While on our company camping adventure, the kids mainly like to eat marshmallows, us grownups like to sit down at the end of the day and have a nice meal. To us, that means using fresh ingredients, so we take our cooler packing seriously.
Here’s our strategy:
1. Use decent coolers. we brought our Avenger coolers, they range from $119.99 to 199.99, but any heavy plastic coolers with handles and wheels and little plugs at the bottom for letting out the water will do.
TIP: Coolers double as stools.
2. Take the perishables seriously. We use cooler #1 for serious perishables. It contains one divider which doubles as a cutting board and a basket. One side is used for dairy and one side for meat. On top of the dairy side we put the basket, on which we put perishable condiments, like ketchup.
TIP: Above all, don’t forget the salt and pepper. It’s a sad day when you can’t have a little salt on your baked potato.
3. Prepare the veggies at home.Cooler #2 is for the fruits, veggies and drinks. We always clean, dry and sometimes cut up all our veggies at home. This makes life a lot easier and less gritty when you’re camping.
4. Freeze everything beforehand. Before we pack the coolers, we freeze around 8 big bottles of water – you know, the athletic size with the tops that pop up. These go in the bottom of the coolers and any place else we can fit them. We also have quite a few ice packs we’ve collected over the years and we freeze those and squeeze them into the nooks and crannies, like inside and in between the plastic containers. We freeze all the meat, the juice if it’s in boxes, and anything else that enjoys being frozen, even the butter. This all helps to keep things cool and fresh.
TIP: As the water thaws in the water bottles, you can drink it.
5. Plan your meals. We pack what we’re going to eat first at the top of the cooler. When the food is handy like that, the cooler stays open for less time, keeping the cool in.
TIP: It’s better to not have a lot of leftovers. They don’t keep that well without real refrigeration and last night’s sooty burgers are not a very welcoming sight in the morning. It’s better to figure out what you’re going to eat for each meal, bring and cook the right amount of food. One notable exception to this rule is leftover baked potatoes, which are always a nice addition to a camping breakfast.
6. Buy ice. When we got near the campsite we buy two bags of ice and divide them among the coolers. Usually, one bag can go in whole with the veggies in cooler #2. Then we divide the other bag of ice into big Ziploc bags and strategically jam them into cooler #1, and we usually have plenty left over for iced drinks! We didn’t need to buy more ice during the trip, and we don’t open the coolers a lot.
7. Keep the coolers cool and safe. We keep the coolers in the shade during the day. And then we put them in our vehicle at night so the dogs and coyotes and bears and possums can’t get them.
8. Keep the coolers tidy.b Don't let any messy but well-meaning family members muck about in the coolers. A neat and tidy cooler is a happy cooler.
9. Don't get food poisoning. If something smells bad, it is bad. Throw it out. If you can’t smell things, have someone else smell it. Don’t get Salmonella. Please. It’s very unpleasant, particularly when you’re camping.
Now get out there and enjoy your cool adventures!