For the adventurous, camping is one of the best summer excursions. It carves out time to do the things we want – but often fail – to do in everyday life: live more simply, closer to nature, with less technology, more movement, more relaxation. Oh, and camping also gives us plenty of time to savor delicious food! We need hearty fare to bookend days of hiking, canoeing, or seeing sites along the road.
Before You Go
Even if you usually don’t have time to meal plan, do plan the menu for your camping trip! You want to have everything mapped out ahead of time so that you can pack exactly what you need to prep each meal.
Plan to eat your meals in a logical order.
If you’re tent-camping and relying on an ice chest for refrigeration, plan to eat more perishable items (like meat) early in the trip and save the dry goods (like spaghetti) for the end. Extend the life of perishable items by freezing what you can ahead of time. You can eat the food when it thaws, and in the meantime it will keep the ice chest cool!
Pack produce that travels well.
Bring hearty fruits and veggies that hold up to the rough and tumble nature of camping and that won’t spoil quickly. For instance, I wouldn’t bring bananas unless we could eat them the first day–otherwise, they’ll begin to bruise and make the rest of the food smell like bananas.
Make what you can ahead of time.
Camp cooking is fun, but in unfamiliar surroundings it takes longer to prepare than it would in your own kitchen. If you can get the meal ready quickly, you can spend more time sipping your coffee in the morning, or watching fireflies at night.
Items you can make or prepare ahead of time:
- Baked goods, like muffins and cookies
- Bread for toasting and sandwiches
- Pancake mix
- Meat, chopped and marinated
- Most snacks
You don’t want to be stressed out with endless preparations before your trip, so pick just a few meals to make ahead and keep the rest of the on-site cooking simple.
Once you’ve planned out your menu, think about what ingredients (including condiments) go into each meal and create your grocery list. I also like to mentally prepare each meal in my mind, so I can think about which cooking utensils I need to pack.
Image by tchago
At the Campsite
Make dinner early.
Cooking by the light of a battery lantern swarmed with bugs isn’t the life for me. Begin meal prep with plenty of daylight, and then you can linger long over the campfire or turn in to read in your sleeping bag and tell scary stories.
Prep lunch the night before.
On our Michigan-to-California road trip last summer, we saved time on the road by making our sandwiches for lunch each evening while preparing supper. Even if you’re staying in one spot, it’s nice to have a picnic lunch ready to go so you don’t have to haul out all the food and do extra dishes.
Give everyone a job.
Whether the job is helping with cooking, doing dishes, or another camp chore, assign a task to everyone on the trip. Rather than taking turns with different jobs, giving everyone a “specialty” makes expectations clear and allows room to learn efficiency in one particular task. This was my parents’ system on our homeschool-on-the-road camping trips. Each of us six kids had a specific task for setting up camp, and after a few days we slid into our routine and could get a tent set up and dinner on the table in the time it took our neighbors to figure out their pop-top.
Ready to meal plan for your camping trip? Here are 50+ ideas for your real food camping menu!
Bacon or sausage (freeze ahead)
Berry Breakfast Cereal (easy to adapt for over the campfire)
Breakfast burritos (One of my readers suggested making these ahead, too)
Eggs (if you’re worried about breakage, you can whisk together and freeze ahead of time, as Stacy suggested in this post)
Grits and sardines (since these are dry goods, this is a great meal for later in the trip)
Strawberry Chia Muffins (make ahead)
Pancakes (make dry mix ahead. If you bring your raw milk on the trip, make pancakes a couple days in when the leftover milk begins to sour and turn to buttermilk.)
Boiled eggs (made the night before)
Chicken Salad (make ahead)
Cold mini quiches (make ahead, can be eaten cold)
Farmhouse Muffins (make ahead)
Sugar Snap Pea Pasta Salad with Shrimp (make ahead)
Tabouli (make ahead)
Biscuits with Salmon Gravy (make biscuits ahead of time, or use tortillas instead)
Grilled cheese sandwiches
Grilled Chicken Fajitas (prep ahead)
Grilled meat (marinated/frozen ahead of time)
Hamburgers (make ahead and freeze)
Tomato Soup (make ahead and freeze)
Most of these you’ll want to make ahead of time! Store in tightly-sealed containers, as things tend to get stale more quickly in out-of-doors humidity.
Apples (these are a good pick for non-messy fruit since they’re crisp, rather than overly-juicy)
Bell peppers (sliced)
Homemade marshmallows (make ahead)
Kettle corn (make and enjoy around the campfire!)
Trail mix (any combination of nuts, chocolate chips, dried fruit, etc.)
Mix up these drinks before you leave home, then refrigerate or freeze in large glass jars. Shake well before serving.
Sun tea (This one you can make at the campsite! Let it steep while you do your daytime activities, and then chill it in ice in the cooler while you prep dinner.)
Image by jcheever
Do you love to camp? What are your favorite camping meals?
If you’re looking for more healthy food ideas, camping-specific recipes, and tips for camping (with real food and with young children), The Family Camping Handbook from Kitchen Stewardship is an excellent resource! Pick up your copy HERE.