Camping for the first time can be a lot like going on a first date. You’re kind of excited. Kind of scared. You’ve got high hopes, but you know those can come crashing down in an instant – particularly if the camping trip is more like a blind date. Someone coerced you into it, but you really really don’t want to go. That was my first camping experience.
Years ago when I lived in Minnesota (damn that weather’s cold!), my kids used to spend two weeks during summer vacation visiting my sister in Arizona. I would join them for the second of those weeks. (Yes, we actually chose to spend our summers in the stinkin’ hot Arizona desert! I know, right??) My sister and her husband loved to camp high up in the AZ mountains. They had this cute little pop-up camper, took all the kids (they have five, and I have five. That’s a lot of kids!), headed north, set up the pop-up, pitched a tent, and lived in the great outdoors for days on end. Well, I don’t mind telling you that my idea of a great getaway was a five star hotel where I could lounge by the pool and have some good-looking dude named Fabio bring me drinks with little umbrellas in them. Camping? No way. Not a chance.
Then one summer my sister’s hubby couldn’t go. She begged me to go with her! I did everything I could to get out of it. I knew I’d hate it! Not interested! But she persisted… you’ll really like it! I promise! (Sounding more and more like a blind date, isn’t it?). So I gave in. I agreed to go for ONE night only! Well, my friends, that’s all it took. I must admit… the two of us sisters driving 10 kids up there – pop-up camper, tent, and all – was actually pretty cool. In no time at all, we were up in the cool, crisp, pine-tree-packed, forest. The air was clean. The view, spectacular. We set up camp, grilled some hot dogs, toasted marshmallows, ate some great camping food, and told stories by the campfire until late at night. And the hot cup of joe in my hands as I watched the sunrise the following morning sealed the deal. It was an experience I’ll never forget. I’m pretty sure I was courted, proposed to, and married all in that one 24-hour period. Camping stole my heart – hook, line, and sinker.
That was 8 years ago. And my love for camping has only grown over time. I’ve graduated from tents, to pop-ups, to trailers, to a Class A motor home. But no matter how you camp, there’s one thing in common: everyone’s gotta eat! And camping food can be a real challenge. Space is limited. Cooking sources are limited. And even trash disposal is limited.
So I’ve come up with a pretty darn good system of camping food planning over the years. This is the foundation for a successful, fun, and relaxing camping trip. This system is the framework to use to make sure you have the bases covered. Then add your own menu, based on personal tastes and cooking ability. Follow these 10 tips, and use this worksheet (free download), and each meal will be well planned and well organized, making the trip enjoyable for everyone. Even the person responsible for feeding the crowd!
Follow these camping food planning tips for a great camping experience
- Count the number of people for each meal – I’ve noticed with camping that rarely is everyone there for every meal. Some people join the party later, while others go on day activities and won’t be around for a given meal. It’s very important to get a headcount for each meal. Use my camping food planning worksheet to help.
- Figure out the cooking source – Cooking by campfire? Portable grill? RV kitchen? Make sure you know which source you have and how much fuel will be available. It’s a bummer to run out of the propane connected to the grill right as you slap the burgers on it.
- Pots, pans, and utensils – Make sure you have enough cooking paraphernalia to put out the meals you plan. Big crowds require several pots!
- Can you pre-make anything – The easiest time saver is to pre-make whatever meals you can. It can be a casserole in a tin foil baking dish that you simply warm up over a mellow fire, or scrambled eggs with cheese and ham that you vacuum seal in a boil bag before you leave, then boil in a pot. These will help a ton!
- Food refrigeration – Whether you’ve got coolers, an RV fridge, or no refrigeration at all, carefully plan how much food requiring cooling you bring for the refrigerated space you have.
- Make as many one pot/one dish meals as possible – Chili, stews, or breakfast scrambles all fall into this category. It makes clean up a breeze.
- Take some “no-prep” meals – One of my favorite camping lunches is to bring lunch meat, sliced cheese, crackers, and some fruit, and serve it up on a platter for lunch. It requires no prep and actually feels really elegant!
- Eliminate packaging before you go when possible – Trying to pack everything into tiny compartments or corners of your car can be frustrating and difficult. If you remove as much of the store-bought packaging that you can, it will not only create lots more space, it will also reduce the amount of trash you need to deal with while camping.
- Double duty foods – Granola is great for a hearty breakfast cereal. It’s also great as a topping for yogurt or ice cream for an awesome dessert. Find as many of these double duty foods as you can to save space.
- Plan the beverages. In detail! – One of the most important and enjoyable aspects of camping is sitting around the campfire sipping hot chocolate, cracking open an ice cold beer, or heating up a cup of coffee in the morning. I have found it critical to count the total number of people, find out what they drink throughout the day, add up the number of each beverage you’ll likely need, then add 10% of each. You’ll make everyone happy and won’t run out of anything!
The key to a great camping experience is to have fun! And the easiest way to accomplish this is with a bit of thought and planning ahead of time. These tips should get you well on your way. Just keep in mind that even if you forget something, or a meal is a disaster, the end goal is to enjoy the experience. You’ll laugh about it later. (Much like many blind dates I’ve been on. Glad those days are over!)