Living outside comes with a variety of challenges, one of which is nutrition. Unless you own a camper, you will most likely not have access to a well- equipped kitchen. This guide is aimed towards individuals who have access to a non climate controlled environment for food storage (i.e. a vehicle).
The most important aspect to consider regarding eating well are storage, preparation of food, and a varied diet. For many without means to support themselves, obtaining food is the biggest problem. The issue of where to get food from to begin with, will be addressed in a separate post.
Depending on the season and your home base you will have to use different methods for storing your food. As a rule of thumb, if your food looks, smells, and/or tastes weird, don’t eat it. Trust your gut feeling!
– During the summer, vehicles and storage containers will heat up and greatly affect perishable food items. In order to keep the temperature down, try to park in the shade as much as possible and utilize sunshades. For my Ford Explorer I use one large foldy sunshade for the windshield and bought a set of oval sunshades for my back window. In addition, I try to crack a couple windows as often as possible. A crack the size of your key (flat side) is sufficient for letting out some of the hot air. Please consider your and your vehicles safety before cracking the windows for more than a few minutes or if you are planning on leaving the vehicle unattended.
– Store your food in a Tupperware or similar container. Don´t ask me how it works, but even on a hot day (90´s), you´ll be able to keep your food at room temperature (Yes, regular room temperature). Since my container has a see-through lid, I also cover it with a heavy wool blanket. This seems to help keep the food cool as well, plus prevents nosy passerbys from seeing what´s inside.
– During the winter, you may be confronted with solidly frozen food items and drinks. Again, insulation is the key! Store your items in a box and utilize blankets to cover said container. Water can be kept from freezing by storing it close you (e.g. in your sleeping back) during the night. Do not attempt to thaw already frozen water with your body heat. In most cases, the few drops of water you may gain are not worth you getting sick or freezing to death.
– Obviously you won´t be able to store just any food in your vehicle. Items such as fresh vegetables and fruits will go bad very quickly. I wouldn´t suggest storing them for more than a couple days during the summer season. Personally, I prefer buying these things shortly before I eat them. Canned food is one of the most ideal choices and offers a variety of nutritious options. I´ve left canned goods in my car for up to several months and other than a change in texture in some products (yeah, that broccoli-cheese soup looked very unappetizing), I haven’t noticed any difference whatsoever. My personal favorites are canned fruit (pineapple, pears, lichee, mango, etc.) and soups. Dried food such as instant oat meal, quick meals, and mashed potatoes will do just fine as well. Military MRE (Meal Ready-to-eat) work as well, but cost a little more. Still, it’s a good idea to have a few handy.
In order to keep yourself healthy, I advice against eating fast food more than once a week. There are other ways of getting your daily meal without joining millions of overweight Americans.
– First of all, there is absolutely no need to eat a warm meal every single day. Most of us are getting more calories per day than we need to begin with. This phenomenon is fueled by the media telling us we need sausage burgers for breakfast and spam our televisions with soda products that have absolutely no nutritional value. How about a cheese sandwich with tomatoes and lettuce, a yogurt, some pineapple chunks, and a couple cookies for dessert? Not used to regular food from mother earth anymore? You better get used to it or the hobo lifestyle will wear you and your body down very quickly.
– Be sure you get your important Vitamins and eat enough of each food group. This website has a variety of useful information regarding nutrition and food. Personally, I prefer a vegetarian diet. This requires a bit more planning but is absolutely doable. If you´d like to know more about it, leave a comment or email me!
– Here are a few items that you can store in your vehicle longer and that will help keep you healthy. V8 vegetable juice (the fruit juice tastes good, but is in no way a healthy alternative to actual fruit), canned fruit (careful, canned fruit tends to have a lot of calories), canned veggies (watch out for sodium content), Pumpernickel (type of bread, very healthy, not for everyone though), raisins, mixed nuts (lots of protein, but also lots of calories), granola bars (again, calories), soups (tomato, potato, vegetable, noddle, etc.), apple sauce, etc.
Preparing a meal
– Preparing a warm meal can be a challenge. Backpack stoves such as this one are inexpensive, lightweight and work great to heat up canned soups and prepare small meals. Use a thermometer to keep an eye on the temperature! If your vehicle or storage container reaches temperatures over 120°F (48°C), your stove tank may combust. Gas leaks are also something to worry about. My vehicle´s inside temperature has not exceeded 90°F thus far.
– Personally, I prefer cooking over a camp fire. Obviously, you can´t light up a nice fire just anywhere, but if you are lucky enough to have a decent natural forest close by, a warm meal is within reach. Now, I always wanted to learn how to make a fire from scratch, but just haven´t gotten around to it. However, I´ve gotten good enough to light a fire in pretty much any type of weather. I´d suggest keeping a newspaper handy at all times (fits nicely into a backpack and can be educational depending on the newspaper). Here is a great link on how to build a decent fire. As always, drown your camp fires!
– If you happen to be employed and are lucky enough to have access to a break room equipped with a microwave, you´ll be able to feed yourself well whenever you are at work. Again, canned soups and just-add-water meals work great. You can also reheat leftovers that you may have grilled over a fire the day before. In addition, you can purchase frozen meals before work, and keep them in the freezer. Just make sure you don´t leave a mess!
– Sometimes there is just no way to get a warm meal. If it isn´t fast-food day, and you´ve already spend too many days without a ´real meal´, I´d suggest locating the nearest homeless shelter or church. Often times these organizations provide warm meals at least a few times per week. Next time you get a chance, donate a few bucks or some cans of food for their service (if you can).