Adventures in Camping Cuisine

Like so many people, 2020 has been our year of camping. Prior to this we might have gone once a year, for a couple of days, or just as likely not. Did you know there are wild animals out there? And dodgy weather?

All that to say, I’m definitely not an expert! But this year we decided camping would be our low-risk travel strategy, so we’ve done three trips, including a recent 11-day Alberta lake tour in a rented campervan. (Full disclosure: that includes two nights in the middle at an Airbnb because showers.)

photo credit Kayla Strachan

I thought it might be fun to share some of the food highlights. Apologies in advance for the pictures. Taking time for fancy food photos is not high on my camping to-do list. Sometimes I forgot to take pictures at all! A sign of a good vacation.

That said, here are a few of the menu items that worked well for our family, starting with…

Food prepared at home!

Seriously. If you have the time before leaving, this is a great strategy. I froze a big block of lentil soup, which helped keep the cooler cold and then was ready to go for lunch with quesadillas on about day 4.

Similarly, I made a batch of peanut sauce at home and froze that, so I just had to boil noodles, broccoli, and cherry tomatoes to add to it for one of our favourite pasta combos.

We were having such a nice beach day in Cold Lake, about 15 minutes drive from our campground, that we just decided to make dinner in the back of the van there instead of heading back. Easy!

Wouldn’t you stay?

The other thing I often make at home and take camping is a hearty salad with legumes and/or grains. This time it was my friend Kristyn’s fresh Corn Salsa Salad.

Other favourites include Julie van Rosendaal’s Brown & Wild Rice and Barley Salad with Chick Peas as well as her Lentil & Barley Salad. They’re great for rounding out meals and providing fibre and other nutrition that might be lacking in the rest of the camping menu.

The last thing I would make and bring again is pancakes. You could do pancake mix, but these pancakes are whole grain, lower in sodium, and deliver a hearty texture. A real treat to wake up to that while camping.

Processed / prepared food (!)

Processed food get a bad rap, but the reality is that it’s saved many people, women, in particular, countless hours in the kitchen. Choose carefully, balance with raw fruit and veggies, and some convenience foods can fit just fine into a heart-healthy lifestyle.

Plus, it’s camping!

So we brought Beyond Meat burgers, because my daughter has recently become a vegetarian, and we all like them. We can debate if they’re healthier than the real thing, but it sure is nice not to have to worry about cross-contamination, cooler temperature, and thoroughly cooking raw meat. But no pictures! Oops.

Later in the trip I picked up bagged salad to go with spaghetti, bottled sauce, and pan-fried mushrooms. For some reason my kids love caesar salad, so we go with that these days. Easy!

We also went again for ramen noodles, which I’ve posted about before. I’m in trouble now, because the kids love them. 😉

So far though, they’re happy with these ones that are whole grain and lower in sodium (still high but not too bad).

Plus we all like them with broccoli, tofu, and mushrooms, so that helps lower the sodium and heighten the nutrition in every bowl.

photo credit Kayla Strachan

Finally, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the (Pillsbury*) cinnamon rolls! I had read that camping with kids is all about the food, so went for a few treats. This was the winner.

For the kids (haha).

My cousin passed on this dutch oven she found at a thrift store, so we brought it along for this and a few other attempts at baking.

It worked! The bottoms were a bit crispy, so next time I’d watch more carefully, but all in all a win.

Simple snacks and sides

The other thing we’d do again is fill the cooler with oranges, apples, snap peas, cheese, and other basics to supplement the meals. Trail mix is a must for us on any trip, and this may have been the biggest bag I’ve ever packed.

Great for a snack or for adding to breakfast, which brings me to the next basic meal. Yogurt and granola:

Our kids were waking up 2-3 hours after us, so we liked to start with something that didn’t require a lot of banging around. Once that was gone we started using these plain (i.e. no sugar added) instant oats*.

At home we do regular rolled oats, but this just gives us one less pot to clean out in the wild.

What didn’t work?

There was plenty of underwhelming food too, as well as a few bombs! I put a pizza on the campfire grill which ended up tasting like soot and being quite burnt on the bottom.

Maybe next time I’ll wrap the top in tin foil too…?

And the Pinterest trend of cooking hot dogs in crescent rolls? That’s a no for us. Again, tasted like burnt wood, and a questionable combination of charred and raw dough. Perhaps we need practice? Maybe less dough?

But the worst bomb was our attempt at brownies in the dutch oven over the fire.

Took forever to firm up, and when we finally got impatient we put the pot on the coals, and within a few minutes the bottom was a solid burnt mass. “Smoky” isn’t a flavour you’re aiming for with brownies.

Any camping cooking experts out there, please chime in! Would love to hear your favourites… especially if you’ve been able to make a good pizza or maybe even brownies while camping! Comments here on the Facebook post.

Because despite the challenges, cooking while surrounded by trees, and being able to wander over after dinner to this, makes it all worth doing, right?

photo credit Kayla Strachan (Cold Lake Provincial Park)

* Any mention of specific brands in this post is just to help you. Never sponsored.

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