MEALS ON WHEELS | Organize your RV Kitchen

Organizing your RV kitchen is fun and frustrating at the same time. There never seems to be enough room and you will most-likely re-organize your cabinets several times before you are happy. Hopefully these tips and ideas will help you plan and organize your Kitchen on Wheels. (And don’t forget to take along a Camping Journal to record it all!)

Safety: I can’t say enough about this subject. There are several issues – fire, stuff flying around while you are driving, and food safety.

Fire: Keep a reputable fire extinguisher in your RV and know how to use it – an emergency is not the best time to realize you have no idea how to get the extinguisher off the wall-mount! Make sure the kids know fire safety, know how to use the fire extinguisher and can run fast.

Flying Salsa: A memorable moment in our motorhome: Hubby made a sudden stop on our way to a tailgate party. Two bottles of red wine and a jar of salsa came flying out an over-head cupboard. Amazingly enough, the wine bottles landed on the carpet and did not break. But whoever owns that motor home today is probably still finding salsa – the jar shattered and tomatoes exploded everywhere. Lessons learned? Our brakes worked and large, heavy items need to be stored in lower cabinets – or, if stowed above, placed in a plastic bin! Imagine opening the door to your trailer and finding that lovely surprise?

Food Safety: Know your RV. How does the water system work? Is your water safe to drink? Is your refrigerator cold enough? Do the math: food poisoning + four people + one bathroom = terrible weekend in the RV. Bring the refrigerator temperature to 40° Fahrenheit before filling with your (already chilled) foods. Keep the temperature between 35°-40° – the colder the temperature, the less bacteria can grow.CampingWorld.com sells a fridge thermometer for just a few dollars. Don’t fill your refrigerator so full that the air can’t circulate. Chill left-over foods quickly. Keep your hands and your kitchen clean. Keep hot foods hot and cold foods cold. (Yes, these are the same rules you were taught in junior-high home economics class.) Every time the refrigerator is opened, precious cooling is lost – so if you have a lot of people who would be in and out of the fridge all day for soda or beers, think about bringing along an ice chest for these items.

What do you really need?

Space: There is never enough space in the RV kitchen. Or is there? If there is an empty space in a cabinet, we want to fill it with an appliance. What if we are fifty miles away from a Wal-Mart for over twenty-four hours? Would we could all starve?! So we throw in a few extra cans of food or pasta. (I am really guilty of this habit. If there is a national disaster, come to my RV for supplies.) Fifth-wheel owners are usually overly-blessed with a lot of storage space and are often guilty of over-bringing. But everything we put in our RV adds weight and cuts into our fuel budget. Ouch!

Do you really need that blender, hand mixer and food processor in your RV? Probably not. But if your thing is a blended margarita, you will want a blender. If toast with peanut butter is your daily breakfast, you will want a toaster. In most RV kitchens there simply isn’t room to reproduce your home kitchen, but most of us do not prepare complicated recipes and soufflés in our RV kitchens. Seriously – we don’t want to wash all those dishes!

Some RVers want to load their entire RV kitchen at each trip, using appliances from home and some travelers purchase duplicates. This can be a very expensive project (oh, like buying the RV wasn’t?!) and should be done bit-by-bit, as you determine your needs. A weekend warrior will have completely different requirements than someone living full-time in their RV. RV Goddess.com and The Camping Journal have developed an extensive printable RV Kitchen Check-listthat can help plan your packing. Most people are not going to need, or have room for, everything on the list – but it will help get you started.

MAKE YOUR OWN LIST: To help plan YOUR RV kitchen necessities, keep a note pad in your home kitchen for a week or two. Every time you use an appliance or kitchen tool, write it down on the list (paring knife, cutting board, measuring spoons…). See what is in your dishwasher. This should give you a good idea of what you will need in your moving kitchen. When it is time to pack your RV kitchen, fill the drawers and cabinets from items on this list. As you plan your menus, think about preparation and serving needs. Being in the middle of nowhere for the weekend with six cans of chili is not the time to forget the can opener. Trying to cut a steak with a plastic knife is no fun, either. Coffee and no coffee filters? Ribs and no napkins? Wine and no corkscrew? Flashlight and no batteries?

But think about how these items will wash-up as you are filling those cupboards. I have a nesting set of wire mesh strainers at home. I use them daily – as colanders, to rinse vegetables/fruit or to sift flour. When I am finished, they go in the dishwasher and come out clean and shiny. So, I put ONE in the RV. The first time I strained pasta through the fine mesh, I realized I had made a mistake. It was going to be a slimy #&%*@ to wash by hand – and it was. Not RV-friendly! The mess strainer was quickly replaced by a cheap plastic colander. Think easy-wash and non-stick! If something is a #&%*@ to clean at home, you don’t want it in your RV kitchen. (Unless someone else is washing your dishes.)

For light-weight plastic items for your RV, shop the party supply store. They carry inexpensive clear plastic serving bowls, plates, trays, divided serving pieces and utensils. A large clear plastic bowl can be used as a fruit bowl, mixing bowl, popcorn bowl, serving dish, dish pan and a salad bowl. Think how you can get several uses from one item.

And then, after several trips or months – open those cabinets and purge them of unused items. If you haven’t touched that pie pan… or sauce pan or bamboo skewers… or whatever… in a year, chances you are not going to use it next year. Pitch it, bring it into your home kitchen, eBay-it or give it to charity.

Practical products for your RV kitchen

Oven thermometer: This is very useful if you have a gas oven. RV gas ovens can be temperamental and the gauge on the oven is not always correct. (Oh, let’s face it – they are never correct.) Check the temperature several times a year and adjust the oven knob as needed.

Pizza Stone: I suppose you could use it to bake pizza, but a pizza stone on the bottom of a gas oven will aid in even heat distribution.

Air Bake Cookie Sheet: Place anything you bake (a pie, casserole, etc.) in the gas oven on top of the Airbake cookie sheet to avoid burned bottoms! Line the cookie sheet with parchment to bake cookies, breads, etc. and you will never have to wash the Airbake pan. Measure the inside of your oven and buy the largest cookie sheet that will fit, leaving a few inches for circulation. Make sure it has a lip on the oven door side, for easy gripping with a pot holder.

Spice Rack: After fighting with spice jars rolling around in the drawer, and duplicating too many spices while on a long trip, I found the perfect solution for our RV at The Tubular Spice Company. Now I can bring 40 different spices and they take up less room than a loaf of bread. Refill your tubes from your jars at home. The Tubular Spice Company offer racks holding from 10 to 40 different tubes, and they also offer the tubes already filled with their own spices and sell little round printed labels you can stick to the top of the corks. I would suggest their wooden rack over the more attractive chrome version because it is safer for RV travel. I keep my spice rack in the deep kitchen drawer, but it brings raves from fellow RVers when it comes out of hiding.

Disposable aluminum pans: are really useful when feeding a crowd. They come in every imaginable size at every supermarket, are inexpensive and are recyclable. Don’t waste your money on the fancy pans with plastic lids – usually the lidded pan will be too tall for your fridge shelf and it is just more waste. When I bake/cook ahead at home for a camping trip, I almost always put the meal in a disposable aluminum pan. They stack well after being frozen and vacuum-sealed. Only drawback is they cannot be used in the microwave oven.

Gallon and quart-size Ziploc bags: I use them to marinade meats and store small items. Mix the dry ingredients for your cakes, muffins, breads, pancakes, etc. at home and place it in a Ziploc bag. (This is very convenient if you do not keep every ingredient in your RV.) Mix the wet ingredients in a bowl, add the contents of the Ziploc bag and go! You can even put the recipe inside the bag – or write on the bag with a Sharpie. Kids will enjoy mixing meatloaf ingredients inside a closed Ziploc bag. The disposable Ziploc and Gladware storage containers are great for the RV too. Super light-weight.

A roll of parchment paper: If you line a baking pan with parchment, rarely will you have to wash it after baking. Cookies and breads will not stick.

Dishes & Glasses: Plastic is popular and practical, but I still like to drink wine from a glass. We use Corelle dishes, but I will use paper plates while dry-camping.

Coffee maker: We used to have a coffee maker and a thermos. When our coffee maker died (we killed it) we replaced it with a Cuisinart DTC-975 Programmable Auto Brew 12-Cup Coffeemaker, with a thermal carafe. We love it and it keeps our coffee hot all morning. The thermos spout does not drip and it stays put while we travel.

Rice Cooker: Probably most people could leave home without a rice cooker, but we can’t. I have a miniature version of our home model in the motorhome. After living for years in Southeast Asia, I highly recommend Zojirushi brand. Features to look for in a rice cooker are a non-stick removable bowl, a glass (see through) lid is nice, a keep-warm feature and a measuring cup. A three-cup rice cooker is good for 1-3 persons.

Crockpot: Again, maybe you think you don’t need a slow cooker in the RV. Think again about being away from your campsite all day on a hike, or at the zoo, or shopping – and coming home to a hot meal. Make sure your crockpot has a low and high temperature setting and a removable liner. A great model for one or two people is the Rival 5025-WG, 2.5 quart. For two-four people, I highly recommend the oval Hamilton Beach 3 qt. This model comes with a padded carrying case and a little plastic strap to keep the lid in place – designed for potlucks, but perfect for a kitchen that bounces down the road. While you are at the store, pick up a package of Reynolds Slowcooker Liners and you won’t even have to wash the crockpot after dinner! If you have an inverter, make a meal in your slow cooker and let it stew all day while you drive. (Uh, place the crockpot in the sink while driving!) Use a power strip if the slow cooker cord isn’t long enough. If the inverter can’t get the crockpot hot enough, place a sheet of aluminum foil over the top of the crock and place the lid over the foil – this will raise the temperature quickly. With the lovely aromas floating about the motorhome, I can usually get DT to stop a bit early!

Bread Machine: Another specialty item. If you don’t use one at home, you are probably not going to use one on the road. Since I only use mine as a dough machine and never bake it in it, I am probably crazy to bring it along – but ask my friends as they are nibbling on home-made cinnamon rolls and they will probably be happy I made room for this large item. If you spend a lot of time in hot climates, a bread machine will allow you to bake a loaf of bread outside – no need to heat your oven and the inside of your RV. If you don’t bake in your machine, you can get away with a cheaper model too – just make sure it has a “dough” setting. If you have a storage area under the bed in your RV – most bread machines will fit here.

Vacuum Sealer: In 2003, I bought one of the fancier FoodSaver vacuum-sealers and I am a big fan. In preparing for a trip in the motorhome – whether for a weekend or a month – the vacuum-sealer is one of my favorite tools. We are pretty fussy about our meat and poultry and the vacuum-sealer lets me take meat along easily – and compactly. I can lay chicken pieces flat in the bag and freeze the pieces so that they take up little space in the RV freezer – space is limited! You can store frozen garlicky sausages next to frozen pastries – there is no odor transfer through the bags. I write on the frozen packages with a Sharpie or peel the label from the butcher and stick it right on the Food Saver bag. Because the meat is vacuum-sealed, it is quick to thaw in a water bath in the kitchen sink. And, the sealer doesn’t just seal Food Saver bags – I use it to reseal bagged lettuce, nuts – anything that comes in a bag. If you have a Food Saver with a “manual seal” feature, it will seal any bag without removing air – great for chips, etc. The sealer will also reseal aluminum bags. My FoodSaver (Professional II, now they have a Professional III) is one of my most-used appliances and I keep it out on the counter at home. I miss it when we are in the RV, but not enough (yet) to bring it along. (Now, for an update: I wish I hadn’t bought the fancy version. I never use the jar/canister sealer and all the attachments – and I finally did get a teeny-little vacuum-sealer for the RV.)

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