9 cooler packing tips from an off-grid cottager

Cooler Photo by URTIMUD PRODUCTION / Shutterstock

This article was originally published in the Spring 2017 issue of Cottage Life magazine.

Our water-access place doesn’t have electricity, running water, or a fridge. Since we can’t leave even a package of hot dogs for next time, we’ve developed lots of shortcuts and strategies for packing food for the weekend. Even if your cabin does have all the amenities we lack, these tips will help you spend more time relaxing and less time scrambling.

1. Freeze made-ahead meals in zip-lock bags, flat like a book. This method makes it easier to pack your cooler and stay organized. Stack in the order that you’ll be eating them or slide the packages in vertically, so that you’re not rummaging around for something on the bottom. Because the packages are thin, they’re quicker to defrost when it’s time to use them.

2. Empty jarred sauces (I don’t always have time to make them from scratch), and freeze flat in zip-lock bags to save space and lighten the load.

3. Prepare a batch of your favourite marinade (I do a soy, ginger, garlic, maple syrup version) to flavour up grilled vegetables, fish, tofu, or meats in a flash. Marinate meats and chicken, and freeze in zip-lock bags for a quick, portable meal on the barbecue.

4. Cut down on cold packs by using your frozen food, water bottles, bags of milk, and frozen smoked salmon.

5. At home, chop and freeze leftover herbs, green onions, and knobs of peeled ginger for giving your dishes an instant flavour kick.

6. Remember, everything in the cooler will get wet as the ice melts, so be sure to use leak-proof containers and plastic bags.

7. Don’t pack food into a warm cooler, pulled straight from the attic. You can use cold packs or cold water or sacrifice a bag of ice to cool it down—the colder the better.

8. Pack foods you need to stay coolest (like raw meat) on the bottom, and layer up.

9. Make extra batches of meals during the week to freeze for hassle-free options that you can simply warm up. Chilies, dals, soups, and curries are good contenders.

Looking for more cottage hacks? Check out our special get-ready guide in the Spring 2017 issue—on newsstands now!