The Semi Suite Cooking Life

Life on the road affords truck drivers with ever changing views of mother nature and a sense of freedom in relative to many other professions. In exchange for seeing the country and forging their own path, commercial truck drivers are awarded with over a dozen hours of sitting in one place, contending with four wheelers and having to choose which fast food joint to stop at for any given meal.

With the restrictions in hours of service placed on a truck driver, it can feel nearly impossible to eat three balanced meals at appropriate times, most of which should be eaten while at least sitting in a safe place for the duration of said meal. Another problem is the caffine infused concoctions like Red Bull and Mountain Dew which breakil down the bodies of these wonderful men and women.
Is it possible to prepare a majority of meals fit for a person on the go, in the truck? Absolutely! My husband has been driving for two years and I have been his passenger for nearly three quarters of that time. The task of eating while on the road has been easier for us because I am not at the wheel, so if you find some of my thoughts or suggestions unbefitting to your circumstances, just alter it a bit and make it fit for you.

Let’s talk about the goods; the things you would want to have on the truck for preparing meals include (but are not limited to):

🍽 Dinnerware – For the eco friendly sort, cheap melamine plates and cups can be purchased at Wal-Mart, especially at the close of Summer, when everything goes on clearance. As for us, we use paper plates, plastic flatwear and plastic bowls, all of which are the Good Value brand from WalMart and work wonderfully.

⛾ Small Appliances – Refrigeration; some prefer coolers that plug into a 12V (cigarette lighter), or ice and some use the good old fashioned dorm room refrigerator. We have a fridge that plugs into an inverter and hardly takes any power away from our 1500 watt inverter, our model has a small freezer inside.
Cooking; I am a huge advocate for the Aroma Housewares line of rice cookers which have so many extra functions, it makes it easy to cook just about anything in them. If you’d rather have a simple crock pot, that would work fine as well, just make sure it has a fastening lid so contents doesn’t fly out while on those bumpy roads. We also have a RoadPro Lunchbox Oven (think: your dad or grandpa’s old hinged clamshell style lunchbox with the handle on top), we can place foil in the bottom to sear a “truck made” burrito or insert a foil pan (3 pk for less than a dollar at WalMart) for liquids or soups/chilli. There are other brands of this device and models that offer temperature control at a slightly higher price. Ours is simply a 12V plug in and single temperature. My husband insisted on purchasing a $20 propane grill and it has been wonderful to have grilled meats and veggies. We store our grill under our bed and it takes up less room than a duffle bag. Some drivers like to add an electric skillet as a cooking option. The final appliance we have in our artillery is a full 12 cup coffee pot since there are two of us. If you purchase a programmable one, you can set it up the night before and have that coffee brewing just before you wake up, what a wonderful aroma to greet you in the morning. There are drivers who have a microwave and I’ve heard many don’t even use it, we have never had one and I feel we have done just fine without it.

🔪 Prepping and Other Supplies – A small folding table is a great accompaniment if you do not have a sliding table attached to your cabinets (our Freightliner Evolution does), my husband will use the table to set his grill on and when we’re done with it, it folds flat against the wall at the foot of our bed. A small cutting board is good to have so you’re not going through plates and paper towels as much, ours came with a set of 5 knives from Amazon for less than $20. We have two large spoons for serving (one with slots, one without) as well as a spatula, a can opener, a cheese slicer (in case I’m making something while my husband is driving, I won’t cut my fingers with a knife), we actually have measuring cups and spoons but honestly have only used them a couple of times. My husband has a couple of metal spatulas and tongs for his grilling. We always keep a supply of foil and plastic baggies for left overs or when we separate meats from large packages. We have a drawer of plastic storage containers as well for those liquid left overs or for when we run out of plastic cereal sized bowls.

🗑 Cleaning – Some drivers go all out with a dish pan and dish soap, if that’s your kind of thing, go for it. We are the “make your own cleaner kind of people” for the most part. If we make chilli and use the Aroma, I’ll steam water after we’re done and use a few drops of dish soap to soak my spoon in and it cleans the pot inside the Aroma at the same time. Mix together baking soda and vinegar in a water bottle for a spray cleaner, or use an old platic coffee can, cut a roll of paper towels in half (remove cardboard tubing), place paper towels in can and pour cleaning mixutre over it. Score an “X” into the lid of the coffee can and pull the inner paper towel through. We use the plastic grocery bags from WalMart that we get our groceries in for our garbage; they’re small enough to not be in the way and usually fill up by the end of the night so it’s taken out when we stop at a truck stop and any smells don’t stay in the truck for extended periods of time. My parents always have a full bag or these bags for us whenever we go home and it’s like Christmas for us.

Storing all of this stuff can prove to be quite a task and you may end up rearranging it several times to meet your needs, we did the exact same thing and I’m still finding myself moving things around every few weeks. My husband (being a flatbedder) has rigged up straps on our top bunk to hold our refrigerator and several plastic drawer sets. We have faced criticism about using the top bunk, but it has worked quite well for us, proving it’s strength on the highways of California, so we are happy with our decision.

Now that you are as prepared as you can be to cook on the truck, let’s talk food. If you stick to the basics and “spice” them up a bit, it won’t feel so overwhelming. I use Pinterest to get a ton of crockpot ideas (because the Aroma has a slow cook function). I make pasta bakes, chillis and other casseroles and let them cook as we’re rolling down the road, my husband makes a mean roasted whole chicken in that thing too.

🍳 Breakfast – There are some mornings I am on my “A” game and can make an actual breakfast sandwich while my husband is driving and other mornings I throw him a Nature Valley breakfast bar and banana. If you want to start with raw ingredients (meat, eggs) you may want to precook those on a 10 hour break or even 34 and just have them ready to heat in the morning, throw on a slice of cheese between a whole wheat English muffin or in a low carb tortilla and you’re good to go. It’s always good to have a back up in case you’re more pressed for time; hard boiled eggs, fruit or maybe almonds can be great for a breakfast on the go.

🍞 Lunch – We are big fans of egg salad and tuna sandwiches with minimal use of condiments, placed on whole grain bread or in a tortilla with a slice of cheese and lettuce. Every few weeks we like to buy the multipack of baked chips, pretzels and popcorn (the kind our moms used to send us to school with), it’s a serving size and easy to place in a cup holder while driving. We will add a piece of fruit or maybe cut up veggies to help keep us full until we shut down and have dinner.

🍝 Dinner – Three things can make a great meal if you add a little seasoning; meat, grain or pasta and vegetable. I can cook chicken breast in our Aroma and once it’s done, place that on the steamer tray of the Aroma to keep warm as I’m making rice, pasta or one of my favorites; couscous. I will pop a loaf pan into the lunchbox oven and put my veggies in there to warm, in less than thirty minutes you have a complete meal. Although it comes in a package, Darn Good Chilli by Bear Creek Foods is a wonderful meal and all you add is meat of your choice. For those watching salt, you can make your own so simply with beans, meat, tomato paste/tomatoes and a little seasoning, put it all in on your thirty minute break and it’ll be done by the time you stop for the night. A bonus is the smell of cooking meats and spices that fill the truck as you’re going down the road. I mentioned the steamer tray of the Aroma before – if you are wanting to cook larger veggies/potatoes, you can just throw those on the steam tray while you’re cooking your other food below in the pot (I use the lunch box for corn, grean beans and the like). If you’re short on ideas, you can always find our meals on our page, Semi Suite LIfe http://www.facebook.com/semisuitelife or join Big Trucks Cooking on Facebook as well, with over 8,000 members on their page, you’re sure to be inspired.
I have also heard that some drivers who are home on weekends have wives that prepare meals in the loaf pans and cover with foil so that the drivers can heat them up in the lunch box throughout the week. You can do this yourself on the truck as well, make up a large batch of spaghetti, meat and potatoes, chilli, etc. and put leftovers in the pans (covered) to take out for lunches and dinners.

🍎 Snacks – Waiting in traffic or driving long stretches of road can become tedious or monotonous so having a snack to tide you over can save you from making that impulsive decision to pull over to a fast food restaurant at a truck stop. Chop up meat into strips or chunks and keep in a baggie, have a couple of hardboiled eggs, a handful of nuts, a string cheese or a serving size bag of pretzles/popcorn. We love rice cakes (I know that’s not many people’s cup of tea) but sometimes that bit of crunch and sweet or salty flavor is just what we needed and as a bonus, you can top it with a teaspoon of peanut/almond butter for protien.

🍵 Drinks – I cannot stress the importance of enough water. My husband and I had a terrible routine of coffee, Rockstar, soda every single day and it made us feel terrible. In a matter of a week, we had replaced Rockstars and soda with water and truck brewed iced tea. We buy a 35 pack of bottled water and several gallon jugs each week, since gallons of water are for cooking, you can buy one and refill at most truck stops for free. We buy a box of cold brew iced tea bags at WalMart and use one of the gallon jugs to make the iced tea which can last a couple of days. We save so much money on those energy drinks and soda but also cut costs on water and tea by buying it in bulk/making our own. If you need flavor in your water, try the liquid add ins like Mio (or WalMart brand), lemon juice or infuse it with fruits.

It isn’t easy to make all of these changes and it won’t happen over night, but I promise you will feel so much better and in the end, your wallet will be fuller and you will feel lighter.

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