RV Refrigerator Management Tip – Winning the Turf Wars!

June 2019 – One of the biggest surprises for us when we began our search for a new fifth wheel RV to be our full-time home was the gargantuan sizes of modern day RV refrigerators. When we last searched for a full-time fifth wheel in 2007-08, most upscale rigs had a modest 10 cubic foot refrigerator in the base model.

In those days, many of the manufacturers of higher quality rigs offered an upgrade to a 12 or 14 cubic foot fridge. Also, a lot of the entry level units being built back then by those same (now non-existent) manufacturers had an 8 cubic foot fridge with an upgrade to a 10 footer available.

Our Hitchhiker was a “budget” model that we bought right off the back lot at the factory, so we ended up with the smaller 8 cubic foot fridge.

Fifth wheel RV kitchen with 8 cubic foot RV refrigerator

Our 2007 Hitchhiker fifth wheel has an 8 cubic foot refrigerator. This now “tiny” fridge has served us well since we moved into it in 2008.

This was an upgrade for us anyway. Our first year of full-timing in 2007 was spent in a 27′ travel trailer that had a 6 cubic foot fridge. So, moving to a bigger fridge in 2008 was terrific.

The 8 cubic foot model has been fine for us ever since then, although our ears do sometimes perk up when we hear the turf wars breaking out between the veggies and the beer.

Neither the beer nor the veggies has emerged a consistent winner over the years, but we have found a way to keep the battles from spreading onto every shelf in the fridge.

Even though most owners of late model higher end RVs have either a residential 110 volt a/c refrigerator or an 18 cubic foot two-way “RV refrigerator” that runs on either propane or household 110v electricity, modest sized RV fridges still appear in many smaller RVs and truck campers. So, I thought I’d share our tactic for keeping those big unwieldy bags of vegetables under control.

RV refrigerator 8 cubic foot size-min

RV two-way propane/electric refrigerators do best when stuffed full.
There’s actually lots of room for goodies even in this small model.
This isn’t even full!

I like to buy all the veggies we’ll be eating for the next week or so at once and then cut them up and store them in a single container all together. I cut them in large chunks and then layer them into the container so they are nicely mixed rather than segregated.

I’ve found about six to nine veggies will fill a half-gallon size plastic tub. I have a taller thinner size container with a snap-on top that disappears inconspicuously into a corner of the fridge. I mix up the types of vegetables I put in it with each supermarket run.

Fresh veegetables ready to be cut and stored in an RV refrigerator-min

All these colorful fresh veggies used to take up a lot of room in the fridge. Their plastic bags were everywhere!

Sure, this method means that we eat the same basic veggie mix until it’s all gone, but I love being able to grab the veggie bin and whip up something without having to take each individual vegetable out of the fridge, get it out of its plastic bag, and chop off what I need for that meal.

If I want the veggies diced smaller, I just grab the chunks I want from the bin and cut them into smaller pieces.

Vegetables cut and stored for RV refrigerator-min

All those veggies fit in this small half-gallon snap-top container!

The veggies seem to last quite well in this snap-top tub, usually a week to ten days. Starting with super fresh veggies helps.

We have our own favorite vegetables, but depending on what is popular in your RV, any or all of these work well:

  • Bell peppers (pretty colors)
  • Zucchini and/or summer squash
  • Broccoli and/or cauliflower
  • Green beans
  • Snap peas
  • Baby carrots
  • Grape tomatoes
  • Celery
  • Red onion
Veggie storage in 8 cubic foot RV refrigerator-min

The veggie container is tucked away in a corner!

Things we do with them (sometimes diced smaller) have included:

  • Served raw with a veggie dip made from plain yogurt and a ranch style powdered dressing mix
  • Served on a bed of spinach and/or romaine lettuce as a salad
  • Stir-fried in olive oil in a skillet
  • Cooked in a covered, salted skillet on medium heat with a splash of water thrown in one minute before serving for quick steaming
  • Steamed/boiled in a pot
  • Lined up on a skewer and grilled on our BBQ grill (best if segregated due to different cooking times)
  • Tossed into an omelet with meat and cheese
  • Rolled into a tortilla and microwaved with leftover steak/burgers/chicken topped with a little cheese
Vegetable stir-fry in an RV-min

There are lots of ways to make veggies yummy.

I’ve managed quite a few small refrigerators over the years as I’ve lived on various sailboats and in RVs.

For sailors who come across this article, the best way I found to deal with the big, deep, dark refrigerators on older boats that require a veritable deep dive — feet in the air — to be able to reach the bottom is to put everything in large tupperware containers, segrating the meat, veggies, cheeses and even the condiments. This way, it’s easy to find the items you want because you are handling only a few big containers that are well labeled rather than digging around for that small jar of mustard you know is buried at the bottom in the wet mess somewhere.

Likewise with the tiny 3.5 cubic foot under-counter RV fridge that we had on our sailboat in Mexico. The plastic tubs were smaller and didn’t have covers (so the contents could mound up above the sides a bit as necessary), but the important items were grouped together into two or three bins, and when mealtime prep began, all the bins were taken out of the fridge at once and laid out so it was easy to locate the individual bits and pieces.

One of the unfortunate side effects of RV manufacturers moving towards ever larger refrigerators is that they cost a lot in terms of usable space in the kitchen. An 18 cubic foot RV refrigerator is 36″ wide while an 8 or 10 cubic foot RV refrigerator is only 24″ wide.

I measured out the 12″ we would have lost if our Hitchhiker fifth wheel had been built to accommodate an 18 cubic foot RV refrigerator the way all modern larger fifth wheels are built nowadays. We would have lost an important section of counter space, an upper cabinet that houses three shelves and a lower cabinet that contains a drawer and two shelves underneath. That is a lot of nicely partitioned storage to give up!

RV refrigerator 8 cubic foot size

Modern higher end RVs have 18 cubic foot propane/electric refrigerators that eat up other kitchen counter and cabinet space.

RV refrigerators don’t get the Energy Star rating that many residential refrigerators do. They are inefficient and they operate best when they are packed to the gills with lots of cold stuff inside.

After we do a big shopping spree, we usually have two levels of goodies on every shelf and all the cold stuff is squeezed in pretty tight. As the days go on it loosens up a bit.

Given the RV propane refrigerator quirk of needing a very full fridge to operate well, I can’t imagine having enough cold food to keep an 18 cubic foot refrigerator continuously stuffed in a household with just two people. We would have to chill 24-packs of beer and multiple gallons of fresh water. Frankly, I think I’d be chilling our canned goods too!

That is all fine and dandy, but where space is at a premium — especially in the tiny living quarters of a toy hauler — it seems silly to give up precious cabinets and counter space to have a fridge that is difficult for two people to keep properly stocked (to overflowing) all the time.

Not only does it take a lot of propane to run an RV fridge when shorepower isn’t available, but RV refrigerators are expected to fail after about 8 years. We replaced our RV fridge under warranty right at the 8 year mark when it died unexpectedly.

An 18 cubic foot RV refrigerator costs somewhere around $4,000 whereas our little 8 cubic footer was just $1,500 or so in 2015. We didn’t have to pay out of pocket for it because we had an excellent RV extended warranty.

However, built into the cost of any extended RV warranty is the cost of replacing the major appliances, including the RV refrigerator. So, the price of an extended warranty for an RV with an 18 cubic foot RV refrigerator is going to be a whole lot more than the price of an extended warranty for an RV with an 8 cubic foot RV refrigerator.

The bottom line that isn’t so obvious on the RV showroom floor is that RVers get hit with the exorbitant cost of replacing a huge two-way propane/electric RV fridge either way. Wouldn’t it be awesome if RVers were given a choice on a $100k (or more) RV to have a more modest sized RV fridge?

Of course, an 18 cubic foot residential 110 volt refrigerator is a fraction of the cost of an equivalent propane/electric RV refrigerator, along the lines of $2,000 versus $4,000, but powering such a beast without shorepower is a big ol’ can of worms unto itself. This is likely the reason why the National Sales Director at one of the major mass market RV manufacturers told us “The industry is getting away from residential refrigerators and going with the new 18 cubic foot RV refrigerators instead.”

Ironically, requesting a 10 cubic foot RV refrigerator from the custom manufacturers was met with the head scratching concern that their units are built to a certain very high standard and a modest RV refrigerator is not really up to that standard. In the end, they would prefer not to have their name on a fifth wheel roaming around the country sporting a smaller RV fridge. Undoubtedly, that issue could be pressed, but our initial request was not met with the expected enthusiasm of, “Oh, of course we can do that. We’d be glad to!”

Now, these are all very personal preferences, and there’s no right or wrong way to live the RV lifestyle. Our RV search has been an interesting journey through the maze of the modern day fifth wheel market, and this crazy refrigerator issue has been just one odd stumbling block in the whole process.

I just finished writing a detailed article for Trailer Life magazine about what we’ve learned and seen in our search. The article will be appearing in the September 2019 issue. If you subscribe to Trailer Life, keep an eye out for it!

In the meantime, give the veggie pre-prep idea a try. I like handling our veggies this way so much that I’d probably do it no matter how big a fridge we had, whether in a rolling home or in a stick-built house!

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22 thoughts on “RV Refrigerator Management Tip – Winning the Turf Wars!

  1. Great post. Thanks. I love prepping my veg for the week as well, but onions can be a problem. They will even stink up my freezer when double wrapped in a plastic container. They do better in glass. Do the onions overpower your other veggies when all in one container?

    • I love onions but my better half doesn’t, so our diet is a bit onion-free. I did do red onions in my pre-prepped mix once (and got away with it!) and they were okay odor-wise. Another tricky veggie we both love is mushrooms. They deteriorate so fast I haven’t even tried them in this mix… so they get their own special treatment wrapped in paper towels in a paper bag to keep them dry as long as possible!!

      • We love mushrooms too, but I usually saute them while I clean and cut my other veggies, so I just dump them into what I’m making. They keep better for me that way, up to a week. I sometimes grill a pile of veg, cut them up, and then have them. for pasta, sides or veg sandwiches at the end of a long day. Thanks for your blog Emily. It’s the one that inspired us to be most-timers.

    • So great to hear from you, Belinda! Saving energy for the things that really matter (for us, getting outdoors with our cameras and puppy) is so important — and so easy to forget. That has been one of the biggest soul-searching lessons learned in our search for a new rig. We keep having to ask ourselves, what is really important to us day-to-day and what can we ultimately do without? It takes a while to boil it all down to its essence!

  2. Our experience with refrigerators is like yours. The fridge in our first travel trailer, a 30′ Jayco bunkhouse model, was 6 cubic feet and we did just fine with that. In our second (and current) travel trailer, a 32′ Outdoors RV rear living model, the fridge is 8 cubic feet. While the additional space is certainly useful and appreciated, I’m still amazed at the amount of food that can fit into these smaller refrigerators. During a recent visit to Fort Wilderness in Disneyworld, our daughter, son and son’s girlfriend flew down to stay with us. We were able to move all of our fruits and veggies out of our large bottom drawer to the shelves, and kept that drawer full of bottled water. Since we hit a warmer than usual stretch of temps in the mid 90’s, having a large supply of cold water was a huge help.

    Our best refrigerator experience occurred two years ago. As we were prepping to leave Oregon for our home in the northeast, we used up all the food in our freezer and loaded it to the gills with containers of Oregon-based Tillamook ice cream. Sadly, it’s not available in our neck of the woods, but opening that freezer door when we arrived home to see a dozen containers of Tillamook staring back at us sure brought smiles to our faces! Best use of freezer space ever!

    • OMG — Tillamook ice cream and cheese is the absolute best, Mary! We had a similar story with Tillamook cheese on our sailboat in Mexico where cheddar cheese is virtually non-existent. There wasn’t room for much else in our fridge, but how great it was to have a stash of our favorite cheddar!

      These little RV fridges are fabulous and they can hold a ton of food. Even our little under-counter fridge on our boat could hold plenty of food.

      With any luck the RV manufacturers will re-think their humongous fridge designs in the future and provide a few floorplans (or options) for people who’d like to spend bigger money on a higher quality rig but just don’t want to waste the space on a fridge that can support an army.

      Funny thing, I was raised in a family of 3 adults and 3 kids, and I’m quite sure our refrigerator was an 8 or 10 cubic foot model. It had one door and the freezer compartment was inside the main refrigerator box with a drop-down metal door. I’m sure many folks reading this had the same kind of “ice box” (as the grown-ups called them) way back when. I do remember that the leftover Thanksgiving turkey that had served 12 people took up almost the whole fridge for a few days, but other than that, my mom managed just fine and fed us all well.

      So, if a family of 6 could manage with a tiny fridge for years and years, why can’t a couple or family of 4 manage in an RV with a fridge of the same size — and save themselves not only kitchen cabinet/counter space but gobs of money on an RV warranty or replacement fridge down the road?!

  3. Those are some good tips………also when the piping in your refridge goes after the 7-8 years of their normal life span, you can get a precharged stainless steel piping system charged with much safer helium instead of the hydrogen, made by the Amish off of Ebay for about $600…………and then you do not need to take the window out to replace the WHOLE refridge either………this precharged system is easily installed with hand tools and comes with great instructions.
    we are headed out west from florida for our yearly mountian trip thursday, first trip to glacier and are very excited!

  4. Loved this post. We may not yet be full-timing, but really love learning all the tricks & ideas. Always learning new ways to manage everyday things in an RV. Never would’ve thought of your veggie prep idea. I slapped my forehead when I read it, realizing how much fridge real estate I’d been wasting in our RV with unprocessed fresh veggies! Thank you.

    • Well, you’re in good company for not thinking of it sooner, Lisa. It only took me a dozen years of full-timing to figure it out!! I came up with the plastic container and plastic bin tricks in my sailboats (deep fridge and under-counter fridge) right away on both boats out of sheer necessity, but Mark and I had “discussions” over the beer versus veggie real estate in our fridge right up until six months ago when I slapped my own hand on my forehead and said, “Wait a minute — there’s a better way!” Thank you for reading!!

  5. …the Revere tea kettle brings back fond memories of long-ago “family life” ! Admire your organizational skills, Emily – and love that my girls are exchanging stuff on RLT. Making good use of your creativity in my wee “chambre de bonne” in Paris….

    • That little kettle went to the Guatemala border and back with us aboard Groovy! The big dent on the backside of it brings back memories of the wild swell we encountered crossing the Sea of Cortez the first time. It flew off the stove into the companionway stairs (yikes!). It also reminds me of earlier family days which is why I wanted it on my sailboat and RV stove! I’m so glad you can make use of the veggie tip in your tiny abode on the other side of the pond and that both you and Edith appreciate my various postings here!

  6. Well you learn something new every day! I usually pre prepare the veggies and put into ziplocks BUT I love the idea of the big chunks all together. Definitely will try in space stressed “little house, Class C” this summer.
    Thanks Em!

  7. Awesome article and very timely – we are selling our Class C with the big double-door fridge and we just bought a used fifth-wheel with the 8 cubic foot model! We didn’t realize that it functions better when full, so we have been trying to minimize thinking it would work better – now we know why it just keeps getting worse. I guess we need more beer! Love the idea of the veggies in the taller container. As an alternative to ziplock bags, we’re planning to invest in reusable silicone resealable bags (some are even watertight) that are also freezer and microwave safe.

    Our new-to-us fifth wheel is a Grand Design 303RLS, and it’s a 2018 — so anyone looking at a Grand Design, they DO still have the small fridges available! The space they go into will fit the larger version, so if you choose that, it fills the whole space; if you choose the smaller fridge, you get an extra narrow pantry to fill that space — woohoo! I’m thinking of painting the fridge with chalkboard paint to make that big flat surface a multi-tasker.

    Your blog is super helpful, and we love your photos and following Buddy’s stories too 🙂

    • Also – onions…I cut them up and store them in cold water. It not only keeps the odors from permeating the fridge, it keeps the onions fresh and makes them less harsh for eating raw. I use the clear containers with lids that have snaps on all 4 sides and a rubber gasket, so they are air- and water-tight.

      • Aha!! Great tip — thank you!! We just stocked up on a bunch of those glass containers with the four-side snap-on lids. I’ll give the water idea a try with some onions and maybe my better half won’t notice when I slip them into our meals!!

    • I’m so glad this article was helpful and timely for you, Mary. I probably over-stated the “packed to the gills” aspect of filling an RV fridge — there does need to be air flow and getting one of those little DC fridge fans can help (we’ve done that but not lately). The idea is that cold things contribute to keeping the fridge cold, so more beer is a great idea! We keep ours on the highest setting except in the coldest places. If the liquids start to freeze we knock it down to level 4!

      The crazy thing about RV designs is that the fancier and bigger and better built you go, the more bigger and fancier items you have to get. So, lots of 2nd and 3rd tier fivers have the smaller fridges, but it’s hard to find top-of-the-line models from any manufacturer that have an option for a smaller fridge.

      The Grand Design Reflection line is a super product — great choice! — and it’s very cool that you got the smaller fridge and have more pantry space. From what we’ve seen, on the Solitude line you get an 18 cubic foot fridge without an option to go smaller and on the Solitude S-Class line you get a 12 cubic foot fridge without an option to go smaller. It’s a shame in many ways because the Solitude line is the most expensive and has slightly better insulation under the main floor and a slightly more decorative interior plus a cool window over the bed and another cool window behind the lift system for the TV (TV disappears into a cabinet), but you have to get that big fridge too… So, in our minds, it makes for a difficult trade-off decision.

      Thanks for the tip about the reusable silicone resealable bags and have a blast in your new fiver!!

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