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Camp Meals – How to Pack Smart

Pack smart with Ziploc Baggies

Carrying heavy boxes and coolers of camp food into camp is one of the least fun jobs of the whole camping trip, but experienced camp cooks know how to cut the weight of the food needed for camp meals almost in half.

These food packing and prep tips will show you how to save time, weight and bulk, plus, they get out of the camp kitchen sooner.

Secret Camp Cook Tip:

Ziploc-type freezer bags are the smart cook’s secret weapon to save weight, time, and labor. An experienced camp cook pays tribute to the genius of Ziploc every time they pack for a camping trip. They live by the motto: “Never take a box or can when a Ziploc will do!”

You should include a box of these types of freezer Ziplocs in your camp supplies:

  • Gallon-size freezer bags (double-seal type seems to hold-up better than “zipper-type”)

  • Quart-size freezer bags, again, double-seal type

  • Reg. Sandwich baggies – zip-seal type

These will save you more than just weight and space; they will also reduce the amount of trash you have to deal with.

Tip #1 – Freeze everything you can:

Ice is a big part of the weight and bulk of your camp coolers, so anything you can do to reduce the amount of ice you need will also make your coolers lighter, roomier, and save money.

Note: Except for the camp meal items you need immediately on arrival – freeze everything you can. But use common sense; you can’t freeze milk, eggs or oil-based food items that will crystallize.

Freeze your: Meats – Veggies – Sauces – Juices Take everything you can out of its original bulky packaging and put it in a Ziploc freezer bag.

Check all the food and meal items in the cooler – freeze everything except what you will need for arrival day meals and the next morning’s breakfast, even the meats.

If it’s not for your first meal, freeze it, they will be safe in the Ziplocs, (remember to only use the stronger double-sealed freezer bags), and will act as ice packs – reducing the amount of ice you have to carry. Most food items in a cooler will be thawed by the time you need to use them.

Tip #2 – Get rid of bulk containers

Save; Time, Weight, Trash The idea is to use Ziploc bags in place of cans and boxes, and to hold prepped items.

To start, look at the meals you have planned, and the non-meal camp food supplies you plan on taking. Think about what ingredients and how much of each you will need for your meals and campfire recipes, and then consider what preparation each meal will need.

Dry Food:

Check the list of boxed or canned food items needed. Look for anything that can be put in a Ziploc instead of a can or box. Canned items or boxes of mixes will travel just as well in a double-sealed Ziploc, allowing you to save the extra weight and trash.

Also think about how much of an ingredient you need; why take a five pound package when you will only use one pound. Put the quantity you need in a Ziploc and leave the rest at home.*

And don’t forget the simple things like spices, and salt and pepper. You will not need full containers for your recipes, so take what you need in sandwich baggies and leave the containers home. You could even combine the spices for each meal or recipe in one sandwich bag to save even more space and time.

*When you leave a mix box home – remember to write down the mix ratios. Like; 1 cup water per 1/2 cup oats, etc.

Cold food:

Plastic freezer bags also work for cold food items. Go over the cold food list just like you did with the dry foods. You will be surprised how all those little individual weight and space savings add-up to substantial reductions. If it can come out of a container or bulky carton and into a Ziploc, do it.

Here are some examples:


Baking potatoes – a great candidate for freezing, not only will they act as giant ice cubes for cooling, but a frozen potato will have a fluffier, mashed potato-type consistency when baked in campfire coals.Veggies – frozen veggies have a fresher taste, (vs. canned), and work great for camp meal recipes.Canned foods – most canned food will travel just as well in a Ziploc when carefully packed, and when frozen will also act as an ice pack in your cooler.

Bulk and Dry Foods:

Sugar/Flour – Even when used for recipes you probably only need cups. So leave the 5 lb. bag or 2 lb. box home.Spices – Don’t give-up the salt & Pepper shakers, but recipe quantities can easily be pre-measured into baggies.Canned foods – Of course it’s easy and convenient to just grab and pack them, but try to find items that would not be an inconvenience to pack and transport in Ziplocs.

Tip #3 – Home Prep:

Consider any prep work needed for each recipe, and if an item doesn’t have to be prepped at meal time for recipe reasons – prep it at home and put it into Ziplocs. You will save time, bulk, and trash at camp.

Begin with your campfire recipes. Evaluate the prep work. Is there any ingredient prep, (like chopping and dicing), that you can do at home instead of waiting to do it at camp?

If so, then do it at home and put the results in a Ziploc freezer bag. This will save time at camp, and will also save weight and space; Ziplocs take-up less space and weigh less than individual cans and boxes.

Don’t be shy with this, any prep you do at home, will add to the time you have to enjoy the outdoor camping fun you came for, especially if it is an involved cast iron camping recipe.

Here is a camp dinner meal example:

Cream of Chicken Pasta Dinner Ingredients:

  • 2 lbs. boneless chicken breast – diced

  • 2 cans Campbell’s Cream of Chicken Soup

  • 1 can milk

  • 16 oz. bag of medium egg noodles

  • 1 can (approx. 14oz) Diced Tomatoes, (garlic/oregano flavored)

  • 1 tbsp. oregano

  • 1/2 tsp. Salt

  • 1/2 tsp. Pepper

Typical prep:

  1. Remove chicken from store packaging and dice on cutting board, cook chicken and set aside. prep time 10 – 15 minutes

  2. Cook pasta in large pot of boiling water, drain and set aside. prep time: 20 minutes

  3. Drain diced tomatoes and set aside

  4. In large pot – add Cream of Chicken soup, milk, salt and pepper, and cooked chicken. Heat until hot. prep time 10 minutes

  5. Stir in cooked noodles and diced tomatoes, top with sprinkled oregano, serve

Total prep time: at home: 30 – 50 minutes, in camp: 50 – 70 minutes Cookware used: cutting board, large knife, skillet, spatula, large pot, large colander

Bulk items: salt round, pepper box, oregano jar

The Smart camper way:

  1. Do prep step #1 at home and put cooked diced chicken in freezer Ziploc – Freeze it.

  2. Do prep step #2 at home and put cooled cooked pasta, (oiled for non-clumping), in large Ziploc freezer bag. – Freeze it.

  3. Open diced tomatoes at home, drain well, pour into Ziploc freezer bag – Freeze it.

  4. Combine Cream of Chicken soup, plus one can of milk into pot and heat until creamy, then let it cool and pour large Ziploc freezer bag.

  5. Put salt, pepper, and oregano in sandwich baggie

To prepare for camp meal:

  1. In large cast iron skillet or Dutch oven, (pre-warmed), combine ZipLoc contents of: Cream of Chicken soup and milk, cooked diced chicken, and salt and pepper. Heat until hot.

  2. When mixture is hot, add cooked noodles and diced tomatoes Ziplocs, stir into mixture, sprinkle oregano over top, and serve.

Total camp prep time: 20 minutes – from start to ready-to-serve Cookware used: one large skillet or pot, serving spoon Trash: 6 empty Ziploc bags that will crumple to a ball no bigger than your fist! Bulk items: none

Get the picture?

Once you start using Ziplocs for your camp food and campfire recipe ingredients, you’ll wonder how you ever went camping without them. And the sturdy freezer bags are much thicker and safer than the thin sandwich bags, so don’t be timid about what you put in them.

Challenge yourself, how much weight and bulk can you leave at home? How much quicker can your cast iron camping recipes be?

Tip #4 – Pack food by the meal:

Where ever possible – separate food items for each meal in plastic grocery bags, both dry foods and cooler foods.

For instance, in the camp meal above, all the ingredients, (even the spice baggies), could be compactly packed in one grocery bag that can easily pulled from the cooler – versus rummaging through the cooler and dry goods to find each separate item.

Camp Tip: Organize with collapsible camp coolers.

This is a really helpful tip! All your camp coolers don’t have to be those heavy rigid coolers! Of course you will need at least one of those for your ice and drinks, and long-term cold storage, but if you use the smart camping tip about freezing most of your camp meals food, these collapsible coolers are great.

They will keep your cold items safely frozen or chilled until you need them, you can use different colors to organize your camp meal storage by days, (red for Saturday, blue for Sunday, etc.), their soft-side design make them easier to cram into that last available spot between the other camping gear, and best of all they collapse when empty, (much easier to pack out of camp).


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