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Quick Tips and Ideas for Easy Car Camping Meals

Thinking about what to cook and eat while camping with kids can be tricky. These tips will help you think about what to prep ahead of time, how to pack your cooler, and give you a few ideas for easy meals that you can adjust to own tastes. Enjoy! 

What to do before you leave: 

Prepare as much as you can ahead of time. Wash and cut your produce, marinate your meats, pre-make things like pasta or chicken salad. This makes meals at camp and snacks easy and creates less of a mess. Also, it means there are less dishes to do at camp and less waste to pack out.

What to bring: 

In addition to my planned out meals, I always bring several non-perishable items “just in case”. It gives us some extra options, but they won’t go bad if we don’t eat them. Applesauce or other fruit/veggie pouches, granola bars, trail mix, crackers, mac and cheese, pasta and sauce are all good options.

Sometimes it is hard to make the most healthy meals while camping so I prep (wash, cut and put in their own container) some fruit and veggies ahead of time so I can just pull out a container and hand it to my kids for a snack or meal with no prep while we are there. Pro tip: some fruits/veggies hold up better than others. Keep this in mind and eat the less hardy ones first. 

 

Breakfast Ideas:

  • Oatmeal packets

  • Yogurt

  • Breakfast Burritos (use leftovers from dinner fajitas below)

  • Sweet treats – muffins, cinnamon rolls, scones

  • Don’t forget the hot cocoa for chilly mornings!

Lunch Ideas:

Try to think of easy, no-cook meals that can be packed for hiking or snacking through the day.

  • Meat (Salami, ham, turkey), cheese, crackers, cut veggies (cucumbers, carrots)

  • PB+J or Nutella on tortillas

  • Pasta salad (make ahead of time at home so it is ready to go)

  • Chicken salad wraps (make chicken salad at home and just wrap at camp)

  • Pitas and hummus

Dinner Ideas:

For most of these meals, you can do all the cutting and preparing ahead, so you are ready to go when it’s time to cook at camp. Marinating and then freezing any meats helps keep them extra cold in the cooler.

  • Fajitas:

    1. Cut, prep, and marinate meat ahead of time and freeze in Ziplock bag

    2. Wash and cut peppers and onions and put in another Ziplock bag

    3. Pack cheese, tomatoes, avocado (whole), jalapeños, salsa, and any other condiments your family likes

    4. Cook in skillet on cookstove or in cast iron pan over fire

    5. Bonus – use any leftover toppings the next morning for breakfast burritos!

  • Steak and Corn:

    1. Marinate steak at home and freeze

    2. Shuck corn, butter and season and wrap in foil (you can do this ahead of time if you are eating it earlier in your trip or wait and wrap in foil when you are ready to cook)

    3. Pasta salad with veggies (bowtie pasta, cherry tomatoes, parmesan, chives, peppers)

    4. Cook over fire on grill, put corn wrapped in foil in coals

  • Fish packets:

    1. Pick your favorite fish (salmon and tilapia work well) and pick your favorite veggies (peppers, mushrooms, tomatoes, zucchini). Put one piece of fish, veggies, oil or butter, and your favorite spices in a tinfoil packet. Make as many packets as you have people and refrigerate at home before putting in cooler. 

    2. Put packets in coals of campfire to cook and then open packet and serve over rice or couscous. You can cook this in a skillet too if there is a fire ban and you can’t have a campfire. 

    3. Bring a box of orzo or couscous for an easy to make side 

Some More Helpful Tips to Make Camping Meals Easy:

Prep

Prep as much as you can ahead of time – wash and cut fruits and veggies, cut and marinate meat, bring small containers of condiments, only bring the amount you will need. Keep some snacks in an easy to access location in the car that is separate than the cooler.

Cooler

Think strategically about your cooler – freeze meat after it is prepped and marinated, it will slowly thaw and be ready when you need to cook it. You can also freeze yogurt pouches to make a popsicle snack for your kids. Make sure everything is cold before you put it in the cooler. Try to pack the items you will use first on top. Keep an eye on your ice and head to the nearest town to buy more if you need it.

Drinks/Bottles for Babies:

You may want to consider a smaller separate cooler for drinks and/or bottles/breastmilk for your baby. A drink only cooler cuts down on the food cooler being opened several times a day (which helps keep your food cold). It also makes it easier to monitor the temperature for important times like babies bottles and milk. Keep this cooler in an easy to access location in case you need to access it during your drive.

Extras:

Bring some non-perishable items that won’t go bad if you don’t eat them. For snacks – trail mix, granola bars, applesauce, dried fruit, and fruit pouches are good options.

For meals – box of mac and cheese, box of pasta and a jar of sauce or a can of soup are all great things to have on hand just in case something doesn’t go as planned with one of your other meals. 

Making Meals Extra Easy with Kids Hack:

If you are camping near a town, it can be fun to plan to have one meal “out” and go to a restaurant in town. Cooking and dishes while camping is a big task, it is ok to give yourself a break and head to town for dinner or breakfast. We use this hack a lot on the first night if we are arriving late or on the last morning if we need to pack up quickly and head home. It is also great if you have a rainstorm during a mealtime. We have found the most charming little towns and restaurants this way and it has added joy and reduced stress in our adventures!