Make-ahead camping meals/snacks that don't need refrigeration
August 23, 2017 9:29 AM   Subscribe

I'm going camping this weekend and I want to make snacks and possibly meals ahead of time.

The trip is only 3 days, it's getting thrown together at the last minute and we're not bringing a cooler and we don't have a camping stove. (And yeah, it's the trip I mentioned in a previous question, and I used the "separate tents" idea). And it's not hard core camping, we're just renting a campsite by a lake and I hear there's gonna be running water nearby.

What snacks and/or make-ahead meals can I bring that don't require refrigeration?
I'm planning to bring lots of fruit, berries, trail mix/granola, coffee, crackers, cans of beans or chef boyardee, popcorn, hot dogs, marshmallows, etc but I would love recipes for energy bars, breakfast cake, and other bakeable stuff that doesn't need to be kept cold.

(i'm not a fancy camper and don't feel like doing fancy things over a campfire. I live a bachelor(ette) lifestyle and am not picky about food as long as I get fed enough to survive another day)
posted by winterportage to Food & Drink (17 answers total) 23 users marked this as a favorite
Cheese and tortillas (assuming you're cooking over a campfire a little bit)
-summer sausage, instant potatoes, garlic powder, cheese
- jerky
posted by raccoon409 at 9:43 AM on August 23, 2017

I love bringing peanut butter and bagels camping.

Brownies are energy dense.

Starbucks Via is the best instant coffee and I don't even like their regular coffee.
posted by advicepig at 9:58 AM on August 23, 2017 [1 favorite]

I love a healthy(ish) version of Monster Cookies - something like this , dialing down the M&Ms and adding mixed nuts and raisins instead. It's a lot of peanut butter and oats, which will keep you alive for a while.
I'm not sure how long these can be at room temp, but greek Tiropita is kinda like spanakopita but with cheesy scrambled eggs in the middle. You could make, freeze, then eat as they thaw?
There are also shelf-stable milk boxes in my local grocery store that I use in my kids' lunch boxes, as they don't need to be refrigerated. A bunch of those and a box of Cheerios will keep you going for a while!
posted by dotparker at 10:05 AM on August 23, 2017

energy bars, breakfast cake, and other bakeable stuff that doesn't need to be kept cold

All of these things SHOULD be refrigerated. It's just the nature of moisture. Certainly none of them - not even cookies - should sit out three days.

But also, my advice to you as a fellow camping overthinker: simplify. Don't Bring All The Things!!!

Count heads and plan 3 meals + 2 snacktimes + 1 dessert a day. Bring only just enough for that, and be repetitive. Without refrigeration, you should rely a good bit on packaged shelf-stable food that can be wholly consumed within two hours of opening (you can make exceptions for, like, a package of Oreos, but from experience let me tell you that they will soak up ambient humidity in a very texturally displeasing way, and probably be more vulnerable to mold, if you don't put them in a ziploc once you open the package. Cereal can do this too if your companions are not obsessive clip-using reclosers - I put everything in gallon zips).

Buy one of those big boxes of individually wrapped muffins. Buy packaged protein bars. Box cereal and medium boxes of shelf-stable dairy or vegan milk. Those lunchbox variety packs of chips, plus the big bags of Ruffles and tortilla chips (and clothespins, and death to anyone who doesn't close the bag up tight) for grazing and beer snacks.

You can't keep hotdogs out for more than 4 hours over 40 degrees even in the package. Summer sausage, the kind you can get in the US, needs refrigeration once the plastic is opened. Most commercial breads are counter-safe for 5+ days, but do not buy bakery bagels thinking they will be edible on Day 2. Get the packaged kind, packaged sandwich bread, you want all the preservatives. Fruit with skin, root vegetables. Peanut butter, and small jars of jam so you can use it all up on one lunch round of sandwiches.

It sucks having the shits in the woods. A lot.

I am a veteran of overthought camping trips, I am so incredibly guilty of every mistake, I love cooking and romanticize the scrambled egg breakfast but honestly this isn't the time. Not without even mediocre refrigeration. Just eat the same stuff over and over again. Eat pb&j or tuna+mayo (either bring mayo packets or one or two small jars that can be fully consumed in one meal) sandwiches for every lunch, eat your typical office morning meeting supplies (bagels, muffins, coffee and juice) for breakfast. Have smores every night. Eat oranges and bananas and trail mix and chips every snack. Don't short-order-cook meals: everybody eats Tasty Bite and rice the second night, open up as many cans of spaghettios as necessary the third night. Maybe on the first night you could bring in thawing frozen hot dogs and not run into trouble.

Keep it as simple as humanly possible. Everything will taste better because you're outside, nobody will die from lack of novelty in 3 days. It'll be fine.
posted by Lyn Never at 10:31 AM on August 23, 2017 [4 favorites]

I'm going to ask a silly question - how do you plan on making coffee and heating cans up if you aren't taking a camp stove?

Putting a campfire together three times a day just to eat is certainly doable if you're experienced making fires but is going to increase your cooking time significantly getting the fire together AND putting it out before you go and do things. Not to mention open fires are much harder to actually cook over as the temperatures can vary wildly AND if it rains you may have a difficult time lighting one.

Getting a $20 one-burner propane stove and a single $5 propane can will make all of this so, so much easier.

Otherwise - while camping, I tend to bring foods that are higher in fat and protein than carbs. Most of your listed foods are carb heavy. Beef/turkey jerky is great for staving off hunger while you wait for your meal to cook. A trail mix that's heavier on things like nuts, seeds, and coconut will keep you satisfied longer.

I disagree with the above poster who suggested bringing exactly as much food as you need - shit happens when you're out in the woods (or on the water if your goal is to do some paddling), even if it's not hardcore camping. Having at least a couple of additional meals' worth of food will make the trip more comfortable, even if you leave that stuff back at the car.
posted by notorious medium at 10:49 AM on August 23, 2017 [2 favorites]

how do you plan on making coffee and heating cans up if you aren't taking a camp stove?

I was planning to do maybe a fire in the morning and another in the evening and just eat sandwiches for lunch. Not sure if that's too much time spent setting up fires or not..
posted by winterportage at 11:26 AM on August 23, 2017

Do yourself a favor!

Get on of these single burner butane stoves for like $20 to $25. Heats water in seconds. The butane canisters are availble everywhere including often dollar stores, asian grocery stores, Home Depot or other hardware stores, and especially Smart & Final or similar restaurant supply stores. A canister lasts FOREVER. Never spend more than $2 per canister.

It comes in it's own little suitcase. You can find them at Walmart, Target (in season) hardware stores, restaurant supply. More expensive at camping stores. Sports stores like Big 5 may also have it in season. $25, max. They seem to be pricey on Amazon, I would not pay $35 for one of these. It will be a lifesaver and you will use it more than you think. Boiling water on a campfire takes forever and ruins your pot. Get the single burner butane stove. Enjoy your trip!
posted by jbenben at 11:42 AM on August 23, 2017 [2 favorites]

Lol, I linked to one on Amazon that was $21, so you can find cheap ones there! I meant to link to the Coleman verson at Target for $18.

Anyway, here is an example of the butane canisters: HERE.
posted by jbenben at 11:45 AM on August 23, 2017

Seriously those butane stoves are so good, and if you live anywhere where the power goes out periodically for weather reasons, or you have dinner parties where you want to keep something hot on the buffet, it is nice to have one of them around. They're surprisingly handy.
posted by Lyn Never at 11:54 AM on August 23, 2017 [1 favorite]

My favorite easy camping lunch is a can of chicken or tuna with a couple packets of shelf-stable mayo and mustard (like the individual packets you can get from delis). Open and drain the can of tuna or chicken, add mayo, mustard, and some pepper, and serve on a pita or with a generous serving of crackers. You can also have fresh fruit that keeps well (like apples or bananas) on the side. No cook, easy prep, and filling. (Edit-not exactly make ahead, but super easy to prep right before eating.)
posted by shortyJBot at 11:58 AM on August 23, 2017

Disclaimer : Im not over concerned about getting food poisoning, your level of concern may be different...

I love to take individually wrapped cheeses like mini goudas, any flavor of the laughing cow cheeses, and mozzarella or cheddar sticks. I eat with crackers. Hard boiled eggs are good too. Especially when doused in Chipotle Tabasco sauce. Those things would last two days at least if the heat wasnt crazy.
posted by WalkerWestridge at 12:30 PM on August 23, 2017

We just did one of these, here's what I did:

- pb&j on flatbreads (jelly in a squeeze tub for ease of application)
- apples and clementines
- bananas - fine for first day but not beyond, they get too beat up on the road and wind up gross
- pistachios
- individually wrapped mozzarella sticks - these were 100% fine, if a bit squishy, for 3 hot days
- individually wrapped cheddar sticks - these were nutritionally fine but got a bit greasy/gross
- crackers
- tuna in individual serving foil pouches -- so easy, and come w various seasonings
- jerky
- coffee in cans
- cocktails in cans

other things I considered but didn't need: lunch packets of apple sauce; salami; cookies; canned corn; canned pineapple.
posted by fingersandtoes at 12:48 PM on August 23, 2017

If you do get the single tabletop burner to heat water and cook (and you really really should) then meals just got a whole lot simpler! There are heaps of soups and cous cous and noodle type dehydrated foods where you add hot water to the container then eat. You can always add a can of chicken or tuna.

I like the NearEast Cous Cous in a cup for camping. Add in protein (including seeds or nuts!) maybe some dried fruit. Amazing meal.

That said, you basically dump hot water over regular cous cous in a bowl, then seal it for a few minutes and fluff with a fork. You do not need to get it in the cup pre-packaged, just get a box. Same difference.

Crumbling up some dried mushrooms is a good addition to anything savory you are making with hot water, like par boiled rice, couscous, etc..<
posted by jbenben at 12:58 PM on August 23, 2017

Stove - the butane stoves heat water for coffee fast, and you can heat up beans-n-weenies.
Or, get a couple of cans of Sterno, and an empty can from tomatoes. Remove 1 end of the can. Use a can opener - the old school kind - to add about 8 holes around the top of other end. The can is the burner plate. Takes a lot longer to boil water.
Or, get a cheap propane camp stove and a canister of propane.
Or, since you are car-camping, get an immersion coil that runs off the cigaret lighter, still takes a couple minutes. These are harder to find, and you have to be careful. I burned a hole in my tool bag.
Get the butane stove.

Trader Joes sells cans of dolmas - stuffed grape leaves - and they're tasty. Crackers and olive tapenade and salami. Tuna salad and rice cakes. I make muffins all the time, so I bring them camping. Potato salad, pasta salad, and tabouleh travel well. Kielbasa can be cut up and cooked on a stick over a fire for a meal that provides its own entertainment. Pre-boil a couple potatoes, chunk them up, add some oil, and put in a ziplock bag and they're ready to go. Fresh carrot sticks and other veg. don't need refrigeration for just a couple days,

Bring a cooler, even if your cooler is a cardboard box with a sturdy plastic bag inside. Before you go, put a big bottle of water in the freezer. It'll stay cold, even in a fake cooler, and provide water as it melts.

Plan your meals, if only to decide what to bring - 2 dinners need some variety of fire to cook. Bring long sticks for marshmallows, I use long kebab skewers from a thrift shop.
1st day lunch - tuna, mayo, bread roll, lettuce, tomatoes, water
1st day dinner - kielbasa, potatoes, carrot sticks, beer, marshmallows
2nd day brkfst - muffins, bananas, coffee
2nd day lunch - pasta salad, salami, mustard, crackers
2nd day dinner - beans, hot dogs, cauliflower chunk, ranch dressing, beer, marshmallows
3rd day brkfst - muffins, bananas, coffee
3rd day lunch - dolmas, orange juice
snacks - granola (bars), chocolate, dried and/or fresh fruit, nuts.

Have fun!
posted by theora55 at 1:00 PM on August 23, 2017 [1 favorite]

I was planning to do maybe a fire in the morning and another in the evening and just eat sandwiches for lunch. Not sure if that's too much time spent setting up fires or not..

Depending on the weather, totally doable. You can make a small cooking fire in a few minutes, especially if you are just heating something. I just did a multiweek backpacking trip, and small fires were how I conserved fuel for rainy days.

There's no right answer for meals. Some scoffed at my mealplan of Clif Bars, Tortillas and tuna, and Ramen on my trip. But it worked great for me. You know what kinds of foods you like and it will say on the wrapper if it needs to be refrigerated. Individually wrapped stuff is also a lifesaver for "refrigerate after opening" stuff.

I prefer tortillas over bread because they travel better and don't get smushed. PB and blueberry bagels are a great breakfast with juice boxes and coffee. Granola bars are a decent snack. PB&J for lunch with some sodas or whatever you like to drink. The flavored tuna packets are also very good for lunch. I like to have chips/cookies to graze on in the afternoon. I'll have canned chili or stew for dinner, but tastes vary. Do open the can before heating, however, unless you want to see a dinty moore volcano.

Eating out of cans and packages means fewer dishes. If you rinse your garbage, it won't stink so bad. Also, keep a clean camp to keep critters at bay.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 1:17 PM on August 23, 2017 [1 favorite]

Tasty Bites have been cropping up a lot lately in my circles. Some of 'em at least don't strictly have to be heated, and they're pretty decent. I bought a stack for an upcoming trip.

If you've got enough fire to cook on, take a roll of foil and some veggies and make vegetarian silver dollar dinners. (Carrots, potatoes, onion, etc.)

Seconding cans (or those foil packets) of tuna. The pre-flavored ones are really surprisingly decent.

I concur that a basic propane stove is worth every penny. After years of using my fancy lightweight backpacking stoves when car camping, I finally picked up a generic two-burner Coleman and have been thrilled with it. Besides camping trips, we've used it in the back yard when the charcoal grill is out due to a burn ban and as extra capacity when the kitchen stove was full.
posted by brennen at 3:10 PM on August 23, 2017 [2 favorites]

It would be great to know how things went.
posted by theora55 at 8:13 PM on August 27, 2017

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