Fresh Off the Grid

Have you ever dreamed of quitting your unfulfilling job, buying a souped-up Sprinter van, and hitting the road? Formerly LA-based foodies Megan McDuffie and Michael van Vliet did just that, except with a Ford Focus hatchback. See what they have to say on ditching the grind, living on the road, and eating healthier in the outdoors.

Why the Ford Focus? Why not upgrade to a van?
Michael: We made it work with the car we had. We thought about motorcycles, bikes, a van, but realizing we didn’t have to have some sorta special adventuremobile to do it, that was a liberating sorta moment.

What was that first night on the road like?
Megan: We didn’t really have a plan. We had driven from L.A. to Big Sur in the middle of summer on a Saturday night, and we didn’t have camping reservations. All of a sudden we were faced with the fact like maybe we weren’t super prepared.

What was the goal behind your blog Fresh off the Grid?
Megan: Before this road trip, we camped a lot and we were tired of feeling like we had to change what we ate because we were camping. Eating healthfully was something that was always important to us, but your typical camp food is not what I would categorize as healthy—beans, burgers, brats. We decided to start Fresh off the Grid to adapt camp food to something that was a little healthier and more exciting.

You would think outdoorsy people eat healthy at home and in the woods, right?
Michael: Backpackers in particular will spend thousands of dollars on gear to shave a couple ounces off but they won’t spend a dime on better food. They might have a better experience if they spent the money and ate a little better.

Any memorable moments when things didn’t pan out as planned?
Megan: We had been trying to make this pumpkin curry with lentils, and we kept messing it up. The lentils would end up crunchy, but that was our dinner for the night so we had to keep eating it. On the fourth or fifth attempt, we couldn’t handle it anymore. We threw it out, drove an hour back into town, and got KFC that night.

Check out Michael and Megan’s 10 tried-and-true tips for making camp food delicious and nutritious.

1. Experiment at home.
The main thing that makes cooking more attainable is practice.

2. Have a plan.
Don’t just show up to the campground and wing it. That’s how people get sucked into the burgers-and-brats menu.

3. If you’re going to carb out, keep it balanced.
Oatmeal is a bowl of carbs that burns off by 10:30 and you’re starving again. But if you add some seeds and fresh fruit, it starts to balance itself out. So if mac ‘n’ cheese is on the menu tonight, toss in some veggies.

4. Use tough vegetables.
Select heartier vegetables that can withstand rough and tumble camping. Sweet potatoes, cabbage, and zucchini are good. Tomatoes and avocado? Not so much.

5. Cook your delicates first.
Use your delicate fruits and vegetables during the first day or two of your camping trip. Warm cars and cooler water never did any vegetable much good.

6. Buy canned vegetables.
Most every vegetable these days comes canned. Great for car camping, not ideal for backpacking.

7. Find substitutes for your favorite products.
Try ghee instead of butter, powdered milk for carton milk, tomato powder for tomato paste. A number of brands make dehydrated vegetables.

8. Don’t short yourself on utensils.
“A lot of people think they can just get away with a little Swiss Army knife,” says Megan. “If you don’t use it at home, don’t use it camping.”

9. Find your favorite spiceS.
It adds so much to a meal. Even a little salt and pepper can be a saving culinary grace.

10. Put olive oil on everything.
Hey backpackers—olive oil has 119 calories per 1 tablespoon. ‘Nuff said.

Check out Megan and Michael’s adventures and recipes on their blog Fresh Off the Grid and on Instagram @freshoffthegrid.