Skip to main content

The Manual may earn a commission when you buy through links on our site.

Tips for Cooking Healthy Meals on the Road

On a real Overland trip, you’ll find yourself miles away from the next town, with no hope to reach a restaurant for dinner. That’s not a reason for starving or counting exclusively on snacks, though. With a little planning, enjoying great and healthy food on the trails is fun and easy…

overland cooking
Olivier de Vaulx

It’s relatively easy to go camp for a weekend and to pack in the cooler or the fridge some great appetizers, enough food for some amazing sandwiches and even eggs and bacon for breakfast. But when the trip is longer and you need to cook across days, weeks, or even months, as we did on our Continental Divide trip, it becomes a bit challenging to maintain the same level of quality.


overland cooking
Olivier de Vaulx

In the kitchen, as in the garage, it all starts with the right tools. Cooking in the back of a truck means you’ll have less room than in your usual kitchen, and investing in a compact and foldable kit will save some real estate on your tailgate! We used the GSI Outdoors Pinnacle Base Camper cook set during 40 days on the Continental Divide and it made all the difference of the world. The cherry on the cake, the hard-anodized aluminum doesn’t stick and allows for quick cleaning, with very little water wasted.

Our silverware also came from GSI in the form of the Destination Kitchen Set 24, with the same idea of organizing everything in the most compact form. The hard plastic utensils and ceramic knife were, here again, very easy to clean up. A large stove with side panels to protect the fire from the wind is a must. Debating the pros and cons of a cooler versus a fridge would take forever, and it’s ultimately up to everybody to make his own choice. Yet it seems that the extra expense of the fridge is only worth it if you plan to stay longer than 4 days in the same spot. If you’re on the move, you’ll hit a town every two or three days to get gas anyway, and then the cooler might suffice. It’s way less expensive and doesn’t require any heavy installation in your vehicle. Of course, you’ll have to buy ice at the gas station, but then you will be able to use the water from the melted ice to wash the dishes.

Essential Groceries

overland cooking
Olivier de Vaulx

Buying food on the road when your favorite grocery store is nowhere in sight might be frustrating at first. But there are still some ingredients that you can buy in the smallest stores in the smallest towns. Here is what our grocery list would look like:

  • Eggs
  • Bread or taco shells
  • Canadian bacon, ham, and/or salami
  • Tomatoes, zucchini, and peppers
  • Fruits (apples, bananas, grapes, or peaches)
  • Cans of ravioli, diced tomatoes, green beans, black beans, corn, tuna
  • Cauliflower crumbles
  • Pasta
  • Pre-cooked rice
  • Chips and crackers
  • Cheese (like slices of Swiss cheese, and goat cheese for salads and toasts)
  • Apple Sauce and breakfast biscuits with chocolate chips for an easy dessert

Of course, salt, pepper, Italian seasoning, olive oil, and balsamic vinegar last longer and are not on this list, but were definitely used daily for cooking.

Breakfast and Lunch

overland cooking
Olivier de Vaulx

Starting the day with a solid breakfast is mandatory. When you don’t need to leave your camping spot in a hurry, taking the time to cook something energetic will help to go through the day. We found that cereals and milk were inadequate, and our teenagers understood that pretty well. Instead, we cooked scrambled eggs with diced bacon, peppers, and tomatoes, sometimes mushrooms, to bring proteins and fibers. Once the plates emptied, two or three slices of wheat bread with some Nutella, a form of chocolate that will stand up to any cold or warm conditions, makes a great source of carbohydrates with just enough sugar to please the young kids. Those concerned about their diet can replace the toasts with fruit. At lunch, stopping for too long seems like a waste of time. Using the wheat bread to make sandwiches with ham, cheese, pickles, lettuce, and a sliced tomato will give everybody a big smile and doesn’t require a lot of maintenance since there’s no gas cooking involved, nor dishes to wash. But it all depends on the nature of each day, and sometimes you’re in such a nice spot that you’ll enjoy cooking a great meal there.

overland cooking
Olivier de Vaulx


At dusk, when the camp is settled, you always have more time to cook something nice. Still, you don’t want to go through over-complicated recipes, since you already drove most of the day. The few recipes we enjoyed the most, from the basic opening of a can of ravioli on our lazy days to the grill of a big piece of beef, are listed below:

  • Veggie Skillet: Mix in a pan some diced sweet potatoes, sliced zucchini, tomatoes, and Canadian bacon, with a pinch of Italian seasoning.
  • Gluten-free Caulisotto: In a saucepan, mix cauliflower rice, tuna, diced tomatoes, black beans, and Italian seasoning.
  • Colored Risotto: Cook some ready rice using very little water, then add green beans, corn, crushed tomatoes and slices of hot dogs.
  • Steaks: Grill sirloin steaks on the campfire with yellow peppers and zucchini.
  • Chicken Kabobs: Grilled skewers of chicken with bell peppers, zucchini, and red onion, marinated in olive oil and honey
  • Of course, with a campfire, it’s always a great moment for the family to end the dinner sharing s’mores!
overland cooking
Olivier de Vaulx

Sharing the Outdoor Kitchen

If you don’t usually cook at home, using your time off-the-grid will allow you more time to experience simple yet healthy recipes. The goal is to feed yourself and your crew, and while it’s not easy to be creative every night, there is room for some fantasy. The good part is that everybody can participate and bring their own touch, kids included. It’s not like you’re the cook for a fancy restaurant, after all. At the end of the trip, what could have been a punishing duty will be remembered as a great sharing time. It will still be cool to go back home and find a nice, clean, and roomy kitchen!

Editors' Recommendations

Olivier de Vaulx
Former Digital Trends Contributor
Olivier de Vaulx is a French journalist and photographer living in California with his family. He covers every aspect of the…
7 Best Digital Food Scales to Smarten Up Your Kitchen and Meal Prep in 2022

America is heavily entrenched in "portion distortion." Ever heard of it? The American Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute says over the past 20 years, Americans’ sense of a “normal” portion has exploded. Twenty years ago, a cheeseburger was 333 calories, compared to 590 calories today. A plate of spaghetti and meatballs was about 500 calories, while today's average is 1,025. Right now, your plate might have enough food for two or three people on it.

Enter the food scale. Much loved by bakers, bodybuilders, meal-preppers, and coffee masters, food scales are pretty freakin’ cool. Not only do they have compact counter-top appeal, they take away the need for multiple measuring cups and can keep your slim suits looking, well, slim. Apart from vanity, being mindful of your portions and servings helps you eat healthily and allows you to savor the food on your plate. Yes, there’s room for lasagna and fried chicken, but the key is to always control the portion.

Read more
How to Cook Pasta the Right Way Every Time
how to cook pasta recipe instructions tips homemade

Cooking pasta is truly as simple as it looks, according to Prince Emanuele Filiberto of Savoy. As long as you have fresh ingredients and follow an Italian recipe without altering it, Prince Emanuele (also known as The Prince of Venice) says “all pastas are good.” After all, the 48-year-old royal knows a thing or two about the beloved carb. Filiberto recently opened Prince of Venice, a buzzy fast-casual restaurant in Los Angeles that's famed for its homemade pasta.

Below, check out Prince Emanuele’s favorite pasta recipe, then read on to learn more about his delicious pastas.

Read more
Expert Tips on How to Choose and Prepare the Freshest Shellfish
seafood paella mussels shrimp

With summer around the bend and many people running out of quarantine meals, it's time to take a moment to remember that the bounties of the ocean is now, more than ever, appropriate to pick up and learn to cook. When it's fresh and cooked right, it's a transformative experience. When it's not fresh ... well, you know how that goes -- you spend hours in the bathroom regretting every life choice ever.

It's one thing if you're going out and gathering your own shellfish (here's how to do that), but if you're not near the ocean (or just don't have the time), then you're going to have to rely on your local fishmonger for fresh shellfish.

Read more