1. Meal plan
All great meals require planning, especially when there are variables at play like limited ingredients and equipment, so map out ahead of time what you’ll be eating for breakfast, lunch and dinner each day of the trip. Also, consider a meal or two that you can cook at home before you go then simply heat up in camp: foods like soups, chili or pasta sauce.
2. Meal prep
In addition to the make-ahead meals mentioned above, once your menus are set, there’s a lot you can do at home to save time and effort in camp such as:
- Mix up salad dressings.
- Pre-cook bacon for an easy sandwich or salad topping.
- Make a cheese sauce to stir into pasta.
- Chop veggies.
- Marinate meats in a leak-proof bag.
- Add fresh herbs or chopped shallots to softened butter.
- Make dry mixes (or buy them) for things like pancakes and hot chocolate.
- Grind coffee.
- Pre-mix cocktails.
- Bake camping-inspired cookies or other sweet treats.
3. Make a packing list (and check it twice)
Once your menus are planned and your food is prepped, run through this checklist to make sure you have all the basics.
Beverages: beer, juice, soda, water, wine.
Condiments: jelly, ketchup, mayonnaise, mustard, peanut butter.
Cleaning items: biodegradable dish soap, collapsible sink or plastic bins for washing and rinsing dishes, food scraper or spatula for cleaning food bits off dishes, grill pan brush, trash bags.
Dishware: bowls, drinkware (coffee/tea mugs, cups), plates, utensils—unbreakable materials (plastic, melamine, metal) are best.
Food: Break it down by meals.
Breakfast: bacon/sausage, bagels, cereals, cream cheese, eggs, fruit, pancake mix.
Lunch: bread, cheese, deli meats, hummus, pickles, fresh veggies.
Dinner: meats (hot dogs/chicken/steak), pasta, prepped meals, salad greens, sides, sauces, seafood.
Snacks and desserts: chips, crackers, s’mores fixings.
Kitchen tools—last but not least, don’t forget the essential items you’ll need from this list:
- Knives in protective sheaths
- A meat thermometer
- A collapsible colander for draining pasta
- Aluminum foil for roasting (potatoes, foil packets) in campfire coals or wrapping leftovers.
- A can/bottle opener.
- A camping stove and fuel.
- Containers/bags for leftovers.
- A corkscrew.
- Cooking pots. One large (for boiling water, cooking pasta/soup/chili), and one small (for oatmeal, heating hot cocoa).
- A cutting board for prep work and impromptu cheese boards.
- Dish towels, which can double as pot holders.
- Grill tools and utensils like tongs, spoons and turners.
- Lighter and/or matches to light the stove.
- Lightweight skillet. Make eggs, pancakes, grilled cheese sandwiches, plus it’s easier than cast iron to cart around.
- Mixing bowl, which you can also use for serving salad.
- Paper towels.
- Roasting forks for marshmallows (an upgrade on the trusty stick).
- Scissors for opening packaging.
- Unbreakable stemless wine glasses. A wine glass at a campsite feels delightfully fancy, but glass itself is an unnecessary safety hazard. So opt for plastic and other unbreakable materials; stemless versions are less likely to tip over.
Then make sure you have a few gourmet extras including butter, fancy mustard, half-and-half, honey, hot sauce, maple syrup, olives, olive oil and vinegar.
4. Store food so it travels safely
When you’re choosing which foods to pack for camping, think through how you’re going to transport and store them. The general rule of thumb: Place ingredients in airtight, leak-proof or leak-resistant containers that take up minimal space and keep critters out. Other foolproof tips:
- Pack oil, vinegar and other sauces or condiments in handy squeeze bottles.
- Store butter, cheese, meats and seafood in leak-proof reusable bags or containers with secure lids.
- Place prepped fruits or veggies, soups, chili, pastas, bread and baked goods in airtight, stackable containers.
- Store pre-mixed cocktails in jars.
- Put ground coffee, cereal, herbs and dry mixes in small airtight containers.
5. Pack smart
The day before your trip, put cold packs and items that you won’t need right away—such as butter, cheese, cookies, meats, water—in the freezer. As they defrost in the cooler, they’ll help keep everything else cold. Then follow these cooler-packing guidelines to ensure that the food arrives fresh and the drinks chilled:
- Cover the bottom of your cooler with reusable cold packs, ice or frozen food to create a foundation.
- Place the most perishable items (raw meats, fish, dairy) directly on top of the cold foundation, then pack in foods like deli meats, eggs, condiments and fruits and veggies, adding ice in between layers. Sturdy produce—apples, pears, bell peppers, carrots— is best.
- Tote drink containers in their own cooler so they’re easy to access.
- Pack kitchen gear and non-perishable food in easy-to-carry plastic bins with a lid (to keep out animals or dirt).
6. Set a fancy table
Dress up your campsite’s dingy picnic table in five minutes flat with a few from-home items like a pretty tablecloth (One good choice: oilcloth options that are water-resistant and easy to wipe down), lanterns, and solar or battery-powered string lights. Serve food on colorful, non-breakable platters or trays. Then dig in and enjoy!
Got a long drive to your campsite? These family road-trip tips will make the travel time easier.