What to Eat While Car Camping (or caravanning)

In normal life, we generally eschew prepared/canned foods; being fortunate enough to opt instead for long and fruitful trips down the produce aisles or farmers markets, and even longer hours chopping and preparing. However, this all went out the window when we went caravanning/car camping for about twenty days throughout Australia and New Zealand. During this time, prepared and packaged foods became our best friend and ruled our plates/bowls.

There were several things we needed to consider when we were doing our meal planning for caravanning:

1.     We either had a terribly small fridge (think even smaller than the one you had in your dorm) or just a “chilly bin” (Aussie/Kiwi for what we Americans call a “cooler”) so keeping veggies fresh was a concern

2.     Keeping the number of dishes to a minimum was a must; our goal was one-pot meals (we didn’t have a sink so had to boil water from the 10gal we were carrying with us. And generally speaking, nothing really felt all that clean)

3.     We were living in a tin can, had limited space so wanted to make life easy on ourselves.  How much chopping and prep did we really want to be doing?

4.     We had less than sharp cutting utensils; lacked a cutting board, or were otherwise ill prepared to really do any prep anyway

5.     Conserve both water and cooking fuel (we didn’t know how difficult or easy it would be to re-stock either of these items)

6.     We needed foods that would be portable and easily stored

7.     Save money  

So, where did we turn? That’s right, to all those cans and packages of food that we normally avoid. Now, I’m not saying that we lost our minds and went all boxed mac n’ cheese on ourselves, but we certainly took advantage of the convenience canned and/or bagged foods provided.

The thing we bought most frequently were bags of prepared rice. You know the ones that are supposed to be heated in the microwave for 90 secs for instantly fluffy rice? All we did was heat them in the pot with a bit of water or tomato sauce; perfection.  We topped the rice off with some canned beans and tomatoes et voila, we had a great vegetarian chili. Also, canned veggies (which are generally persona non grata in our household) became the darlings of our meals and added these to our rice/quinoa blends (veggies is a misnomer here, as these were actually just corn and peas). 

Once we got the basics down, sauces really came into play. Here’s where those sodium-laden flavor pouches are saviors. We mixed things up with Indian spices but mostly relied on “Mexican” burrito/taco/chili mixes as our spices of choice. Without these, those bags of rice and cans of beans would have been tasteless.

Now, we did not forget ourselves entirely; I am too much of a veggie fiend to have done so. So we rounded out the canned goods with some wraps, hummus and greens. Pre-chopped stir-fry mixes came in handy as well, so we just threw the veg in the pot without any fuss. And anything we could buy at a local fruit stand on the way was a huge bonus (sadly, this option was rarer than we would have expected)!

Peanut butter. One must have peanut butter when car camping. It just seems appropriate to have some peanut butter on a banana or apple or even just a scoop on its own to round things out. PB can also save you when it is raining outside and there’s no way the gas cooker is going to work. Hopefully you’ve got some bread on hand…

Oh and the bulk section was essential; we made some amazing trail mix combinations (well Zac did, anyway) This came in handy as the afternoon or mid morning munchies struck. It was also a good way to get some good crunch in our lives.

One of the extravagances we allowed ourselves was yogurt. I love to have yogurt and muesli for breakfast in the morning and found that we could reliably keep three days worth of yogurt cold in whatever type of fridge we had.

I’m certain our sodium levels increased 100 fold over this month but I am also certain that we made the best choices for how we wanted to eat and, more importantly, the ease and cost efficiency we wanted to achieve.

I am sure there are other ways to go about eating on a car camping/caravanning adventure, but as I looked around the kitchens at various campgrounds, I saw everyone eating the same things, sandwiches, canned goods and pasta.  I have to say, at the end of this trip I felt pretty good about what we ate and have a new found appreciation for “convenience foods”.  I actually miss some of the meals we made on this trip and look forward to having a kitchen again some time soon.

Planning your own caravanning/car camping trip? Here’s the breakdown of our meal planner to help get you started with some food ideas:


·      Granola with yogurt or soy milk (purchased in the small “school lunch box” size)

·      Banana or apple with peanut butter

·      Instant coffee

·      Bagged tea


·      Self-made trail mix (make sure you get a combo of salty, crunchy, nutty, spicy and sweet)

·      Beef jerky (yep, you read that right. There’s just something about chewing on some really good beef jerky that completes the caravanning experience – even for this mostly vegetarian)


·      Wraps with hummus, cheese, carrots, salad mix

·      Wraps with canned tuna, salad mix

·      Carrots with hummus

·      Sun Chips

·      Protein bars


·      Packaged soup (sometimes with leftover green beans added)

·      Veggie curry with packaged brown rice (If we couldn’t find precut veggies we bought broccoli, green beans and mushrooms for easy prep)

·      Canned bean and tomato chili with packaged brown rice (if we were feeling really luxe we added avocado)

·      Ramen cup soup (this was totally the husband’s idea. But we went all the way and did not add any healthy veggies to this mix)

·      Packaged rice with canned corn and peas with soy sauce 

So tell us - what are your favorite roadtrip/car camping/glamping foods?