How to Cook in a Tiny Space: RV, Small Kitchen, It’s Possible

Do you want to know how to cook in a tiny space?

First, let me say that having four square feet of countertops is not a reason to order takeout daily. Tempting, but don’t let it daunt you — with some patience, creativity and planning, you will find success in cooking in a small space, even a four-course meal with dessert, without losing your sanity.

Okay, maybe the sanity bit was pushing it a little, but the rest is 100% legit.

My kitchen is composed of a three-burner stove, a one-rack oven with the width of 13″, and a mini-fridge/freezer combo, attached to a double-sink with counter space big enough for the Keurig, a paper-towel holder and some dish-drying space to the left of the sink. Space is at a premium and we have no room for cute decorations or frivolous gadgets. At times, even more than one person in the cooking zone at the same time is avoided, and on a hot day, every vent in the RV is aimed towards whomever is brave enough to cook. With my husband’s new work schedule, it’s usually me!

If you’re hesitant to try to cook or bake any ‘real food’ in your tiny kitchen or RV, let me share a few tips that may help ease your decision and tip the scales in the favor of home-cooked food.

How to Cook in a Tiny Space

  1. Rotation: this is critical. If I have more than three pots that need to go on the stove, I decide which one I can complete first, to be set aside while the others finish. Often, this is an item that is being sauteed to add to a sauce or final pot later. For example, last week’s chicken enchiladas included a pan-fried mixture of onions, green chili peppers and spices. I cooked that up first, set it off on a cooling rack (my fancy name for a hot pad holder on the sink’s cutting board insets) and I was able to move the chicken onto that burner. Plan ahead so you can determine if there is a possibility of downsizing one pot or pan, or if you can put something in the microwave instead of on the stove.
  2. Buy only a few days’ worth of food at a time. This helps ensure nothing spoils and you have the freshest of ingredients while saving space.
  3. Plan meals out of your pantry and refrigerator. This too helps ensure you save space and nothing is forgotten. (I currently have six..yes, six..bottles of vinegar in the back of the pantry, and two sesame oils. Who needs all this in when my pantry is this tiny? Yet, I can’t throw it away, what a waste!)
  4. Spend some time seeking out one-pot meals or crockpot dishes.
  5. Multi-task your oven. When it’s on, use it while it’s hot. Don’t just bake a casserole, but throw in a loaf of bread and maybe a shot of cookies to round it out. This heats up your oven less, keeping your kitchen cooler, and saves on the propane it takes to pre-heat.

One of my favorite foods is gnocchi. I love to bake the potatoes hours in advance, let them cool, and mash up the innards for a fantastic, cheesey and moist gnocchi dough that will amaze my family. Rolling out the dough takes a gargantuan amount of space to roll out…at least in comparison to the 4′ feet I have available..and then I boil them, and because my husband requests it, I pan fry them in browned butter. A lot of steps, and more than a couple of big pots, are required. It ends with me spreading dishes all over the RV kitchen table, moving aside my “office in a pile” so I can dole out helpings without stacking things on the counter and praying for no spills.

Not easy to do…so my challenge, which I’m putting out here as motivation, is to find a way to make an entire gnocchi meal..not skimping on the browned butter, caramelized onions or fresh parm, in my tiny space.  (It’s also to get creative enough and get back in the groove to make these gorgeous cupcakes my oldest daughter brought over on Mother’s Day. Aren’t they adorable?)

pretty cupcakes how to cook in a tiny space

Do you have to cook in a tiny space? How do you do it, and what advice would you give someone else considering inhabiting a home — on wheels or in an apartment or an eco-house, or anything in-between — with a small kitchen?

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