Festivals, wild camping and alfresco-eating go hand-in-hand with summer, but how do you eat well when you’re in the middle of a field? Food stylist, festival-aficionado and member of Jamie Oliver’s Food Team, Maddie Rix, gives her top campsite cooking tips to make healthy, delicious meals from your tent.
Cooking on a campsite is often an afterthought or assumed to be too much effort. But there are few things more satisfying than cooking a hearty, healthy meal with your companions on a small outdoor camping stove. Particularly at festivals where vendors are always on hand with overpriced and often not-so-tasty meals. With just a little organisation and careful planning, you can eat like a king. Here’s how.
1. Keep your equipment list slick
A small campstove is essential. Bring a coffee pot, two lightweight pans – one for liquids the other for frying – and bring the lids too. They are crucial for making things cook faster and keeping out debris. Lightweight tin or bamboo plates and mugs are perfect for camping. Remember to pack cutlery, a small lightweight chopping board, a sharp knife, a small serrated one is especially versatile, a spatula, large spoon and a small pair of tongs. Don’t forget matches or a lighter, and a plastic bag for rubbish. Pack everything in a plastic container that can double up as a washing-up bowl, throw in a few tea towels and some cleaning equipment and you’re all set.
2. Fridge or freeze?
Invest in a good cool box to store your frozen and refrigerated items, opening it as little as possible. If that’s not an option, my top tip is to freeze some things in advance: a frozen pint of milk or orange juice will keep you going for a couple of days. And as it gradually defrosts it will help to keep your other food items cold, too.
3. Batch-cook in advance
From the convenience and comfort of your kitchen, make something delicious, like a batch of veggie stew, hearty soup, a fragrant curry or a tasty ragu. Freeze it in a handy transportable container before taking it with you (if you have a cooler to put it in, even better). It’s so reassuring to know you have a home-cooked meal on tap. Imagine how popular you will be on that damp, cold evening when you miraculously and with no fuss, feed your fellow campers with a steaming bowl of pasta and beef shin ragu. You can accomplish this with one pan. Undercook the pasta and drain away most of the water then pour the ragu sauce directly into the pasta and remaining cooking water. The pasta will finish cooking while soaking up all the flavours of the sauce. Finish with a drizzle of olive oil and grated Parmesan.
4. Stock up on the basics: your camping larder
Plan your meals efficiently and only bring what you need. Reusable silicone bags and Tupperware containers of pre-measured and prepped ingredients will make your life a lot easier; drained and dressed chickpeas, oven-roasted vegetables and cheese that you’ve pre-grated at home will add oomph to your campsite larder.
A well-planned dry store is also a must: salt and pepper, a small bottle of olive oil and a few of your favourite condiments are essential. A pot of toasted nuts and seeds or some chilli flakes can liven up most meals, from salads to soups to eggs.
5. Plan for breakfast
Breakfast is especially important when camping. A freshly cooked, hearty breakfast and the smell of coffee wafting through your camp is the perfect reward for a ropey night in a tent. Porridge is a winner and very easy to achieve on a little single stove: add chopped banana, nuts, seeds, a drizzle of honey and you’re good to go.
Eggs are another firm favourite and fried, boiled or scrambled are all great options. Wraps and pitta breads won’t get squashed in your rucksack and when warmed briefly on the flame of your hob and crammed with avocado, tomato, grated cheese, rocket and chilli sauce will transform your morning eggs into something quite special.
6. Get your five-a-day
Bring fresh fruit and veg, rather than over-relying on bags of crisps and snack bars. Robust ingredients, like unripe bananas and avocados will soften up in your warm tent while tomatoes, cucumbers and carrots will serve as snacks or crunchy salad staples. A bag of kale can add freshness to soups and stews.
7. Drink smart
Avoid spending a fortune on tea and coffee, and bring your own tea bags, coffee, sugar and perhaps a little pot of honey. Batch-make cocktails to take with you or buy some ready-made mixes: Margaritas, Bloody Marys or negronis are great options. Just add a wedge of lemon or lime (and ice if you can get hold of any) when you’re ready to serve. In fact, a wedge of citrus fruit is a great pick-me-up for any drink and they round off dishes nicely too so make sure you pack a couple of lemons or limes.
A bottle of cordial, like elderflower cordial can jazz up your drinks, even if it’s just plain water. Decant any glass-bottled drinks into plastic bottles so they’re lighter to carry. Freeze a few of them too, so they slowly defrost on the way – by the time you’ve set up your tent, you’ll have an ice-cold drink ready and waiting. And remember to bring durable, reusable cups too!
So next time you spend the weekend in a tent, take time to plan, prep and ponder the meals ahead of you and make the trip one to remember.
This post was originally published in July 2018 and has since been updated.