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Al Fresco dining on holidays

The essential food checklist for your open-air holiday

Flip-flops, swimming togs, delicious food…one of the most wonderful parts of an open-air holiday is the freedom to eat what you want, when you want. Impromptu BBQs, picnics in nature, al fresco suppers with new friends… there’s something about being outdoors that gives us an appetite for fresh, simple, shareable food. 

But we know you want to spend more of your time enjoying your meals, than shopping and preparing them. Yes, of course choosing specialties at the local market is a joy and collecting freshly baked pastries in the mornings is a lovely way to meet the shopkeepers in the area. However, to avoid long supermarket excursions, follow these simple tips to lighten the lists.

For the journey

To start your open-air holiday on the right note, have snacks ready to enjoy on the journey. Water, protein bars, fruit and nuts are good for travelling. Bring lots to keep you going throughout all the hikes and adventures of your holiday.

The day of arrival

Especially if you are going to be travelling all day and arriving at your campsite late, it’s wonderful if you have a meal ready-to-go. A simple spaghetti bolognese is handy to prepare in advance and freeze, letting it defrost during the journey, so it’s ready to heat and serve when you arrive. Don’t forget to have two pots: one to heat the sauce and the other to cook the pasta. Some grated parmesan is a perfect addition.

Tent or chalet

Where you are going and how you set up your camp will factor into what sort of foodstuff you should pack for the journey. But there are some essentials for a fuss-free camping trip, namely the proper equipment for cooking or preparing the meals you have planned (think vegetable peeler, grater and other small but handy implements), so it’s a good idea to list ingredients and utensils needed for each meal idea.

Create your camping food checklist in quick easy steps

Grab yourself a cooler

Coolers are perfect for travelling with beverages and liquid items like can soda, milk, or juice and handy for storing leftovers. Sizes vary for individual and vehicular transport.

Stock-up on ingredients


Bacon and eggs on the grill, or burritos, are delicious breakfast meals and an actually be enjoyed regardless of the time of day! Whole grain cereals using boxed milk are nutritious and very easy to prepare. Hummus with pitta breads or dried fruits with nuts are healthy alternatives for vegetarians, vegans, and others on restricted diets. Include a plastic jar of Nutella or peanut butter as breakfast essentials for the youngsters.


A hearty lunch recharges the batteries after a morning of activities. If you’ve packed a grill, then burgers and sausages are great filler-uppers the whole family will love. DIY pizza or mac and cheese are tasty alternatives, while soups and DIY quesadillas are acceptable options for alternative eaters.

Alfresco dining

Make choices that don’t require as much prep as you might do at home – you’re on holidays after all! Without a doubt, hotdogs and beans are an all-time campfire favourite. Chilli with rice is also easy, whilst vegetarian kebabs and tacos make for healthy alternatives. 

Suitable snacks for in-between meals

Including the right snacks with your food for life in the open-air, is an absolute must. Energy bars, fruit and trail mix are popular options for healthy snacks, and you can alternate these with crisps, dips and biscuits/cookies to keep the mood and the energy at just the right levels in-between lunch and dinner. 

There’s always room for dessert

Gathering with family or friends under the stars to enjoy dessert is the perfect way to end each day. Pre-packed cakes or pies can be heated easily, or easten cold. Grilled apples and pineapple are tasty too, but when you really want to score top points with the kids, toasted marshmallows or s’mores can’t be beaten.

We’ve spotted some good camping recipes on some of these websites:

Cooking equipment for camping in tents and vans

If you’re not staying in a mobile home or chalet, it all starts with a grill or portable stove for cooking your food. MSR stoves or hybrid stove-fuel combos and portable water treatment systems are a perfect fit for backpackers, camping sites or vans. A stainless-steel pot and kettle should be included with sizes to match the number of persons in your camping party and if you’ve got the space, add a stainless-steel griddle as well for variety.

Other essentials

Tin foil, spatula, ladle, scissors, sharp knife, cutting board, oven gloves, sturdy plastic plates and bowls, hot pad and a couple of lighters should be on the list of basics for preparing your meals, as well as whatever utensils you find essential at home day to day.

Food consumption

Microwave-ready plastic bowls, plates and cups are ideal items to serve food during open-air trips due to their weight and the fact that you can reuse them as often as needed. If you don’t already have a specific set for outdoor use, just grab some stuff from the kitchen when you pack your bags as a cost-saving measure. Plastic cups with handles are easier for handling hot liquids and can double for cold ones too while plastic plates with separated sections are preferred to avoid the spill factor when serving meals. Select different colours for a splash of variety. 

Food Storage: waste not, want not

Ideally, you should prepare just enough to feed everyone, but appetites vary, so cooking a little extra is never a bad idea. The best way to deal with leftover food is to store it in reusable containers with screw-lids or vacuum sealed Tupperware to keep out ants and insects, in addition to safeguarding food against short- term spoilage.

Respect your environment: cleaning-up

When you’re off on an extended holiday, never forget to include your “clean-up crew” when compiling your camping food checklist. Cleanliness in the great outdoors is just as important as in your camping van or chalet and protects against bacteria, vermin, and local wildlife besides being respectful of your environment. If you’re backpacking, then burying organic refuse is your best option, otherwise a roll of strong garbage bags will suffice.

Cleaning products

There are biodegradable solvents and sanitising wet wipes that are safe for the environment, which can be used for all your pots, pans and dishes as well as hands and faces. Always leave your camping site or accommodation in pristine condition, or at least as you found it.

Intangibles: items that make the difference

Unless you’re an experienced camper, you may know that certain items not on the daily menu can prove indispensable to your open-air food checklist when spending time in the great outdoors. Top on this list should be a fire extinguisher – whether you’re indoors or out, it’s the fastest way to put out a fire without wasting your water resources. Another great idea (especially for backpackers) is a folding shovel, which can be used to bury holes for organic food refuse or for tents if using campsites. A couple of plastic tablecloths are great ideas for protecting your camp table against wind and rain.

Getting the most benefit from your camping checklist

Planning a camping food checklist is no different from anything else and requires thought and consideration so here are a few questions and answers that might help.

Is a campfire better for cooking than a portable stove?

A campfire is the ultimate way to enjoy camping food, but this depends on location and environment. Camping vans, chalets and other indoor accommodations provide superior equipment that you don’t have to carry and is always the best option for cooking food. You can always select locations where it is permissible to build fires, so you have the indoor/outdoor option-just make sure you’ve got a working extinguisher as well.

Which type of fuel is best for a portable stove?

Refined petroleum products such as gasoline and kerosene can give off fumes, which may be harmful if inhaled by children and are not environmentally friendly. Comparatively, butane or propane are cleaner sources of fuel, lighter which makes them easier to transport and burn much more efficiently so consider either of these fuels to power your portable stove when cooking camping food.

Is using metalware or plastic products better for camping food?

Both are ideally suited so it really comes down to personal choice though most might agree that metal products are the better of the two. When it comes to eating and drinking for camping purposes you can always carry plastic ware for the younger kids and save the metalware for the teens and adults.

How much food should I bring when camping?

The amount of food for camping is entirely dependent on number of individuals and number of meals to be served daily. Location and season are important factors since people tend to eat more in the winter than summer and you can always resupply with a campervan. As a rule of thumb, however, always pack more food than you think you need because you never really know.

Should I pack canned foods and bottles when camping?

Canned foods and glass bottles can be heavy and bulky to feed an average family, so it’s recommended to keep them to the bare minimum when preparing your camping food checklist-unless you’re travelling by vehicle. You can transfer the contents of several cans of tuna into one larger plastic container for example or prepare specific dishes beforehand. 

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