Philip and I travel frequently to Kowalski Mountain. While we do have an RV in place, there is still a degree of planning necessary for our trips. Philip usually handles preparations for work projects. He ensures we have the tools and supplies we need to accomplish the tasks we intend to complete while we are in Kentucky. I handle the preparations of the household, making sure we have the food and household goods we need to make us comfortable. Menu planning is a big part of the preparations I make.
While the RV is fully stocked with household goods and toiletries, we leave very little food in the RV. At this time, we can’t provide a temperature-controlled environment to store food, we also want to minimize food sources for rodents who might find our RV comfortable in our absence. A root cellar is on the wish list, but until then, it’s necessary to make a detailed plan.
I keep a designated box, the “Kentucky Box”, for anything that needs to return to the homestead. Our linens make the trip back and forth being laundered after each trip. They go right into the box once they are clean so nothing gets left behind. I usually have a collection of storage bowls, that may have been in the fridge for the return trip, I ensure all those go back with us to keep the RV fully stocked.
An Evolving Menu Planning System
Over the years, I have handled menu planning differently. I used to make a detailed plan with a grocery list. I would take any items that we had on hand with us, but anything I needed to purchase, I would plan to buy in Kentucky. It seemed to make sense, not to purchase food just to take it with us. However, I have found that time is a piece of that plan that can’t be disregarded. A trip to the grocery store takes us away from the homestead. Since our work trips are short, even a few hours off the homestead disrupts the work plans we might have for the day. A late evening grocery run could be better spent resting for the next day, rather than running errands.
In the last few years, I have started to bring everything we might need with few exceptions. This currently seems to work best for us. There have been several trips that we never left the homestead the entire trip. This allows us to get the most out of our short workcations, not only managing our resources but being mindful of how we use our time on the homestead as well.
During inclement weather and covid restrictions, this has been a lifesaver. Weather closures shut down the few restaurants and stores available in February on our wedding trip. I had planned ahead due to covid restrictions; however, I was extremely thankful I had a menu plan and was prepared to cook our meals throughout our entire honeymoon when we were snowed in off property! Read about it here.
Lists, Lists and More Lists
My menu planning begins with just that, a plan of our meals for the trip. I only plan breakfast and dinner. Lunch I keep basic supplies on hand and try to shove a sandwich into Philip’s hand as he races by. He does sometimes slow down to eat, but I don’t count on it!
Cooking for two is challenging. After years of cooking for 5 or more, it’s just difficult to cook less. I plan leftover nights into my meal plan. I also plan extra meals. I’d rather bring home food than not have enough. We can’t anticipate when weather delays, vehicle problems, or other issues might delay our return trip, so I always plan a few more meals than I think we’ll need, just in case.
Meal Prep: Homemade Mixes
Once the menu is in place, I begin meal prepping. This is my secret to success! Cooking from scratch requires a lot of ingredients that are cumbersome to haul back and forth to Kentucky. If I am making biscuits for a meal, I measure out the ingredients I need into a Ziplock bag. Anything that I need to add later, I write on the outside of the bag. For instance, I will add 3 tablespoons of butter and 1/2 cup of milk to my biscuits when I make this half recipe. Those instructions are written on the bag.
This is helpful if I don’t use all my biscuit mix on a particular trip. Sometimes I make enough mix for a full recipe, planning on eating biscuits for more than one meal, other times I adjust the recipe in half, so I only cook what we need for a single meal. By writing on the outside of the bag, I won’t forget what is needed to prepare the mix in that bag.
To be fully transparent, I use some convenience foods as well with my menu planning. Philip prefers boxed pancake mix over my homemade pancakes (crazy, I know). Not to mention I like a pan of hot brownies for a special dessert after we’ve worked hard all day. While I do love cooking from scratch, I keep it real friends.
Meal Prep: Make Ahead Meals
Another important part of my menu planning is preparing meals in advance and freezing. I love beef stew and homemade bread for a hearty meal on a cold day. I make the stew and bread dough at home and freeze it. Always double bag liquids, trust me on this, double them, always! Later in Kentucky, I defrost both items. I set the dough out to rise, allowing extra time to raise cold bread dough, this can take all day. Then bake as normal. The stew can be added to the crockpot to cook or even just reheat if I partially cooked it ahead of time. By preparing ahead, I didn’t need to bring a dozen extra containers with me to prepare a good meal.
Breakfast casseroles, enchiladas, meatloaf, stuffed shells, and other meals are easy to make ahead. I prepare at home and freeze for later use. This is a great way that I can cook for two, making regular size family recipes for dinner and freezing extra for an upcoming trip. I also like to prepare marinades ahead of time and freezing them with meats. Just because we are away doesn’t mean we don’t eat well. Good food is worth the effort!
I know that some of you are cringing at my use of Ziploc bags. If you prefer, you can prepare items in canning jars, or glass dishes, labeling them with masking tape. Masking tape adheres nicely but pulls off clean after use. The instructions can still be attached to the outside for later reference. In dry goods, instructions can be written on an index card and stuck inside the jar.
Due to travel, limited cooler space, and RV living, Ziploc bags work well for me to take more items in less space. I do wash Ziploc bags that are used for double bagging when they are not contaminated by meat. I keep a stash of Ziploc bags for reuse for just this purpose, even though I personally dislike washing them.
More Lists for Success Menu Planning
Once my meal prep is done, I’m not quite finished. I usually work on meal prep for a long trip over several weeks. I work full time, so I work ahead to get it done. For any dry goods, I go ahead and pull those items adding to a pantry box as I am meal prepping. Some items, like my prepared frozen meals or other cold storage products, can’t be pulled in advance. We often leave for Kentucky as soon as I return from work. I pack the coolers and then we hit the road. For this reason, part of my menu planning is to create a packing list of cold storage items. It’s especially important to help me remember those refrigerator items I’m used to always having on hand.
I usually consolidate my freezer items in one section of the freezer. This makes it easy to pull and pack quickly. We use towels to wrap frozen items in the coolers. This really helps keep frozen food cold and stay frozen for the trip. Frozen water bottles keep food cold and don’t make a mess.
I do keep one final list, “Items to Purchase in KY”. If there is anything I need to plan to buy in Kentucky, I keep one final list to keep track of it. It’s not always necessary, but sometimes more convenient. We planned a cookout with neighbors. I didn’t want to risk crushing 20 hamburger buns and bags of chips in transit. I purchased them at our last gas stop of the trip. We’re fortunate that the last gas stop has a regular grocery store, it’s not just a convenience store.
The Gift of Organization
I’ll admit, organization is a gift that serves me very well. When we got married in February, I prepared for two trips, the Homestead Box and the Honeymoon Box. I separated my pantry boxes and packing lists into two sets of lists! I wanted to ensure everything would be perfect for such a special event!
Most people would be surprised after reading this that I’m not always organized. I’m planning our menu for a future trip, but I can’t say I have a plan for dinner this week or even beyond tonight. Thankfully I hastily pulled out something this morning for dinner, fingers are crossed it’s defrosted when I get home tonight (it wasn’t, we ate soup). I have more flexibility here that I can fly by the seat of my pants, but there, I need to be on my game to keep us fed and happy.
I find the food items that trip me up the most are items typically found in the kitchen that you don’t think about needing to prepare. Condiments, seasonings, the things you always have on hand. The RV doesn’t have those things, so I need to be a bit more proactive to make sure we have everything. My biggest blunder was not bringing ketchup one trip! Philip puts ketchup on everything, which is an adjustment for me, I think that ketchup is needed when someone doesn’t like what’s for dinner, it’s not an everyday condiment. Thankfully ketchup packets saved the day. I have thought of creating a standard list of items that go each time, ketchup at the top of the list but I’m not there yet friends… I still wing it sometimes.
A Made from Scratch Menu Planner for YOU
Want to plan a made from scratch menu plan for your next trip? I’ve designed a printable Made from Scratch Menu Planner that you can print for your own use. It’s available FREE in the Kowalski Mountain Subscriber Library.
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About the Author: Barbra-Sue Kowalski grew up on a small hobby farm. She was always drawn to farm life, however, she was stuck in an urban life far from her roots. Barbra-Sue was a single mom for 13 years, raising her 3 children on her own. She met Philip in 2018 and they married in 2021. Between the two of them, they have 5 grown children and 4 grandchildren. These empty nesters are following their dreams! As they both turn 50, they are building their off-grid homestead to live the life that they dream about. Learn more about Philip and Barbra-Sue here. Contact them here. To leave a comment on this post, please scroll down.