Getting ready to camp the never picture perfect way–the food edition

Many people talk about taking a vacation by going camping. Camping is not a vacation. It’s a field trip.

When I return from a vacation, I like to feel rejuvenated and relaxed and umm…clean. Usually I return from camping exhausted and filthy with more laundry than I thought possible. Don’t get me wrong–I love camping. It’s a lot of fun, but there’s little rest in camping for me. Once I learned more about camping and had several trips under my belt, I adjusted my expectations of the trip and found it much more fun and rewarding. For me the key is in the planning. If I plan ahead and get very organized, I will have more fun when I get there because I’m not digging through stuff in the dark with a flashlight looking for the can opener or pajamas or anything else I might need.

Portable snacks for the bike trailer

Organizing the Food

One of the biggest area of organization is the food. The first camping trip I went on as an adult was with my husband when we were newlyweds. It was just the two of us in a tent somewhere in Georgia. I had no idea what I was doing and did not pack for inclement weather. ALL of the food I brought had to be cooked over the fire. When it rained non-stop for two days,we ate granola bars. For two days–breakfast, lunch and dinner. We finally gave up and ate at the tiny little restaurant at the campground. It was the best greasy spaghetti ever. So if you don’t want to just eat granola bars, pack some flexible foods and meals that are easy to fix either on the propane stove or sandwich stuff that doesn’t need cooking at all.

What a view for lunch!

I take several items from home to make cooking in camp easier. I take a crock pot which works really well for chili, soups and bbq chicken. It cooks all day while you play and when you come home for supper, dinner’s close to being done. We also have a propane stove. The fire is reserved just for the hot dogs and smores. It’s too messy–I hate cleaning the soot off the bottom of my pans–and too hot in Tennessee to cook a lot over a fire in the summer. The propane stove is ready instantly and cools quickly.

My mother-in-law takes an electric skillet with her when she goes camping. I just cook in a cast iron skillet or stock pot on the propane stove.  Two other items I like to take is a toaster oven and a tea maker. I make breakfast cookies and hot breakfast sandwiches as well as melted cheese pita wedges in the toaster oven. The tea maker is self-explanatory. I’m a Southern girl. It’s hot and humid out. Why would you not have iced tea? It’s worth the effort for me to bring it. One little luxury we try to stick in is an ice cream freezer. I know that sounds crazy, but a couple of the families bring ice cream freezers and we have a couple of flavors of homemade ice cream one night when it’s really hot.

Our friend cooking on his propane stove...

We Make it a Party

We don’t go camping just by ourselves, it’s usually with a group of friends–sometimes up to 30 people with all of the kids. Breakfast and lunch are on your own, but we pick a theme for dinner and eat together. Everyone cooks enough for their family and then we all put it on a table at one campsite and eat buffet style. It’s lots of fun.

For our upcoming trip, we’re having Mexican night, Italian night, grill over the fire night, and crock-pot BBQ night. The first night we’ll have cold salad (like chicken salad and pasta salad) and the last night crock pot soup and sandwiches or leftovers.

This year is going to be a bit of a challenge since I have become intolerant of white flour and totally cut it out of my diet. I’m eating more veggies, fruit and protein and a much smaller number of grains period. The problem is the fridge in the camper is the size of the one I used in the dorm in college, but I have to feed 6 people for 6 days. I’m going to have to use coolers and lots of ice as well. We have a new PowerChill Cooler that supposedly keeps 40 degrees cooler than the outside temperature. We’ll try that. Still,  I’ll probably have to make a run to either the camp store or a grocery store mid-week for more meat and perishables.

Doodlebug eating breakfast in camp

The Menu

Breakfast. For breakfast we have scrambled eggs and turkey bacon, breakfast sandwiches (scrambled eggs, bacon and cheese with a little garlic salt on one of those sandwich flats and toasted to melt the cheese–yum!), yogurt, hard-boiled eggs, breakfast cookies (I make the dough ahead of time and freeze it), cereal, and Poptarts the morning we break camp to come home. One thing we never have is pancakes. I don’t have a griddle, so making pancakes for 6 is excruciatingly slow. Besides, syrup is best used in situations with warm running water, a big sink of soapy water, and in the case of having 4 children, a bathtub. My husband requests very few things of me, but no pancakes is one thing he asks and I’m glad to honor.

Making a treat in our friends' camper with a real oven!

Lunch. Lunch is two varieties: in camp and on the trail. On the trail is pretty much pb&j on flat bread or bagels. These breads are easier to not squash as sandwich bread, which is gross after an apple sits on it for a while in your backpack. Also, fruit, chips, and homemade cookies. I bake and freeze cookies at home before we go.

In camp, I’ll make toasted cheese pita wedges sometimes as a change from PB&J, or have turkey sandwiches since we have access to a fridge in camp. One thing I like is Trader Joe’s Indian Lentils. It’s better in the fall when it’s not so stinkin’ hot, with some instant brown rice, a little cheese and sour cream, served with naan bread. The lentils are in a pouch to heat in boiling water, so it’s easy to fix. Tuna salad is easy in camp, but you can’t keep it cold on the trail.

Snacks. Snacks are GORP (aka trail mix), homemade granola bars, fruit bars, string cheese, hummus and crackers, raisins or almonds. Snacks that are portable, small, light and don’t melt are key. Our trips are quite vigorous and my kids can put the snacks away with all that exercise. Everyone carries their own snacks and water on hikes and bike rides.

Suppers. Suppers for our theme nights might be tacos and taco salad for mexican night, with chips, salsa, and queso dip. Italian night will have several varieties of pasta and sauces, salad, and french bread. BBQ night will be crock pot pork and chicken in BBQ sauce, with corn on the cob, salad, mac and cheese and fruit. Of course on open fire night we’ll have hot dogs, hamburgers, and smores.

Once you decide on your menu, make sure you think of everything you’ll need (salt, pepper, a can opener) to prepare each dish and put that on the list to bring. If you are organized, cooking and eating in camp can be a fun experience!

20 kids, one tarp, three inches of rain, and a book after dinner to calm the natives...

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