6 Tips To Buying & Eating Fresh On The Road
Looks like the start of my Tasty RV Eats series was a success with lots of folks interested & commenting, so I’m definitely going to be extending it and making it a mainstay of the blog. Yeah! As is so happens one of the questions in the comments section was about buying & eating fresh food in the RV….which ALSO just happens to be one of the 50+ posts I had rolling around in mind to write (you guys are mind readers). Go figure! So today I want to talk a bit about that.
Before RVing we had a HUGE kitchen with a 6-burner stovetop, double-oven and giant fridge so it was a bit of a downsize to switch to an RV. Thankfully we’d lived in small kitchens in Asia and knew how to make it work. I’ve written a little bit about our favorite kitchen gadgets and small-space cooking (e.g. with wok cooking) before, but for today’s post I want to focus on one thing only and that’s buying & eating fresh.
Now I should start by saying that we are not “canned food” people and apart from a few cans of tomatoes or tuna, you will not find anything canned in our cabinets. Fresh veggies & meat are critically important to our enjoyment, lifestyle and health and it’s something we simply don’t compromise on. We do have a few “back-up” veggies (mostly dried) in our pantry cabinets, but almost without exception we plan to eat fresh veggies everyday…and we do this 365 days a year.
So, how do you manage to eat fresh when you have a small RV fridge? And what if you’re boondocking? Well, here’s our top tips:
1/ Shop More Often Or Shop “On The Way”
One thing about fresh veggies is that…well…they’re fresh and they spoil. So, one of the simplest things you can do is shop more often. We typically shop once a week for fresh veggies although we can go two or more if we plan it out (see #3). A week’s worth of veggies will fill our fridge & give us enough variety to make it through to the next stop. And if we’re boondocking, two weeks (of well-planned veggies) will typically take us to the next boondocking spot. Since most BLM land has 14-day camping limit anyway this works out just about right.
In very remote spots we might plan a specific stop between boondocking areas to stock-up (with the rig) before we go to the next area. So a drive…shop…and drive kind of day. This makes our driving day a little longer, but saves a day of shopping too. When we do this we visually scope out supermarkets using Google Earth to make sure “the beast” can fit before we go. Shopping once a week may seem like alot, but honestly it’s pretty easy once you get into it and it’s worth it to have the fresh stuff on hand.
2/ Visit Farms & Farmer’s Markets
If you’ve never tasted fresh, organic, locally-picked veggies you are totally missing out!! The flavors will knock you out of your shoes (compared to store-bought stuff), PLUS they contain more vitamins & nutrients AND you get to support your local farmers. For all these reasons we will always (always) try to buy local when we can. That means I will track down farmer’s markets just about everywhere I go & visit farms to buy locally-raised pastured meat whenever I get the chance.
Although some folks might think this sounds like a royal pain in the butt I actually find this process a fun challenge. Once we plan our route somewhere finding local produce is one of the very next things I do, and sometimes we’ll even stay a few extra days in one spot just to hit a particular market. We’ve even driven our rig right onto a farm to pick-up produce! It’s all part of the flexibility of RVing.
Shopping local also means I get to meet the locals, talk about their farms, perhaps buy some specialties that I might not get anywhere else. I still drool over the amazing red chili powder that we bough in Hatch (New Mexico), the lavender honey that I got in Sequim (Washington) and the local marionberries we picked up in Oregon. Memories through food is what I call it.
What if there are no farmer’s markets???? You’d actually be surprised how many places DO have farmer’s markets (even in the middle of winter in the middle of the desert, seriously!), but in rare cases you do get caught without. That’s when the local supermarket & Walmart will back you up, and pretty much ALL of them offer organic options these days. The stuff may not taste quite as good as farmer’s market veggies, but they are a solid backup option.
Farms & Farmer’s Market Links:
- Local Harvest -> Great website for finding nearest farmers market. Click HERE.
- USDA Farmers Market Directory -> Another resource for finding local markets. Click HERE.
- Eat Wild -> Fabulous resource to find pastured meat, eggs & dairy. Click HERE.
3/ Plan Out Your Fruit & Veggie Use
When you buy fresh one of the most important things you can do is plan your veggie use so that the most delicate veggies get used first. This is really no different than what folks did before refrigeration. They ate the fresh stuff first, froze or preserved the other stuff and then kept root cellars for the winter for the remaining stuff. Now, most of us don’t have canneries or root cellars in our RV’s, but we can practice good timing to get the same effect. Here’s some examples of how long typical fruit & veggies last:
Few Days-> Delicate berries & delicate leaf veggies go fast so use those babies first. Strawberries & raspberries are best right after you pick them & lettuce, especially fresh-picked organic lettuce, can spoil fast (some packaged lettuce will last up to a week).
3-5 Days -> Hardier greens easily last 3-5 days. This includes broccoli, bok choy, zucchini, green beans and many soft fruits (e.g. peaches, nectarines)
1 Week -> Hardier berries such as blueberries, hardier fruits (oranges, lemons, pears, kiwis) and longer-lasting greens such as kale, peppers and spinach will easily last a week.
2 Weeks or More -> Long-lasting veggies such as squash, pumpkin and cabbage & root veggies such as potatoes, carrots, beets, onions, garlic, parsnip will easily last 2 weeks or more if kept cool, dry & in the dark. On the fruit side apples are very hardy indeed. Some of these will even keep months and squashes (in particular) are so hardy they can easily be kept outside.
I don’t plan veggie use before shopping (‘coz I never know what I’m going to find at the market), but once I’m at the market I’ll mentally plan out the use as I’m buying. So, I’ll never buy 7 different types of salad, for example, Instead I’ll always buy a mix of short-term and long-term veggies to stretch out the 1-2 weeks that I need them.
Fruit & Veggie Links
- How Long Does It Last? -> neat little printable guide HERE
- Long-Lasting Fruits & Vegetables -> intro to 12 things that will last months HERE.
4/ Store Veggies Properly
Another way to make veggies last longer is to store them properly. Many veggies will keep very well in perforated plastic bags in your crisper and keeping them separated this way with bags (rather than stacked right ontop of one another) will generally extend their life. Delicate greens like salads can be made to last longer if wrapped in a paper towel before storing (a neat trick I learned from watching Alton Brown on the Food Network). Onions, garlic & potatoes do best in opaque bags (e.g. paper bags) in cool, dark spots and actually prefer to be outside the fridge. Super hardy veggies such as squashes & cabbages can easily be kept outside for weeks. Apples are best stored separately since they can give off gases that spoil other foods. For my “outdoor” veggies I mostly just leave them on the counter, although a hanging basket can work well too.
- How to Keep Fresh Vegetables Fresher Longer -> Good little set of tips HERE.
- How to Store Vegetables & Fruit Without Plastic -> Nice, comprehensive list HERE.
5/ Buy In Season & Be Creative
The freshest (and incidentally cheapest!) stuff you can get is most often the stuff that’s in season. Many of us have gotten so accustomed to buying fruits and veggies anytime of the year that we completely forget that most of these things have seasons. Summer is often the most prolific fruit & veggie season, but winter has it’s share of excellent offerings too. Buying whatever is in season at the local farmer’s market has the added advantage that it can save you some significant $$. Three pounds of cherries for $10? Zuchinni’s for mere dollars? When they’re in season these kinds of deals are everywhere!
What if you go to the market and see a bunch of weird veggies that you’ve never used before? Well, take it as a challenge to buy them & figure it out. With so many online recipe sites it’s a breeze to find options. When zucchini is in season I’ll make zucchini on the grill, zucchini soup, zucchini “pasta”, zucchini fritters…you name it. In winter we’ll switch primarily to winter season veggies (winter squashes, turnips etc.) and get creative using them too. And sometimes, if I run out of time or ideas to use my veggies I’ll whip them into some kind of soup, veggie shake or puree them into a sauce (ever had kale pesto? Mmmmmm!) and then use them up that way. The key is not to be afraid of veggies! Just buy them & have fun figuring out what to do with them!
Seasonal Chart Of Fruits & Veggies -> Link to charts HERE and HERE.
6/ Use Frozen & Dried As a Backup
Although we’ve never camped long enough in the boonies to be forced to go months without fresh stuff (and honestly, squashes & cabbage will last that long), I do keep some frozen & dried veggies as back-up in case we need a little variety or boost. Many frozen veggies are flash-frozen right after harvest which means they actually retain very good levels of vitamins & minerals, sometimes even more so than veggies that have driven long distances & sat around in your supermarket. We don’t have a ton of freezer space for veggies, but I’ll usually keep at least one pack of something in there.
Drying doesn’t work for all veggies, but certain veggies such as mushrooms are excellent in this form. They can be stored almost indefinitely and can be readily re-hydrated & used whenever needed. Other good dehydrated veggies are carrots, cabbage, broccoli (yes, believe it or not) and corn. We don’t have a dehydrator in the rig (although I know RVers who do), but we always keep a few bags of dehydrated veggies as a back-up in our cabinets.
That’s it folks!! Almost 2,000 words just about buying & eating fresh. Who could have imagined? Hopefully it gave you a few tips & if you’ve got any juicy tips of you own DO add them into the comments section below!