Meal time in our household is usually an exercise in advance planning, but particularly when camping. Peter has a number of food allergies (corn, soy, sesame, peanuts, etc) that make it hard to buy convenience foods like dehydrated meals, “just-add X” meals, and pre-made mixes. While it’s an added challenge, it does mean that we tend to eat some really delicious dishes so I don’t get too upset about it.
Here are some of our favorites, organized by meal type. Most of them can be made gluten or dairy free as well.
Instant oatmeal with maple syrup and dried fruit – this is our most frequent camping breakfast because it’s easy and shelf stable. We add raisins, Trader Joe’s freeze-dried berries, or chopped dried apricots (and sometimes some nuts) and bring a small plastic squeeze bottle of maple syrup. It gets a little messy with the kids, but we keep baby wipes nearby for easy clean-up.
Pre-made french toast – bringing uncooked whole eggs along is challenging, so I like making french toast at home, freezing it in slices, and reheating it in a frying pan on our camp stove. Paired with some fruit and maple syrup, it’s a great way to feel like you made a fancy breakfast.
Breakfast burritos – pre-scrambled eggs, pre-cooked sausage and some chopped bell pepper or shredded spinach are much easier to eat in a tortilla (salsa optional). We don’t make this is as often because James has an egg allergy, but I love the high-protein boost for days of big hikes.
Banana pancakes – Mash two bananas together with a pre-scrambled egg (and possibly some oats) and you’ve got easy banana pancakes that are gluten free as well.
Lunch is my least favorite camping meal – we want to be out on adventures instead of cooking, but don’t necessarily want to eat sandwiches for every meal.
Pasta salad – our family likes a orzo salad (I’ve also made it with rotini) that includes feta, cherry tomatoes, black olives, basil or mint, red onion (pour the hot pasta over chopped onion to lightly soften it), olive oil and lemon juice or apple cider vinegar. I dress it very lightly if we’re going to eat it away from the campsite.
Quesadillas/Grilled cheese – I would make these with some spinach in the morning and pack them up for a hike. We usually have cherry tomatoes on the side since salsa can get messy and the kids don’t usually like it.
Antipasto – okay, I’m just using this as a fancy term for bread, cheese and sliced veggies. Our family usually brings some assortment of olives, prosciutto/salami, carrots, cherry tomatoes, bell peppers, a hard cheese and bread (I made focaccia and brought it on a recent hiking trip and it was so good!).
My kids get plenty of pouches, goldfish and raisins on camping trips. Non-packaged snacks require the most pre-work, but I usually make one or more of the following to bring along and portion out:
Toasted Garbanzo Beans – toss with olive oil and spices (I like cumin and coriander, or a little chickpea miso with ginger) and roast until crispy (about 25-30 minutes).
Muffins – combinations like zucchini/cranberry, carrot/date, banana/carrot/lentil, blueberry/almond meal or morning glory are usually winners for us. I love anything from the blog Sally’s Baking Addiction.
Granola Bars – I don’t have a fancy recipe for these, although I got my inspiration from the Cotter Crunch blog and used it the first couple of times for approximate proportions. I combine dried fruit like apricots or dates with nuts (I love pistachios and pumpkin seeds), oats, flax seeds, maple syrup, coconut oil and spices (cinnamon, ginger and cardamom work well) and a little salt in a food processor. Sometimes some hot water is needed to help bind the ingredients together. Press the mixture into a wax paper lined pan (we use an 8×8 pan for thicker bars), drizzle melted dark chocolate over the top and chill in the fridge before cutting into bars. These are reasonably crumbly, but really delicious.
Dinner is my favorite camping meal – we’ve usually hiked or kayaked all day to work up an appetite and we have some time to let the kids explore the campsite while we work on dinner and sip some wine or beer.
Bacon-wrapped dates (appetizer) – this feels like “glamping” without the king size bed. Before our trip, I wrap dates in a half piece of bacon each and hold them in place with toothpicks. At the campsite, we roast them over the fire on a marshmallow stick and enjoy a tasty treat while dinner is baking in the coals (they’re also sweet enough for dessert). These could definitely be a main dish, maybe with a veggie foil packet and some cous cous.
Fajitas – we love fajitas, particularly as an option if rain is possible, or if the campsite has a grill for the meat. I marinate the meat (we prefer steak since corn/soy free chicken is hard to find) in lime juice, olive oil, cumin, oregano, salt and pepper mixed in a ziploc bag and bring it in our cooler for a relatively mess free option. We usually pre-chop the veggies and cook them (and the meat if needed) in a cast iron pan on our camp stove for even heating and a nice char. Tortillas can be quickly heated in the pan while the meat rests.
Risotto – sound like a weird choice for camping? I thought so at first, but we went camping during a burn ban in Washington and I wanted a one pot meal I could make on our camp stove. Boxed vegetable stock, arborio rice, frozen peas (also help to keep the cooler cold and it doesn’t matter if they defrost) and pre-grated parmesan make this a pretty easy dish.
Dumplings with cut veggies – I make the dumplings at home (ground pork and radicchio or mixed veggies are good fillings) and freeze them to be pan fried on the camp stove. I serve them with some sliced veggies and a little premixed dipping sauce (coconut aminos and rice vinegar).
Baked potato bar – The kids aren’t currently fans of russet potatoes, but they love sweet potatoes, so we wrap them in foil and serving them with sides of butter, cheese and some frozen broccoli that we cook on the stove (or wrap it in foil too and make it roasted broccoli).
Foil meals – A camping classic. I usually use salmon as the protein because it seems to cook at about the same rate as the vegetables (I like mine cooked through). The key to the best foil meal is to include some water-heavy vegetables like tomatoes, zucchini, onions and mushrooms, topped with lemon juice, olive oil, salt, pepper and some thyme or oregano. Adding some small potatoes makes them more filling. I usually pre-wrap the packets before we leave so they’re all ready to pop on the fire on our first night.
Pumpkin chili– I pre-make vegetarian chili with a can of pumpkin puree, a mix of beans, diced tomatoes, garlic, onion, bell pepper and spices and freeze it to be reheated at the campsite. Because it’s vegetarian and can be frozen, it’s a good option for later in a trip. You could also bring the ingredients along, but I prefer pre-mixing for ease.
Grilled meat with spinach rice – I pre-make the spinach rice ahead of time. I blend about 8 oz of fresh spinach with some cilantro, onions, garlic, lime juice, olive oil, salt and pepper and add it to vegetable stock in which I cook rice. The rice can be frozen or just refrigerated and reheated to serve with meat or shrimp that we grill on the campfire.
Moroccan skewers – while we mostly make these vegetarian to serve alongside something else (like hot dogs or shrimp, or even toasted cashews and pitas), we love prepping veggies in this flavorful Moroccan-style marinade from the blog Natasha’s Kitchen (not me!).
Foil-wrapped burritos – somewhat similar to a foil packet meal, but this one is a little easier to set up as a build-your-own bar. We pre-cook veggies (peppers, onions, broccoli/spinach, chopped tomatoes) and meat or beans and shred cheese. Then, everyone can add their desired toppings to a tortilla and wrap it up in foil to pop in the fire. There’s minimal risk of undercooking since you’re just warming up pre-cooked items and melting cheese.
We really only make s’mores or sometimes a dutch oven pineapple upside down cake (my last attempt at chocolate cake in orange peel failed miserably). This is an area where I could really use tips, but often the kids have to go to bed pretty soon after dinner and clean-up, so we just skip dessert at times.
What are your favorite camping meals? Do you do most of the prep ahead of time, or make things at camp?