Camping Food: The Ultimate Guide
I am a massive foodie. Most of my adventures revolve around food, be that a week of hiking in the mountains, a day trip to some place new or the everyday adventure that occurs in my kitchen. There is so much pleasure to be had in creating, eating and sharing amazing food. I really do live to eat. So as you can imagine, when it comes to putting on a spread at the campsite, I don’t take the task of producing drool inducing camping food lightly. But it doesn’t just happen. A whole lot of planning and preparation goes into creating a great camping menu, without even considering the cooking part. Checklists are a big lifesaver for me, and once I’ve finalised my menu, I’ll write a comprehensive camping food list to take to the supermarket with me. That way, my banana boats are never left up the proverbial creek without a chocolatey paddle.
So whether you are a budding chef in need of some tips on how to take your culinary creativity outdoors, or if making beans on toast for dinner is something of an achievement, this ultimate guide to camping food will give you everything you need to know about choosing and using the best food for your adventures in outdoor cooking.
Planning your camping menu
Before you even start putting your camping menu together, there are a few really important things you first need to consider:
Who will you be cooking for?
Knowing who you will be whipping up a culinary storm for will have a huge impact on what you are able to cook when camping. Ask yourself a few questions:
Will it be a romantic dinner for two?
Meals for two can be as simple or as complicated as you like when camping (within reason!). If you like cooking then trying some of your ‘at home’ recipes can be fun. Just remember that you will only have a limited heat source ie. a campfire, one or two gas burners, a Dutch oven.
Will you be setting up an outdoor canteen for some mass catering?
Camping meals for large groups can be difficult if you try to get too complicated. One pot dinnerswork well, and cooking in a Dutch oven is an excellent way to cater for big groups, so long as you have a large Dutch oven. Alternatively, cooking on a grill or BBQ is a nice sociable way to feed lots of hungry mouths. Make a bunch of cold buffet-style side dishes, bung on some burgers, and you’re good to go!
Will your camping meals need to be kid friendly?
There’s no point slaving away for hours over camping recipes that will end up getting fed to the dog, and time in the outdoors means that it’s even more important for the kids to get the fuel they need. Pasta and rice dishes always go down well, and if chopped small enough, you can hide all sorts of vitamin filled veggies in a meaty bolognaise. There are also a bunch of camping meals that are fun for the kids to help make and cook:
Bread on a stick
Campfire orange cup cakes
Are you catering for vegetarians?
Although I am meat eater, I’ve found that most of my camping recipes tend to end up being vegetarian. Firstly, I love vegetarian food. But secondly, refrigeration of ingredients can become problematic when camping. So if you are catering for non-meat eaters, you may actually find that it is really easy camping food to make.
What will you be cooking your camping meals on
Next thing to consider is your heat source. You have a few options, all of which will be dependant on where you are and what you have available to you:
Single ring gas stove
Double ring gas stove
Gas BBQ or grill
Charcoal BBQ or grill
Fire pit with grill
Once you’ve figured out what you will be cooking on, you can then tailor your camping menu to fit around the strengths of your heat source. For example:
Heat source: single ring gas stove Number of mouths to feed: 6 Appropriate meal: a one pot stew or bolognaise with bread and cold salads
This is a less than ideal scenario, so try to make sure you have an appropriate means to cook your meals for the number of people you are feeding.
Perishable camping food and the duration of your trip
Unless you plan on surviving on canned and dried food for the duration of your camping trip (which is definitely possible), you will need to have a cooler to store any fresh or perishable items.
Most non-electric coolers will only be effective for the first day or two – fine for a weekend but not so great on extended trips. A good way to deal with this is to plan your camping menu so that the perishable items are cooked within the first few meals. Then the last few meals of the trip will be largely vegetable based, or canned meats if vegetarian cooking doesn’t do it for you.
What great camping food should be
So now that all of the above are clear in your head, the next thing to think about before you write your camping menu, is the meals themselves. Great camping meals should ideally be:
Easy to cook – the potential for things to go awry when cooking at camp is much higher than when cooking in your kitchen at home. The more complex your recipe, the greater the potential for disaster. So keep it simple, and in theory, you won’t go wrong.
Quick to cook – there are always so many fun things to do when camping, and although camp cooking is all part of the fun, you can end up spending too much time over the stove and missing out on all the other stuff if you’re not careful. Speedy cooking is also important from a fuel point of view. Keeping a campfire at the optimum temperature for ages is a difficult skill to master. And you don’t want to run out of gas on your first night. I’m not saying flash fry and undercook everything, but just be aware that time should be a consideration.
Filling and hearty – we all use so much more energy when we’re out and about exploring the wilderness, so fill the plates high and make sure your meals contain plenty of healthy carbohydrates that will provide sustained energy. It’s always better to have too much than too little – you can always use up any leftovers later on.
Full of balanced nutrition – just because you’re on vacation, doesn’t mean that getting vitamin filled vegetables into your diet should go out the window. In fact the opposite. Your body will be working so much harder than normal that a week of missing nutrients could leave you run down and exhausted. Equally, it’s also not an excuse to eat sugar constantly. Yes, a few sugary snacks here and there will be great for a short term energy boost, but with that comes the energy crashes which can ruin the day for already tired kids. So keep the sugar on the low or for special treats.
What to add to your camping food list and why
A camping food list is one of those things you think you will never use until you have one. Write and use one and you won’t be able to even imagine how you ever hashed together a camping menu without one. It can make all the difference to your stress levels when packing for camping, and will ensure you don’t build up any more unnecessary tension for all that wilderness fresh air to take care of.
This camping food list is by no means definitive, but it contains some great camping food ideas that will store well, are quick and easy to cook and can be used in loads of different camping recipes:
Dairy and non-meats
As well as being one of life’s simple pleasures, having cheese on your camping menu will also provide an excellent source of protein and fat for sustained energy, and a truck load of calcium. Some great dairy and non-meat options for your camping food list:
Good for lunches or snacks and don’t need to be kept cool.
Low melting point means that it will last longer than normal cheese once the cooler ice has melted. Delicious added to a tomato and red pepper stew.
A tube of smoked cheese doesn’t need to be kept cool before it’s opened. Good for packed lunches and camping snacks.
An excellent addition to pasta dishes, salads or pizza’s. It will survive very well without refrigeration. Pre-grated parmesan won’t last quite as long so make sure you pack your grater!
Brilliant for adding to hot drinks or for cooking with. Not the best taste if you want it for cereal or drinking.
Long life milk
Unopened, it will last for months. Once opened it will need to be kept cool like normal milk, or used on the day of opening.
Such a versatile addition to your camping food list. So long as the conditions aren’t too hot, eggs will last a good few days out of the cooler but also out of the sun. If they need using up then hard boil them for packed lunches or camping snacks.
In a carton, tofu needs no refrigeration so is a great option for an end of trip protein hit.
If your camping menu is meat heavy then you’ll need to smart about which meats you bring so you don’t over-do your meat consumption within the first 24 hours! If you are on an extended trip and can’t go without meat for the last few days, then you’ll need to consider an electrical hook up for a portable fridge, or get to a shop regularly to top up your cooler ice and restock the meat supply.
Chorizo and saucisson will last for ages out of the cooler and both are an excellent high energy option for lunches, snacking or adding to big one pot meals for a little extra flavour and depth.
A brilliant camping snack for out and about. Full of protein and no need for cooling.
Cured meats and bacon
These will need cooling, but will outlive fresh meats once the cooler ice has melted. Good for sandwich fillers or for a hearty camping breakfast.
A really versatile ingredient for camping dinners. Get the kids involved to make their own burgers or roll into meatballs, or even make kebabs and cook over the fire on a stick. Needs cooling.
Use fresh on the first day, or bring some vacuum packed sausages for later on in the trip.
Make sure you cook for your first dinner. Chicken is super versatile for BBQs, kebab sticks, stews, salads, stir frys and loads more.
Again, you will need to cook on the first day. A couple of fish steaks makes for a quick and gourmet pan-fried dinner for two, or have a fishy feast by wrapping a whole one in foil and cooking it on the campfire.
Ideal for cooking on the BBQ or grill, but needs cooling.
For extended trips, canned food really comes into its own to provide flavour and variation to your camping meals. Choose cans with ring pulls for added convenience, and if you’ve got the space, then always pack more than you think you’ll need. You don’t have to use them, but it’s great to have the backup supplies.
An absolute staple for adding to loads of different camping dinners.
Tuna and tinned fish
Ideal for end of trip sandwiches or to add a some protein to non-meat pasta dishes.