Van Life Without a Fridge: How to Make It Work

Living in your van can be a freeing experience, but what happens when you do not have a fridge? How do you make van life work when you do not have a refrigerator? 

To make van life work without a fridge, know what perishables can be left out on the counter. You can buy food that falls in all of the main food group categories that do not have to be refrigerated. This way, you can keep a healthy diet without a fridge while on the road. 

van life electric fridge

There is a lot of controversy and unknowns about what certain food products do not need to be refrigerated. This article will describe the benefits of not having a fridge in your van, what perishables you can leave out, and what other staple foods you should keep in your inventory. 

food categories aliments

Choose Not to Have a Fridge in Your Van

Even though you may be reading this because you do not have a fridge to begin with or your fridge is broken, you might be surprised to know that some people choose not to travel with a fridge in their van. There are a few reasons for this:

  • Having a fridge can be expensive. The fridge in your van, no matter what kind, will cost money. Propane and electric fridges will cost money to run while the ice boxes require you to constantly buy ice. 
  • Fridges will take up space. You are most likely living in a van because of the adventurous lifestyle, but that does not mean you enjoy living in a cramped space. Having a fridge will make the van even tighter, so if you want to make the most out of your van, consider not having a fridge. 
  • Many travelers do not cook a lot on the road. When you are living in a van, you do not choose that lifestyle for the food. You choose it for the adventure. This is why a lot of people living in a van do not cook often. Main meals include trail mix, dried vegetables, granola bars, rice, and many other non-perishables.

Enjoy Perishable Items

A big reason why people want to have fridges in their van is to enjoy staple perishables like milk, cheese, meat, fruits, and vegetables. Fortunately, there are ways to get around this. You can still enjoy perishables without a fridge. 

– Stop at Convenience Stores Frequently

Van life means stopping at gas stations and grocery stores often since there is minimal storage. This makes it easy to purchase some perishables to consume right away. Craving some milk? Pick some up the next time you are at a gas station. 

– Cook Your Meat Right Away

cooking during van life

Everybody (mostly everybody) loves meat. This can be the biggest reason that people need a fridge in their van. Many people without a refrigerator, though, still eat meat frequently on the road. Simply buy meat at your next grocery store stop and cook it right away. If you go with this option, you can have meat almost every week. 

– Perishables That Last Without Being Cooled

Many people do not know that some perishables can stay fresh without being kept cold. Here are some of them:

  • Potatoes – Potatoes are best preserved in paper bags on the counter. The fridge is too cold for them and will take away from the vegetables’ health benefits. 
  • Tomatoes – Tomatoes lose their flavor and texture the longer they are in the fridge. They will thrive if you keep them on the counter, so be sure to bring some along in your van. 
  • Apples and pears – These fruits are better suited for the counter as well. They lose their crispness if you store them in the fridge. 
  • Pears and peaches – These fruits are meant to be eaten right away as soon as they become ripe. If you buy them when they are not yet ripe, keep them on the counter until they are ready to eat. 
  • Berries – Berries are also meant to be eaten right away. You can keep them on the counter for a few days and slowly pick away at them. 
  • Citrus fruits – Fruits such as clementines, limes, oranges, and lemons can be kept on the counter. These foods, in particular, are known to get moldy, though, so you will have to watch for that. 
  • Butter – Butter can be left on the counter for about a week.
  • Eggs – It is safe to keep farm fresh eggs on the counter for a week or more. It is important only to do this with fresh farm eggs, though. This is because commercially produced eggs do not have the natural protective layer that protects the egg from harmful bacteria. 
  • Pickles – Many people think they need to put their can of pickles in the fridge after opening it. While this is good for people who like it cold, you do not necessarily have to keep them in the fridge. They are perfectly safe to consume if kept at room temperature.

What Staple Food You Should Keep in Your Van

Now that we have gone over what foods you can keep on the counter, let us look at the main things you should have in your van to maintain a healthy diet. 


There are many fresh fruits to choose from the list above. Be sure to have fruits on your grocery list to make sure you are eating balanced meals. The USDA recommends at least 2-4 servings of fruit every day. 

Another option is to buy dried fruits. Many dried fruit packages have tons of sugar in them, though, so make sure you check the labels before buying them. 


The USDA recommends eating 6-11 servings of grains per day. This can include bread, cereal, rice, and pasta. 

You can buy some easy grains for van life: dried cereal, pasta, rice, grits, oats, or even instant mashed potatoes. These options work great for breakfast and supper. If you want a healthy breakfast, add some dried fruit and cinnamon to your oatmeal. 


The USDA recommends eating 3-5 servings of vegetables a day. You can put a variety of vegetables on your van life grocery list, including carrots, celery, cucumber, tomatoes, onions, and squash. A great tip is to buy vegetables from places that do not refrigerate them when selling. 

This can include food trucks and farmers’ markets. If you buy vegetables that have been kept in a refrigerator, they will quickly go bad when you store them on the counter. 

Another easy way of getting your fill of vegetables is to buy high-quality cans of soup because a lot of cheap cans do not have a large number of vegetables in them. 

Protein & Dairy

You can buy eggs, nut butter, canned meat, and jerky to get your fill of pantry-stored protein. For dairy, powdered milk is a great option. Furthermore, if you love cheese, make sure to buy hard cheese. This product will easily last on the counter. 

cooking during van life


It is quite easy to have a healthy and satisfying diet without a fridge when living in a van. Make sure to know what fruits and vegetables are safe to be stored on the counter, and make sure you eat the proper amount of servings every day. There are a few options you can buy to fill the three other main food groups (grains, protein, and dairy). 

The Camper Van Cookbook is an excellent resource for cooking on the go. Check the book out if you are currently living the van life or just starting out.

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