(This is an opinion piece. Feel free to debate in the comments.)
There is no longer a need to change how you eat because you live on a boat. Cook on your boat as you cooked on land. Eat how you ate on land. There is no need to eat canned chicken because you live on a boat
Cruising has changed dramatically over the last twenty years. Even the changes in the last 5 years have been incredible. We’ve seen rapid advances in solar power yields and the advancement of lithium battery technology for use on cruising boats.
Within a year or two, the Starlink low earth broadband satellite system will be brought online globally. And with it, how we cruise will once again undergo a major change. Whether the change is positive or negative is another discussion.
The result of the rapid advancement in solar and battery technology means that cruisers have extra power for refrigeration. Extra freezers, portable, and installed are now commonplace on cruising boats. Gone are the days of cruisers needing to turn the freezer off at night.
Most of the popular (and best) cruising provisioning, eating, and recipe books for eating on a boat were written before the recent advancements in power technology became commonplace. As a result, most of what you will read in the best guides is outdated.
Unless you are a vegan who lives on dried beans, lentils, and dehydrated soy, there is absolutely no reason on a modern cruising boat to live on noodles, packet soup, dried beans, and canned meat.
Improved Food Packaging Now Make Many Products Long Life
Along with improved refrigeration, there have also been advances in food storage and packaging. Fresh cream, which lasted for three days in the fridge in the eighties, now lasts for a month or two in the fridge if left unopened. Once opened, it will still last a week or more.
This is real cream, not some palm oil simulated cream. Once you start to look out for them, the list of long-life products with no preservatives, simply improved packaging is quite staggering.
There is also no need to get into canning (unless you want to) or learn how to store your cheese in a bilge for years on end.
It is now entirely possible to fill your freezers with food to last you for two, three, or more months at a time. Which in all but the remotest corners of the world should be more than enough to carry you through between provisioning stops or an ocean passage. It has been very possible for our family of four in the remote South Pacific!
When You Live On a Boat Eat How You Ate on Land
So unless you lived on canned tuna and chicken, ramen noodles, and beans at home. Have no fear, this is not what you need to eat when you live on a boat. I must confess that I am a wee bit of a food snob, and my stomach turns at the thought of some of the meal suggestions that are put forward to future cruisers on Facebook groups by people who have read the classic guides.
A common topic over sundowners for cruisers who have been out for some time is discussing the silly mistakes we made when we first started cruising. Provisioning is one that comes up often.
We chuckle over stories of still having a bilge full of canned chicken, with cruisers having never having been brave enough to open a can. Or having ordered special sealing wax to store eggs and cheese in. Or owning a hundred mason jars for canning, but only using two of them for carrying mixed cocktails to sundowner get-togethers.
How Eating On Board Works On Our Boat
Our Lagoon 380 Catamaran has a small galley with only one 1 1/2 foot by 3 foot counter for prep work that we have learned to work with (yes I would like a much bigger galley). And a two-‘burner’ induction stove. And we cook on board every night. Our menus onboard are pretty much the same as we had on land.
As an example over the past week our on board cooking has included:
Roast chicken and vegetables
Poke Bowls with fresh local yellowfin tuna
Thai duck curry (for 12 including friends)
Ribeye steak, fresh green beans, homemade fries (yes we deep fry on onboard), and pepper cream sauce
Grilled chicken on the BBQ with salad
Burritos with Carne Asada (done in the pressure cooker)
Chicken Schnitzel, Jager sauce with red cabbage and German potatoes
Be Flexible With Your Ingredients
The only change we have made to what we cook on the boat is that we have learned that we need to be flexible with the ingredients we use in our menu. Depending on what’s most affordable in our location.
We are currently in French Polynesia, where chicken is cheap. Next on the affordability scale, crazy as it seems is ribeye steak! That’s because both chicken and big chunks of ribeye are subsidized by the local government. In our menu above, you will see that everything we cooked this week, apart from the tuna, use chicken or steak as the main protein.
As we move from country to country, we adapt what we eat on board to what is most affordable. We still eat as we would do on land, only the focus protein changes. Sometimes it’s chicken, others time beef or fish. Sure we mix it up, but we try to stay with the cheaper main ingredients for four or five nights a week. I love fish but cannot eat fish seven days a week.
An example is, we really enjoy light pasta meals for lunch. But we currently eat way fewer pasta dishes in French Polynesia, as Parmesan cheese is very expensive.
For more information on what food is available where and provisioning costs around the world, please take a look at my post, Money-Saving Tips: Provisioning for Sailing Around the World
You Won’t be Camping Living on a Boat
Don’t worry, what you read in the old provisioning books is not relevant anymore. There is no need to change what you like to eat just because you will be living on a boat. The only reason to carry a few dozen spare cans of meat is for emergency purposes, or to use to threaten your kids that you will feed it to them.