May 19, 2013

Camping Eats

This is part two in my camping series. For the first post, go here - Go Outside!

With the long weekend upon us, I'm thinking about camping.

One of the things I really enjoy about camping is the food.
Meals can be as easy or as extravagant as you like and everything tastes better outside. Again, preparation is the key. No matter how elaborate the menu, you'll need to plan a few things.

To begin, start with a list of the days you will be camping. I have used notepad on my computer for this. I have also made a quick grid on a piece of paper - one column for each day including the day we arrive and leave, and one row for each meal plus two more for snacks and campfire treats. Regardless of how you do it, I'm going to refer to your planner as a chart.

With your chart made, think about your plans and cross off meals you won't have at camp. Most likely breakfast and possibly lunch for the day you arrive, and supper on the day you leave. This could also include other meals you won't eat at camp. Maybe you are invited elsewhere, or there's a nearby restaurant to try.

Once the days are crossed off, add related notes.
Your comments should include anything that will affect meals like:
 - beach day, gone from camp all day, or
 - Local corn roast to attend, eat light and late, or
 - In camp for the day, make special meal.
You don't have to write it all out, as long as you know what's what.

Finally decide on the meals you want to bring and fill in the blanks.
Your first day at camp is usually busy so try and have something easy and ready to go. Likewise, plan easy meals or meals that can be made ahead of time for your busy, away from camp days. Plan the more time consuming meals for the days you'll be around camp a little more.

Keep your cooking options in mind. If all you have is a fire, your options will be less than if you're renting a cabin with a full range.
The more people and activities involved, the less chance everyone will eat all the meals together, so grab and go meals, meals with easy-to-heat leftovers, or make your own meals are a good idea.
Add in (healthy) snacks for through-the-day snacking (especially with kids or a high-activity group) and a special treat for the campfire each night.

Once you decide on the food, think ahead about packing it all.

Get rid of cans and boxes and use ziploc bags for less weight.
Freeze everything you can ahead of time. Meats, sauces, yogurt, individual milks, and so on. The more items you can freeze, the less ice you need to worry about.
This means you can use all the space you have to your advantage.

Prepare everything you can ahead of time. Clean and cut veggies, fruits and berries. Grate cheese. Make hamburger patties and freeze separately.
Mix and measure spices or repackage smaller quantities instead of taking all your spice jars. Same thing for sugars and flours and other dry items.

The idea is to save space, weight and time so you can haul less, work less, eat delicious food, and enjoy camping with your family and friends.



Here's an example of simplifying things. To make spaghetti at home, you need to make the sauce, add your seasoned hamburger and/or meatballs and boil your spaghetti noodles. There will be multiple pots and packaging to throw out.

If I want spaghetti for a camping meal I would prepare my sauce at home. I would also cook and season my hamburger/meatballs. These two are frozen in baggies, the sauce flat for best space. Use the double seal baggies for this. I could even add the meat and sauce together and freeze them that way. The noodles can also be cooked, tossed lightly with olive oil (to prevent clumping) and frozen in baggies.

At the camp I can take out the sauce, meat and noodles from my cooler. The sauce will probably be thawed at this point.  Heat the sauce and meat in a skillet. Once they are thoroughly heated, add in the (now thawed) noodles and warm.

And that's it. At camp I will have one pan dirtied, a complete meal and only a couple of baggies to throw away.  You can spruce it up with grated Parmesan or Cheddar cheese and maybe a toasted loaf of pre-made garlic bread.

And since you made this great meal, it's up to someone else to clean up after.
It's only fair, right?

Okay. So, once you have decided what to bring, go through each meal and write down what you will need to prepare that meal. This doesn't mean only a food list, but also a list of pots and pans, utensils and kitchen items you might need.

Think through each meal and the tools you will use to prepare it. Tin foil pack meals won't work very well if you don't have tin foil. Consider what you will do with leftovers (many can be kept in baggies). Do not leave food lying around your camp. This invites bug and critters.

Once you have your list, consolidate it for shopping and packing.

There are so many delicious ideas for meals. What you bring will depend on your cooking options and your personal tastes. Rather than give you a menu to follow, I'm going to give a couple of examples from our past camping weekends, followed by a list of food suggestions. I encourage you to take this list, personalize it, add to it, make it your own. Once you have the list, you can refer to it again and again.

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Example 1
For one trip, we went with a large group of people. Some rented cabins, some had campers and some tented. 

Because of the activity and large group of people, breakfast and lunch were a make your own kind of deal, with the adults helping the littles as needed.

I pre-cooked a turkey and a ham and sliced it up for buns. We also had a couple types of salad, sliced cheeses, assorted pickles, cut veggies and cut fruit.
There were buns and bread with peanut butter and spreads for breakfast and a couple types of cereal.

In the morning, someone would make coffee and we would make our own breakfast. This worked best because with late nights, little ones, teens and adults, everyone got up at different times.

Around noon or later, someone would pull out the lunch items and we would make up a plate. Anyone who was busy or away could always make their own from the fridge when they returned.

Supper we would eat together. One night we had hamburgers and (pre-made) baked beans, another night we had steak. A slowcooker warmed up (pre-made) chili for a third meal. Leftovers were heated the next day. And there were always hotdogs available for anyone needing a quick bite.

We had assorted snacks like nuts, and smores for the campfire. One night we enjoyed a big roaster full of popcorn thanks to the microwave in the cabin. 

Example 2
Our family (just the four of us) went camping for a couple nights and all we had was a little countertop bbq. 
One supper we had hamburgers and salad. Hotdogs and smokies with carrot sticks were eaten the next night. 
We spent the days at the beach and ate at the little sidewalk counter for lunch.
Granola bars, fruit and nuts were brought for breakfast and snacking
We made smores one night and ate chips or pretzels the other night.


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Suggestions

These are the basics we take along. Extras are added according to the meal plan.

Water - both individual bottles and large jugs for food prep and cooking. Bring lots. You will drink more than you think. Bring extra for your pets too.
Camp water is not always safe for consumption.

Coffee
Tea
Hot Chocolate
Milk
Juice mix of some kind like iced tea or lemonade.

A juice station with a filled thermos and dixie cups are better than juice boxes. When the kids need a drink, they can take what they need and then go back to playing. Juice boxes end up half finished and lying around. Then the ants and wasps move in. Water bottles are a better choice for fluid on the go. If you love juice boxes, buy the small sizes and use them for meals when everyone is seated (freeze most of them ahead of time so they can do double duty as ice packs).

Cheese - grated and sliced
Yogurt - freeze
Muffins
Bread
Hot dog buns
Wieners, Turkey Dogs or Smokies - these do not need to be part of a meal plan; they will get eaten as a late night snack beside the fire

Oatmeal or Oatmeal packs
Cereal - individual bowls
Coffee whitener
Sugar
Brown sugar
Nutella
Peanut Butter
Jelly
Honey
Mustard
Ketchup
Relish
Barbecue Sauce
Olive oil
Seasonings - garlic and onion seasons,
                   salt, pepper, season. salt
                 - Tic Tac containers make great mini spice holders

Fruit, cut up or whole - these fruits travel well: apples, oranges, grapes, berries, melons and pineapple. You could also bring peaches, nectarines, apricots or plums if you pack them carefully

Veggies, for snacks and meals - these veggies are great raw: carrot sticks, celery sticks, cucumber slices, radishes, cherry tomatoes, bell pepper slices, broccoli and cauliflower

Peanuts, sunflower seeds, other nuts
Trail Mix
Fruit leather
Pretzels, Cheezies, Chips, etc.
Granola bars
Beef jerky
Graham crackers, chocolate and marshmallows for smores

For snacking items - don't leave a big bowl or bag out. It will end up on the ground in some amount and call to the critters and bugs in the area. Better to make up small baggies with snacks and throw them in a basket or tub. When a snack is needed, a bag can be picked.

Another option is to use cups for small snack holders. Write names on each cup. If they want a snack refill, they need to return their cup. Don't let the kids run around with food.

Here are some other ideas in general categories. Think outside your normal meal ideas. At home you might not eat fruit, beef jerky, nuts and trail mix for lunch. On a camping trip with a day of hiking planned, it could be the perfect lunch.

Breakfast
Cereal with milk and fruit
Granola and yogurt
French toast or Pancakes with bacon
Muffins, bagels or oatmeal with fruit
Breakfast wraps
Hard boiled eggs and fruit
Potato Bacon Casserole with Cheese - use a tin foil pan and adjust cooking times

Lunch
Pizza - leftovers, warm or cold (make one at home or pick one up on the way out)
Tacos or Burritos - make the mix at home; can be warmed in foil over the fire
Baked potato slices (these take a little longer but oh so worth it)
Cold cuts of meat for sandwiches and buns
Chopped chicken and a wrap salad for chicken wraps
Tacos in a bag
Chinese Rice (make ahead and freeze; warm in a skillet)

Supper
Hobo Stew
Hobo Hamburger Hash
Hamburgers or other BBQ meat with tin foil veggies

Other Items, Sides and Snacks
Campfire Cones
Nacho Bar
Popcorn Bar (grab a campfire popcorn tray or make your own)
Salads (made ahead of time)
Baked Beans
Corn on the Cob

You are welcome to download this free printable to plan your camp menu. The pages come with room for one weeks worth of planning. There are pages beginning on Sunday, Thursday and Fridays.

And here is a condensed version of the list. Print it out and add your own ideas. Keep your plans and you can go back and note what worked great and what you'd rather not eat again.


I have in no way covered everything you could bring along, but that would be impossible really. I do hope this list inspires you.
For the next few days, I'll be back each day with a new recipe. Each recipe will be meant for camping but you could make them up at home too. After that I'll take a look at other aspects of camping beyond food (yes, there's more than food).
See you tomorrow!


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