A 4WD adventure with basic food prep facilities and limited food storage doesn’t mean you need to go without tasty meals. I’m not suggesting you serve up 3-course gourmet dinners every night, but there are plenty of ways that you can enjoy wholesome, tasty food at camp.
My trips usually take me to beautiful but isolated areas, the sort of place where at the very best you may be able to pick up some fruit or vegetables in a can… yuck! So in order to avoid bland gruel in a pot each night, I have come up with a number of tips to help you prepare quick, easy and tasty camp meals.
I attempt to ensure any meal on my meal plan meets at least two of these requirements:
- Easy to cook
- Limited ingredients from the fridge
- Quick to prepare
On top of this, the following tips are important for long camping and 4WDing trip?
Our Land Cruiser has a full drawer system in the rear along with a decent sized tub for food and a smaller tub for snacks. Any storage solution you use (food packaging included) needs to be of decent quality, as things do get bounced around in the back of a 4WD. Sometimes you can’t avoid glass containers, so pad them out with rubber, tea towels or anything that will absorb the shock.
Items that need cooling
A 12V fridge/freezer in the back of your 4WD makes a world of difference. If your budget doesn’t allow for this then an esky with ice will work for up to a week, which can be quite effective if you apply a few tricks of the trade. You can take fresh meat, have cold drinks and take more perishable items along with you. That said, fridge and freezer space becomes a premium, and you have to do everything you can to fit it all in.
Last year, we travelled for 5 weeks in the Kimberley and split our 55-litre Evakool fridge into a half freezer/half fridge. We managed to take 5 weeks worth of meat in the freezer and picked up fresh produce wherever it was available.
Rather than fresh milk we took about 35 litres of long life milk, as one bottle was running out, we would pop another one in the fridge to cool down.
Taste and nutrition
A tasty meal is a great way to finish a day of adventure, and nutritious food prepares your body for the next. The trick is to find meals that combine taste and nutrition with ease of preparation, preferably containing ingredients that require minimal cold storage. We have made everything from sushi to roast meals, chicken pesto pasta, BBQ’s and teriyaki chicken on our adventures.
Easy dish with plenty of colour. Pilbara, Western Australia.
You won’t be looking forward to a bowl of 2 minute noodles a few days in if that’s all you’ve packed for your trip, not to mention that they are pretty average for your health. Having variety means you’ll look forward to each meal, rather than it just being a means to an end.
Switching up what we eat when is worth considering too. If you don’t plan on leaving the campsite for the day, then it may be easier to prepare a big roast lunch during sunlight hours, and keep dinner simple so there is minimal pack up before departure the next day.
Food with a long shelf life is your friend on a long 4WD trip… food with a long shelf life that does not require refrigeration is your best friend! Think UHT milk, tinned tuna, canned lentils & beans and pretty much anything that is dehydrated or preferably freeze dried.
Bread is a staple that makes food preparation pretty easy, there’s not much you can’t slap between a few slices to make a sandwich, but it just doesn’t last, especially in warmer regions. Any bread we take is consumed during the first few days for lunch, if we want more then we make it on the go, bread baked in a camp oven is pretty special.
Wraps are fantastic alternatives. They last for ages, taste good and can be used with a myriad of fillings. Turkish bread and pizza bases last well too.
Ease of cooking
I try and keep meal preparation to under 30 minutes. Food preparation space is likely to be limited in the campsite. If the meal requires more than 2 pots or pans, it’s too complicated!
You’ll find food tastes better when you are camping anyway, leave the 5-course degustation menu for an evening meal when you are at home!
If you can catch it, we are in. From delicious blue manna crabs to fish and crayfish, we eat a huge amount of seafood when travelling. This reduces the need to take as much meat, and you get to eat delicious, fresh seafood instead!
What can you do at home?
Preparation of your food at home will save you a massive amount of time and effort while you are on the road.
1. Repackage and marinate
One of the first things we do when preparing for a long 4WD trip is to remove the packaging and divide food up into the portions required for each meal. This also means you don’t have excess rubbish to deal with and you save on fridge space.
If a freezer is not an option, then vacuum sealing your meat makes it last substantially longer in a fridge. Most butchers will do this for free.
Any meat that is going to be marinated can be done at home before you freeze or vacuum seal it. The marinade has longer to be absorbed, and it’s one less messy job for the campsite!
2. Premix any dry ingredients
Where a meal requires a mix of spices or dried vegetables, combine them in a zip lock bag and label it before you leave. It’s so much easier to do this at home than out bush. And it’s easy to grab it from your food tub when it comes time to prepare your meal.
3. Cook in advance
We always cook a few meals prior to departure. Soup or the mince and sauce ready for a spaghetti bolognese are easy to prepare at home and even easier to warm up on the campfire.
Not a bad set up for dinner with family & friends. Holland Track in Western Australia.
Planning your meals
I hate the thought of being locked into cooking something that won’t satisfy my culinary cravings, so it’s important to allow for some flexibility in your meal plan. For a 3 week trip, we plan for 21 days of breakfasts, lunches and dinners. Plus a few extra meals and some emergency tinned rations. Each morning we consult our taste buds and make sure the ingredients for the chosen meal will be defrosted and made accessible for that night.
For breakfast, we try to keep it fast and simple, and will usually eat cereal or oats. If we have more time, we will do pancakes, bacon and eggs, fruit and custard or omelettes.
Our midday meal is often bread or wraps, with salad, cheese and meat (ham, beef, salami or tuna). Our salad is cucumber, tomato, alfalfa sprouts and mayonnaise. Other options are a cup of noodles or soup, mee goreng, hamburgers or toasties and crackers.
For dinner, you have a huge range of options; Soft tacos, roast beef, sushi, fish and chips (get a chip cutter!), stir-fry, nachos, steak, chicken katsu curry, chops and vegetables, hamburgers, satay chicken, a BBQ, spaghetti bolognese or anything else that tickles your fancy. We will have dessert a couple of times a week, which is usually fruit and custard, golden syrup dumplings, damper or scones.
What food do we take?
Here are some of the more common items found in our fridge and camp pantry.
- Tinned food: Beetroot, sweet corn, baby corn, pineapple, mixed fruit, tuna, spaghetti, tomatoes, baked beans and corn.
- Fresh produce: Cucumber, alfalfa sprouts, tomatoes, apples, oranges, onions, potatoes, carrots, pumpkin, snow peas and baby corn.
- Snacks: Nuts, dried fruit, muesli bars, BBQ noodles, fruit.
All this food preparation can be daunting at first. But the more you do it the easier it gets, and the more adventurous you become. The smell and taste of a roast lamb or chicken curry cooked over an open fire is incredibly satisfying, especially when you have planned and prepared it yourself. Take the time to get it right and you’ll have a fantastic holiday.
Everyone seems to have their own camping food hack, what’s your secret to easy food preparation in the bush?
About the writer...
If it involves four-wheel driving, Aaron loves it. When he isn’t writing for his blog, 4WDing Australia or the Snowys Blog, you’ll find him camping and driving around Western Australia.