Does the idea of provisioning food and supplies for a three week remote outback adventure conjure tumbleweeds in your brain? Or maybe you’re simply sick of doing the weekly supermarket shop and want to reclaim your weekends. If so, you’re in the right place. We’re here to help you spend less and see more.
Since March 2021, we have been touring through some of Australia’s most isolated and remote areas in our off-road caravan, set up to live completely off-grid. Our month-long journey from Port Augusta to Alice Springs via the Flinders Ranges, Strzelecki Desert, Birdsville and then across the Plenty Highway put our planning skills to the ultimate test. We needed to feed a family of four for over four weeks with only a 190L fridge/freezer and a small (very small) pantry. There would be the odd roadhouse along the way, but fresh supplies aren’t guaranteed unless you time your arrival with a road train.
We’ve developed some golden rules of planning for off-grid remote overlanding that allow us (a family of four) to go more than three weeks between shops. Below are our top 10 tips for absolutely nailing it.
1. Fridge and Freezer Space are Premium Real Estate.
It’s time to put those years of mastering Tetris to good use and make every square centimetre count. We use Tupperware ‘vent smart’ containers that fit like a glove to get the maximum use of space and longevity out of our salads and veggies. Containers that fit snugly will also help protect things from bouncing around and pulverising while you’re on corrugations.
When shopping, we usually prioritise value, but we also consider the shape of the packaging to maximise fridge space. Rectangles and cubes tessellate better than cylinders and can be worth spending that extra.
2. Make the Most of Meat.
Step 1- Get yourself a vacuum sealer. Step 2- Buy in bulk to save $$$. Step 3- Remove all packaging and vacuum seal the meat in flat rectangles. Step 4- Stack it in the freezer and marvel at your brilliance.
When selecting meat, buy boneless cuts (bones are just wasted space) and versatile for lots of different recipes. Rump steak, breast fillets, mince, shortcut bacon, and fish fillets allow you to change plans on the fly and cook what needs to be used first. We often buy boneless roasts and cut them in half. This way, they thaw faster, and that’s usually enough for one family dinner. Boneless roasts are also great to cut into steaks, stir fry meat, casserole meat etc. They make great lunch meats and are way cheaper than deli meats at around $15/kg (or less).
3. Fruit and Veg Selection is Critical.
Any that don’t need refrigeration get the golden tick. Think potatoes, pumpkin, sweet potato, onions, apples, mandarins, bananas, oranges and limes. The next best is hardy greens that won’t wilt after day three. Cabbage, brussel sprouts, broccolini (lasts longer than broccoli), zucchini, green beans, baby spinach (lasts longer than rocket or mixed leaf salad), carrots, celery, and frozen peas are all winners. If you’re reading this and baulking at how you’re ever going to get your kids to eat cabbage and zucchini.
To take it to a pro-level, you can buy things like corn on the cob, whole cabbage and carrots that will last a week out of the fridge, then transfer them into the fridge once you’ve eaten your way into some space. You can also buy unrefrigerated eggs from most supermarkets; who knew? If they haven’t been refrigerated, they can stay out of the fridge and be kept in a cool pantry. Don’t keep them near any batteries or your inverter, as these cupboards can heat up. Eggs are an amazing form of protein and versatile for breakfast, lunch or dinner. That makes them eggcellent, in our opinion.
Those are the do’s, now for the don’ts. If you know the journey will be a rough ride, avoid things that bruise easily, like avocados, fresh berries and anything that doesn’t seal 100%. Trust me, opening a fridge when the yogurt lid’s come off is not what you want after a day in the dust. The worst story we’ve ever come across is a family who had a half-open jar of anchovies smash and splatter all through their fridge. Ew.
4. Plan, Plan, Plan.
Do a stocktake of what you already have. Then create a meal plan and create the shopping list. Plan every meal: breakfast, lunch, dinner, drinks and snacks. Then make sure every ingredient is on the list.
For a three week shop, we generally plan one week of meat and salad then seven long-life based diners and double the quantity (7 + 14 =21). This minimises the number of ingredients you need and minimises the chances of forgetting a critical ingredient.
It’s also good to have backup emergency long-life meals if you want to stay longer than planned or something goes off. Noodles, pasta, a jar of pesto sauce and a few tins of baked beans can do wonders for peace of mind.
5. When Coffee Is Life (don’t worry, we hear you), Powdered Milk Is Your New Best Friend.
We go through more milk than a poddy calf as a family of four. In a standard week living in Canberra, it would be nothing for us to go through 15L with cereal, coffee, second coffee, cups of tea and general cooking.
A trip through Central Australia is a long way from any dairy farms. Our outback travel has taught us that fresh milk is rarer than tits on a bull, and if you manage to get your hands on some, it usually expires within a day or two (due to the transport time).
Our 190L Bushman fridge allows us to carry 8L of fresh milk on the bottom door shelf. You’re a smart cookie and already worked out 8L is simply not going to cut it for a three week remote outback adventure. So here’s how we manage. Fresh milk is reserved for coffee only. Simon and I also cut down from using 500ml of milk for our morning coffees to 250ml. That means 8L now makes 64 cups of strong coffee. That’s two coffees a day for 32 days. To make the milk last 32 days without expiring, as soon as there’s room in the freezer, you cram it in there.
And here’s where powdered milk is your friend. We use it for everything else. Yep, everything. Start with using it in cooking like porridge, mashed potatoes, rice pudding, pancakes and cake batters to get used to it. Then once you’ve warmed your tastebuds up to the idea, pop it on your weet-bix.
We see so many people opting for UHT long-life milk, but in our opinion, the extra weight and storage space just isn’t worth it for something that tastes almost the same.
6. Versatile Appliances.
It might sound obvious, but don’t plan a meal that needs a blender if you don’t have a blender. Consider what cooking appliances you will have, how long each meal takes to cook and how much power that will use. More on power set up later.
I mentally make the meal and check that I’ve got all the appliances I need before it goes on the meal plan list.
We travel with a coffee machine, Thermomix, induction hotplate, Weber, Bedourie camp oven and a nesting set of saucepans. That’s it. Think about versatility with appliances. You simply won’t have the space to bring everything your home usually has. Our Thermomix replaces most countertop items, including our kettle, slow cooker, blender, mix master, sous vide, steamer, cocktail maker, rice cooker and kitchen scales. If you’re tossing up whether to bring yours, we think they are the duck’s nuts! They replace several appliances, have hundreds of your favourite inbuilt recipes available offline (thousands with internet access) and allow you to buy fewer basic ingredients, saving you $$$. There’s nothing better than kicking back with sundowners while the Thermomix cooks dinner for you. If you want us to show you more about them or are interested in buying one without the fuss of hosting a party, send us an email or message on our socials.
7. Be Power Savvy.
Managing your resources is critical to staying off-grid for extended periods. Consider what you are using to cook …fire, solar (electric) or gas? Having options is critical. Camp oven cooking doesn’t work in places with fire bans, gas can be inefficient in windy conditions and relying on solar leaves you at the mercy of the weather or drive time.
We knew we wanted to live completely off-grid but with enough power to operate a coffee machine, Thermomix and induction hotplate daily to make life easy. We also have laptops and cameras for our business and YouTube. We have 400a/hrs of lithium batteries, 720watts of solar and a 2600 watt inverter. This gives us maximum versatility.
Whilst this is the ideal setup for us, we realise that this is not everyone’s prefered camping style or budget so here are the main power rules to follow to maximise what you’ve got. First, always prioritise what’s replenishable, i.e. solar. This also goes for doing the dishes. Yes, we could turn on the gas and heat the entire hot water tank in the van, but it’s better to save gas and use solar to boil water in the Thermomix. If we’re parked in a shady spot and know we’re there for a few days, we use the gas or BBQ to ensure our batteries have enough to keep the fridge and laptops going.
Be savvy about when you cook. We often cook dinner at lunchtime. Why? Because often by lunch, we’ve recouped all our solar, and our batteries are 100% charged, which means the rest of the day’s sunshine will waste. By cooking at lunchtime, we use the power that can be replenished that afternoon.
Consider what’s feasible for your setup and work with what you’ve got.
8. Dehydrated Delights.
Dehydrated foods are lightweight, save space and can be key for getting variety or bulking out a meal. Think about whether any ingredients come in a dehydrated form with any recipe. You can get some amazing dehydrated mushrooms and use them in risottos or stir-frys. We also carry dehydrated black beans, chickpeas and lentils rather than tins as they weigh less and take up less room. If you’re not familiar with recipes that use dehydrated beans, lentils or grains, I’d suggest doing a quick google (or Cookidoo) search before you travel and get a few in your repertoire. Our snack cupboard has sultanas, dried apricots, dates and dried apples stored in Tupperware containers for when the fresh fruit runs out or is hard to get.
9. Product Selection.
Make every inch of space count. We opt for Weet-bix over other bulky box cereals. When selecting pasta, 500g of spaghetti takes up significantly less space than 500g of penne. Corn kernels take up less room than popcorn or chips. Smoked salmon and salami make great lunch meats as they are super long-life and take up minimal space. Keeping this in mind when shopping means you’ll be able to store more food. The more you can take the longer you can go.
Many remote areas have restrictions on how much alcohol you can buy at a time and restrictions on what time a bottle shop opens, so don’t leave it to the last minute heading out of town to pick up unless you’ve already checked. It’s no fun racing the pack up to get away, only to be sitting in a car park because the bottlo doesn’t open for another hour. Some areas are dry communities. If you’re stopping in an area, find out the rules and make sure you’re able to get what you need.
We always buy warm drinks and then put just what we need for the day in the fridge. After about a week, there will be plenty of room for a few extras.
Thanks for reading to the end; hopefully, there are a few hot tips here that will give you some ideas on what you need to consider for remote meal planning. Hit us up on Facebook or Instagram if you’ve got any other great tips or ideas.