The biggest thing that has always bothered me about camping is that our intentions have always been to “save money” by tenting rather than staying in hotels … but as with anything these days (parenting, camping, you name it!) we are made to feel like we need all the latest gear to make the most of the experience. Camping can, in fact, end up costing just as much and even more than staying in hotels depending on what gear you buy, where you stay and what kind of amenities you’re looking for.
This post will be the first in a series of “Survival Tips” for camping – the emphasis being placed on how to handle camping as a family of 3 or more – so kids included (since that’s just the stage of the game Kim and I are at right now!) The posts will include our experiences and ideas as well as links to various sites that can may aid in planning your summer camping or road trip.
Survival Tip #1: Figure out the food before you leave.
Like the week before. Or two weeks.
Make a menu – I always start by writing out each day of the camping trip and break up the days into:
… and then proceed to pencil in the possibilities for each meal/snack. This might seem tedious and even a bit ridiculous, but it has saved us a TON of money by helping us curb unnecessary food-related expenses and kept us from impulse-buying at the snack counter, checkout and gas stations.
Plan your recipes as simply as you can – the fewer ingredients, the better! And plan them as healthy as you can – it’s SO easy to feel that “travel tummy” after a couple of days away from home. You don’t need to eat hot dogs and mac-n-cheese every day – you can enjoy a variety of healthy foods … it’s just a matter of pre-planning and knowing exactly what you need.
From the menu, I write out two complete grocery lists – one for “pre-trip purchases” and the other for “day #_ purchases (the second list is usually much shorter and more a “top-up” of perishable items). Then, before I head to the grocery store, I raid my pantry, cupboards and freezer for any items that we might already have kicking around (you’ll be surprised!)
Hit up the grocery store and stick to your list!
Pack your food with easy-of-use in mind. Pack in CLEAR PLASTIC (see below) so you can see into each container rather than have to open and check each one. Mix and prepare as much as you can in advance so you’re not having to fiddle with teaspoons and measuring cups (we bring one Pyrex 2-Cup Measuring Cup with us and that’s it!)
Pancakes, for example, are a staple for breakfasts on our camping trip. Instead of buying a box of pre-made mix which is full of trans fats, we prepare the dry ingredients in single-meal-sized containers and label them with what kind of mix it is and “what else to add” using this family-favourite pancake recipe.
Fruits/Veggies can be pre-washed, chopped (if necessary) and packed in these amazing Rubbermaid Produce Savers – they have a raised bottom so the produce doesn’t sit in its own juices which helps them last longer. You can even set aside a container with assorted chopped veggies for specific meals (fajitas, tacos, etc.).
Meats can be pre-cut, marinated and frozen ahead of time. As long as you keep replacing your ice as necessary, meats will stay frozen for a long time in coolers like this Coleman 62-Quart Xtreme Cooler which keeps ice for several days. As the day nears for your “meat meal”, move the frozen meat slightly away from direct ice or into a separate cooler and as the ice melts, you end up safely defrosting your meats for use.
Drinks in our camp are usually kept in a separate cooler from the other food since we frequently need to rehydrate and prefer to keep the meat, eggs, etc. in the coldest cooler. We often pack juice boxes for the kids – they’re just easier to deal with at camp and on the road. We also try to buy cartoned drinks since they’re easier to pack tightly into a cooler (square/rectangular bottoms). You can also use these awesome Ball Plastic 8-Ounce Freezer Jars and pre-make and freeze your favourite smoothie recipes (thaw the same way you would your meat – keep in the “coldest” cooler on direct ice, move to warmer cooler when you’re ready to defrost). The best part of these jars is that they double-up as a cup so you only have one thing to clean instead of two and you’re able to bring a “healthier” and cheaper drink option along on the trip.
Camping Friendly Meal Ideas
Breakfast: Pancakes (see my favourite pancake recipe here!), Eggs (scrambled, “in” toast, breakfast omelets), cold/hot cereal, fruit salad.
Lunch: Elbow macaroni (with sauce, melted cheddar, parmesan, your favourite topping!), cold-cut sandwiches (ham, turkey, chicken, roast beef, with cheese, lettuce, tomatoes, etc.), cut veggies and dip, fruit, eggs (veggie omelets, denver/western sandwiches).
Supper: Steak, grilled chicken breast (fajitas are great for leftovers!), Potatoes (regular, sweet, or combo of both), ANY grilled veggies (onions, peppers, asparagus, zucchini, carrots, cherry tomatoes), pork tenderloin medallions, pork chops, salads/veggies, rice, quinoa.
Jessie at Chaos and Confections has some fantastic tips for how to pack food for a family for several days (and make them cute too if you’re up for that sort of thing while on vacation!). I’ll definitely be using some of these ideas the next time we’re heading on a big camping trip!!
What are some of your favourite camping meals and/or food packing tips??
Share them below or on our Facebook page and we’ll add them to our list!