juice. Serve over rice with a dollop of plain yogurt.
Like many of the stews and curries in this list, it just seems to get better after it sits for a while, so don’t be afraid to make a big pot for left overs!
#13 Easy Peasy Stove Top Polenta with Mushrooms: Decadent and Simple
Our easy peasy stovetop mushroom polenta is another meal that comes out looking and tasting pretty fancy but takes almost no time and little effort to prepare.
We like to stir a little butter and parmesan cheese at the end of cooking this creamy polenta, so it isn’t the healthiest meal in our arsenal, but it’s deliciousness to simplicity ratio is very high.
Polenta, coarsely ground corn, is healthy and filling. It’s also adaptable and can be used with a range of different flavors and ingredients to create new dishes.
We like our mushroom polenta on cold evenings when we need something satisfying to fill us up. But beware, polenta is really filling so don’t overdo it!
The mushrooms add a great savory taste to the meal and are a good substitute when we are looking for something meaty to eat.
Set some stock to the boil. While this is happening, fry up a handful of mushrooms with olive oil, salt pepper, and dried herbs like thyme or rosemary and keep warm.
Once your stock is boiling turn the heat down and begin to gradually add polenta while constantly stirring. The polenta will slowly incorporate. Once the polenta is incorporated continue to stir the polenta as it thickens. Once it is thick but still creamy turn the heat off and add some butter and parmesan cheese.
Serve topped with the grilled mushrooms! Yum.
Full recipe coming soon!
#14 Tortilla Española (Sorta) Easy Van Life Potatoes and Eggs
This van life recipe is a take on the famous tapas, tortilla española. It makes for a yummy breakfast but can easily be enjoyed as a well-rounded meal at any time of day. It uses cheap and healthy ingredients that keep well, so you can always have these ingredients for a rainy day. Better yet it’s a one-pot wonder that won’t take any time at all to whip up and even less time to clean up afterward.
It’s a great go-to meal after a busy weekend when you don’t have a lot of energy to cook but you are craving something filling and satisfying.
Heat a little oil in a cast-iron pan (or large frying pan). Add sliced and seasoned potatoes to the pan and cook until golden. Add half a can of tomatoes or around three diced large fresh tomatoes with some rosemary and oregano. Bring to the boil and simmer for ten minutes, finally add four eggs gently combining them into the tomatoes trying not to disturb the potatoes too much. Cover and let the eggs set for around 5 minutes over low heat.
And that’s it, an easy and satisfying dinner ready in less than 20 minutes!
Full recipe coming soon!
That’s it! The best van life recipes we are cooking up in our van life kitchen right now.
We hope you found some inspiration for some easy van life meals for your next road or camping trip.
Have you got some questions or comments about these vegetarian van life meals? Perhaps you’d like to share your favorite go-to van life meals? Let us know in the comments below!
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