We’re off camping next week – along with most of the UK population who have kids in school. And I cannot flipping wait!
Sleeping under the stars in a tent, foraging for wild food and just being at one with nature for a whole week sounds just idyllic. And if I’m honest, just what I need after a busy few weeks juggling the world reopening after what has been an intense year all round.
But let’s face it, whilst all this sounds Ben Fogle kind of wonderful, camping isn’t the easiest holiday to go on, partucularly when you suffer with a chronic gut disorder. As if the pain of packing for winter and summer, the endless layers, waterproofs and shoes, then throwing in the bottomless bucket of games, books and puzzles to keep the kids entertained for loooong days on end without any screens to stare at isn’t enough. IBS sufferers like me need to be prepared, and let’s face it, our gut health really doesn’t need to suffer.
Last year we had multiple attempts to get our approach right. The first trip we came home with so much unused food, but by our final camping trip we came home with barely anything – and a happy gut. Rather smugly I had finally got it down to a tee.
And my secret, it’s all in the preparation.
1. Keep a list on the fridge door
I start by keeping a list on the fridge in the week leading up to the big trip. I like to add random things to it as the week goes on – starting with the essentials like milk that can be kept out the fridge, coffee beans for those early starts and toilet rolls. Then as we get closer and the forecast is slightly more predictable, I start to plan out our meals for the week beginning with the all important first night meal. I try to pack as much goodness in this one to allow for a little slack as the week goes on. For this I pick a one pan dish, often pre-cooked at home before we set off so when we arrive at the campsite early evening, we’re good to go.
This year I’ll be putting together a super simple Dahl which the kids love with a hunk of baguette – or in my case a few linseed crackers – and a few dressed leaves on the side. Whatever dish you go for, keep it simple, there are so many other jobs to do when you arrive on the campsite, the last thing you want to be doing is cooking up a storm with multiple ingredients.
2. Prep some food before you set off
Now this is where the clever bit comes in. We all know prepping food whilst juggling a chopping board on one leg is hard – it’s also very annoying. So rather than skipping taking the veggies altogether, take them but prep them at home first. I like to precook a lot of mine so I can finish them off over some hot coals for real camping smokey effect. I find just this one shortcut helps to give me the head space I need to convert my usual way of cooking at home to cooking on hot coals. And my gut is so happy for it – to be brutally honest, it also makes cooking outside so much simpler.
I like to put together a handful of pre-made salad dressings – which consequently negates the need to carry lots of different full sized bottles to our tent located 100’s of metres away from our car – pre cook a big Tupperware full of veggies that I can then pop on skewers and place on coals to reheat and infuse with that delicious smokey taste, and precook some jacket potatoes. This year I’ll also be pre cooking a whole hispi cabbage to toast on some coals, pre rolling and boiling some gnocchi to add to those veggie skewer and whizzing up a batch of pesto to slather over everything.
3. Make room for some herbs, spices, nuts and seeds
Herbs and spices quite literally transform food from good to flipping delicious, not to mention the oodles of health benefits from eating them. Before we set off I decant a few of my favourite seeds, nuts and spices into small jam jars (paper bags work just as well too!) – this year I’ll be taking some cinnamon, ginger, coriander seeds, turmeric, chilli flakes and the obvious sea salt and pepper – as well as some sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, linseeds, hazelnuts and almonds.
I love my herbs sprinkled over anything so this year I’ll be going for some thyme to use as a marinade and coriander, mint and basil to chuck in salads, sprinkle over everything and add to a cheeky mojito or two! I do the same with nuts and seeds
Herb infused oils also work really well, without doubt garlic infused oil will be packed in my kitchen box this year. As do pre-toasted seed and nut mixes, they’re perfect for adding texture to any meal.
4. Don’t be a superhero
Whilst cooking on coals is super fun, it can also be hard work. And the last thing anyone wants when they’re away on holiday is to resent cooking for everyone. So make sure the food you’ve planned to cook isn’t too unrealistic (I’ve done this before, it’s really not nice for anyone!) or onerous on you. We divy out jobs so everyone chips in, which makes it a really nice family affair all round. I’ve got my kids on breakfast duty – they’re a dab hand with overnight oats and well trained in setting the table. Lunch will either be super simple sandwiches and salads or a nice meal out (a lovely bonus of the world reopening) and dinner will be a mix of one pot meals, BBQ style feasts and the must have pizza cooked in the onsite pizza oven.
5. Have fun
What I love the most about cooking outside is the connection I feel with nature. Whilst i’m cooking, I watch and listen to everything around me. I love the sounds of the crackles from the fire pit and the gorgeous colours changing with the light and the movement of the trees overhead. I love the primal feeling I get, like being stuck in the wild and feeling like I can survive without the daily luxuries I’ve become accustomed to. It makes me feel alive! So my best bit of advice, don’t worry too much, have fun playing and getting to know your new comforts, it’s what our ancestors would have done everyday of their lives.
I remember hearing a chef on tv say that a fire pit is pretty much like an oven only without a temperature dial. Our only fear is not knowing it, so make it your business to get to know it – where it’s hottest and cooler areas are and treat your food just as you would at home. Trust me, before you know it you’ll be favouring cooking outside on coals over your new fancy hob and oven combo.