Help me feed my kids while camping
July 31, 2018 12:30 PM   Subscribe

I'm heading into the wilderness (well, car camping) next week with my 6 & 9 year old. We have camping equipment galore, but I'm stumped on food. We'll be camping for two nights... help me make food that they will eat that isn't just s'mores! What are you favourite low-effort camp recipes that don't require refrigerated ingredients?

Things we've tried in the past with mixed success:

- Bannock (cooked outside, raw inside - will try again)
- Heating soup in the can among the coals (older kid picked a gross flavour of soup)
- Baked potatoes in the fire (they got a bit burnt, nobody really ate them)
- Hot dogs (younger kid hates them)

Help me feel nourished and not gross on this trip!
posted by lizifer to Food & Drink (24 answers total) 29 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: We've done no-drain pasta with a jar of favorite sauce for a camp meal. Are you taking a cooler full of ice? We've made it through 2-night camp trips with ice in the cooler keeping everything cold enough, and then you can take eggs, butter, cheese, etc. and do some kind of a scramble over diced potatoes.
posted by jabes at 12:34 PM on July 31, 2018 [2 favorites]

Best answer: There are a lot of delicious campfire recipes you can Google. What I'm kind of stuck on is: what's your equipment? Your list is mostly things that you stuck into or held over the fire. Do you have a cooking grate, a skillet, a large pot, some tongs? If so you can make a lot of great stuff without it having to be burned in the coals. personally I really like to do kebabs - marinate meat and veggies at home separately in tupperware, then thread on skewers at camp -

16 Ridiculously Easy Camping Recipes
39 Best Campfire Recipes That Aren't S'Mores
posted by Miko at 12:35 PM on July 31, 2018 [1 favorite]

Well, coolers help with the refrigerated part. A big cooler with some ice usually lasts about 2 days depending on whats in it and how cold the ice is to start!

We've done things like mac and cheese, kebobs, hobo pies (tin-foil dinners), etc. Those all require some ingredients refridgerated / coolered though.

I bet I can think of some meals that require none, and you can cook in a cast iron pan over a fire...

1: cobbler with cake mix and canned fruit
2: Chili with ingredients mostly from cans (except the meat... so vegetarian chili I guess)
3: most potato dishes, like a veggie hash
4: chips and salsa
5: granola bars
6: fruit
7: canned meats, like tuna, corn beef hash (highly recommended), canned chicken, etc.
posted by bbqturtle at 12:36 PM on July 31, 2018

Many canned meats are also available now in foil pouches. Less of a concern car camping, but if you hike in, this is a huge plus. We use the cooked chicken that comes in a foil pouch for chicken tacos. We also like to make day one a bit of a cheat. If you have fully frozen steaks when you leave home, you can fry them on night one. Those make great campfire fajitas.
posted by advicepig at 12:44 PM on July 31, 2018

these hashbrowns are awesome with breakfast, quick and easy to make and require no fridge :)

have fun. I'm going camping this weekend too.
posted by supermedusa at 12:46 PM on July 31, 2018

As others have mentioned, since you're car camping, a cooler will keep things plenty cold for a two-day trip, even a cheap cooler, if you bring enough ice. Consider freezing some milk jugs or other large containers for big blocks.

Also, does camping equipment galore include a camp stove? Because with that and a cooler there isn't much you can't make in the woods that you could otherwise make on your kitchen stove.

This is a nice list of three to four-ingredient options.
posted by craven_morhead at 12:48 PM on July 31, 2018 [1 favorite]

posted by k8t at 12:52 PM on July 31, 2018

There's a whole website I discovered once with camping recipes, which you could sort and filter based on whether you were backpacking or car camping or what. It does lean a bit towards more adult palates, but there's a lot of options; this is the car camping collection of recipes, and I'd wager that the cheddar-bacon pancakes and the skillet fried tacos would go over well. As well as the campfire cones. And the chili dogs. And the biscuits and gravy. And the "peppermint oreo dirtballs". And the macaroni and cheese. And...
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 12:55 PM on July 31, 2018 [3 favorites]

Take a banana, cut along the inside of the curve all the way through the flesh but not through the other side of the skin, stuff bits of chocolate into where you've cut, wrap in foil, and put in embers. Give it ~10 minutes then test for doneness - banana should be mushy and cooked, chocolate should be melted.
posted by EndsOfInvention at 1:11 PM on July 31, 2018 [2 favorites]

'Hawaiian' donuts: split glazed donuts like a bagel, spread with butter, add a pineapple ring, and sprinkle cinnamon sugar over it. Wrap it in foil and cook til everything gooey and caramelized.
posted by ananci at 1:14 PM on July 31, 2018 [1 favorite]

As long as you're not too picky about nutrition, there are a lot of pre-packaged options that will make your life easier. If you can boil water, Velveeta-style mac & cheese. Add tuna or chicken (from a can or foil pack) or precooked bacon pieces if you want to get a little fancy. Ramen also works.

Some of the thin pasta varieties will cook just by pouring over boiling water and letting it sit for a few minutes. Look for ones that only need 3-4 minutes to cook, like the fancier dried fettuccini. Add a jar of alfredo sauce, canned chicken or tuna. You can see where this is going.

Couscous or minute rice (or packets of precooked rice) with seasoning packets, canned or dried veggies, canned chicken or tuna.

Instant oatmeal with dried fruit and brown sugar and other goodies. Just add water pancake mix. Precooked bacon in the box does not need refrigeration until you open it.

Sounds gross now, but I swear as a kid I didn't notice--on a backpacking trip when I was 10 or so, the trip leaders had dehydrated ground beef ahead of time and used it in spaghetti, hamburger helper, etc. It was surprisingly not gross.
posted by terilou at 1:19 PM on July 31, 2018 [3 favorites]

I like instant oatmeal for breakfast, maybe let the kids pick out a few flavours. We also usually have packets of instant cocoa, tea bags, and occasionally instant apple cider. It's usually cool enough in the mornings that a warm breakfast feels good. By lunch, usually sandwiches are fine, or sometimes ramen or udon soup packets. Assuming you can heat water. (And if you have sandwich ingredients, they can be a backup for any meal that doesn't work.)

And for baking potatoes, did you wrap them in foil? Because you can also wrap onions, carrots, and corn in foil and stick it in the fire. It's hard to figure out when to pull it out though.
posted by Margalo Epps at 1:21 PM on July 31, 2018

Mac and cheese from a box with canned tuna. My camping favorite as a kid.
posted by lunasol at 1:51 PM on July 31, 2018

For car camping, I rely on couscous or Lipton noodle mixes, and use olive oil for the fat. As above, most meat does come in pouches, so add some of that.

Someone I camped with made cinnamon rolls (starting from the canister) in a skillet, just left them in coals until done. They were great.

Hardboiled eggs are good for breakfast. You can add water to the oatmeal packets themselves, which is much better than camp-cleaning bowls after oatmeal.

The foil backpacking meals (Mountain House etc) are very good, if you're out hiking or doing stuff all day I wouldn't hesitate to rely on those, even if they're a bit spendy for two meals. The dessert ones -- esp the "ice cream" ones -- are really good, the kids might really like those.
posted by Dashy at 1:52 PM on July 31, 2018 [2 favorites]

Use a pie iron to elevate simple, easy to pack sandwiches into camp food. Google has many options.

tater-tot hashbrowns, scrambled pancakes and scrambled eggs were always big hits when I was at camp.
posted by politikitty at 1:57 PM on July 31, 2018 [1 favorite]

For days 1-3 live it up with a cooler or things that can be go without refrigeration for awhile. Then try:

Pancake mix (just add water)
Macaroni and cheese
Onions, potatoes, tomatoes, etc in foil wrap in fire
Avocado on pita bread (make guacamole?)
Tacos with beans from a can
Those meals they sell at REI that you add boiling water to
Salami, some cheeses
Hot chocolate mix, powdered lemonade or gatorade
posted by slidell at 3:40 PM on July 31, 2018

I wouldn't heat things in the can. A lot of modern cans are lined with BPA and other plastics, and they're not designed to withstand that much heat.
posted by pseudostrabismus at 4:33 PM on July 31, 2018 [2 favorites]

Cold food, for breakfast and midday:
  • trail mix: include unsweetened coconut flakes and chips of unsweetened chocolate for extra calorie density
  • lunchables: crackers like Triscuits, Ritz, or saltines; hard cheeses like sharp cheddar, manchego, and gouda; and preserved sausages like summer sausage, pepperoni, and salami.
  • Logan bread (a dense bread enriched with oil, nuts, and dried fruit)
  • PB&J sandwiches
  • An apple with a spoonful of peanut butter smeared on before every bite.
Hot food, for dinner: look up any of the zillions of backpacking recipes that incubate a dry carb in boiled water with some seasonings. It's ubiquitous because it works. I like Skurka and PMags.
posted by meaty shoe puppet at 5:09 PM on July 31, 2018

If you're running into the issue of burned food that is raw inside (or burned food in general) one trick I learned is too cook over the coals, not the actual fire. You build up a pretty substantial fire and give it time to burn down. That way you'll get a nice even heat that's a bit more predictable.

I've found that corn still in the husks wrapped in tin foil hold up quite well to being stuck in, on, or near the coals. Same thing with potatoes (sliced in half, stuffed with onions and peppers with butter and salt, wrapped in tin foil). They can be cooking while you work on your main dish, which will obviously be burgers! Bring frozen patties in your cooler.
posted by stripesandplaid at 6:23 PM on July 31, 2018 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Yay! Camping recipes! I've been researching many of them for the last two years for my group's camping trips. DASHY has it that you are car camping, so you can probably pull off just about any recipe from home -- bring a cooler, add an ice block (frozen water jug is best), and almost anything you bring will keep. But, here are some ideas...

Back Country Perogies: Portion for 3 (Huge Hit! This is so good it's appalling -- you probably need half this recipe at most for the three of you)
- 1 Large Onion
- 1/2 pkg Bacon
- 1/2 pkg Broad Egg Noodles
- 1 pkg instant potato flakes
- 1 pkg shredded cheddar cheese
- 3 smokies
Directions - Coarsely chop onion and saute in oil until soft, add coarse cut bacon and cook through. Add smokies cut in chunks and heat through. Add egg noodles and enough water to just cover noodles. Cook till tender. Remove from heat and add potato flakes and mix till smooth. Add shredded cheese until combined. (could add a stalk of broccoli to introduce more veggies to the meal if earlier in the trip.)

Jambalaya: Portion for 3
- 1 pkg Zataras Jambalaya rice mix
- 2 carrots
- 3 celery stalks
- 1 onion (medium)
- Protein (smokies 3-4 or chicken breast 2-3, etc...)
- Shredded Cheese
- tortilla chips or flat bread
- hot souce
Directions: Finely chop onion - saute in oil til soft, add chopped carrots and celery continue to cook 5 min. Add protein and cook through. Add rice mix and water as required to package. Boil for 5 min, remove from heat and let sit for 15-20 minutes till rice is cooked through. Serve with cheese, hot sauce, chips or flat bread. (Can always add fresh caught fish for a surf and turf option and more traditional Jambalaya - works great)

- Fajitas are usually a hit (chicken or beef, onions, peppers, wraps, fajita mix, cheese). A very easy meal with minimal dishes used. Typically one of my first night meals.

- Mac & Cheese - Self explanatory... also always a hit.

-Spaghetti is a super easy one too -- if you go pre-made with meat in the can, or meatless, even easier. Garlic bread and even a pre-made salad.


Day 1 - Pre-made sandwiches (Any snack desired, eg. fruit, granola bar, etc...)

Day 2 - Wraps (2 per person)
- Tortillas,
- Cole Slaw/Salad Mix (Shredded cabbage or lettuce)
- Cold cuts
- Cheese pre-sliced
- dressing or mustard

Day 3 - Peanut Butter, Jam, Nutella - Flat Breads
- Beef Jerky, Dried Fruit


Day 1 - English Muffins - Sausage Patties - Cheese Slices (1-2 each) (If you can find pre-made egg patties even better) I could eat half dozen of these given the option!

Day 2 - Oatmeal in packages (no need to have extra seasonings or sugar, etc...) Could also have a pop-tart with this.

Day 3 - Bagels, Cream Cheese, Pre-sliced salami or pepperettes


Granola Bars - 1 per day per person

Trail Mix - 1-2 cups per person max for the trip

Dried Fruit - apricots, mango, raisins, etc...

Beef Jerky



No-bake cheesecake! This is crazy good. Swap out the graham crumbs for oreo crumbs, and they will eat every bite of it. Cookies, Marshmallows, something just as simple and packable.

Some of these are also a good intro to backpacking/canoeing style trips and meals -- a great way to get them used to the idea of dried/dehydrated meals as an option. Good luck!
posted by liquado at 8:10 PM on July 31, 2018 [2 favorites]

Okay, reading / skimming through all the above sounds complicated.

As part of Cub Scouts we do foil meals, and just bring charcoal to cook over. You have of course a regular campfire with wood, but why make things too complex / time consuming?

So just keep it simple: a collection of raw veggies - onions, green pepper, sliced potatoes. Protein: bratwurst, frozen pre-cooked fajita beef or chicken. Add butter, have each kid put what they like, cook for about 10' on each side for 40' (cook it well) directly on charcoal.

Breakfast can be hot and a similar thing: I precook scrambled eggs, sausage, bacon, and use the foil method to just reheat with cheese. No need to cook nearly as long as with raw veggies, 5' on a side would be fine, and adding butter a must!

Making sandwiches for lunch just like you do at home = also a good idea.
posted by scooterdog at 5:11 AM on August 1, 2018 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: You guys are the best! I take solace in the fact that both kids rejected the heated-in-can soups outright, so we are still safe. Thanks for these great suggestions!
posted by lizifer at 8:15 AM on August 1, 2018

I had a hard time believing this, but I've done it dozens of times since: both yogurt and hardboiled eggs stay for a few days, no refrigeration necessary.

Both are more exciting and nutritious than seven straight cliff bars...
posted by RajahKing at 8:23 AM on August 1, 2018

Rice-a-roni plus canned chicken is really tasty if. Otherwise slightly junky. But the kids will need to replenish their salts!
posted by vespabelle at 7:35 AM on August 2, 2018

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