We’ve been traveling across Australia in our rooftop tent Hilux for a few months and are starting to reflect on what life is like when constantly in motion. While on the road, we compromise on a lot of things – who needs showers, toilets, TV, electric power or, for that matter, four walls? But there is one thing we do not compromise on: food.
For many people, camping is, undoubtedly, associated with simple, non-perishable, easy foods – sandwiches, hot dogs, pasta, oatmeal, cereal etc. This is what we see on fellow campers’ plates all around. But we have been following a predominantly paleo diet for the last two years now and one of our biggest “rules” is no processed foods – the simpler the ingredient list, the better. We try to eat as much local fresh produce as possible and mostly cook ourselves or find good small restaurants and gastropubs when we want to indulge.
Now that’s all well and good when you have a home base with plenty of pantry, fridge and freezer space, but it’s a whole different ball game keeping this lifestyle up while on the road. So how do we do it?
These are 180forward’s tips for eating wholesome and healthy on the road:
1. Invest in a good car fridge. This is essential. The best ice-fueled cooler will eventually fail you in the messiest way. If it doesn’t leak onto your back seat, it will soak your food in frigid water once the ice melts. This will make most of it either very unpleasant or simply inedible – especially produce or open dairy products. If your food doesn’t spoil in the water, it will do so quickly once it gets too warm. We do have a backup cooler and to avoid some of the icy mess in there we came up with this solution: We put ice cubes in sealed food containers and place those, like cooling bricks, among the food. Most of the water stays in and the ice is also easily replaced. But the most hygienic and long-term sustainable way of keeping your food fresh and edible is an AC-powered car fridge that charges while you drive. If you are planning on spending some time in one place, to hike and explore, investing in solar-panels to power the fridge is a great idea. In Australia we use an Engel 60l that is DC and solar-powered and in the US we have a DC-powered ARB 60l.
2. Cook ahead. While on the road, we book into an Airbnb or self-contained cabin every few weeks to resupply and stock up. We try to cook as many easily reheatable one-pot dishes as the fridge will fit – usually about 10 days worth of dinners and snacks. Some favourites are chilli, beef barbacoa, chicken korma, and all kinds of stews. A rotisserie chicken is a very versatile food and is great to have all ready to go shredded in containers. We also prepare some side dishes that require a lot of cooking or prep time such as quinoa or potatoes and riced cauliflower. For lunches and snacks, we like to have meatballs or sausages, roast chicken, schnitzel and cut veggies, hummus and salad on hand. I also usually make a loaf of nut-based stone-age paleo bread for “sandwiches”. For breakfast we make a large batch of bacon in the oven to reheat or sprinkle on salads and of course always have eggs in the fridge. Canned tuna and some rice or vegetable crackers, cut veggies and roasted nuts or a packed salad make a great hiking lunch when we ditch the car and hit the trails. Overall, the key is to be prepared. Have a selection of your favourite ready-to-eat meals in containers and ingredients for easy-to-assemble meals in the fridge and there is no need to resort to pre-packaged foods with low nutritional value.
3. Prepare lunch. Yep, what Mama used to do for you. Pack a lunch: Even when driving your kitchen around with you. Once that midday hunger hits, you’ll be glad you only need to find a good spot to pull over and can enjoy a quick and delicious meal. We usually prepare a rich salad using pre-made homemade dressings – we’ve given up on store-bought salad dressings since they are often full of sugar and other odd ingredients. We then stick those salads in resealable bowls and keep them in the top section of the fridge for easy access. If we do not have salad greens on hand – when driving through outback Australia for instance where it’s super expensive to get fresh produce – we talk about what to make for lunch ahead of time so the decision process is eliminated from the roadside stop and we can just quickly grab what we need. This might be a “sandwich” or a hikers’ lunch with tuna.
4. Snack during the day. Since coming to Australia, we have been thoroughly embracing the wonderful custom of “morning” and “afternoon tea”. What a glorious way to describe your mid-morning and mid-afternoon snack! We found it to be very satisfying and immensely helpful to avoid hunger pangs. Since we usually eat a hearty breakfast of eggs and something we often skip morning tea. But the afternoon version has become a beloved feature of our days. It’s always something small and light such as a banana and nuts, a carrot with almond butter, an apple, some hummus or whatever is easiest accessible.
5. Make good coffee. Most people are not quite human without their morning coffee… Campers and vanlifers of course are no exception and there is no doubt that no matter how awesome your night under the stars was, you will want an enjoyable hot cup of coffee in the morning to start your day and break up camp. For that, instant coffee just won’t do… So whatever your favourite way of making coffee is, find a camp version to take along. Like filtered coffee? Take a hand-held filter holder and simply pour boiling water over the ground beans and into your (preferably travel) mug. Or try out a French Press for a one-pot solution. You are the espresso type? Why not give a machinetta or – our favourite type of coffee – an Aero Press a shot? All these are easy and light to transport and will make your morning and day just heaps better.
6. And finally, don’t forget desert. Trust me, there is nothing nicer than munching a homemade banana-chocolate chip cookie or whatever suits your sweet tooth after a full day of exploring while waiting for the stars to come out. Yes, that’s the life 🙂
Enjoy the road!