Traveling in a motorhome gives us the ultimate freedom as digital nomads, except sometimes when we need to do our most basic errands like grocery shopping. Fortunately, there are plenty of services available that allow us to avoid the high gas prices and stay at our campsite while still receiving fresh food.
Much of the time, you can meal prep and plan your groceries for when you travel through an area with your favorite stores. But sometimes you are too far or out for too long. This is especially important for us without a tow vehicle, as gas prices rise and our Class C Forester RV gets around 9 miles per gallon.
You are about to get the exclusive inside scoop on the perfect ways to plan for stocking your pantry, how to get delivery no matter where you are, and some advice to keep in mind so that everything goes as smooth as possible.
Do Your Meal Planning
Do you travel like us, stopping at one place for a few weeks and then a burst of other stops in between each major stop? No matter how you travel, planning your meals in advance will help you always have something you’re excited to eat – including fresh fruits and vegetables, even if you have been away from stores for a while.
Meal planning is also important to help you stick to any food goals you may have. For example, when we left NYC and moved into the RV, the lack of quick access to impulse food led us to start eating relatively poorly.
At first, meal planning can feel daunting. How do you know if you will be in the mood for a salad two Thursdays from now? What if you plan to make soup, but a heatwave comes in, and it’s too hot? How do you plan to have fresh food in two weeks without everything spoiling in the meantime?
Planning meals ahead in your RV adds one more complication to the planning process compared to your city apartment, where bodegas and instant delivery are readily available in a pinch. You can’t plan meals for an RV digital nomad work-from-anywhere life without considering:
- How long you are going to be on the road between stops?
- Which of your from your favorite stores will be on your route?
- How much storage do you have, realistically?
- Do you want to meal-prep in advance, or just have the right ingredients ready to use as needed?
- What level of flexibility should you build into your plan for spontaneous campground picnics or campfire meals in good weather?
The key to successful meal planning is to be super realistic with yourself. This is not the time to implement those lofty food and diet goals.
Right now, just plan based on your current reality. Then, give yourself an allowance for snacks you’ll actually eat.
Plan so things can switch around if you’re not in the mood. Include only foods you already eat.
Once you get into a groove, you can start implementing those get-my-life-together ingredients and things you have always said you should start eating more.
Plan Your Fresh Ingredients
We find the key to successful planning for fresh ingredients is to take the time to search for
- How long do each of your favorite fruits, vegetables, and other perishables typically stay fresh?
- What quantities are available for you to purchase of each item?
- How do you want to balance any discounts for buying in bulk with the variety you can receive with smaller amounts of more items?
- What is your storage like?
- Does your fridge run warm or cold, and does that vary if you change climates? This is important for your leafy greens and fruits such as berries.
- Do you have anywhere cool and dry to store your more hearty produce? Apples, potatoes, and onions will all thrive with limited moisture. Pro tip: store these items away from eachother.
Use These Three Items To Keep Everything In Your Fridge Fresh
We love our factory-installed Magic Chef “residential” RV fridge, which runs on DC power. It came factory-installed in our Class C Forester 3011DS and, while not the size of what we would consider an actually useful residential fridge, has enough space for all of our food as long as we use it strategically. Optimizing air flow, using proper storage containers, and adding a natural anti-spoilage are three small expenses that will pay for themselves in just a few weeks.
RV refrigerators are notorious for having bad air circulation. This causes items near the cooling elements to freeze, and items near surfaces exposed to extreme heat temperatures to warm. If your fridge is propane powered, this problem will be especially acute without proper maintenance.
We first ordered the Camco RV fridge fan, but received and returned non-functioning units three times from different retailers before we decided to try this one. Then, we discovered this Beech Lane Fridge Fan and are absolutely thrilled with it. It helps circulate the cold air in the RV fridge, features an on/off switch to save battery (although we leave ours on 24/7), and has vents on all sides to avoid the risk of blocking airflow.
The Beech Lane Fridge Fan runs on two D batteries. While we usually recommend lithium ion batteries for devices, because this is a mechanical device in a cold environment you will get the best battery life from alkaline batteries.
Once in a lifetime, an invention comes along that truly can change your household for the better. For us, BluApple is that product. It saves us money and time while preventing food waste. BluApple makes just one bold claim – that they are the experts in keeping produce fresh. And as far as we are concerned, it does exactly what it claims to do.
What is BluApple? It’s this little blue apple-shaped golf-ball-sized device with a paper sachet (packet) inside.
We have three of these in our fridge at all times. That may be a bit much, but the small amount we spend on these have prevented thousands of dollars of food spoilage. One on each shelf and one in the drawer. Each replaceable sachet insert lasts 3 months, so we have these each in a 1-month rotation to replace. Benji just puts a monthly recurring task in his to-do list on Things 3 app, and we write with a Sharpie on the sachet the date we replaced it. That way, there is always 1 fresh, 1 sort-of fresh, and 1 at the end of its useful life but still effective.
This alone has given us an extra two to four weeks for all but the most fragile produce.
ECO: The device’s exterior is plastic, which is our only disappointment. Inside, this little sachet absorbs ethylene gas, which is what produce emits as it ripens that actually causes the produce to ripen faster. When you’re done, instead of just throwing out the sachet, tear it open and use what is inside it as fertilizer in your houseplants and succulents by just sprinkling it on the dirt before watering or misting. Out of reach of your pets, of course. And then recycle the paper with your general recyclables.
Out of sight, out of mind is a delightful mantra for stress relief and a solid strategy for cleaning up before hosting company in your RV. It is not a good plan when it comes to making sure you use your all food before it spoils.
When we switched to all clear and uniform food storage containers and committed to decanting (de-can!) everything into these containers, we instantly experienced the benefits of using more of our food before it has a chance to go bad. After all, out of sight is out of mind.
One of our favorite storage containers is the Rubbermaid EasyFindLid set. Available in a pack of 12 or 38, all of the lids fit together nicely to save space in your RV. You can see in from all angles, including through the clear part of the top.
ECO NOTE: While we wish we could use the glass versions of this storage, it simply is impractical and unsafe in the RV. If you’re reading this and you are a full-timer who doesn’t move around a lot, or back in your apartment after your digital nomad adventure, always choose glass to avoid eventually adding more plastic into our waste stream.
Why do we like these more than some other types of food storage that may fit together a little more closely? Well, because of the overhang on the lid, it forces you to keep a tiny bit of space between your stacks of
Note: our previous favorite, the Prepd Pack, seems to be no longer available. If they become available again, we highly recommend checking them out. While they don’t “force” you to leave space between stacks with large lids, we do like how tightly they stack and how flat they are so you can fit the most in with minimal lost space. We use Prepd for meal prep and the Rubbermaid for general ingredients.
Pro Tip: as you use items from each container, size down and load everything into a smaller unit. It’s a little annoying and a few more items to wash, but if you just do it as you go it will just become routine. Otherwise, wasted space.
Getting Your Groceries
You’ve sat down and thought ahead about your schedule, evaluated your storage, and planned out your meals and snacks. Now, it’s time to actually get all those groceries. Here is what we use:
Local Farmers Markets
Farmers Markets, also known as producer markets, fresh markets, or green markets, is our absolute favorite way to grocery shop. It is also the shopping method that takes the most advance planning.
What exactly is a farmers market? Typically, it will be outdoors with tents/stalls for vendors who certify that all of their items are grown or raised by them within a certain geographical distance from the market. You can find everything from produce picked that morning, eggs with bright color shells and thick yolks, grass-fed novel meats and locally-caught fish. Everything will be in-season, so when you see something in abundance, that’s probably a sign that it is super fresh. We live a primarily plant-based life, and the only exceptions we make are for small purveyors at these markets who we meet personally and believe engage in ethical practices. You also will usually find booths with local honey, flowers/lavender/cedar, lip balms and hand lotions, information on local events, and farm-fresh catering booths offering tasty meals. Make an occassion out of your visit to the market and spend some time walking and enjoying.
Something to keep in mind is that you may not see many booths that brag about being organic, as you may see in the grocery store. That’s because USDA Organic is a certification that is financially out-of-reach for many local producers. That does not mean the farmers are not proud of their envrionmentally-sound techniques, so feel free to strike up a conversation and ask at the stall about how they grow. You will probably also get some fascinating stories, family histories,fascinating facts about the foods, and a bit of venting about how the USDA Organic certification is a bit of a conspiratorial racket designed to help big-business and surpress the little-guy. In our quick research, it’s sort of true.
We have yet to find a local community without a regular or occassional market. Sometimes they will be every week at the same day and same time. Other communities will have a traveling schedule, where it changes locations and times of the day. Other communities offer farmers markets as special events, sometimes in conjunction with other local celebrations.
To find these markets, you’ll have to do a bit of research. Of course, start with Googling “farmers market cityname” and see where it leads you. Then, visit not just the website for the market but other sites that talk about the market where you will usually find the best information. Finally, do a Google Images search and also check Instagram to see photos of the market, which will validate that this is the kind of market you are looking for.
Our favorite market was in Winterset, Iowa. While we typically search for markets, we stumbled upon this one when we stopped at a laundromat between stops. We stocked up on produce, read the plaques about being the birthplace of John Wayne, had an amazing lunch in the town square park under one of the literal bridges of Madison County, met local political candidates, and walked out with a bandana for Brutus!
Unfortunately, our candidate didn’t win her local election, but she did make an impact on us New Yorkers about how proud everyone was of living in rural Iowa and that there are wonderful and welcome people everywhere you look in this country.
Equally as exciting as local farmers markets are local roadside stands, which are the opposite of the market in terms of how much planning you need to do. These are easy – keep an eye out on your drive for stands or signs for stands in the distance. These could anything from small tents, someone standing by their trunk, or a modest structure.
These are the perfect opportunity to stock up on items you may be low on – or didn’t even know you really need! – from a hyper-local producer/vendor. Many of these are non-permitted, which means you might get to meet and enjoy the products of a more diverse community of purveyors who may not have the resources to sell at a farmer’s market.
Our favorite roadside stand was near The Sawmill gay campground near the Chipola and Apalachicola rivers of northwest Florida. Local honey is great for seasonal allergies, and of course Brendon hit it off flirting with the son of the owner who was helping out at the stand that day.
We used this honey to make challah bread and our Banana Bread Hamentaschen and drizzle it on our oat and chia pudding.
Grocery Stores – Curbside Pickup and Delivery
While in transit from point A to point B, we’re always going to want to make some stops to stretch our legs, walk Brutus, fuel, wash, fill the tires, and complete any errands.
One of the best things that has happened over the last pandemic years has been the advancement of curbside pickup and grocery delivery from a novelty to an efficient and reliable way to get your groceries.
Curbside grocery pickup and to-your-RV grocery delivery can be ordered and scheduled through a variety of apps, sites, and services. We’ll dive a bit into the third-party apps below, but you can also check the websites and apps for specific stores you like that are on your route to order directly.
When using any app, you have to remember that another well-intentioned human being will be on the other side of your order. This shopper wants to succeed at picking your order perfectly for you, so it’s your responsibility to use all the tools available in the app as well as your common sense to make sure you communicate your desires.
Also, you must tip generously (except when not permitted, such as for Target curbside). While the apps claim to fully pay their shoppers and tips are optional, this is misleading at best and flat out dishonest at worst. Think of these services as unbundled. You are paying the app for the groceries, and also must pay (tip) the shopper for their time. We recommend 20%, and always at least enough to be considered a thriving wage hourly.
Use the descriptions and instructions
Here are some examples of the notes we put on each item
“All produce ideally is organic. If we chose a conventional, please substitute with organic if available. If we chose an organic that is not available, it is OK to sub with conventional. If the same item is not available, please refund rather than replace with a different item.
Asparagus – “Thickest stalks available, please”
Olive Oil – “Please substitute with an olive oil of similar size. Do not sub with another type of oil.”
Entire Order Notes – “Please use double-bag paper bags instead of plastic at checkout.”
Be actively by your phone to chat with the shopper for any questions or substitutions.
Instacart is one of the original grocery delivery apps, and still continues to dominate the market.
Featured on Instacart are many of your favorite grocery stores. We particularly like that Aldi is an option in most markets, as well as Sprouts Market and other organic-leaning shops.
Instacart delivers with a fee for everyone, and offers an annual membership which lowers your fees. If you use Instacart once every other week, it is probably worth it to buy the membership.
Target offers delivery as well as in-store and curbside shopping through their own app, or via the Shipt app.
Target purchased Shipt and uses them to fulfill their delivery orders. Like Instacart, if you shop from the Shipt app, there will be a selection of grocery stores to choose from.
Shipt also offers an annual membership, which reduces the delivery fee when shopping without a membership.
How are you doing your grocery shopping on the road? What else do you need to know to stay stocked with groceries? Let us know in the comments below.
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