Staying Green{ish} On the Road ~ Food Prep and Cleaning Products

A question I see pop up all the time on RV forums and Facebook from people in the full-time planning stages is "how much should we budget for groceries?". And my honest answer is at least as much, if not slightly more, than what you currently spend. The reason being that most of us are creatures of habit and your spending habits will likely follow you wherever you live (even on the road). Combine those spending habits with the freedom and excitement of traveling from town to town and city to city and you'll likely eat out more (at least at first) and/or find some of your good ol' standby's cost more than what you're used to paying (a cantaloupe in the Upper Peninsula is gonna cost much more than the one you used to purchase at the local farmer's market in Socal...and it will probably taste bland and have a mealy texture).

Farmer's Market in Burlington, Vermont.
Since there are many circumstances beyond our control (lack of grocery stores and therefore little pricing competition, limited selection of foods, very little storage space in our rigs for bulk purchases or 'stocking up' on sale items) I thought I'd offer a few tips (in addition to those I spoke of on my first Green{ish} post) that have helped ease our grocery and RV (house) cleaning expenses.
A rare find...Fresh Market...a small chain of grocery stores in the South East is kind of like Trader Joes and Whole Foods rolled into one.
I love it when we can find bulk foods!
  1. Meal planning. Yes, it can seem like a chore but the benefits far outweigh the excuses. There is a learning curve, but once you get into the habit it becomes a breeze and you will save money. You will also decrease food waste, eliminate the awful 'what's for dinner?' panic, save you time looking through the cupboards for ingredients and shopping at the grocery store (going up and down the aisles looking for inspiration), help you eat healthier (if that's your goal) and eliminate impulse purchases if you utilize your shopping list.

    There are paid services out there that can not only provide you with a weekly meal plan but also a detailed shopping list (I've used Happy Herbivore and at $17 per month it has saved us about $150 each month...a great return on investment). I often receive Groupon offers (*the one in the link is expired and used just as an example but new ones pop up all the time) for meal planning services and there are many, many bloggers out there who offer free guides to get you started.

    These days I pretty much just use a small binder of tried and true recipes (I like using a printed copy, in a sheet protector, rather than dragging the laptop into the already too small kitchen area) which we rotate on a weekly basis. Things like "Spaghetti Sunday" and "Quesidilla Wednesday" help simplify things. If you have a busy schedule you can pre-plan "easier" recipes for stressful days and avoid settling for fast-food or my old {bad} habit of microwave popcorn and a bottle of wine.
  2. Home Cooking. So many people are going back to basics and there's no reason us nomads can't do the same. We now buy dried beans in bulk and cook them in our rice cooker. It's simple, healthy (nothing added and no BPA) and less wasteful (no cans to recycle!). It also saves us a bunch of room because dried beans take up far less space than cans. I bake a very simple, no knead crusty bread and make, from scratch, salsa, chili, Almond Milk, refried beanstaco seasoning, hummus, sweet potato chocolate "pudding", yogurt and {soon} kombucha. And trust me...all of these are simple to make.

    Eating out can take a huge chunk out of one's budget so we try to eat at home as much as possible. About 4 months into our full-time adventure we realized that not every town we stop in had restaurants worthy of our money. Now, we generally wait for recommendations (and not just from Yelp) before we drop a chunk of change for a meal. Actually some of our best meals out have been peanut butter and jelly sandwiches that we've packed for a hike. I say we start a movement and bring back picnics!!
  3. Simplify. This really goes hand-in-hand with the above tips. Some of us {aka me} get overwhelmed with the plethora of choices from appliances to spices. And some of us {me} fall prey to the "pinterest life-style"...constantly pinning new recipes to try out, often setting our internal expectations too high and causing stress. While there's nothing wrong with trying new recipes and experimenting with different foods I suggest keeping some things simple.

    Breakfasts for us are often oatmeal and quinoa with cinnamon, maple syrup and a splash of homemade almond milk (which can be made in the rice cooker or even set up in the crock pot to be ready to eat in the morning). Lunch for me is almost always a hummus wrap with raw veggies and Clark likes either tuna or turkey sandwiches with seasonal fruit. And even the more complex sounding dinner recipes Clark likes, such as Chicken Pad Thai or Creamy Chicken and Herb Skillet are surprisingly basic.

    We always keep the staples stocked...rice, beans, oatmeal, quinoa, a bag of frozen veggies and one of fruit (just in case) and spices like cumin, chili powder, taco seasoning, and garlic salt. An easy, delicious and nutritious meal can be made out of these simple things (and it's all cheap). Never underestimate the power of one pot meals!
  4. Buy seasonal and local. When you see the price of grapes hovering around $3-4 per pound you can pretty much guarantee they're out of season. By shopping smarter and adjusting recipes to incorporate local produce which is in season you'll not only save money but you'll also find your food more flavorful. Ain't nothing wrong with using broccoli or zucchini in place of asparagus once the price of asparagus goes through the roof.

    Wondering if kiwi is best in July or December? Click here find out. And here's a list that includes vegetables.
  5. Trust {some} generics. Depending on your own personal stance on things like saving money, animal testing and perceived quality you may find significant savings by purchasing generic (or store named) brands. Things like over-the-counter medications are controlled by the FDA, meaning they have to adhere to strict guidelines and regulations in order to be sold to the public. Household cleaners {and laundry detergent} have also been proven to be equally effective as their much more expensive counterparts. And if you're lucky enough to have a Safeway, Trader Joes, Whole Foods or Food Lion to shop at, their store brand products are not tested on animals.

    I've also read that your average kitchen staples (flour, baking soda, spray oil, etc.) are comparable to the name brands, often at a fraction of the price.
  6. Try Grandma's cleaning methods. Vinegar, lemon juice, baking soda and basic soap really do clean! Don't get sucked into those marketing ploys that make us feel like our space can never be really clean unless we use Windex, Pine-sol and Scrubbing Bubbles...an old spray bottle with a little vinegar, glycerine and water will save you a lot of money, keep toxic chemicals out of your home and clean just as well (or even better) for pennies on the dollar. Add some essential oils if it makes you feel better to have a "clean" scent.

    Don't let the idea of making your own cleaners scare you away...most are not very time consuming and once you have the few necessary ingredients on hand you'll be able to whip up a new supply faster than running to the store for a replacement. There are plenty of resources available online for 'recipes' and, as much as I think Pinterest is a time-suck (you can follow me here, haha), you can find hundreds of thousands of recipes there, like these basics...some of which I use.
  7. Or better yet, Don't use Cleaners. This one might be a bit harder to wrap your mind around but you can check out the studies for yourself (or click here)...they work! Both Norwex and e-Cloth clean with nothing more than water {and a little elbow grease}. How nice would it be to not have to budget for window, stove top, counter, dusting and bathroom cleaner?? Freeing up your budget while keeping toxic chemicals out of your living space sounds like a win-win to me. I absolutely love my Norwex and glass & mirror cleaning clothes and will be adding more to my collection while I phase out cleaners (even my homemade ones).

    Hopefully you will find some of these tips helpful or inspiring. Where possible I've linked to either recipes or further sources of information but here are some additional links that might prove useful.

    Products I use{and love}: {affiliate links}

    Dr. Bonner's Castile Soap Baby Mild : for all cleaning purposes...from a homemade all-purpose cleaner to a facial cleanser

    Charlie's Soap Laundry Detergent: fragrance free, not tested on animals and economical!

    Norwex

    Recipe and Meal Sources:

    Iowa Girl Eats: Clark still eats chicken so I rely heavily on Kristin's site for inspiration. Almost all of the dinners I cook for Clark come from this site. They require only basic ingredients, they're fast, easy and delicious (so he tells me).

    The Pot and How to Use It: This is the most amazing blog post regarding the magic of the rice cooker and it was written by Roger Ebert...no lie! As RVers most of our belongings have to pass several tests including a small footprint, light weight and multi-functional. This post convinced me that a rice cooker is essential in my kitchen.

    Vegetarian Times

    FatFree Vegan

    Happy Herbivore

    And...THE best hard water stain remover {another frequently asked question since so many RVs have glass shower doors} is as follows:

    Fill a spray bottle halfway with white vinegar.
    Add 1/4 cup lemon juice.
    Add liquid dish detergent until the spray bottle is almost full.
    Place sprayer on bottle and shake.
    Spray mixture on shower doors and chrome fixtures, let sit for 30 minutes.
    Scrub lightly with a wet cloth (adding water as needed).
    Rinse and dry.
    (recipe via {DIY} confessions)

    I'd love to hear your tips as well...share them below in the comments.

Comments

  1. I LOVE this post! So many good tips in here. We seem to have similar cooking styles. I also cook a lot of things from scratch including an occasional loaf of bread, healthy muffins, salsa, granola, marinara sauce, and tons of other stuff. I love the recipe you linked to for no knead bread. I will be trying that very soon. And I am fascinated by the idea of making my own yogurt. We go through a ton of plain yogurt each week. Both for breakfast and I use it as a substitute for sour cream and heavy cream in sauces all the time. Seems like I should at least try to make it myself. I do wish I could have a rice cooker, I've heard from so many people that they use it for much more than rice. Unfortunately we live without electric hook-ups about 90% of the time so that kind of electric appliance is not an option. Again great post. And thanks so much for the laundry soap link. I'm going to order some very soon. So much cheaper than the 7th generation I've been using for years.

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  2. Thanks for the comments Amanda! I've struggled with the yogurt recipe because I use Almond Milk, which has different proteins than cow's milk, but it has been reported to work very well. The batches I've made taste as good as, or better than, store bought. It doesn't require electricity either!

    Ah yes, boondocking adds a whole new challenge to cooking. I've debated about getting a pressure cooker which is supposed to be an awesome way of cooking beans (and just about anything else) really fast. Probably would save on time AND propane. But I have no idea how to use one so I'm a bit hesitant to ADD something else to our over-stuffed storage. =)

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  3. Thank you for your great suggestions! I just made some olive tapenade--very easy & much cheaper & fresher than store-bought. Next up today is homemade hummus & tomorrow I'll be making pesto.

    Do you have any experience with the slow cookers that aren't electric--can't remember the name. They don't use electricity--good for boondocking. I'm curious about them as compared to using a crockpot & rice cocoker. I wonder if you could beans with one of these?

    ReplyDelete
  4. Hi Dawn! Thanks for reading and for your comment. If you're talking about the Wonderbag I;ve been 'stalking' them for a while (After reading about it on Treehugger.com). I saw they are available through Amazon now for $50 and plan on ordering one as soon as we are stationary enough to receive mail. I LOVE the concept and think they will work wonders for RVing (including cooking beans). Plus, they are Eco-friendly and for every Wonderbag purchased, one is donated to a family in need in Africa. It just doesn't get any better then that. =)

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