Food is, of course, an extremely important part of any residential or camping trip. Meal times can be a highlight of your event, particularly if you‘ve involved the children and young people in advance in planning and discussing what you’ll be eating. In preparing to go away with a group, you will want to consider a range of issues such as:
- menu planning and logistics
- sustainability & ethics
- catering for those with dietary requirements and allergies
- hygiene and food safety
It is a great idea to involve young people in the menu planning of any trip and makes for a good group night activity.
Ensure that you have all information about participant’s dietary and allergy information from the health and consent forms to inform your menu.
Consider what cooking equipment you will have during the event and make sure that menu planning fits with the equipment. If you are in a field kitchen cooking on gas ensure you have read and following the gas safety guidance.
When we go away with Woodcraft Folk we have the opportunity to model better, more co-operative and sustainable ways of living. The impact of our food choices is one example of how groups can engage with this in a tangible way. How can your group ensure that its camp menu contributes to a more sustainable world?
Some of the below suggestions may help groups start discussions around small and big ways to be more sustainable at events. Some suggestions are easier than others and some are more challenging on a tighter budget:
- Involve young people in menu planning before a camp – use activities such as pizza food miles and other activities about where our foods come from, and which are in season, to help educate young people on creating a sustainable and delicious menu for all to enjoy
- A more plant-based diet is likely to have a lower environmental impact – even if the majority of your group are not vegetarian or vegan, reducing meat and/or dairy is something you can explore. Groups don’t need to have a fully vegetarian camp, but could have meat-free days or main meals (e.g. using soya mince for a pasta bolognese).
- Think about water usage during your event
- Buy seasonal foods (and source these locally where possible)
- Consider waste and recycling on site – check in advance what can/cannot be recycled where you are staying. Is composting is available for food waste?
- Arrange local delivery if possible to reduce the environmental costs of transporting food to camp.
Dietary Requirements & allergies
It is essential to collect information about dietary needs and food allergies well in advance of your event, to ensure that your menu meets the needs of all campers.
If someone coming to camp has an airborne allergy (e.g. nuts), ensure that all participants are informed beforehand to not bring any food (including snacks) containing the relevant allergen, and that all bought products have been checked (e.g. cereal bars may contain nut traces). See here more information about the most common food allergens to be aware of.
As well as being aware of allergies it is important to take into account dietary requirements and preferences. Most participants’ preferences will be either:
- omnivore – a meat eater
- pescatarian – doesn’t eat meat but does eat fish
- vegetarian – doesn’t eat meat or fish, but will eat animal products such as eggs and dairy
- vegan – doesn’t eat any animal products
Some people may also have different diets for health reasons (e.g. gluten free, dairy free, low carbohydrate) or have requirements relating to their faith or culture (e.g. halal or kosher). It is vital to find out this information in the health and consent forms to guide your menu planning and food shopping. It may be that participants who follow a kosher or halal diet prefer to eat vegetarian during camps and residentials, but ensure to check before, and ask if you are unsure.
For help with menu ideas for catering for those with dietary requirements and allergies, plus lots of vegan/vegetarian options – check out the tried and tested Common Ground Camp Recipe book.
You should ensure that the KP for your event has the appropriate skills and knowledge to oversee the safe preparation of food on camp. Formal qualifications are not essential, but we recommend that KPs, especially for larger or longer camps, complete food hygiene training, such as a Level 2 food hygiene course, which typically takes around two hours to complete.
Free online training covering allergen awareness and safe food storage can be accessed via the Food Standards Agency. The FSA also provides information packs which you will find helpful to remind participants of good practice in preparing, service and storing food, cleaning food preparation areas, preventing cross-contamination and other useful topics.
What can we do with leftover food?
It is better to overorder than for participants to go hungry. If unopened food is left over at the end of the event, you could:
- return non-perishable items to the retailer for a refund (usually easier with large supermarkets)
- store food with a longer shelf-life until your next camp
- donate items to a food bank or community kitchen
- share out for participants to take home
Leftover food from meals whilst you are at camp can be reused in future meals, provided it can be stored safely (e.g. leftover pasta can make a second appearance as a pasta salad)
What sorts of things can we cook at camp?
Be sure to find out beforehand what equipment there will be in the kitchen at your event. Is there an oven, or will you be restricted to cooking on a hob? You may need to adapt recipes (e.g. ‘camp crumble’, where oats are fried in fat on the hob and combined with stewed fruit).
Meals that work well without an oven (and can mostly have meat free alternatives):
- Sausage and mash
- Eggy bread
- Pasta and sauce
- Curry and rice
- Tagine and cous cous
- Chilli and rice
- Pasta bake
- Seasonal fruit crumble
- Cottage Pie
- Homemade pizza
- Baked potatoes with fillings
Some groups cook on the campfire as part of their programme and cook dishes or snacks such as:
- Damper bread
- Baked potatoes
- Puddings such as orange cakes or chocolate bananas
- S’mores or toasted marshmallows
Find more examples in Food Food Food and Common Ground Recipe Book.
How do we manage cooking for lots of people?
Cooking for a large group is different for cooking meals for a household – it is easy to get confused when scaling up quantities. Our Food Food Food resource contains handy guides to quantities and ‘ready reckoners’ for staple foods, as well as tried-and-tested recipes for camps and residential trips – quantities are given for a group of 10, which makes scaling up amounts simple.
You will also need to consider:
- the age and balance of your group – Elfins tend to eat less than adults!
- cooking times (e.g. boiling times) will also need to be increased for larger quantities
- the amount of daylight available on camp, and how you will light your kitchen area if cooking after dark
Where is the best place to do food shopping for an event?
Every group has a slightly different approach to getting their food to camp. Depending on your venue you may find it easier to use home delivery from a supermarket to save you time (and petrol). Check with the venue in advance of the supermarkets they have worked with before to ensure that the venue is known/accessible for delivery vehicles.
For large camps, wholesalers or cash-and-carry stores may be better able to provide the quantities that you need at a competitive price, and in catering sizes, which will save on unnecessary packaging.
When shopping for food, consider ethical suppliers, which could include consumer co-op societies, and worker co-ops like Suma and Essential Trading. Some groups work direct with local fresh produce growers to ensure that the food on camp is locally sourced and in season.
What ethical considerations should we take into account?
When shopping for camp, consider ethical consumption and use the buying of food as a way to talk to your group appropriately about how corporations do not always adhere to respecting human rights of their workers and/or consumers, or protect the environment.
Where possible, we encourage the use of Fairtrade goods such as sugar, flour, coffee and chocolate. Explore Fairtrade as part of the programme and do activities in the run-up to the event about where our food comes from, and the positive impact Fairtrade has on food producers across the world. Find out more about Fairtrade here.