When I first headed along to LARP, almost four years ago now, I ate terribly. I don’t mean that I missed meals or forgot to eat, but rather I spent my weekends living on fast food and junk. Being a crew member at Profound Decisions comes with free meal tickets – and being skint and virtually homeless at the time I took full advantage. Burgers, chips, macaroni cheese – I ate them for every meal. With a full English in the mornings. And I supplemented those meals with snacks from the crew hut like flapjack brownies and, yes, Freddo’s by the fistful. It wasn’t a healthy diet I was fueling my body with.
It was great. Well, unless I realised that eating like this at LARP events was making me quite unwell. I’m not a big person either – at 5ft tall and slim I just couldn’t continue putting away portions designed to fuel LARPers that were twice the size of me. Moving in with my partner and doing a wider variety of games (other than just fests) also made me reconsider the way that I was eating at LARP events and something had to change.
Now I’m not saying that everyone should eat healthy food when they’re away at LARP (or at any other time in their life) but there does seem to be a certain expected ‘burger van’ culture of catering at many events – especially fests. And if you don’t want to eat that kind of food it can be difficult to find healthy alternatives. I should also give a huge shout out here to people like The Grange, Goldbird Catering, and The Gaol who have all supplied balanced food for events I’ve been at. Over the last two years the Profound Decisions crew hut supplies have hugely improved too – fresh fruit is now a permanent fixture alongside the chocolate bars!
But anyway – I digress. The best thing that my partner and I did this year was buy a 4m bell tent with Frontier stove. I will lovingly froth at everyone about how much this has changed my crewing experience. The Frontier essentially gives me a convenient stove top for cooking on, and it usually takes less than half an hour to get warmed up. I take with me to events an enamel casserole and some balti dishes, and that’s all the cooking pots I need for the two of us and the odd friend.
This is the food I’ve just packed for the last Empire LRP of the season. Having cooked for the best part of a year, I think I’ve started to get the hang of what I need to take and what I don’t in order to eat healthily. So I’d like to share, as a starting point, some of the things I have found that work for me. (These are largely referral links to Amazon – I make a few pennies towards site costs if you order things from the website once you’ve clicked on the link).
- Onions, peppers, and mushrooms make great vegetarian staples for most one-pot dishes. If you’re looking for an even quicker solution you can buy them pre-chopped from the supermarket in the salad aisle (I do this sometimes). I pretty much always buy these vegetables to take with me because you can put them in anything: curry, tagine, bolognese, stew…
- Courgettes and carrots. This is basically where you ‘add veg to taste’ (or meat, I guess – but the advantage of vegetarian catering at events is that you don’t have to worry about meat spoiling). Courgettes work brilliantly in curry and carrots for tagine. I also tend to pick up a bag of spinach or spring greens for the cool bag.
This crate stays more or less packed between events and I just top it up as we run low. It’s full of things with long shelf lives that I can mostly pull meals together from, as well as breakfasts and light lunches.
- The Spice Tailor. I was bored and hungry in Tesco one day; what I really fancied was a takeaway curry but instead I found these. They aren’t cheap (around £3 a pack) so you could instead just buy cheaper jars of sauces, but they’re honestly worth every penny to feel like you’re eating well. They contain separate bags of spices, onion and garlic, and sauce meaning that it’s almost like cooking a curry from scratch. I always have tins of tomato and coconut milk stashed in the basket to just extend the sauce slightly, and I cook whatever healthy vegetables I have on hand in it (usually with a tin of chickpeas added and some naan bread alongside instead of rice). The Rogan Josh is pretty excellent as is the Fiery Goan Curry. I’m basically working my way through the whole range at each event I go to.
- Gastro Moroccan Tagine. I did cook a tagine from scratch in a lovely heavy Le Creuset* shallow casserole at the first event we took the stove to. It was great. But it was an awful lot of messing about while I was crewing. (If I was playing I’d proberbly make the effort one night at an event if I had more time to sit around in camp.) Instead I have succumbed to the way of convenience and I now buy this Lloyd Grossman sauce. I keep sultanas and tinned chickpeas in the crate ready to add to some fresh vegetables, and there are even little packets of couscous (because those big packs, they always end up splitting and going everywhere).
- Tinned vegetables. Peas, sweetcorn, even fried onion in case I forget real onions (or just don’t feel like chopping them up). They can all quickly be dumped into one pot meals to add variety or extend it for unexpected guests.
- Beanfeast Bolognese* and Super Rice*. This is mostly my partners contribution and I am a reluctant convert. You just add hot water. And they taste pretty good too.
- Sugar Free Red Bull*. I do actually like the taste. And it’s only 12 calories which is far better than most sweet, fizzy drinks.
- Hot drinks. Events can get cold. And I don’t know about you, but I can’t function without a hot drink in the mornings. The tupperware box in the photo has a selection of different herbal teas that just need hot water. They’re mostly Clipper*. Sometimes I find myself thinking I’m hungry when I’m actually a bit bored (it’s a bit like when I get up from the sofa and open the fridge at home with no real purpose). So I drink herbal tea. My regular tea of choice is Clipper Organic*. And the instant coffee that we take to events is Nescafe Azera because it doesn’t taste totally foul. If I have space I sometimes take a V60 drip coffee maker* and some fresh coffee, or an Aeropress*.
- Breakfast. It’s important when I’m trying to eat healthily that I start the day well. I’ve got three options this weekend: The first are porridge sachets*. You’re supposed to microwave them, but they’re just as easy on the stove top (and at 50 for £11, it’s a no-brainer). Lately I’ve got myself a bit hooked on this Fuel 10k chocolate granola* (I usually get it from Tesco). To make it simpler for events, I’ve pre-measured portions into little snack bags and I’ll pack some yoghurts in the cool bag. Lastly are the Fuel 10k liquid breakfasts*. I’ve always hated these kind of meal replacement drinks with a passion because they taste of dust and cardboard, but these are pretty good. I drink them regularly before 0630hrs gym classes when I’m not at events. Since they don’t need a fridge and they have a long date, they’re good and relatively healthy standbys.
- Snacks. If the event doesn’t provide a crew hut with fruit I usually add apples and bananas to the basket. Other than that, it’s just the usual stuff: Soreen bars, dried fruit, nuts, chocolate bars and some little packs of crisp things. Basically – whatever is on offer in the Supermarket that week. Itsu’s individual packets of Miso soup* are my other hidden gem for snacks. Add hot water to the paste and you have a strong tasting broth that makes you feel like you’ve eaten.
I’ve not included the contents of the coolbag in the post above. To be honest, for Empire it’s mostly just milk, yoghurts, and booze that I’ve put in the freezer first to act as ice packs. My cool bag is a £3.50 Ikea one. It’s not great, but it just about does three days if you put enough frozen stuff in (I fill the space with frozen bottles of water).
Next year my plan is to do my LARP store-cupboard shopping all in one go at the beginning of the season. I’m hoping to take advantage of service likes Amazon Pantry (if you’ve not tried that yet you really should) and offers at the supermarkets to make it as cheap as possible. If you have any suggestions for healthy recipes that can be largely bought and prepped in advance or brilliant products that you couldn’t live with out, drop us a line in the comments!
I hope that this post convinces you that with a little planning it’s not too arduous a task to cook relatively healthy meals at events. From starting the fire to eating I rarely spend more than an hour cooking in the evening. While group catering and campfire cooking can be enjoyable, you can also have the benefits of healthy food without the time-sink.