Six months into caravanning Australia our figures are clear, food is our second biggest expense. This seems to be reflected in other big lappers and full time caravanners expenditure we have seen when they too share their figures.

Food is an unavoidable expenses. It also an expense that varies greatly from traveller to traveller. This is because there is so much personal choice in what we eat, how much we eat, how we prepare and cook meals and even how we dine. All these factors and choices influence how much we each spend on food and eating. There are also factors such as fluctuating food costs and accessibility depending on whether you are travelling in populated areas or remotely that will also impact on food expenses.

With our food costs being close to 25% of our $500 per week all inclusive budget, maintaining a varied diet of fresh and tasty foods we enjoy, is a balancing act that requires regular monitoring as well as some particular behaviours and choices. Primarily, Daryl and I have made the choice not to eat out in restaurants or cafes except on the very rare occasion and this is usually when we are in the company of friends. Instead the high majority of our meals are prepared by us. This is the most significant way we can keep our food expenses within our budget so the tips below are based around this decision.

Caravan Dining Area
Caravan Dining Area

Our Tips For Eating On A Budget

Carry The Staples

It is widely accepted that it is cheaper to eat meals and snacks you prepare yourself than it is to eat out. To be able to make a variety of dishes and baked goods while we travel we carry staples (mostly non perishables) that are the base to a lot of recipes we enjoy. These staples include:

  • Plain flour
  • Self raising flour
  • Baking powder
  • Bi-carb soda
  • White sugar
  • Brown sugar
  • Shredded coconut
  • Oats
  • Coconut cream
  • Dried lentils, chickpeas, kidney and black beans
  • Rice
  • Pasta
  • Noodles
  • Tin tomatoes
  • Soy sauce
  • Balsamic vinegar
  • Tomato sauce
  • Salt and pepper
  • Vegetable oil
  • Garlic (jar)
  • Crushed chili (jar)
  • Whole seed mustard
  • Butter
  • Curry paste (jar)
  • Peanut butter
  • Honey
  • Golden syrup
  • Curry powder
  • Dried herbs and spices (our favourites)
  • Custard powder
  • Popcorn kernels
  • Coconut oil
  • Yeast
  • Gravy mix
  • Cocoa powder
  • Vegetable stock powder
  • Vanilla essence

From these ingredients we have the base to make just about any soup, casserole, stir fry, curry, biscuit, cake or bread we want.

Avoid Food Waste

Simply, there is no money to be saved on food costs if food is regularly thrown away.

  • Plan Meals and Buy Fresh in Season Produce as Needed

Planning your meals, shopping to a list and only buying what you need is an easy and effective way to reduce food waste and costs. Daryl and I plan our dinners each week whereas breakfast and lunches as you will see below are pretty stock standard so we know what to purchase for those each week.

Our son previously owned a business which sold fresh foods direct from farmers to the general public. It has been through him we have really grown to appreciate how much better farm fresh produce can taste, how it can keep longer and overall how cost effective it can be to buy in season produce. So when planning your next lot of meals (we do ours weekly) try to be aware of what is in season, know what you need and how much, look out for local farmers markets and be willing to maybe pay a little more than you would in a supermarket knowing you are very likely to be getting better quality.

  • Keep It Simple and Eat Leftovers

We keep breakfast and lunch simple by limiting choices. Breakfast two choices of cereal or toast. Lunch is wraps, sandwiches or rice cakes with cheese, cold meat, salad or spreads (jam, honey, Vegemite or peanut butter).

Also I find it hard to cook one serve vegetarian meals every night so instead I cook two vegetarian dishes per week, each which I reheat and eat multiple times throughout week.

  • Eat What You Enjoy and Avoid False Economies

A great saving method is to buy cheap foods like rice and pasta to supplement more expensive foods. False economies occur when either:

  • Food is purchased in amounts that cannot not be eaten before it spoils or stored adequately.
  • Buy cheap foods or brands you don’t like because the likelihood is you won’t eat them and instead they will take up valuable storage space until eventually they are thrown out.

Always supplement meals with cheaper food options that you enjoy and buy in quantities you can properly store and or reasonably consume.

Caravan Plates, Bowls and Cups
Caravan Plates, Bowls and Cups
  • Refrigeration

Put simply refrigeration slows down speed that foods such as fresh fruit and vegetables, dairy and meat decay. This makes refrigeration a necessity especially when travelling for extended periods.

In our caravan we have two, 110l, three way fridges (gas, 12v and 240v). Currently we have regular access to fresh food so we are only using one as a fridge and the other we are using as a food cupboard. Some travellers have a secondary fridge in their vehicle. Considering your options for refrigeration and how much fridge space you will need to is essential. This will be determined by factors such as how many in your travelling party, how remotely you will travel, how important fresh food verses canned food is to you as well as your budget and set up type. I would highly recommend having some form of refrigeration.

  • Store Food Properly

For me an absolute must have are good quality air tight containers or jars. Air tight containers both:

  • Keep food fresher for significantly longer; and
  • Reduce the risk of food items being spilled while towing or driving.

I am aware that there are many travellers who opt to use plastic freezer bags or vacuum seal options. We avoid these because as anyone who has read our article of Caravan and Camping Rubbish and Waste Management knows we do what we can to avoid single use plastic.

Whatever option you use ensure you have adequate supplies. When we packed up and left our house I took every plastic container I had and thought I had a ridiculous number. We ended up needing more! which we purchased from op shops.

Supermarket Sales, Discounts and Markdowns

Another way to save money is to look for genuine bargains and discounts at the supermarket. Daryl and I have a few select items we like that are bit pricey so we have a rule that we only buy them when they are on sale. We also shamelessly look for clearance items that are heavily reduced, it is important to only buy what you use because there is no point in buying 10 x dips at 40c each if the most you will eat is 2 (remember be aware of false economies).

Have Adequate Space for Food Storage

Travelling means that space is at a premium. Food prep and food storage takes up more space in our caravan as a single category than anything else we carry. Be realistic about how much space you will need to allocate to food, storing, cooking and eating it.

Make Your Own Coffee

Personally I don’t drink much coffee but I know plenty who do and are aware of the costs. Making your own can save a lot of money. I am anti coffee pod machines because of the plastic waste they create and to me they still taste like instant coffee. A good coffee plunger seems the good option and spend the money on the beans you like.

Caravan Fridges
Caravan Fridges

Food Prep: Have The Equipment You Need In Your Caravan

Logic dictates that to prepare, cook and eat meals when traveling you must have the items necessary to perform these tasks.

  • Cooking Utensils

We carry – a wooden spoon, egg flip, vegetable masher, large serving spoon, large plastic mixing bowl, saucepans (three), fry pans (2), baking tray and a kettle as well as a small cake tin, small muffin tray, casserole dish, slim blender, basket steamer for dumplings (a bit extravagant but hey dumplings are so good!) and a grater.

  • Have Something To Cook On, In or Both

A must is something to cook on or in or both. Options usually include a stove, grill, oven and or microwave as well as a BBQ and or campfire when it is practical and permitted. It is also important to consider what fuel source you will have access to – gas, electricity or wood when making your decision about what cooking options will suit you.

  • Eating Utensils

We are not Neanderthals so we carry a basic melamine set of plates, bowls and mugs as well as cutlery. That’s it for eating.

Have A Space To Eat

This may seem pretty obvious, having somewhere to eat, a dining table and chairs, makes eating meals easier and more pleasant. If it’s a struggle and a pain in the butt to find somewhere to eat it makes the experience less appealing. We have a dining nook in our caravan and carry folding table and chairs for eating outdoors.

Pack Your Lunches, Snacks and Drinks

Again keep it simple. Sandwiches, wraps or crackers with cheese, cold meats or spreads is an acceptable lunch option day after day. When we are out for the day we just chuck which of these we want in the backpack with two plates and knives and any snacks such as home made biscuits or cupcakes or fruit.

If you can drink tap water or water you have filtered. Avoiding bottled drinks including water, fruit juice or soft drinks can save a lot of coin and not to mention a lot of single use plastics that are significantly impacting our planet. I carry a litre of tap water in a drink bottle and Daryl has premade cordial or soda stream drink.

Enjoy Special Meals Out

So you have saved yourself heaps of dough by avoiding eating out which is fantastic, means there has been more money in the travel budget for other fun and special things. You know what is fun and special to do very occasionally, eating out. We save it for special occasions like a birthday or anniversary. It is still possible to save money when you eat out by:

  • Looking for discount nights on meals at local clubs or pubs
  • Drink table water or only buy one drink to enjoy with your meal
  • Share dessert or go to the supermarket for a cheaper option to eat back at camp or at local scenic spot if the weather permits
  • Buy takeaway and eat it in a scenic location

Eating a variety of quality fresh food on a budget really is possible while travelling in a caravan.

Originally written and published: 11 June 2018
Edited and republished: 13 December 2019

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