Cooking can be can fun task while outdoors. However, a lot of people go overboard when it comes to camping meals. They underestimate how much effort it can take to make a meal and end up spending all their time on meal prep (not to mention all the extra time spent cleaning multiple bowls and utensils). All those Instagram-perfect pictures of gourmet camping meals certainly don’t help in setting realistic expectations of what camping meals should look like!
While it’s perfectly okay to plan for some elaborate meals, you are probably better off opting for simple camping dinners – especially if you are camping with kids. Here is what you need to know about camping food plus ideas for super easy camping meals which are tasty, kid-friendly and mostly healthy.
Some Rules for Planning Camping Meals
Aim for One Pot Meals
Fewer pots means less work and cleanup. I do use two pots sometimes, but only if I am making a sauce to go over something easy like instant mashed potatoes, rice, or couscous.
Use Ingredients Which Don’t Require Refrigeration
Unless you have a thermoelectric cooler, you will need camping meals from ingredients which don’t require refrigeration. So forget about grilling steaks, fish, fresh veggies… unless it’s for the first night of camping when you’ve still got ice in your cooler.
There are plenty of non-refrigerated foods you can bring camping, such as:
- Pouches of tuna or chicken
- Canned meat, tuna, or shrimp
- Freeze-dried meat
- Beans and lentils
- Jerky (cook it for a few minutes to make it soft)
- Veggies, canned or freeze-dried
- Cheese, gravy, and sauce mixes
- Textured vegetable protein (TVP)
- Silken tofu
- Hard cheeses (these can last a few days out of the fridge)
Some fresh foods can also survive without refrigeration, such as onions, potatoes, and carrots. Tomatoes, zucchini, peppers, etc. can also last a few days out of the refrigerator if the weather isn’t insanely hot.
Don’t Count on Campfire Cooking
Campfire cooking is really fun and you can make an awesome fire-grilled meal while camping (here’s how to do it). But it actually takes a LOT of work to cook over a campfire. First you’ve got to make a large fire then wait for it burn down so you’ve got enough hot coals for cooking. Then the actual cooking takes forever, which isn’t ideal if you need to watch over children or don’t have friends to share the task with.
Even if you do want to try campfire cooking, bring a camp stove as a backup in case it rains. Which brings us to…
Count on Rain
Weather can change very quickly while camping, regardless of what the forecast says. So always plan your camping meals as though there might be rain. That means choosing some meals which don’t require cooking (like sandwiches or canned meals) and definitely not relying on campfire cooking.
Choose Quick-Cooking Foods
Unless you are camping in a large group, don’t bring foods like dry beans or whole grains. These simply take too long to cook. You will NOT have fun on your camping trip if you’ve got to stand over a pot of beans for an hour, stirring constantly.
Some of my favorite quick-cooking camping foods are:
- Instant rice
- Instant mashed potatoes
- TVP (textured vegetable protein)
- Canned foods and meals
- Freeze-dried foods
Vary Your Carbs and Proteins
To make easy camping meals more exciting, make sure you are changing up your carbs and proteins. For example, you could have pasta and pouched chicken one night and instant mashed potatoes with canned sausages the next night. Add some veggies or salad on the side and you’ve got a healthy meal which takes less than 30 minutes to prepare.
- Carb Ideas: Pasta, instant mashed potatoes, couscous, instant rice, ramen, bread, crackers, tortillas
- Protein ideas: Chicken, beef, tuna, sausages, hot dogs, tofu, TVP, eggs, refried bean mixes, hummus mix
Don’t Forget to Bring Spices
Even the most simple camping meals can be turned into something gourmet by adding spices and seasoning mixes. If you are going on a longer camping trip, make sure you bring several different spice mixes so all your food doesn’t end up tasting the same.
Easy Camping Meal Ideas
Tortillas are a great easy camping meal because you can fill them with almost anything. For an ultra-quick camping dinner, fill with canned refried beans, cheese, and some jarred salsa. If you have more time, grill some meat over the fire and heat up your tortillas too. Tortillas are also great for breakfast with eggs and sauted veggies.
*Check out these 27 backpacking tortilla ideas
2. Pita Pizzas
Pitas + sauce + cheese + salami. You’ve got a camping meal in less than 15 minutes and the kids will be happy. You can even have fun heating them over a fire in a cast-iron skillet if you want.
3. Hot Dogs
Did you know there are hot dogs which don’t require refrigeration? One option is to choose canned hot dogs or sausages. I am also able to find veggie hot dogs which don’t need to be refrigerated in my local health food store.
The great thing about hot dogs for camping is that you can cook them over the fire on sticks, grill them, boil them in your camping pot, or saute them with veggies for a more complete meal.
*Don’t forget to bring condiments!
4. Spruced Up Mac and Cheese
Use a box of mac and cheese as your base and then add extras to spruce it up into a more complete meal. The first picture shows mac with edamame and cherry tomatoes. The second is white mac and cheese with peas and tuna. You can also add things like salami, peas, corn, peppers…
5. Pasta, Sauce Plus Extras
One of the easiest camping meals you can make is pasta with jarred sauce. Like with mac and cheese, you can easily spruce it up by adding chicken from a pouch, beans, veggies like fire-roasted peppers, or cheese.
6. Foil Pouch Dinners
If you want to cook over a campfire, foil pouches are a great easy solution. You basically put a combination of different proteins and veggies on foil, wrap up the foil, and then cook over a grill rack until the contents are soft. This works best if at least one of the ingredients is “wet” (like tomatoes) as the juices will help cook all of the other ingredients into a soft, succulent meal.
The great thing about foil camping dinners is that each person can make their own pouch with whatever they want.
Stews are great when making camping meals for larger groups. This stew can be easily made by throwing beef (fresh, freeze-dried, or canned), tomatoes or tomato juice, and veggies like zucchini, peppers, and carrots into a large pot and slow-cooking over the fire. Go ahead and add some beer to the stew too for extra flavor 😀
8. Camp Chili
Chili is a classic camping meal because it is so easy to make. This one was made with canned meat, beans, tomatoes, onions and mushrooms.
9. Loaded Cousous
I love couscous for camping because it cooks up in just two minutes. You can add all sorts of things to it to make it a complete meal. This photo shows couscous with beans and sauted red peppers. You could also add proteins like chicken, sausage, or chickpeas and veggies like tomatoes or zucchini.
10. Tuna Melts
Add a slice of cheese on top of bread or rice cakes. If it’s hot, let the sun melt the cheese a bit. Then add tuna from a pouch on top and you’ve got yourself an easy camping lunch.
11. Easy Camping Pilaf
To make pilaf while camping, first saute onions and garlic in a pan with a bit of oil. Then add the uncooked instant rice and saute it a bit – this will give it a toasty, nuttier flavor as well as help the rice keep its texture. Then add water or stock and simmer until cooked. You can add all sorts of veggies or cooked proteins (like canned chicken) to the rice once it is cooked.
12. Instant Mashed Potatoes and Meatballs
Instant mashed potatoes are one of the easiest camping foods. You don’t even need to cook them – just add hot water and let it sit. Open a can of meatballs in sauce and pour over the potatoes and you’ve got a hearty meal almost instantly.
13. Potatoes with Instant Sauce or Gravy Mix
Here’s another easy way to do potatoes while camping: simply choose a protein and a packet of instant sauce to put over the potatoes. In this photo, the potatoes are served up with pouched salmon and instant cheddar sauce. I also love potatoes with instant gravy on them.
Skakshuka is a Middle Eastern dish which is ridiculously easy to make. You basically saute some onions and peppers, pour in a can of crushed tomatoes into your pot, and then crack some eggs into it. The eggs poach in the tomatoes. Here’s a good recipe explaining how to do it.
15. Falafel from Instant Mix
I love falafel and it is one meal that my kids don’t complain about. To make easy camping falafel, you can get instant mixes. Just add water, let it absorb, and then form into balls. Saute in your camping pan until golden and serve with instant hummus, pita bread, and salad.
16. Fancy Ramen
Ramen by itself isn’t exactly healthy or exciting, but you can easily turn ramen into a gourmet camping meal by adding some extras. The possibilities are endless. I like to add shelf-stable tofu, miso paste and scallions. Or sometimes I’ll cook ramen with freeze-dried broccoli and add peanuts for protein and crunch. I’ve heard of people going really gourmet with their ramen by adding things like canned shrimp.
17. Grilled Corn on the Cob
Corn on the cob isn’t exactly a meal by itself, but it is one of the easiest camping side dishes to make over a fire. The great thing is that corn on the cob doesn’t need to be refrigerated, so if it rains or you simply don’t feel like campfire cooking, you can grill the corn up another night instead.
18. Instant Soups and Meals
Don’t feel like you have to go crazy cooking fancy meals while camping. It’s perfectly okay to go the easy route and just pop open some instant meals from boxes or cans. If the weather gets crappy or you come back to camp from a hike later than expected, you’ll be glad you took the easy route!
*See these best-tasting freeze dried backpacking meals