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Planning Healthy Camping Meals
Every summer, we spend a couple of weeks camping for our holidays. Eating healthy food while camping requires meal planning much more than at home. There isn’t easy access to a grocery store or a pantry of ingredients, so we need to plan ahead. We have limited space, so we have to specially consider what to take. Here are my criteria for selecting recipes for camping:
- Input from the kids – what did they want to cook?
- Real food, or minimal processed food
- Hearty, nutrient dense
- Cooler safe
- Quick to prepare with limited kitchen tools.
Our healthy camping food plan always includes lots of input from my kids. They help choose what to eat and they help with meal preparation. Sometimes they just a have a general idea (something with chicken, or pasta) but other times they have specific recipes.
Just like a home, we want to eat lots of whole foods while camping, rather than processed foods. We try to include some vegetables in each dinner. It is important for us to choose nutrient dense foods, since we are active hiking, geo-caching, and swimming at the beach most days. In planning, we also recognize the need to be flexible, since we don’t have access to the variety of ingredients we have at home. We try to bring as many staple food with us since grocery stores in small communities and at campgrounds have limited stock and are much more expensive than what we pay at home ($15!!!! for a case of 12 bottles of water at the campground, compared to $4.50 for a case of 24 bottles of water).
Equipment for Cooking Healthy Camping Food
You’ll notice that most of the meals are vegetarian, since we had to prioritize which foods we could store safely in our cooler (read more about how to safely pack your cooler here), so we only had meat on days when we were able to do some shopping.
Experience tells me that kids are tired and hungry at the end of the day, so I choose meals that could be prepared fairly quickly with our limited camping cooking equipment. We have a Coleman Camp Stove with two burners, and a set of cast iron cookware (a grill, a pot, a dutch oven and a frying pan). There’s always the option of cooking over the campfire, but that presented challenges, too. Here’s a summary of what we ate last summer, plus some ideas we’re planning for our next trip.
Healthy Camping Breakfasts
Most mornings we had eggs, with bacon if we had fresh groceries recently. I also served fruit – fresh, when possible, or applesauce when we ran out of fresh. We had juice, tea, broth, coffee or hot chocolate to ensure we started the day with some liquid to keep hydrated since it was hot most days of our trip. Making sure our breakfasts including healthy camping food was important because we needed energy for the day.
We also made pancakes a couple of times. I measured out the dry ingredients for this pancake mix from Gluten Free on a Shoestring. We just added the liquid ingredients (we used water instead of milk) in the morning, stirred and cooked the pancakes on the griddle. A double batch of the recipe served 5 people, without any leftovers. We topped the pancakes with fruit, almond butter and maple syrup. If I was to make this again, I’d add some vanilla bean powder to the dry ingredients. You could also add chopped apples + cinnamon, or berries to the batter for some extra fruit in the morning.
Even though it takes time, we cooked breakfast most days to help use warm up after a night in the tent, and it makes for a more leisurely start to the morning. Most days we had no schedule to follow, so we had lots of time to get going. On the few days we needed a quicker breakfast, we had camping cereal (yup, those single serving, sugary cereals we never buy at home), or toast or crisps with almond butter and fruit.
Healthy Camping Lunches
I didn’t really make a menu for lunches. We had fruit, vegetables (carrot and celery sticks, sliced bell peppers, mushrooms), protein (cheese, pepperoni, boiled eggs or almond butter), and crackers, rice cakes or chips (the Hardbite beet and parsnip chips were delicious!).
Through out the day, we snacked on homemade trail mix, granola bars, nuts, dried and fresh fruit, coconut clusters, and vegetables. I also bring some homemade energy balls and bars. Here’s a collection of healthy camping recipes for balls and bars from my MealGarden site.
Healthy Camping Dinners
This is where I invested the most time and energy selecting recipes, shopping, and preparing ingredients. I found most of the recipes from Fresh Off the Grid, which has a great collection of camping recipes.
Dutch Oven Chicken Marbella – This was a great recipe for our first night. We’ve cooked Chicken Marbella before in the crockpot and the oven, but this was a new recipe for camping. Before we left home, we prepared the marinade and added the chicken thighs and packed the meal in the cooler. By the time we arrived and set up camp, the meat was ready to cook. I added the capers (a whole small jar) and the olives (a whole can) after browning the meat. We decided to cook on the stove using a large pot rather than the fire, for a more consistent heat source. The recipe is fairly flexible so we made a couple of ingredient substitutions (chopped prunes instead of dates, apple juice instead of white wine, and I skipped the brown sugar). I wasn’t too concerned about measuring the capers and olives, so I used the whole container to be sure there weren’t any leftovers to pack. The meal was served with sweet potatoes roasted in foil over the fire. It was a success. The kids asked when we’ll make this again at home.
Baked Beans – My son made his “famous” baked beans recipe twice on the trip. Here’s the recipe:
- 2 cans of baked beans
- 1 can of kidney beans (black beans or another kind of bean can be used instead)
- 1 chopped onion
- 1 veggie seasoning cube, onion flavour (I use Harvest Sun brand) or a package of onion soup mix (I like Epicure’s French Onion Dip Mix)
- 1.5 Tablespoons of apple cider vinegar
Cook the onion in oil until it is tender, add the other ingredients and cook until it is bubbly.
We served it with corn chips and raw vegetables. At home, we also make this in the crockpot or Instant Pot.
Tandoori chickpeas – My daughter chose this recipe because she likes chickpeas. Before we left, we measured out the Tandoori spice blend, plus the cinnamon, salt and ginger. We modified the recipe by removing the tomato paste because we didn’t have any with us and the cilantro because my husband doesn’t like it. This was a brand new recipe I hadn’t prepared before. The kids found it a little bit spicy, but we served it with roasted sweet potatoes cooked in foil over the fire, which absorbed the coconut sauce.
Taco salad and chilli – We measured the spices for tacos at home. At the campsite, we browned ground beef and onions, then added the spices and a can of tomato sauce. This was a meal we made after we had been shopping, so we served it with lettuce, grape tomatoes, avocado and corn chips.
We also made chilli one night using an Epicure spice mix for the seasoning. It could have been made as a vegetarian dinner but we prepared it with ground beef, canned tomatoes and canned beans, and served it with the last few corn chips and leftover hotdog buns.
Ramen with veggies – I quickly marinated some chopped vegetables (peppers, mushrooms, onions and zucchini) in olive oil, apple cider vinegar and a herb blend. Then I cooked boneless, skinless chicken thighs and the vegetables in the frying pan on one side of the stove. On the other burner, I boiled water with a veggie seasoning cube, and cooked the ramen noodles (Lotus Foods gluten-free ramen noodles). When serving, people could choose how much broth they wanted with their noodles and vegetables. The original plan was to make personalized vegetable skewers to serve beside the noodles, but we were short on time so we set up camp and made this dinner in about 40 minutes.
Grilled cheese and hotdogs – The kids had hotdogs one night (we were camping, after all) and grilled cheese another. I chose to have canned salmon over a salad of raw vegetables instead.
Sweet Potato and Peanut Stew – we didn’t make this meal since we ended up in a hotel one night because of the weather. I’m definitely adding it to our meal plan for this year.
Camping Deserts and Treats
Our eating habits were much more flexible while camping. Dessert isn’t usually part of our routine, but since we were camping, the kids roasted marshmallows over the fire and made s’mores. They also made banana boats (the fruit makes it a healthier dessert, right). I found some others campfire dessert options, like campfire baked apples, grilled cinnamon pineapple, and grilled apple crisp. We didn’t get to try these out, but I’ll be adding them to my next camping trip menu.
We still have a few weekend camping trips plan, so please share your favourite camping meals.