Meal Planning on a Budget and Staying Healthy at the Same Time
20 days of travel equals 60 meals for a family of eight, plus snacks. That's a lot of food. :) We had committed ahead of time to preparing most of our meals ourselves. Luckily when traveling in an RV, you have a kitchen and a table. Our kitchen includes plenty of cabinets, a sink, a microwave/convection oven, a refrigerator, a freezer, and a gas stove. The freezer and refrigerator are small, though, so we had to be choosy about what refrigerated items to bring. At home we try not to eat a lot of packaged foods, choosing instead to eat as natural and fresh as possible, but for this trip some packaged foods were just a necessary evil. Here's how we managed:
I used recipes from Effortless Real Food by Wendi Michelle and Superfoods for Healthy Kids to make ahead some items for the first few days, like pumpkin muffins, spinach egg casserole, and chia seed granola. The casserole in freezer bags was the only thing I had to refrigerate.
I brought the juicer and we juiced pineapples a few times. Pineapples are relatively cheap compared to buying juice, and you save on added ingredients like high fructose corn syrup. Pineapples in particular have digestive enzymes that help you, well, digest your food. Important when your body is off the normal schedule, eating more processed foods, and generally under more stress. Add a cucumber to the juice and you have additional enzymes plus potassium and antioxidants. Other than pineapple juice, we drank only water- even when dining out- which saves a LOT of money at a typical $2/person per drink.
We brought a lot of fresh fruit to eat with the sandwiches we had for lunch pretty much every day. :) I had just found out from a round of blood tests that I have MTHFR. It basically means that my body doesn't process folic acid. So I have to take a basic, broken down version of folate called methylfolate and it is recommended that I eliminate gluten for 6-9 months, then slowly add it back into my diet. I still have not completely eliminated all gluten, but for our daily sandwiches I wrapped my meat in lettuce instead of bread. It's actually really good! I never thought I would say this, but I might actually like it better that way. :) In the process of eliminating gluten I have made a lot of nice discoveries, like a great recipe for raw chocolate using dates, hazelnuts, cocoa powder and cinnamon. To make this on our trip for a snack, I brought those items plus the food processor and the kids ate the entire Costco-size package of dates. That had to be a good thing. :) Maggie discovered recently that she likes pistachios, so they were another healthy snack in our RV cupboard. And Brian picked up a box of Larabars that are my new favorite. Only 2 ingredients: dates + cashews = deliciousness. Who would have thought.
I also wrapped my all-beef hot dogs in lettuce wraps at night. For breakfast we did a lot of pancakes, with the occasional bacon and eggs. For lunches we did a lot of sandwiches and fruit. For dinner we did a lot of hot dogs, bean burritos, mac n cheese. We ate three whole watermelons, usually once we were settled in at a campsite because it's so messy. And of course, we did Smores several times. All of the above are cheap, easy meals to prepare while on the road.
We ate out a total of 7 times. Of those, only 1 was fast food. We did have to restock on groceries every few days.
We also took daily digestive enzymes and immunity support chewables that I think kept our immune systems up. I can honestly say that nobody got sick. I had stomach troubles the very last night, but I think mine was from stress and pregnancy, not a stomach bug. No one else had tummy troubles or sickness the whole time. Praise the Lord.
Since I'm into essential oils, another thing we did to stay healthy was use the ImmuPower oil blend by Young Living. Several times on the trip I washed the kids' feet with Dr. Bronner's lavender soap and rubbed the bottoms of their feet with ImmuPower. Unfortunately my diffuser broke shortly before the trip, but another good thing would have been to diffuse Thieves or Purification. As it was, I brought a spray bottle of Lavender EO and witch hazel to spray often. And I made a cleaner out of Dr. Bronner's, water, and Oregano EO (another good immune booster and antibacterial).
Keeping Things Clean: our Surroundings, Ourselves, and our Clothes :)
We brought a vacuum cleaner and every 2-3 days when we stopped at a campground, we took an hour to vacuum the floors and furniture, spray everything down with my homemade cleaner, wash sheets and blankets. This made us all feel better since we spent most of our time in this 30-foot space. Each family member had a job to do before we could go play at the playground.
Most KOAs and campgrounds have a laundromat. We brought enough clothes for one week, with the plan to wash clothes around day 7 and again around day 14. Next time I will take more clothes. What I thought would last us a week, didn't always. Kids wear out their clothes when playing in the dirt. :) So we had to wear a lot of clothes twice and we had to use the laundromat more often. We had plenty of cabinets and could have brought more clothes. My biggest tips for laundry would be: 1) Bring a variety of comfortable, wrinkle-free clothes. This is not the time to be a fashionista. Think functionality. Think sitting in an RV for several hours at a time. Think getting out sporadically to hike or play at a playground. Think that way for yourself and all your children. :) 2) Even if you're going to the desert in July, you might run into rain or colder temperatures. Take jackets, long and short sleeves, shorts and jeans. Be prepared for all kinds of weather. And socks for the nighttime when the A/C in the RV is rockin'. :) 3) If it is a day when you are planning to do laundry, get to the campsite several hours before bedtime so you can have time to wash and dry, or wash and hang on a clothesline to dry before going to bed.
We kept "primping" to a minimum. Just as this is not a time to be a fashionista, it's also not the time to plan to take all your supplies for a major makeover. I brought Dr. Bronner's Lavender soap for my shampoo, body wash, and household cleaning. I brought a bar of Freedom Farm's Oats n Honey soap for my face. I did bring my hairdryer and minimal makeup, but rarely used either. Free yourself and take the break from primping! You are here to experience the beauty and wonder of nature, not to look like you just walked out of a magazine. Find out ahead of time which campgrounds have showers (some don't, actually), and plan accordingly. We only planned to take showers every other day.
This really depends on the type of person you are. Brian and I like to go with the flow more than some. So we only had reservations at about half the campgrounds we planned to stay in, and it worked out fine for us. Most of the time, we waited until we could see that we would definitely make it to our desired location before we called and reserved a spot. Partly because RV parks rarely give refunds for cancellations. Partly because if we saw something we wanted to stop and see, we didn't want to feel pressured to keep driving to make it to the next reservation. Consider all that when deciding how to plan. One thing I would suggest, is even if you want to keep your plans loose, find out all you can about the parks and campgrounds so that you will know what to expect when you arrive. You can call and ask, or look at the website and find out, even if you don't make a reservation. I assumed all campgrounds had grills. They do not. :) I also assumed all campgrounds allowed clotheslines. They do not. :) If those things are part of your planning, find out ahead of time. You may have to get some extra quarters for the dryer, or warm those hotdogs in the microwave instead of using the grill.
I see everything as happening as it should, even if it's a result of my poor planning. Because of that, we "happened upon" a great park called Cody Park in North Platte, Nebraska. Named after "Buffalo Bill" Cody, the park has a wildlife zoo area, a lake, large playground, and Wild West memorial. You can park your RV there overnight for $5. And there are GRILLS at the RV spots! :) All of the restaurants we ended up visiting were unplanned but very pleasant surprises. Several of the wonderful parks and museums we found were a result of just needing to get out of the car, not because of super planning on our part. And that was okay with me.