HealthIER Camping Food: 7 Tips for Taking Real Food With You

HealthIER Camping Food: 7 Tips for Taking Real Food With You

HealthIER Camping Food: 7 Tips for Taking Real Food With You

Written by Stacy Myers, Guest Writer

I’ve been camping since I was 8 years old. At my request, my parents decided to try it once – and they ended up LOVING it. We’ve been every year since then. My first child, Annie, went on her first camping trip at 2 months old.

We started out in tents but my parents graduated to a pop-up camper. However, when we camp we like to “rough it.” We usually don’t use electricity, but we do use gas for our little camping stove…perfect for our secluded mountain camping spots.

One of our favorite parts about camping is the food. For some reason, food tastes so much better outdoors! And cooking the food is most of the fun!

There are some people who think going camping means you eat cans of Beenie Weenies and pre-packaged doughnuts. That’s never really been the case with us – we enjoy experimenting with food while we camp and we try to eat a wide variety of foods.

Now, let me pop in here just a minute and confess something. We do relax our standards a bit when we camp.  There are certain foods that we just really enjoy and would miss them if we skipped them. Since we live by the 80/20 Principle, I figure that one can of corned beef hash for Barry every year isn’t going to kill him (but I would recommend that you NOT read the ingredient label. Ha!).

Our goal is to “healthify” the normal camping food so that we can still enjoy favorites without feeling like a big blog of marshmallow laziness.

camp food

Image by luvjnx

7 Tips for HealthIER Eating While Camping

1. Take wheat bread for sandwiches. Sandwiches are such a quick and easy camping food – whether you’re eating pb&j or just ham. Using wheat will give you a quick fiber-pick-up. I’ve been known to make my own Honey Oat Bread for camping – however it’s been our experience that homemade bread can mold very quickly in the damp mountain air even if it’s packaged VERY well.

To solve this, we try to eat it within two days. If I want to take two loaves, I freeze one before leaving home and keep it in the ice cooler until a few hours before we want to eat it.

2. Scramble eggs for breakfast. We’re BIG egg fans – we mostly eat farm-fresh eggs. I would really miss them if we skipped them for a week. But, it’s rather hard to take a dozen eggs and keep them from breaking. Our solution? We mix up our eggs before we leave and put them in a Tupperware container – then we stick it in the freezer to freeze. Not only does this make traveling with eggs easier, but they also act as a “cold pack” to keep your cooler warm. When they start to thaw, we eat them. *When mixing up your eggs before freezing, count on 2-3 per person – camping gives you a BIG appetite. :-)*

3. Take potatoes instead of potato chips. This is one of our very favorite camping foods! We take a big bag of potatoes and it usually lasts us all week. Wash and slice them to your liking, put them in a foil packet with butter and seasonings and seal it up. Toss on top of the grill, turning occasionally, until they are done. You can do this with just about any vegetable. A few of our other favorites – onions, zucchini and summer squash.

*NOTE – Our family has really cut back on our aluminum foil use as we embrace our new healthier lifestyle, but we do use it occasionally while camping.

4. Make your foods instead of buying pre-packaged. What’s your favorite camping food? How about making that at home instead of buying it at the store to take? It just takes a bit of pre-planning. Make a batch of homemade Potato Doughnuts or take a batch of Cinnamon PB Granola instead of buying store cereal.

Potato Doughnuts

Image by Stacy Makes Cents

5. Take fruits and vegetables. This almost goes without saying – but if you take fruit instead of junk food, that’s what you’ll have to eat when you get hungry. We eat loads of bananas and apples while we camp – and the best part is, they don’t require refrigeration and they’re easy to eat on the go if you decide to take a hike.

6. Consider taking a crock pot. If you’re the type of person who likes to use electricity when you camp, this is a great option! Make a freezer meal out of your recipe before you leave and when it thaws at the campsite in the cooler, sock it in the crock pot to cook for dinner! Now your food can cook while you camp or swim. Just mix the whole recipe together and freeze it. Some good options – Crock Pot Jerk Chicken Hoagies, Crock Pot Barbecue Beef Brisket, or Crock Pot Beef Burgundy Subs with Au Jus. Then all you need is the bread!

7. Give yourself some grace. Stress is a killer. If you need this vacation to get away from life and relax, stressing over your food isn’t going to do you much good, is it? Do what you can, and enjoy the time with your family. They’ll remember the time with you more than they’ll remember the food.

family camping handbook kitchen stewStephanie’s note: If you’re looking for more healthy food ideas, camping-specific recipes, and tips for camping (with real food and with young children), the Family Camping Handbook from Kitchen Stewardship is an excellent resource. It’s only $6.95, and has actually been updated now to include not 20-something but a full 36 real-food, camping-friendly recipes.

How do you make your camping food more healthy?

Top image by merfam
This post includes an affiliate link.

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  1. We just got back from camping and had a great time! For us to take “real food”, I have to do some serious planning and work before we go, otherwise it’s all hot dogs and hamburgers for us. Things sound great before you leave, but once you get there you don’t want to do a ton of fussy work.

    My favorites were our breakfast burritos, cooked up our scrambled eggs with a little cheese, cilantro, jalapeno and then froze them wrapped in tortillas. We just crisped them up on the bbq each morning, no mess, no fuss. I also marinated chicken and diced vegetables separately, then skewered them at our campsite and threw on the bbq. Super easy, without a lot of mess and SO good. We did foil potato and vegetable packets, but I preroasted the sliced potatoes about 10 minutes at home, so they would cook evenly with the squash and zucchini. Tossed the with a little olive oil, garlic salt, pepper and paprika and threw them on with the skewers.

    For snacks, we took two small bags of chips. We NEVER have chips, so this was a treat for us. Beyond that, we took tons of fruit and a huge bag of sliced vegetables with our favorite hummus. You’re right, if it’s not there, we won’t eat it. Came back feeling great!

    1. Hey, I love me some hotdogs and hamburgers. 🙂 Nothing wrong with that!
      Loooooooove hummus!

  2. Great post! Food does taste better cooked outdoors! And I don’t stress too much…smores may not be healthy but they are fun! We enjoyed banana boats and silver turtles last time too. 😀

    I loved camping as a child! So many happy memories!

    A couple of years ago, we drove the entire Blue Ridge Parkway one week. Lots of fun! But I want to go back to see the places we missed. A week wasn’t enough time to see all the waterfalls and such.

    1. Ah,then you must not live too far from me if you visited the beautiful Parkway. 🙂

  3. Thanks for some great ideas. Our family just really started camping last year. We certainly do not rough it. We bought a new to us with cash craiglist found pop up with air conditioner unit . It doesn’t have a bathroom though, so I guess its sort of roughing it! LOL. I am going to try out bringing along a homemade bisquick recipe this year made with wheat flour for morning pancakes and evening biscuits with beans. I like the crock pot idea I might try finding a spare at a yard sale and stick it in the pop up.

    1. Alton Brown has made graham crackers and marshmallows from scratch on his show before. I’m sure the recipes are on the Food Network website. =)

    2. We just use the pop-up to sleep in….and it’s not air conditioned. 🙂 Sometimes we get fancy and hook it up to the gas so we can use the lights inside. LOL

  4. Be careful with the crock pot, my mom once attracted a black bear to our site with one! Since you let it cook while your away, animals are more likely to visit since it is quiet AND smells good.

    1. Scary! Thanks for the warning. I guess it definitely depends on where you’re camping at.

  5. We just went camping too! We try to go 2-3 times a year. I brought (more than enough food) including nuts, granola, eggs and homemade pancake mix, sandwhich stuff and organic hotdogs with wheat buns. We did indulge with smores but homefully I can make a homemade smore recipe/better healthier alternative soon! Great informational post Stacy!

    1. Alton Brown has made graham crackers and marshmallows from scratch on his show before. I’m sure the recipes would be on the food network website. If that is something that you would like to do. =)

    2. We’ve never ventured into pancakes….yet. 🙂 We like to stick with eggs and sausage for breakfast – my mom’s favorite.

  6. We used to trailer camp, now we tent camp, and I like the simplicity of it! Especially now that our kids are older (8 and up). The boys have their own tent and I don’t care how messy it is!

    I love your tip with the eggs, I’m definitely cracking all of ours ahead of time! What a space and trash saver!

    I cut veggies up and bring lots of fruit, too. Nuts are great for snacking and don’t need refrigeration, either. I bring hummus, for veggies and sandwiches, and salsa. We’ll do the foil dinners and baked potatoes one night, and I make a couple of salads ahead of time, too.

    1. I can’t believe I forgot to add nuts! We eat a ton of nuts while camping – the kind you can break…because I don’t have to worry about cleaning up the mess. 🙂 Thanks for adding that!

  7. I have a camping buddy that I rough-it with 4 different weeks a year. Between us, we have 16 b, 13 b, 11 g, 9 b, 4 g, 2 b. Our husbands stay home to have some quiet time and keep earning the money. I plan the menu and then we both work on prep together before and during. We have gotten it down to a menu that we can almost repeat each trip. We make most foods just like we would at home and some foods we reserve just for camp-time.

    1st night is always Taco salad ‘cuz it’s the easiest to make and clean up[frozen homemade chili frozen in block, prep salad stuff at home, grate a big bag of cheese for the week, etc]
    2nd: Chicken & mushroom rice, salad, broccoli [ckn diced and sauteed at home & frozen, broccoli ready for the steamer]
    3rd: Hamburger stroganoff on noodles, carrots, salad [hamburger browned at home & frozen, carrots prepped for steamer]
    4th: Tuna Patties, baked potatoes, broccoli [potatoes wrapped in foil and baked in coals]
    5th: burritos [homemade refrieds frozen in a block]
    6th: grass-fed steak, pan fries, whatever is left

    our other meals consist of
    Cereal & milk [just for camping]
    Eggs (hard boiled, fried, etc)
    Chorizo, taters

    Hot dogs [healthy ones & the kids roast them over the fire]
    Tuna Salad [made at home]
    Egg Salad [made at home]

    Crackers & Cheese
    Chips [each kid chooses one bag for the trip then only one bag a day is opened so they each get some but not much]
    Granola bars [usually homemade]
    Peanut butter play dough [nat. p-butter, honey & org. pwd. milk]

    Each night for dessert we each have one s’more. Sometimes we will have some instant pudding for an afternoon snack if the milk isn’t getting used fast enough … a cooler can only do so much.

    1. 🙂 You sound just like my mom. She has multiple camping lists and we use them every single time.

  8. Oh, and another idea my sister uses.
    She makes stew a week or so ahead but omits potatoes (they get funny when frozen sometimes). She freezes the stew in a big block or ice cream bucket. The night before she leaves, she bakes extra potatoes with her dinner.

    Since her ice chest gets so full she doesn’t even put the stew in there. She wraps it in a bath towel and packs it in with other stuff. When they finally get to the camp site, the stew is nearly thawed. At this point, she just cuts up the left over baked potatoes, dumps the stew on top and brings up to heat. Throw along some bread and the first dinner is done!

    1. My mom does that a lot with our camping foods. I like the idea of leaving the potatoes out and adding them later. Smart!!

  9. Excellent tips Stacy! I LOVE the idea of bringing your crockpot. I have never thought of that before but it’s brilliant!!

  10. I love this post, Stacy! Now, you have me wanting to go camping! I camped a lot as a kid but haven’t camped at all since college!! I remember eating lots of tomato sandwiches while camping as a kid. And of course we’d roast marshmallows. Any healthy alternative to that? 😉

    My mom would also bring soup to warm up over the fire. I thought that was so cool! And we ALWAYS tent camped! I knew no other way!

    1. My mom always brings bbq to warm over the fire. 🙂 And you COULD make your own marshmallows…but for me, that falls in the 80/20 category. 😉

  11. I grew up in Nigeria and we always had to take all our food along, convenience with anything was pretty much out when you’re in the middle of no where, literally. My mom would always make our suppers ahead of time and freeze them, put them in a cooler with ice blocks and they would stay frozen most of the week. For eggs, instead of scrambling them before hand, we just packed them in chicken feed (sand works too) by putting a cushion layer on the bottom on an ice cream bucket, put a single layer of eggs, cover that with chicken feed, put another layer of eggs, etc. The roads were always extremely bumby but we rarely had any broken eggs, and they tasted better fresh!

  12. I love camping and have been doing it for years with my kids, grand kids, and nieces and nephews. Biscuits and gravy is a must. Cook biscuits at home(whole wheat) and freeze, travel well. Swiss steak cooked in a dutch oven over rice is easy, lots of veggies in it makes healthy. Foil baked apples, core & peel apple, spices, butter, brown sugar. wrap in foil and place in fire till soft.

  13. I make jerky, granola and granola bars, sardines, canned beans(we love bean salads either white/w mediterranean seasonings or black with southwest), raw nuts and crackers for snacking. Perhaps some blue corn chips. I packed hard frozen qt. size pulled bbq chick or soup if it’s cold out, beef sirloin (1 solid piece stays frozen longer than individuals), factory sealed bag of chicken breasts(which I marinade as it thaws), fish(this gets cooked first as it cooks fast and thaws 1st) nitrate free bacon &lunch meat, frozen presliced cheesecake(for a treat), whole wheat tortillas for wraps/ burritos works better than bread as long as i keep it out of any melting ice. Depending on how hot it is out this dense frozen stock will usually keep the entire cooler cold with out using messy ice. I also freeze gal. of drinking water to use thawed later. Eggs whole if there is room or bagged… ( i will be trying your freezer trick here), yogurt, berries, carrots, slightly prebaked sweet potatoes, whatever is in the garden that will fit goes on top . Massaged kale salad is a great way to pack greens without taking up a lot of room… but kids rarely like it and it should be kept cool. Citrus fruits (lemon,lime or orange ade is so refreshing and replaces electrolytes) are very versatile, tomatoes and avocados(choose hard ones & let them ripen as i travel), oats to make muesli for the last b-fast with whatever fruit, nuts and yogurt are left… cheesecake can go in this too… I have found that chewing gum is a treat for the grand kids… keeps them quiet for a bit and relives altitude climbing ear pressure.

    1. We usually go camping with my parents – and my mom has forbidden me to chew gum…she says I sound like a cow chewing cud. LOL

  14. All of these ideas (and menus) are FANTASTIC! Thanks!

    But I’ve got to wonder……unattended crock pot + wildlife = ????


    Maybe the crock pot would be safe if you could tuck it under your car while it cooks. And secure the lid somehow. I’ve gotta make this work….

    1. 🙂 I was taking into account that we could put it in the camper or the truck…but I should have said that. LOL LOL

    1. Not a dumb question at all. 🙂 Aluminum in large quantities is not good for the body – and it’s found in all sorts of products…even some baking powders and deodorants. So, we try to avoid it as much as possible.
      You might find this interesting –

      So, when at home we use parchment paper instead….or just nothing at all. 🙂
      Good question!

      1. Wow! I knew that aluminum in deodorant was bad…I make my own now… I just never thought that aluminum leached from the foil! No more foil for me!

        Good thing too… It’s expensive!

        Thank you Stacy!

        1. Parchment paper is even more expensive – so I use it sparingly. It’s the cheapo-ness in me. 😉

          1. I recently read that most brands of parchment paper have BPA for the heat resistant coating. I haven’t seen it written about in the real food blogs I follow, though. I wonder if anyone here has heard anything about that?

          2. I haven’t heard anything about that – but it probably varies from brand to brand.

  15. We love to camp! We always say we eat better when we’re camping than we do at home. One of our favorite ways to cook is using our Dutch Ovens. We have two so we can make a meal in one and a dessert in another (our favorite desserts are pineapple upside down cake and peach cobbler). It can take some time but I swear the food ALWAYS tastes better and is well worth the effort! We also take our ice cream maker to make ice cream which is always fun (ours is electric so we get it going while we’re eating and presto…dessert is ready!!!)

    1. We always make our dessert in advance and take it along…but I love the ice cream maker idea! 🙂

  16. I just got home from a two week camping trip with no electricity and very few open fires to cook on. We had limited space in our vehicle to pack food for our family of 7 plus friends, so dehydrated meals worked perfectly for us. There are quite a few meals that dehydrate well after you cook them, like taco meat with beans, corn, and peppers ; stroganoff, shredded BBQ chicken, and cooked macaroni and ground beef. (Try Googling backpacking chef) Basically you spread them out on dehydrater sheets and let them dry at about 150 degrees for about 4 hours. Then measure it and put in Ziploc bags and pack them. When its time to eat them, you add equal parts of boiling water, let sit for ten minutes and its done! We make them in Mylar ziptop bags or you can make it in a cook pot that you boil the water in,
    or I’ve heard Ziploc freezer bags work (but I’m not sure about boiling water in plastic? ).

    1. My friend Brandy uses the dehydrating method. 🙂 They love it!
      I have boiled Ziplocs before when we make Ziploc omelets. Just have to make sure there is NO air in them.

  17. Instead of a crock pot…freeze in bags then drop the bag into a pot of boiling water to heat. Our Boy Scouts do this. Or just make fresh beef stew or chili in a dutch oven using charcoal. Dutch oven cooking with coals in about the easiest way to make a meal. Including breakfast, Mountain Man hash in a dutch oven is a filling breakfast…and will make for less snacking and smaller lunch portions.

  18. We do a Father’s Day trip every year with friends. We have started to meal plan before we go and share the cooking and prepping. This year we are going easy on the first night and picking up delicious pizza n town outside the campsite. The dads make breakfast which is usually burritos prepped at home. Maybe some extra eggs and sausage. The girls are on our own for lunch since the guys take off on a hike. We have walking tacos planned this year. Taco meat and toppings go right into snack size bags of Doritos. Eat with a fork. Saturday dinner will be brats and peppers and onions, made by the dads again. Sunday morning is any leftovers we have along with eggs. We’ll be making salsa, pasta salad, guacamole, granola and any other fun recipes we fun in the next month for snacks and condiments. Then the kids will make campfire cones and stuffed marshamellows for dessert Friday and Saturday. You people who do weeklong camping are my heros. I’ve had enough after 2.5 days!!!!

  19. I’ve started making “pizza pockets” at home and bringing them along. Any filling you want, folded inside some homemade dough. Cook at home and then re-heat on your trip. No plates, or cutlery needed!

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