Think you have storage problems in your kitchen? No matter how tiny your workspace, the one in Margaret and Gene Hale's fifth-wheel trailer is probably smaller. And since they travel full-time, it's the only one they have.

"It's like a small galley kitchen, with just enough space for us to squeeze past each other," Margaret says with a laugh. The Hales know how to maximize small spaces. They camped for years before selling their home in Council Bluffs, Iowa and becoming full-time RVers about 2 years ago.

"When we first started camping, we cooked over campfires or a portable two-burner stove," Margaret recalls. "All our cooking gear fit in one box—including nesting kettles, a coffee percolator, plastic cups and plates, and two skillets with detachable handles."

Moving up to a motor home and then a fifth-wheel trailer gave Margaret and Gene space to haul more kitchenware, but they still had to be careful not to overdo it.

Weighing Your Options

"With any camping unit, your total weight has to be within certain parameters," Margaret explains. "So we had to figure out what were absolutely the most important things to keep. With each thing, I asked myself, do I really need it, do I really want it—and do I really want it in the trailer?"

Those priorities will vary for every traveler, Margaret points out. For her, good knives were vital, but the blender and food processor weren't. "To figure out what we needed, I looked at how we ate, what I cooked and how I prepared our food," Margaret says. "You have to look at what's important to you in your kitchen at home, then ask yourself if you can cook in the trailer without it."

Margaret whittled her collection of gadgets down to the essentials—grater, peeler, apple corer and a few favorite small appliances like her hand-held mixer and slow cooker. Her most important pieces, she says, are the small pans she uses to cook two-person meals. "But I'd never get rid of the 10-quart pan," she adds. "I can make a big pot of chili in it that will last several days."

The bottom line: RVers don't need lots of kitchen gear, just the items they rely on most.

"I don't have a lot of stuff in my RV kitchen," Margaret reflects. "But I can't think of a recipe I wouldn't try in the trailer."

Here are some of Margaret's favorite tips for cooking on the road:

  • Buy a pizza stone. Margaret uses hers to even out the heat in her small propane oven. "It's great for baking cookies, too," she adds.
  • Downsize recipes. If your oven won't accommodate regular-size bakeware, halve recipes and use smaller casserole dishes and baking sheets.
  • Minimize food storage. Except for a few take-along staples like spices, Margaret buys most of her food on the road. She limits purchases to items she'll use in 2-3 days.
  • Pack smart. Use rectangular plastic containers to carry flour and sugar. They stack better than canisters, weigh less and won't break.
  • Lighten up. Store recipes on a laptop instead of taking cookbooks.
  • Indulge yourself. Make room for things that are truly important to you, even if they're a bit impractical. "I don't like drinking coffee out of Styrofoam cups, so I have coffee mugs," Margaret says. "You give a little, you take a little."

Tips from Savvy Travelers

"Traveling in our RV always presents the problem of what to leave behind, since we're already taking the kitchen sink," chuckles Vera McHale of Cincinnati, Ohio. "So I came up with a food plan."

Vera has about 2 dozen menu plans on index cards, with a complete list of ingredients. Perishables are marked with an asterisk. For each menu, Vera packs the shelf-stable ingredients into a paper bag, then attaches the card. "When we go camping, I just grab the bags we want," she explains. "The cards tell me which perishables to buy on the road."

Longtime RVer Pat Williams of Rockford, Ohio downsizes Reynolds Hot Bags to make a no-mess side dish for two over the campfire. "The bags are sized for family meals, but I cut them in half, fill with vegetables and fold the cut side over several times," Pat says. "We've never had one pop open."

For added flavor, Pat drizzles a little canola oil over the vegetables and shakes on a bit of salt-free seasoning. "This is our favorite way to cook vegetables," she shares. "They're so good cooked this way—and good for you, too."


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