Everything is made better with food. Everything. Single. Thing.
With that in mind, what are we eating at music festivals? We love the music, the fun, the energy, the people watching – but good food is essential in making the most of it and avoiding the hangries. And good food takes some planning.
With that in mind, we have put together a curated food prep guide for two general types of music festival experiences: simple items for a single day event with restrictions on what you can get through security, and food prepared in advance with no security restrictions.
We selected stuff that has serious nutrition, logistical ease, and low to no spoilage risk (spoiled food is a fucking downer, as are the acute GI illnesses that come from consuming it…). We also include some personal recommendations for great gear to help minimize the work and maximize your time to enjoying the music.
Single-day Event With Security Restrictions
These events likely offer an assortment of food trucks. While food trucks are having a well-deserved renaissance that we too have been known to revel in, the food can get old after a bit, attack your GI tract in a mean way, and set you back a pretty penny. We would rather feel good and be able to afford another festival ticket…
With that in mind, the festival survival guide team recommends some low-profile items to nosh on in order to reduce your reliance on food truck offerings (don’t get us wrong, we will have our loaded nachos fries, but we also try to balance that out with some other offerings):
These are Cliff Bar 2.0 – they have taken it up a notch. The bars are high in protein, low in sugar, and tasty yummy. They are NOT the dry oat bars of yore, and offer a nice chewy, creamy snack.
These are a great alternative to those who don’t eat oats or need something that is certified gluten-free. However, if you want to make something on your own we highly recommend whipping up a batch of fudge babies. Add dates, nuts, cocoa powder, vanilla, and salt to a food processor and viola. They taste rich and fudgy but are clean eating to a T. Personally, we recommend using roasted pecans, and a heavy hand with the cocoa powder and salt.
They are essentially hippie Gatorade, and they rock. A big plus is they are light, and you can add them on the go to any drink. They are great for hydration and can center you a bit if you had too much time in the sun, drinking, or both.
While there are loads of great granola bars out there including Kind Bars, these might be worth making from scratch. Seriously. Dump in pan, bake, eat – and be everyone’s favorite festival pal (#winning). Our favorite recipe is from Smitten Kitchen; however, these are thick and crumbly. Our recommendation is to initially halve the salt and then adjust to taste). No matter the recipe, consider adding dried tart cherries to elevate things, and using M&Ms if including chocolate as the hard shell prevents messy melting from occurring halfway through a hot festival day.
Nuts and jerky offer a nice satiating, but easily portable snack. These can be a real lifesaver after walking and standing (and perhaps drinking) throughout the day.
A note on food allergies and event security: It can be tough to navigate situations where you are essentially a captive audience when it comes to food selections. For those with gluten, nut, shellfish, dairy, or other allergies – advocate for yourself and bring what you need. Be kind, wait for a lull in the security line, and if you get push back for having ‘outside food items’, explain your food allergy and that you are just trying to take in the music like everyone else safely.
Say your please and thanks you’s – if you continue to get resistance, ask to see a supervisor and say that you are happy to wait to chat through options. In our experience, it is just a matter of maintaining patience until you find the right person who will meet you where you are at. Food is a human right and allergies should not be an obstacle from the joys of a festival. Resist!
Food Prepared In Advance
Most of the music festival camping scene isn’t like traditional camping, in the sense that you won’t have a firepit and the space to set up a grill. In this way, we prep the hell out of our meals. This works out nicely as festival season is often in the warmer months and you are gunning for cool meals. Below are some tried and true favorites from our group focusing on things that keep well in a cooler for a few days and pack in flavor and nutrients.
But first, it is essential to have a great cooler. We recommend YETI as a top-notch, indestructible product, but for a more budget-friendly option, consider this awesome Coleman cooler. Getting a few Ice Packs for the cooler can help keep things cooler longer as well. Also, you might want to purchase a solid block of ice (it will melt more slowly and create a cold sink in the cooler where you can place those items that most need to be cooled). Once the cooler is packed, then nestle ice cubes in any cracks and crevices.
All of these dishes can be stored in lightweight, stackable, plastic Tupperware, and served in a cup with a spoon (#SimpleWins). We recommend bringing a large serving spoon (which you can clean between meals), as well as several microfiber cloths for napkins and clean up rather than using paper towels, you know ‘cuz of the environment and stuff. Bring small dry bags to serve as a laundry basket (reusable, washable, and will keep critters out), and bring another to serve as a recycle bin (in case the event fails to provide onsite recycling).
For a more sustaining breakfast consider adding salted nuts, dried fruits, fresh fruits, and some agave nectar or honey on top. Simple and classic.
Yup, these are Pinterest as fuck, but they have remained on-trend for several years because they make sense. They are packed full of flavor and protein, yummy both when served hot and cold, and make for great finger foods. Simply make your favorite quiche or frittata recipe, pour the filling into a lightly greased muffin tin, and bake for 10-12 minutes at 375 degrees. We are huge fans of this recipe: https://www.cottercrunch.com/hatch-green-chile-egg-casserole/ (substitute poblano peppers if you don’t have access to hatch chilies).
- Garlic cottage cheese dip
Cottage cheese is a super cheap protein! In this whipped dip, the cheese curds become incredibly smooth. This is a refreshing and creamy meal with veggies and crackers.
Sometimes you fall in love over hummus… OK, maybe that is just us, but this recipe is a KILLER combination of smoky and spicy! Add 2 cans of chickpeas, half a jar of roasted red peppers (with a few teaspoons of the oil), a jar of pitted black olives, coriander, cumin, fresh garlic, black pepper, cayenne pepper, parsley, salt, and blend until you get the texture you are looking for.
There are no measurements because Skip doesn’t measure shit! 😉 Simply use how much you think will taste good and adjust the next batch accordingly. This is a tasty and super healthy treat that goes great with chips, veggies, or as a spread on your hipster toast.
A nice alternative for those who don’t like, or are burnt out on hummus. Creamy and with protein.
This is hearty and simple as fuck. We recommend increasing the lemon juice, adding in a few tablespoons of celery seeds and a generous pinch of cayenne. To keep the avocado from browning, pack the salad tightly in a Tupperware and place thin slices of lemon on top. The acid will help prevent oxidizing.
- Smashed, tangy green bean salad
Tasty, keeps well, fun for kids (you literally get to smash the beans). Add crispy onions and nuts before serving.
Holy moly is this a summer staple at all of our outdoor events. To make it a little heartier, add thinly shredded green cabbage.
- Quinoa, fennel, and fava bean salad
This salad keeps so well! We once took it on a summer Florida scuba diving trip and it was great on day 3. We add more limes, an extra jalapeno, and a healthy dollop of sambal oelek. Right before serving, add slivered almond and raisins.
- Loaded Greek quinoa salad
An alternative hearty salad to that listed above. This salad gets better over time. Omit the hummus when making it in advance so that things keep well.
A satiating crowd pleaser. Of the heartier dishes listed here, I would recommend eating this on the first day when the veggies are crunchy. Our tried and true recipe: Mix 2 cans of shredded chicken (drained), 3 stalks of chopped celery, half of a red onion, a handful of chopped fresh parsley. For the dressing mix half a cup of mayo, juice from 2 lemons, a small spoonful of spicy mustard, 3 tablespoons of celery seed. Add salt, pepper, and cayenne to taste – and more mayo for desired creaminess.
Hear us out – precooked ribs are lovely served cold. This technique is super simple and delivers moist, tangy, sticky fall-off-the-bone ribs (bring wet wipes…). If you don’t want to grill the ribs, just broil them on high to get some nice char. To pack for the festival, roll up the ribs tightly in a large Ziploc (note: to conserve cooler space you can remove the meat from the bones).
- Single serving or homemade batch cocktails
Premade canned cocktails are becoming more popular and can often be found near the check-out counter at the liquor store. We recommend that you avoid those with high sugar content (they just don’t taste like the freshly made cocktails at your favorite bar). Alternatively, consider getting an excellent growler and make batch cocktails. Maggie Hoffman wrote a great recipe book for large batch cocktails. This is a great resource with super helpful tips on how to make cocktails that age well once mixed. For more info, check out her interview on Spilled Milk.