Part 1: Fitting the Food in!
In the first part of this series, we take a look at how to get smarter about the food you take on your trips away. Be sure to comment at the bottom, to add your tips and hints on what you do well.
It can often be a struggle for many families to go camping; the sheer volume of what you might have to pack for a trip can just make it too hard, and test the best of relationships. Memories of the last trip flash through your mind, with images of bulging bags, an overflowing backseat, and a car fridge/esky that you had to sit on first, in order to clasp it shut. Not to mention all those last minute loose items you suddenly remember & shove into the nooks and crannies of the car, in the last 15 minutes before pulling out of the driveway.
Kill your trip with a Pumpkin?
So, one of the things many of us hate packing is the food. Too many of us, end up taking too much food on our journeys without proper planning. I’ve been guilty of this some years ago, when we did a trip across the Simpson Desert. Our very good friends who came with us, decided to pack a whole pumpkin in their campervan. That pumpkin rolled around and up and down 1500 sand dunes, only to finish it’s journey in the bin back in Sydney, Australia, and it was dubbed the Killer Pumpkin because it took up too much valuable space, was sadly unused and annoyingly awkward to pack. Don't underestimate the rewards in planning out your food for your trip.
These days, we've moved on from the space struggle by using some smarter planning and purchasing smarter, space saving products. I would also like to stress that we have no affiliation to the products we mention (except for our very own Boomerang BBQ); these products & ideas that we are sharing, we have found have worked over the years for our setup and situation.
So lets get started by conquering the space struggle ...
Map out your trip
You might think this is obvious but before you can work out your meal plans & hence the food to pack for your trip, you need to have a rough sketch of your route and types of camping spots you intend to stay at.
For example, it's not ideal to plan out a long, slow cooked casserole where you may be arriving late & exhausted into camp, with no firewood. Similarly where you might have limited water and you are desert camping, heating up large volumes of water for cooking a pasta meal is no-go.
It also helps greatly with your re-stocking plan. Certain fresh foods can be bought along the way. It takes the pressure off having to pack every single item before leaving your driveway. So aim to have a route sketched out, and alongside each night where you are deciding to camp – make some notes on things like water supply, firewood plentiful, fire-bans, and re-stocking options.
If you plan to travel to remote spots– you may have to plan to pack all of your supplies, including an emergency stock.
- Have your Evening Camping locations identified
- Note Restocking Points on your trip for food and water
- Have an additional Emergency Stock Pantry if travelling remotely
Master your Meal Plan
Your meal plan should largely reflect what you plan to eat, allowing for flexibility.
More than 10 years ago I read Viv Moon's Outdoor Cookbook which is still my starting point and a great resource to have. In a nutshell:
- Estimate how many days you are going to be away
- Make a list of breakfast and lunch ingredients then multiply that by the number of days
- Make up a menu for evening meals
When I'm working out our evening menu plan, the first thing I consider is the type of cooking & equipment based on where we will be. It's also the time I start to involve family members - asking for their preferences - or to involve friends if we are going away together.
Once I've established that, then the meal and ingredients sort of fit into place. For example, in the desert - wood is easy to burn and plentiful, and water scarce, could suggest an open grill meal requiring less clean up. If you had more time, a camp oven casserole could be the go. A coastal national park however, might been a quick stir-fry is more the go, or panfried fish if you were lucky enough to catch some that day.
So, with this in mind I draw up a meal plan for each day – I generally do this a couple of weeks before we leave; dividing each day into Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner, Snacks, Drinks.
So at the end of this process I end up with a Meal Plan Overview, which drives the next step, the Packing Plan and shopping list.
- Simplify your approach by just planning the evening meals in detail
- Take a variety of herbs, spices, sauces to add flavour, but stick to herbs and spices in single packets rather than glass jars, and transfer your sauces to squeeze packs or leakproof squirter bottles.
Create your Packing Plan
Whilst looking at your Meal Plan - start creating a Packing Plan by writing items into 2 columns: one for Fridge and one for Shelf/Pantry. We are lucky enough to have the space for 2 fridges, one in our car and one in our camper trailer. So for longer trips we opt to make one of the fridges a freezer. In these cases, I have a third column for Freezer. Whilst creating your packing list this way, you automatically start to balance out the items, reducing the temptation to overfill your fridge.
As you write the items down into your Packing Plan, highlight anything you haven't got - and the highlighted items become your shopping list. Whilst creating your shopping list this way, you reduce the temptation to overbuy for your trip as well.
So it’s at this stage, you start to get a real picture of what things might be stored in your fridge/freezer, and whether you can fit them in – otherwise it’s time to modify your ingredients.
When you have finalised your Packing Plan, this will be your checklist to pack from; it becomes easily delegated to your kids to help out with the preparation as well.
- Pack plain flour only; this can be converted into self-raising flour by adding baking powder
- Buy portions of par-cooked rice and quinoa, that can quickly be heated up in a frypan to add to your meals, rather than cooking these from scratch
- Pack skim milk powder, rather than other long-life milk alternatives; the tetra packaging will break down if you are really going on bumpy, offroad terrain. The milk is easily made up in a wide-mouthed, leakproof Nalgene bottle & kept in the fridge.
Pack like a Pro
After you've done your shopping - now it's time to pack. But take a step back and think about how you can reduce the wasted space with unnecessary or bulky packaging.
Remove original packaging to reduce the size/footprint Basics like sugar, coffee, tea can be re-packed into smaller, stackable plastic containers, etc – use the same type of containers that stack easily and maximizes the space. Takeaway containers are great for this. Steer away from “jam jar” types of packaging if you are going offroad – these types of jars have a tendency to shake themselves open by, tipping all the contents out.
Flatpack your Spices
Spices, sweet and savoury, go a long way in changing your everyday ingredients, and I just don't leave home without them. Gone are the days where I waste my space with lots of little jars of spices rolling around in the trailer. I'm a convert of Herbies Spices selection which you can buy online or at a range of retailers. They are all in resealable plastic pouches with some incredible spice combinations that take the hard work out thinking "what's for dinner".
Downsize larger items. Don't take all those bulky bottles of sauce & salsa's, glass jars of jams and mustards, containers of dips and yoghurt. Have a look at Sinchies, GoToobs, and Criko Squeeze Bottles for a few of the innovative ways to carry smaller portions of these ingredients; these products are available online or in speciality kitchen & hospitality, and camping shops.
Vacuum pack meat & delicatesan goods. Vacuum(or cryovac) packed meats take up less room. Many supermarket these days selll meats already cryovaced, otherwise you can invest in your own device.
Aim to vacuum pack into the same size and shape - a good template to use is a takeaway container or plastic container that you know will fit into your fridge neatly stacked. Freeze meat or prepared meals, into these first, then vacuum pack. This is particularly useful for softer types of meat like sausages or hamburger patties Shortcut your marinading time by vacuum packing it as well.
Pack your fridge/freezer from the bottom up. Store your meat down the bottom of the fridge as it keeps cooler. I keep a "snack" plastic box - for the cheeses, dips, pates etc so that when it comes time for pre-dinner drinks you can just grap one box out of your fridge. I also have a "veg" plastic box - that normally I would store a lot of green vegetables. Cucumber, lettuce, zucchini all store well if they are first wrapped in plastic bags then put in a plastic box - otherwise the fridge will sometimes freeze these delicate items. Keep this box up the top of your fridge where it tends to be warmer.
- Use takeaway containers or similar containers, as a template for freezing meat before vacuum packing
- Refillable silicon squeeze bottles are great for sauces - they are all the same size so easier to pack & they don't leak. Smaller ones are great for mustards and salad dressings.
- Flatpack your spices.
Have a Ready-to-go Pantry
If you have a camper trailer or caravan, then it might make sense to keep a basic pantry permanently stocked with basic ingredients and utensils. If you don't have a trailer or van, then keep a plastic tub stored with kitchen and cooking utensils and another with basic ingredients that you would need on any trip - that way you can just top up with fresh food supplies and drinks when you head off on your trip. This will save you a stack of time and money each time you head away.
Prepare your Perishables
Fruits and Vegetables
Fruits and vegetables are best kept refrigerated, but it's sometimes just not possible. Finding a well ventilated area storage area or compartment is important. Remove any plastic packaging and wrap individually for larger items, or group small items such as carrots. Wrap these in newspaper, butchers paper or paper towel, except for citrus - when alfoil works best.If you are lucky enough to have a freezer, consider taking frozen berries.
Vegetables that keep well: onions, leeks, small whole butternut pumpkin, potatoes, sweet potato, garlic, cabbage, sweet corn with husks on, cherry tomatoes.
Fruits that keep well: lemons, oranges, mandarins, apples, whole pineapple, green bananas (for a short time)
Processed bread travels best and can be extended by packing each loaf (still in the plastic) in a couple of sheets of newspaper, then foil. Seal with tape. This is a great tip from Viv Moon's book previously mentioned. In terms of fresh bread from a baker, sourdough travels well but can be more difficult to fit in.
Consider options with a longer shelf life such as Mountain Bread and Wraps and in fact perhaps more versatile as they can be used for breakfast, lunch or dinner.
I always take plenty of eggs and simply keep them stowed away in their original packaging, but place a plastic bag around each carton, in case of breakages. For longer trips, I also carry powdered eggs.
So there you have it, some of the simple things to get smarter about packing the food in for your next camping trip. Don't miss our next article in the series by subscribing
About Wendy Donovan
Wendy Donovan is co-founder of Boomerang BBQ Products and editor of the Boomerang BBQ Blog. Most of the time she is a happy camper, mum-of-two, full-time marketing nerd balancing it all with going to the gym. She loves exploring new camping locations, lives and breathes outdoor cooking, and just loves any new gadget. Peek behind the curtain on Facebook