This blog about Planning Healthy Camping Meals was originally published June 2019. It was updated with more great information in January 2020.
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Every summer, we spend a couple of weeks camping for our vacation. Eating healthy food while camping requires even more meal planning than at home! Planning healthy camping meals can be a challenge when there likely isn’t easy access to a grocery store or a pantry of ingredients, so planning ahead is essential. On top of that, there is limited space to haul everything, so you need to consider that in what you take.
Here are my criteria for selecting recipes for camping:
- Input from the kids – what did they want to cook and eat?
- Real food, or minimal processed food
- Hearty, nutrient dense
- Cooler safe
- Quick to prepare with limited kitchen tools.
Involve Your Kids
Our healthy camping meal 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
Choose Whole Foods
Just like a home, you want to eat lots of whole foods while camping, rather than processed foods. One easy way is to include some vegetables in each dinner.
It is important for us to choose nutrient dense foods, especially since camping involves a lot of activity like hiking, geo-caching, or swimming at the beach most days.
It’s also important to recognize the need to be flexible. Without access to the variety of ingredients you have at home, remember to bring staple foods with you such as pasta and sauce, canned beans, canned fish, spices – at least salt and pepper, oil, vinegar, honey or another sweetener, peanut butter, soup (canned, dry or in a tetra pack), hot cocoa mix, crackers and snacks.
This is also important since grocery stores in small communities and at campgrounds have limited stock and are much more expensive than what we pay at home. I’ve seen a case of 12 bottles of water at the campground for $15 (!!!), compared to $4.50 for a case of 24 bottles of water at my city grocery store.
Equipment for Cooking Healthy Camping Meals
Experience tells me that kids are tired and hungry at the end of the day, so I choose meals that can be prepared quickly with our camp 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, which creates great flavour. But it presents challenges too, as it can be difficult to get it hot enough without flames shooting everywhere, and the heat can be uneven.
Healthy Camping Meal Ideas
Here’s a summary of what my family ate last summer on our camping trip, plus some ideas we’re planning for our next trip.
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.
Healthy Camping Breakfasts
Most mornings we had eggs, with bacon if we had fresh groceries. I also served fresh fruit when we had it or applesauce when we didn’t.
We had juice, tea, broth, coffee or hot chocolate to be sure we started the day with some liquid to keep hydrated since it was hot most days of our trip. Making sure our breakfasts include healthy food was important because we needed energy for the day.
I measured out the dry ingredients for this pancake mix from Gluten Free on a Shoestring. Just add the liquid in the morning, stir and cook the pancakes on a griddle. A double batch of this 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), homemade oatmeal packets, or crisps with almond butter and fruit.
Healthy Camping Lunches
Keep it Simple
I didn’t really make a menu for lunches. Often there is a lot going on during the day, and lunch is on-the-go at various times. To keep lunch simple yet healthy, I would be sure we had the following on-hand:
- Fruit & cut vegetables (carrot and celery sticks, sliced bell peppers, mushrooms)
- Protein (cheese, pepperoni, boiled eggs, nuts or almond butter)
- Crackers, rice cakes or chips. These Hardbite beet and parsnip chips were delicious!
Throughout the day, we snacked on homemade trail mix, granola bars, nuts, dried and fresh fruit, coconut clusters, and vegetables.
I also made some homemade energy balls and bars. Here’s a collection of healthy camping recipes for energy balls and bars for inspiration.
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. I printed off the recipes we were using and put them all in a plastic page protector sleeve so I had them if I need to check what to add or how to prepare a recipe.
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 meal success! The kids asked when we’ll make this again at home.
My son made his “famous” baked beans recipe twice on the trip. Here’s the recipe:
- 2 cans of baked beans (look for ones with less sugar if you can find them)
- 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 the beans with corn chips and raw vegetables. At home, we also make this in the crockpot or Instant Pot.
My daughter chose this recipe because she likes chickpeas. Before we left, we measured out the spices. 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.
Tacos, sloppy joes and chili
For the tacos, we pre-measured and packed the spices 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 chili one night using an Epicure spice mix for the seasoning. It could have been made with meat or lentils, but we prepared it with canned kidney beans, canned tomatoes and canned black 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 an herb blend. Then I cooked boneless, skinless chicken thighs and the vegetables in the frying pan on one side of the stove. The original plan was to make personalized vegetable skewers to serve beside the noodles, but we were short on time so I made it stir-fry style.
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.
This evening, we set up camp and made dinner in about 40 minutes.
Grilled cheese and hotdogs
The kids had hotdogs one night and grilled cheese on another, because we were camping, after all! I chose to have canned salmon with a salad of raw vegetables on those nights because I’m not a fan of either, but don’t forget that camping is a vacation too, and these indulgences are a part of that experience!
We didn’t make this meal since we ended up in a hotel one night because of the weather, but I’m definitely adding it to our next round of healthy camping meals because it sounds DELISH!
This was a spontaneous meal we came up. It has become a favourite and we now cook it at home every couple of weeks.
Here’s the recipe:
- 1 lb. of ground beef or vegetarian ground meat alternative (optional)
- Chopped onions, peppers, celery, carrots or other vegetables, if you have them.
- 1 jar of pasta sauce (500 mL or so)
- 1-2 jars of water
- 1 bag of pasta (try black bean or lentil pasta for more protein or if you don’t have meat)
- 1 bag of fresh spinach
- Salt, pepper, seasonings
In a large pot or dutch oven, heat the oil, and brown the meat or meat alternative and the chopped vegetables – use whatever you have available. Add salt, pepper and other seasonings like dried chilis, Italian herbs or onion and garlic powder for more flavour, if desired. When the meat is cooked, added the pasta, pasta sauce, and 1 jar of water. Bring to a boil and simmer until the pasta is cooked (about 20 minutes). You may need to add more water depending on the pasta and the thickness of the sauce. Just before serving add the spinach and stir.
Camping Desserts and Treats
Our eating habits are much more flexible while camping. We snack more and eat dessert because we are active all day.
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 our next camping trip menu.