When it comes to families, one of the biggest appeals of a camping holiday is that you can still do a lot of your own cooking. Sure, you might want to treat yourself to the odd meal out. You might even choose a camping site that has food outlets onsite. But chances are, if you’re spending more than a night or two away you’re going to be doing some outdoor cooking.
Obviously you’re probably very used to cooking for yourself, so surely it’s no different to being at home, right? Well, while the basics of the cooking are pretty similar, there are lots of other considerations to factor in. For starters, you’re going to have to keep your food fresh without a handy fridge or freezer. Chances are you won’t have as much cooking equipment as you do at home. And you’re probably not going to want to do as many faffy things as you might do on an average evening at home.
So with that in mind, here are some tips I’ve learned over the years, when it comes to camping trips and food…
A good cooler / cool-box is essential
Even the shortest trip is going to require keeping food cool, so investing in some sort of cooling solution is a must. There are a huge variety of options here, from simple insulated bags to electric portable coolers that are basically mini fridges. Personally, we opted for the middle ground: a decent sized Igloo cool box, with built-in wheels for ease of transport. At a push you can fit 4 or 5 days worth of food in – and you can obviously re-stock it as you go if needs be. Remember to pre-cool your box a few days before you go (more on that in a future post!) and to keep it closed when not in use.
Meal preparation saves time and hassle
The more meal-prep you can do before you go, the better. At the very least I’d recommend preparing a meal for day you arrive at your destination, especially if it’s likely to be a late one. A simple meal like a spaghetti bolognese means you can be heating up your sauce and cooking some pasta in less than 20 minutes, with no need for any faff.
The other advantage to meal prep is that if you freeze a few meals then store them in your cool box, they act as extra ice packs. Obviously you’ll need to avoid eating those meals straight away, as they’ll (ideally) thaw slowly over a few days.
Collect a set of always-for-camping stuff
Rather than scrambling around before every trip, gathering together the stuff you need, why not have a camping kitchen box? Ours contains a small set of pans, cutlery and crockery (mostly plastic) along with a few other essentials. Cork screws, cheese graters, a small set of knives, cling film, bin bags and foil – all stuff that you’ll probably use every time.
Once you’re done with your trip, stick it all through a proper wash and it’ll all be stored and ready for your next trip. Just remember to replace anything that’s run out. If you’re a bit handy with a needle, why not make a cutlery store that doubles-up as a tea-towel? My wife made one years ago and it’s still going strong today.
Check the cleaning facilities in advance
How good the campsites washing up facilities are will make a big difference to what you need to pack – and also how convoluted your meal prep plans are. If there’s one thing I’ve learned over the years, it’s to avoid cooking anything that’s going to get stuck to the bottom of your pans. Nobody wants to be scrubbing away at a stubborn, stuck-on food pan while standing at a wash bowl in the middle of a field.
Check whether you’re going to have hot running water to wash with, and remember to consider how you’re going to carry all the clean stuff back to your tent afterwards! My wife’s top tip is to take two washing up bowls – one to wash in, one to collect up the clean stuff after. Plus, it doesn’t take up much more space to transport!
Consider availability of cooking fuel
When choosing cooking equipment for your camping trip, consider how easy it is to buy the relevant fuel. When we bought our first camping stove, we chose one with liquid propane cannisters. They worked brilliantly, but you could only buy them from a few of the big stores. Worse still, you could NEVER buy them at campsite shops – so if we ran out, we were scuppered.
When it came to replacing said stove (after a good 6 or 7 years, I hasten to add) we chose one which used CampingGaz bottled gas, which they seem to sell almost everywhere.
Plan an easy breakfast for your final day
If your camping trips are anything like ours, the final day will be a flurry of activity and tent deconstruction. Chances are you’ll be in a hurry to get everything packed away – either to avoid doing so in the heat of the day, to get started on your journey or just to get it sorted. So you’ll want to plan something simple for breakfast while you do so. Because nobody wants to be doing a load of washing up as they try to disassemble a tent! We usually pack a few cereal bars, which the kids can eat – along with any left-overs you don’t want to take home!
Check the rules on camp fires
One of the quintessential joys of camping is the roar of a log fire you’ve made yourself. Whether you’re keeping warm, toasting marshmallows or getting more adventurous – a fire is a must. However, not all campsites allow you to have an open fire – so check before you travel.
If the place you’re camping doesn’t allow you to dig your own fire, consider buying a portable fire pit (assuming they allow those). We got a good one a few years back, and it doubles-up as a barbecue as well as providing a great, contained location for a log fire.
Small portions of store cupboard essentials
If you’re adventurous enough to be making meals from scratch while camping, you’re going to need some store cupboard essentials. Save yourself the hassle of lugging round 20 herbs & spices by decanting the ones you need into smaller containers – Tic Tac containers can be great for this. Planning to make some pancakes? Only take the amount of flour you need. Need that daily cup of coffee to wake you up? Either take a little pot of coffee with you, or take coffee and tea in an old jam jar.
My wife hoards old jam jars like a demon – and they frequently come in handy when planning a camping trip. Just remember to label what’s in ’em!