Camp food that won’t kill you

camp_food copySo… Camping this weekend. Fourth of July. Yippee… (fizzy half-firework in the distance … phhttt).

This will be our first camping trip of the season, and thus will have been preceded by at least a full two days of preparation: cleaning the trailer, packing, determining whether the sleeping bags ever got washed at the end of last season, and whether either kid has a decent pair of flip flops for the beach, deciding between mountain bikes, hiking shoes, or fishing gear (then throwing our hands up and agreeing to all three).

Then there’s the camping menu. That’s totally my baby.

As per my meal planning modus operandi, I will come up with half a dozen ideas that are elegant, nutritious, satisfying … and completely impractical for the situation.

Mike pointed out recently that we spend at least forty percent of any camping trip preparing food or cleaning up. And then, even having employed the Girl Scout standard three-basin wash, we still end up bringing all the dishes and pots and coffee mugs in from the trailer at the end of the trip to fill up the dishwasher because someone is a big, ol’ germaphobe.

In addition to minimizing clean up, the camp food issue is one of striking a balance between food that:

  • Accounts for everyone’s dietary needs, allergy needs and propensity for pickiness,
  • Conforms to my standards for food that is (in-order) local, organic, free range, AND not too salty, processed, fried, sugary, caffeinated, AND does not include high-fructose corn syrup, MSG, or artificial colors,
  • Has the ability to sit in a cooler for at least four days, withstanding temperature variations of at least 50 degrees,
  • Satisfies campers with appetites roughly four and a half times what they are at home,
  • Does not require a jackhammer to remove from the sides of a Dutch oven,
  • Has the ability to double as a fun family activity to trick everyone into helping with the cooking and clean up, and
  • Does not have an excessive amount of packaging to make me feel guilty about the fact that no one can remember to sort out the recycling when we’re camping, and even if we do, someone will sneakily throw it away so as to make room in the trailer for the junk we can’t remember how we packed in the first place.

To that end, following are a few essentials that are going on my grocery list for this trip:

A whole bunch of washed, peeled and cut up fruit and slabs of cheese – A big old pile of grapes on a plate with slices of cheese, carrot sticks, jicama and celery looks picture perfect on a tray under your camp umbrella.

Skip the cantaloupe, or any fruit that’s going to make your cooler smell like something died in it. If your kids will eat watermelon from the rind, bring one along. It requires neither refrigeration nor cutlery and guarantees a good photo op – kids with sticky grins, holding bright green fruit rinds, seeds sticking to their faces.

… Unless your kids are weird enough that they won’t eat watermelon from the rind. If that’s the case, leave the watermelon at home, lest the thing stare out at you from the trailer sink the whole freaking trip, mocking you and your watermelon-hating progeny, and taking up too much space.

Potatoes – Precooked and wrapped in foil, potatoes can be shoved under campfire coals to be heated for dinner, or sliced and fried on the camp stove for breakfast.

Forget potatoes if you’re not going to prebake them. Otherwise, sometime mid afternoon, you’ll be forced to stop drinking whatever you’re doing in order to make a fire, wait for good coals, wrap those suckers in foil, and wait another hour for baking. By the time dinner’s ready, the kids will be so ravenous they’ll be rooting around under car seats for jellybeans they might have dropped on the drive out.

Canned goods – Soups and chilies that somehow meet allergen standards have the disadvantage of being neither fresh nor non-processed. But, pop open a can of beef stew and set it next to the fire and viola! A ready-made kid project. Eat out of the can for that extra campy Road Warrior reenactment, and avoid dirtying another dish. Have pliers and thermal gloves ready to pull the can away from the fire when heated to lessen the need for an emergency trip to the nearest burn clinic.

Pop Tarts – These don’t conform to anything listed above, but will keep the kids quiet in the morning as you sleep in. They will not, however, negate the need for a full on pancakes, eggs and bacon meal later on.

For that matter: Bacon – Again, this is a food that totally flies in the face of every single standard listed above, but you’re freaking camping. Lighten the hell up. You NEED bacon to make it through camping. If not for bacon, we’d all be making cocktails at 9:30 in the bloody morning.

Speaking of which:

Bloody Mary fixings – which will help you care a whole lot less that you just fed your kids bacon and Pop Tarts for breakfast, and that you now have a stack of dishes that will take you until lunch to clean, as well as a pan full can of bacon grease you have no idea what to do with, and which will doubtlessly attract bears tonight.

This is far from a complete list, of course. There’s room for variation due to personal taste.

Add to it all of the foods I stock for that inevitable moment (the end of the first day) at which I completely throw in the towel and no longer particularly care whether anyone is eating nutritious wholesome foods that were locally grown by an artisanal lettuce craftsman tripping barefootedly through his hippy lettuce fields.

These “throw in the towel” foods might include, but are not limited to: licorice sticks, beef jerky, Pringles, dozens of those little-teeny cans of soda, shrink wrapped packages of sugared cereal sample boxes, Fritos, Pop Rocks, cheese crackers, peanut butter crackers, peanut butter cups …

… and of course ‘smores fixings. Because, you know,… ‘smores.

And probably more beer than we think we’ll need. Mostly for mom.


Be safe this holiday weekend. And be sure and VOTE for my little blog before hitting the road. Thank you.



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  1. Brave woman, camping with the family. I have trouble being away from a shower for more than 24 hours. But at least you brought the pop tarts!