Gourmet camping meals – finding a balance

I read a post a few weeks ago about the brilliant spontaneity of campervanning, and the romantic freedom it gives you to drive off into the sunset at a moment’s notice.

It is possible, that the post appeared on my own blog.

I haven’t yet managed, 100 per cent, to put my very useful advice into practice.

Keeping a separate set of camping cutlery, I can do. Remembering to fill the water tanks the night before – fine. The one tiny step I fall down on is ‘throw some food in the fridge and you’re off’.

The trouble is, we’ve been so excited to go away in our campervan that we’ve treated every trip, even if we’re only staying down the road, as a mini holiday. Equally every meal that we can eat outside on a rug instead of at a dining table has become a picnic.

Of course, holidays and picnics are wonderful. But the reality does come with its own stresses.

Who wants to eat their every day cereal on holiday? It’s a time for treats! Smoked salmon and scrambled eggs. Grilled mushrooms on sourdough. Blueberry pancakes with maple syrup. Mmmmmm. And as soon as a packed lunch becomes a picnic, your rather pedestrian tuna sandwich and a KitKat are replaced with wicker hampers overflowing with wild rice salad and honey-glazed chicken.

But this was requiring an inordinate amount of planning and food preparation every Thursday before we left. The spontaneity was disappearing in a flurry of lists and pre-chopped crudités.

I once spent the night before frantically flicking through a recent issue of Gourmet Traveller for some inspiration. (I know Gourmet Traveller’s reputation isn’t founded on the quality of its camping recipes but who’s to say you can’t be more adventurous than a tuna sandwich just because you’re staying in a field?).

Anyway I thought I’d struck gold with the first article: a twist on the humble toastie. Perfect. The photos looked simple yet sophisticated. I started scribbling notes for the first recipe.

Unfortunately there is nothing humble about a Gourmet Traveller toastie.

Step 1. You will need to start this recipe two days in advance.

Two days??

For a toastie? Doesn’t that contradict the whole principle of toasties?

Maybe that was the twist.

It was the final straw and from then on, I decided to be very strict. For the next trip, I threw a few basics in the fridge and transferred our usual box of pantry ingredients into the campervan. There were no lists. No pre-mixed spicy chickpea burgers. No homemade organic lemonade. And the whole experience was much more relaxed. Almost spontaneous! Paul’s happiest moments of the whole weekend were when I produced cornflakes for breakfast and he found out lunch was a cheese and pickle sandwich.

As it happens, I am now writing an article for a magazine quite similar to Gourmet Traveller (similar in that it’s about travelling, dissimilar in that it’s about travelling in caravans), and the article is focused on quick and easy camping meals. So I am looking for inspiration.

Fellow campers, caravanners – what are your tips for your favourite camping recipes? Meals that don’t require too much forward planning and can be rustled up with just a few basics? I’ve already got cheese and pickle sandwiches!

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10 campervan essentials* to pack for your first trip

*may be subjective.

One of the best things about campervanning is the spontaneity. The potential to escape the city at a moment’s notice on a Friday afternoon for an impromptu mini-break, knowing that everything you need is already packed up and waiting to go. As someone who can easily spend a full day packing a suitcase preparing for every eventuality that could befall us the minute we leave suburbia, this really appeals.

So it’s worth taking the time to pack your campervan properly before your first trip, then the next time the sun appears you just have to throw some food in the fridge and you’re off.

Along with your bedding, lightweight clothes and a few good books, here are ten essentials you shouldn’t leave home without!

1. Everything in miniature

Unless you’re travelling in one of these, storage space will be at a premium so you might need to get creative with your range of kitchen utensils. The great news is that picnic crockery and camping gadgets fit the bill perfectly and are easy to find. I spent a very happy afternoon stocking our campervan kitchen, choosing plastic plates, mugs and bowls and miniature pans from Robins Kitchen – they had a fabulous selection. And if you choose brightly coloured items… they can match your cushions!

These are the pans I’m hoping will inspire me to create some hearty camping fare, although given their size, nouvelle cuisine might be a more appropriate description. We have a two-burner gas stove so a saucepan, frying pan and colander should be sufficient. I also couldn’t resist the tiny red milk pan, which is probably too small to be practical (the first time I placed in on the stove, a gust of wind whipped through the campervan and blew it off) but it might come in handy for a little hollandaise.

Nb sometimes it’s just not possible to find smaller versions of everything, for instance unfortunately I could only find bucket-sized wine glasses.

2. A whistling kettle

The quintessential camping accessory. Continuing the theme of miniature, I found this fab little kettle:

But when I got it home, it was devoid of a whistle! So we now have a proper camping kettle, which will join all the other whistling kettles in the campsite to proudly carol out cup-of-tea time.

3. All-purpose microfibre towel.

We hang this by the campervan door and it’s so useful for dusting off feet, wiping up spillages and drying chairs. Being microfibre it dries very quickly. Ours was from Kathmandu.

4. Long-handled broom

This was a last-minute purchase before our first trip but is one of our most useful items, particularly when camping near a beach. It takes no effort at all to sweep out the sand; much easier than crawling around with a dustpan and brush.

5. Pretty tea light holders

What’s an al fresco dining experience without flickering candle light? These will add a spark of colour to your outside table and provide a bit of light in the evening without attracting the mozzies. Surprisingly these came from Bunnings – one of those trips where you just go in for a few bolts…

Number 5 was originally going to be ‘portable washing line’, but the photo wasn’t very inspiring – particularly on the back of numbers 3 and 4, ‘broom’ and ‘mop’.

Nevertheless, what a washing line lacks in aesthetics it makes up for in practicality, and is really handy for drying small items. Such as zip-loc bags.

Note this is not our washing line, but that of a neighbouring campervan when we were travelling in NZ. I thought it was very admirable. (Note to self: pack more zip-loc bags.)

6. First aid kit

This is one of the essentials that is…well, more essential than previous items, particularly if you’re venturing off the beaten track. You should also know how to use everything in your kit. So far we haven’t strayed far from civilisation, and I’m hoping that relocating our daily weekend routine from house to campervan won’t be dramatic enough to suddenly necessitate an eye bath or splint, but it’s there just in case.

Given the propensity of some of Australia’s more lively creatures to inflict any potential harm, we also have a comprehensive wildlife book to identify everything that could possibly join us on our voyage. I’d recommend not even flicking through this before you set off.

7. Novelty tea towels.

This is the perfect opportunity to use all those tea towels that you really, really love but for some reason have never been displayed in your kitchen at home.

8. Evening activities

So you finished your book during your afternoon siesta, but before you start hyperventilating at the thought of spending even a night without tv/dvd/dailymailonline, there is still much fun to be had with an old-fashioned pack of cards and the ubiquitous travel Scrabble especially if you try rude scrabble. Our next trip will be very exciting because we boosted our activities box over Christmas when Paul got a mini telescope and I got… a cross stitch!

9. Citronella candle and insect repellant


It’s a fact. Scottish highlands or Queensland hinterland, mozzies love camping. Some people naturally attract them more than others, so your best defence is to travel with one of these people. That’s what Paul does. Hmmm. You can’t avoid them completely but burning a citronella candle outside your campervan and dousing yourself in Aerogard will take the edge off.

10. Unconventional cutlery
Whether you’re picnicing in a meadow or huddling under your awning, all outdoors meals can only be improved with the addition of a stripy knife and fork and gingham spoon. These came from Robin’s Kitchen. Love that shop!

So there you have it. Our ten essential items to stock in your campervan. Is there anything I’ve missed that you can’t leave home without?