RV Food Storage – Elusive Freezer Space

IMAG0134 (640x480)There’s so much I love about my new (old) motor home. The wood floor in the kitchen. The wood paneling on all the walls. The plaid upholstery. And the super-cool, totally retro tinted sidelight next to the bathroom door.

But I’ll confess, I’m a little worried about my RV food storage space. In particular, the freezer. I have a smallish fridge with a mini freezer compartment on top. That’s it. And that’s gotta cover my needs for both me and my 90-pound dog Molly while we full-time RV.

I cook all my dog’s meals—which translates into 10 pounds of meat every week. I’m used to the deep freezer at home! In addition, I keep frozen veggies, frozen organ meats (again for Molly), frozen chicken broth and beef broth cubes (also for Molly) and the occasional frozen leftovers. And we haven’t even discussed the possibility of ice cream.

Soon after I bought the RV, I tested out a five-pound package of hamburger. Just fit inside the freezer. Not a heck of a lot of room for anything else, though. So I started looking at my options. Here’s what I found.


New RV Fridge

Lots of newer RVs have more spacious refrigerators—with more spacious freezer space. (Hmm … testament to popularity of easy frozen dinners?) That would have been my ideal—a brand new, two-door fridge and freezer model.

So I talked to the people at the RV stores. Here’s what I found out:

New Fridge: ………………………………………… $1,560

Cabinet remodel and installation: …………….$1,650

Total: …………. $3,210

Aside from the shocking price tag on the fridge, installation would have involved ripping out the old cabinetry around and above it. And at $110 per hour, that gets expensive. (Never knew RV repair people made such good money. Good for them.)


New RV Freezer

Okay, next plan. How about adding just a small RV freezer? The helpful RV guys flipped through their catalogs and found a really sweet unit that could function as either a freezer of a fridge. Best price I found?

Mini RV Freezer ……………………………………….$650

AC adaptor ……………………………………………… $ 70

Total: ……………..$720

The AC adapter was so I could plug the unit into one of my wall outlets … instead of plugging into the cigarette lighter and eating all my engine’s battery juice.

$720 was better. But still not good.


Appliance Store Mini Freezer

The ever-helpful RV people suggested I try the appliance stores. So I looked and called around. My ideal would have been a freezer about the size of a microwave that would fit just above my fridge. Otherwise, I had some space for a top-opening floor model.

Unfortunately, the microwave-sized freezer does not appear to exist. The best I found was super-cute and super-compact, but just barely too big. Plus the reviews on Amazon.com warned that it was poorly packaged and likely to arrive damaged. (Sob.)

Mini Front-Opening Freezer …………………………$150 – $250

What about top-opening floor models? By and large, the smallest floor models were still about 36 inches tall—way more storage space than I needed, and the sort of thing that would have dominated my RV living space. I can see my guests walking in: “Wow! Nice … freezer.”

Small Top-Opening Freezer …………………………..$170


Cooler and Dry Ice

Okay, I was getting desperate. But I was determined to explore all options. I already had a cooler, so …

Dry Ice ………………………………………………………..$1.00/lb

Variable, depending on the brand and how much you buy. Not bad—until you look at how much dry ice you need. A table at DryIceInfo.com suggested I would need 15 pounds of dry ice to keep 5 pounds of meat frozen for two days. Wow.

The stats at ContinentalCarbonic.com were a little friendlier. They noted that if you store your dry ice in the middle of your package, you can get by with a lot less. With this arrangement, six pounds of food would only require one pound of dry ice. If placing the dry ice in the middle doesn’t work, you can place it on the bottom and use 3 pounds.

And both these calculations assume that you’re merely shipping your frozen food … not that you’re keeping it in an insulated cooler.


Conclusion to RV Food Storage Dilemma

Be content with such things as you have … and get creative.

I grabbed a five-pound tray of chicken breasts, an egg carton, and a bunch of my storage containers and carried them all out to the camper. The chicken just fit in the freezer with enough room for two squatty storage containers on top and maybe a couple flattened-out bags of frozen veggies in front. Ideal? No. Workable? Maybe.

My strategy:

  • Re-package bulky items (like meat on Styrofoam trays) into space-fitting plastic zip-top baggies (discard space-eating Styrofoam tray)
  • Cook meat as soon as possible (meat can store in the fridge longer when it’s cooked than when it’s raw)
  • In case of emergency, resort to dry ice

And as to the ice cream … I guess there’s DQ.

Food Allergies

Your pet’s ears are all red. His skin is itchy. If it’s really bad, the fur is coming out. Classic signs of one of the most frustrating conditions a pet owner can encounter: allergies.

The tricky thing about allergies is that they could be triggered by anything. Triggers are generally broken down into three categories: environmental (grass, pollen, household cleaners), dietary (what your pet eats), or infestations (allergies to fleas, for instance). Your vet can run tests, but they’re not always conclusive. Sadly, the only real way to identify what’s triggering the reaction is to eliminate every potential allergen, one by one, until you hit the one that was irritating your pet.

For food allergies, this means droppping whatever food your pet was eating before. Since most commercial kibbles and canned foods contain an extremely long list of ingredients, and your pet may be allergic to any one of them, your best bet is to choose a dish with a short list of ingredients your pet has never been exposed to before. A simple example:

  • lamb
  • sweet potatoes
  • brown rice

Other exotic protein sources include elk, kangaroo, emu, rabbit, etc. These can be found at natural pet boutiques, either in kibbles and cans, or even better, frozen raw. If you try your pet on the new food and he can eat without itching, congratulations! But you’re not done yet.

An allergy is basically your pet’s immune system derailed—it’s decided to identify a harmelss substance as a threat, then goes into overdrive trying to remove the substance from the body.

But the immune system generally tags a substance as harmful when it’s been overexposed to that substance. So what does this mean about your new emu diet? Simply that if you keep feeding emu every day, your pet stands a good chance of developing an allergy to emu. And then you’re right back where you started.

That’s why experimenting with new foods is even more important for pets with allergies than for healthy furkids.

The good news? If your pet was allergic to chicken a few years ago, and hasn’t had chicken since, there’s a chance you may be able to eventually reintroduce it. Why? Your pet’s body is no longer drowning in chicken. His immune system has had a break. It doesn’t need to keep screaming, “No more chicken!”

And one more tip: the most common food allergen is actually grain. The reason is simple. Stroll down the grocery store aisle and read the first ingredient on every bag of pet food. It’ll usually be a grain product. Compounding the problem, the canine and feline digestive systems aren’t really constructed to make any use of grains. Our pets have been swimming in grains, and they’ve had enough.

Often times, a grain-free, fresh-food diet is all it takes to clear up that frustrating food allergy.

Your Pet Is Not Made of Glass

IMAG0010 (640x480)By now, I’ve read the writings of enough pet nutritionists to draw a broad generalization about all pet diet theories: No two agree.

When I first embarked on homemade pet food, I was bewildered by all the conflicting nutrition information—and terrified that any slip-up might damage my beloved pet.

But I eventually realized that all these conflicting theories had one thing in common: every nutritionist, whatever their particular food theory, could draw long lists of pets who had thrived, overcome illness, and extended their lifespans on their particular diet.

Thus I developed my own theory: The differences between pet nutrition theories are merely nuances; the key is fresh, real food.

My goal, then, is not to follow any “scientifically perfect” canine diet—it’s to land on the diet that produces optimum health for my dog. As such, Molly and I experiment freely, and note how certain foods or preparation methods work for her.

One thing I will note: My very first forays into homemade pet food began with my precious cat Angus when she (yes, she) was dying of kidney failure. This is the same way many pet owners stumble into fresh foods for their pets. In a situation like this, maybe your pet is made a bit more of glass—but more importantly, so are you.

  • First, condition-specific diets can be really useful; many health conditions can be greatly helped by providing your pet’s body with the particular nutrients it really needs to fight off the disease.
  • Second, depending on the condition and how far it’s progressed (usually quite far by the time people turn to fresh foods in desperation), you may not have enough time left to leisurely experiment with your pet’s diet.
  • Third, and most important, when you’re stressing out over your pet’s prognosis, it’s too much burden to add the stress of figuring out your pet’s diet from scratch.

So in this situation, for your peace of mind, if nothing else, I would encourage a pet owner to find a condition-specific diet by an experienced nutritionist and simply follow it to the letter. You can rest assured, it produced good results for this nutritionist and his or her clients. Your cat or dog, therefore, will benefit as well.

But if your pet is already in good general healthdon’t sweat over balancing every little nutrient. She drinks out of mud puddles, for goodness sake!

What’s in a Carb?

Baked Molly a pawsitively delicious pork roast the other night:

  • four pounds boneless pork roast
  • one carrot
  • one stalk celery
  • about two inches of water in the bottom of the roasting pan

Looked just like any ol’ roast, except for one thing—talk about going light on the veggies! I typically use veggies sparingly in Molly’s meals, and don’t use grains at all. Why?

There’s a hot debate going over whether carbohydrates—better known as grains, veggies, and fruits—have a place in the dog or cat’s diet. The reasons for including them:

  • they keep costs low (plant foods cost less than meat)
  • they make it possible to produce convenient dry kibble (this applies to grains in particular)
  • they contain vitamins and minerals
  • they provide fiber, which can help keep your pet regular

Sounds dandy, right? But interestingly, the National Research Council, the organization in charge of setting nutritional requirements for pet food, lists no minimum requirement for carbohydrates for cats or dogs. Why? Because cats and dogs don’t require carbohydrates to maintain life. There are plenty of people feeding their pets meat only, and their pets are thriving.

In fact, Molly and I have experimented with a purely meat diet. For vitamins and minerals, I included two ingredients, organ meats (go figure—who’da thought organ meats are bursting with vitamins and minerals?) and sea vegetables (which are super-bursting with vitamins and minerals and very easy for pets to digest). Molly did quite well on this meal plan.

We’ve also tried a ratio of 50% meat, 50% veggies—the other extreme. Her coat went dull and she had eye discharge—two simple signs that a dog isn’t thriving on her diet.

Hence the new experiment—just a tad of veggies, primarily for the vitamin, mineral, and fiber benefits, plus a bit of organ meat and sea vegetables to make sure her vitamin and mineral needs are covered.

Keep in mind—a dog or cat has to work harder to process carbohydrates. Simply put, their digestive systems are maximized to process protein, not carbohydrates. So I always take two simple steps to help Molly derive any benefits from her carbohydrates:

  • If I serve her veggies cooked, I make sure they’re nice and soft
  • If I serve her veggies raw, I make sure they’re chopped small

It’s really easy to tell if I didn’t make her veggies easy enough to digest, or if I gave her too much—I can identify the veggie again in her stool!

What about you? How do you feel about plant foods in pet foods?