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Originally published August 12, 2012 at 5:00 AM | Page modified August 13, 2012 at 1:47 PM

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Camping food: Maximize flavor while minimizing effort

Tips and tricks to save time on food prep and cleanup at the campsite.

Special to The Seattle Times

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Sandwiches for lunch! Wow, bet it took a lot of research to come up with that idea. I... MORE
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One of the best parts of camping is eating: dining al fresco, reloading after a big hike and sharing a table as the sun sets and the campfire starts heating up.

But no one wants to spend precious time preparing a big meal — and then cleaning it up.

Here are some tips for maximizing flavor while minimizing effort at the campsite. Remember to keep all perishables well wrapped in an ice-filled cooler.

Load up at breakfast

Breakfast burritos can be tailored to any taste and don't need utensils (or even a plate). Use pre-made hard-boiled eggs and precooked bacon for minimal cleanup, or fire up the camp stove to scramble the eggs and warm up some Boca sausages (which leave less grease mess). Load in as many veggies as the kids will tolerate, plus a good dollop of sour cream and salsa.

As for the precooked bacon, take the time at home to cook a package for best flavor (or if you want to use a nitrate-free or turkey product). It stores fine in an airtight container in the fridge for a day or two. There's also packaged precooked bacon for around $4 for 2 ounces, but its faux smoke flavor may not cut the mustard for everyone.

Keep snacks coming

It's hard to get kids (and many adults) to take a break from playtime to refuel. But once they crash, things can get ugly. Make sure you ply them with protein-packed snacks throughout the day so that meal times don't become panicked, with everyone eating at different times (which requires extra prepping and cleanup).

Pack a salty and a sweet trail mix to suit every taste. Hit the bulk bins at your local supermarket to personalize the mix to your family's tastes. You can find a weekend-size bag for about $5.25 a pound. Or, make your own, with a jar of Planters peanuts and large bags of raisins and M&M's, which comes out to only around $3.50 a pound (but gives you several pounds). If you have kids, you probably already have stores of raisins, nuts and Goldfish crackers, so you're halfway done.

If there are toddlers or infants in the group, puréed fruit and veggie pouches are perfect for campsites, and get them calories quick. They're light, portable (no glass) and don't need utensils. At about $1.25-$1.50 a pouch, they're the kid-equivalent of throwing a couple of Clif Bars in your pack.

Back at camp, opening a bag of chips is one of the quickest ways to get food to mouth. But standard chips don't provide much long-lasting energy. Veggie chips are a bit more expensive, but they'll fill you up longer and provide some nutritional value. Terra chips are about $3.75 a bag and can be found in the natural-foods sections of grocery stores.

Plan for lunch on the go

Simple sandwiches are a great camp lunch because they can be customized and they're portable, so you don't have to head back to camp to eat. PB&J on a sturdy whole-grain loaf will survive bumping around in your backpack.

If your tastes run a little finer, whip up a couple quick BLATs (minus the mayo). Pack some pre-sliced artisan bread, then use large romaine leafs to keep the bread protected from moisture from the tomato and avocado slices. Load in as much bacon as you can pilfer from the breakfast stash.

Plan mess-free dinners

Don't be left scrubbing pots and pans while everyone else is roasting marshmallows. Firm vegetables such as potatoes, squash and corn can be loaded into foil packets and roasted on the edges of the campfire. Get the kids involved roasting turkey dogs or chicken sausages, which can be served in buns or cut up and mixed with the veggies.

For something slightly more upscale, jambalaya is a great make-ahead meal and strikes an impressive display when presented with some crusty bread and a sprinkling of fresh scallions and parsley. Find a manageable recipe online (such as Martha Stewart's Quick Jambalaya recipe: http://www.marthastewart.com/313499/quick-jambalaya) and omit any shellfish. After it cools, freeze it and let it do double duty in the cooler as an extra ice pack. It will defrost during the day and heat up quickly even over a small camp stove if you work in small batches.

Celebrate your efforts

The simple s'more is the best way to cap a day out in nature. Sure, there are variations, but the classic mix of graham cracker, chocolate and melted marshmallow is a sure winner. Take a load off and bask in simple pleasure — with no dishes to wash.

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