The One Where I Explain Cooking On A Boat

I’ve realized quickly that when an ordinary family of 4 moves onto a boat full-time, there are lots of questions! And almost everyone wants to know about cooking on a boat.

It’s complicated. But let me make it clear, we’re purposefully not taking the easy road (er, waterway.)

First, let me share a little bit about our family’s cooking background.

I often describe us as foodies because we all enjoy a really good meal. We strive to make every meal we serve worthy of a 5-star Yelp review. But each of us has slightly different priorities when it comes to meal planning and cooking.

I cook to feed my family quality meals. I’m passionate about providing healthy options. But I don’t really love cooking (and honestly, I’m not really good at it.) I try to keep it simple and avoid making huge messes because ultimately I’m the one who does clean-up.

Brent missed his calling as a chef. He’s truly talented and genuinely enjoys cooking. He loves trying new recipes. But he somehow manages to leave the kitchen looking like a bomb went off. Every single time.

Mary Grace eats anything. She encourages Brent’s creative cooking and she’s great at the role of sous chef. She’s also the family baker. Miller would be happy if we served PB&J sandwiches 24/7. He does not appreciate unfamiliar looking food and reluctantly lends a hand in the kitchen only when forced.

As you can probably tell, we’ve got 4 very different food personalities. And we obviously make cooking a meal as difficult as possible when we try to combine all of our priorities!

So how do we cook on a boat?

First, let’s start with our set up. Our kitchen (Galley) is SMALL! It’s really only big enough for one person- which is a huge problem for our family since we’re used to cooking together.

All of our boat’s appliances are miniature size, especially compared to a traditional house. We have a refrigerator/freezer, microwave that doubles as a convection oven, and a two-burner stove. We also have a second refrigerator and a grill on our outside patio.

We moved some of our appliances and cookware on to the boat, but obviously not near the stuff we used to have. I’ll include a kitchen inventory list at the bottom of this post for anyone curious. Or for anyone with plans to buy a boat.

Probably the most difficult part about cooking on a boat is space.

You have to have space to store food. You have to have space to prepare the food. And you even need space to eat the food. Here’s the how-to’s behind each of those things…

Storing Food On A Boat

Traveling on a boat full time means that we don’t always have access to a store. So far we’ve been able to go about once per week (longest we went between grocery trips was 11 days.) We typically do our grocery shopping while either renting a car or using a marina courtesy car.

We certainly make sure to stock up when we go to the store since we can’t always just run back if we forget something. I make very detailed lists with meal plans. And we overstock our dry goods since our boat has plenty of storage space for pantry items.

On the other hand, we have to pack our inside refrigerator and freezer ridiculously full every time we go to the store.

Most of the time when we return from the grocery store we take everything out of its original packaging. For example, the plastic fruit containers take up a lot of space. I usually put fruit in plastic bags. We do the same with meat.

Preparing Food On A Boat

We learned quickly that all cooking must be completed in stages. There really isn’t room to prep one part of the meal, and cook another. The stove is my main counter space so I can’t cook on it, and chop items for a salad.

I have to do one thing. Clean it up. And then start on the next phase of a meal.

For someone who’s pretty good at multitasking in the kitchen, it’s a really annoying process. However, it is really the only thing that works.

We also learned to be very thoughtful about the meals. We don’t try to prepare more than 1 thing per appliance per meal. For example, I can put some veggies in the convection oven to toast. And grill a meat on the stove. But I don’t try to do meat and veggies on the stove. Or in the oven.

During our first week of boat ownership we attempted to prepare one of the Fresh Market meal deals, Chicken Parmesan. Sounded simple enough.

But preparing it we realized that we really needed to simultaneously grill chicken, heat sauce and boil pasta. Pretty tough to do on a small 2 burner stove!

We try to use our grill or crock pot as much as possible because those give us more cook spaces.

Eating On A Boat

We have 1 main table on our whole boat. Brent uses it to work. The kids use it for crafts. And often we have a family game set up.

So we’ve learned how to shift our mess. A lot.

Our table can transform from dining room to workspace in a matter of seconds. The kids have gotten really good at clearing their LEGO city as I’m setting down plates. It’s all about flexibility and making the most of what we’ve got.

We do have a great outdoor space where we ate a lot at first. But it’s gotten so hot that we rarely eat out there these days. Occasionally we eat on the couch (a big no-no in all of our houses in the past! But it’s pretty hard to enforce a “food stays in the kitchen” rule when you live on a boat!)

There’s another topic I wanted to cover about cooking on a boat, but I realize I might upset some people…

We are picking our battles when it comes to the environment.

Before moving onto a boat I almost never used paper plates. Naturally, I assumed I’d have the same habits on a boat.

But as I mentioned, space is gold on a boat. So using my big dinner plates, and glass bowls just isn’t practical. Not to mention, it’s really difficult to clean all the dishes (no dishwasher!)

When we’re on anchor we don’t have an endless water supply. Washing dishes by hand takes a ton of water!

On the other hand, plastic cups take up so much room and we go through them quickly. Same with plastic silverware. But real cups and silverware are relatively easy to wash and don’t take up too much space.

We’ve found a good system that works for us. We have the really cheap paper plates for most quick meals (sandwiches) because a stack of 1,000 doesn’t take up much space at all. And then we also have bigger, more sturdy paper plates for nicer dinner meals.

In a perfect world our boat would have a dishwasher and unlimited counter space. In that case, I’d use all real serving pieces.

Here are a few more random food tips that we’ve learned work well while living on the boat:

  1. I’ve gone from making almost everything from scratch, and buying in bulk to purchasing premade or quick options. We do a lot of packet oatmeal, individual serving sizes of snacks, and microwave rice. It’s convenient and saves me from washing dishes.
  2. I have a snack bag that I keep packed at all times. It’s easy to grab and go as we head to the pool, beach or out on our dinghy.
  3. We use our outdoor fridge for drinks only. At one point I tried to store food out there too, but it was way too complicated to remember what food was where. And it was an extra step to go outside while cooking to grab an ingredient.
  4. Often I make a tray of food that we just all grab off of for lunch. It helps us use less dishes and is easier than preparing 4 separate plates.
  5. To ease anyone’s concern, we could probably survive on the food on our boat for months if we had to. As I mentioned, we have a huge inventory of pantry items. It wouldn’t necessarily be our favorite meals, but we would be okay if we ran into a situation where we couldn’t get to a store.

Thanks for following along on our crazy adventure! You might also enjoy reading:

The One Where The Journey Begins

Daufuskie Island Bucket List

The One Place I’ve Been That I’ll Never Go Again

For anyone interested, here’s our kitchen appliance/tool inventory list:
(I included a * next to the items we use the most and could not live without)

Measuring Cups

*Assorted cooking spoons

*Wine Opener


1 small pot with lid

*1 large pot with lid

*1 Cast Iron Skillet

1 large skillet


1 large serving platter

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