Camp days are often full of adventure – going offroad, fishing, swimming and getting out onto or into the water. Sometimes you arrive back exhausted and the sun is fading. Cooking around the campfire produces a great meal, but after a day of adventure, I’m not always keen for creating a meal from scratch.
When packing food for camping, I agree that the simpler, the better. However, the easy options aren’t always the healthiest. Many packaged and processed foods are high in sugar, salt or fat and buying ‘healthy’ or organic options is expensive.
Instead I discovered the joys of vacuum sealing and bulk cooking. With pre-cooked meals, frozen and vacuum-sealed, we have dinner underway in about 15 minutes most nights.
Prior to leaving for our holiday, I cook all (or most of) our meals in bulk. We’re always grateful when we arrive back at camp after a long day of adventures to find a delicious, homemade meal ready to go.
Setting up for bulk cooking takes some time and a little cost, but it pays off in the long run. It’s especially useful in the winter months, when days are shorter and the sun fades quickly so you have limited daylight hours to cook dinner. It also gives you more freedom to enjoy the evenings and stay out late for fishing adventures.
When preparing for a longer camping trip, I start cooking meals several weeks in advance and freeze them. I buy meat in bulk then cook up casseroles, curries and bolognese. The slow cooker gets a good workout during this time. By starting early, you can cook in bulk and eat half, then freeze the rest for camping. At camp, simply reheat the meal and serve with rice, pasta, bread and/or salad.
I use a vacuum seal system to store everything, so you can freeze for a couple of months without the risk of freezer burn. You can buy different makes and models of vacuum seals at the Caravan and Camping Show or the 4WD Show. My model is a hand held one, which plugs in or can be battery operated so it’s easy to take on trips. It comes with a number of bags, specially made for use with the vacuum sealer.
My personal preference is to use bags as I find these are more convenient than the machines and having to cut strips of plastic. It also takes up less room in your cooler than plastic containers. Freeze your meals flat to make the most economical use of space in your travel fridge/freezer.
Put the meals you want to eat first on top, as these will defrost quicker. Even in a fridge, the meals at the bottom will stay frozen for days. And as they are vacuum-sealed, the food will not spoil.
Keeping it healthy
The vacuum seal allows you to take healthy foods when normally you would need to rely on canned items. And if you don’t have time for bulk cooking in advance, some meals don’t need a lot of preparation so you can vacuum seal the raw ingredients such as meat, then cook at camp. Many butchers offer a cryovac service so the work is done for you.
There are a lot of options available now in the supermarket which can save you time if you decide to cook at camp, whilst helping you to prepare a healthy meal. Curry pastes and meal bases often only need a few additional ingredients which are easy to pack and result in making the rest of the camp jealous of your delicious-smelling meal.
What doesn’t work
There are some items which don’t survive pre-cooking well. I’ve found cooked pasta becomes mush and lettuce and bread don’t vacuum seal successfully. If you’re camping somewhere relatively close to civilisation, it’s easy to get to the shop and buy salad items. Chopping some cucumber and tomato and putting on a plate with lettuce is very easy to prepare. Alternatively, pack these in zip lock bags or storage containers.
If you cook healthy at home, it’s not difficult to extend your habits to your camping set up. Preparation is key and it’s all part of the fun of getting ready for your next trip.