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A couple of years ago, we went camping as parents for the first time. It was mind-blowing how much preparation it took to spend 3 days in the outdoors with a one year old. Our truck was literally overflowing with stuff. I spent days and days prepping and trying to think of everything we needed to bring, and between the camp site, gas, food, supplies, etc, it actually ended up being pretty expensive, too!
When I was a kid, we went camping as a family almost every year. It was always so much fun to sleep in a tent, get dirty and not care, stay up late eating s’mores and wake up to the smell of bacon cooking outdoors. It was amazing.
With such fond camping memories, I was naturally so excited to take my own family to rough it in the outdoors. The massive preparation beforehand didn’t even phase me too much. Until the first morning there, when I woke up after a long night of trying to keep a one-year old warm enough to sleep, hungry with a caffeine headache, needing to pee but not wanting to put on damp shoes to make the trek to the public restrooms, realizing that if I wanted to smell bacon cooking, I had to go out in the freezing cold and cook it myself.
Not only did I have to touch raw bacon in the morning (and then wash my hands in frigid water and get my pants wet in the process), but I had to wash all of the dishes afterwards! Which might have been ok, but our toddler also needed to be fed, dressed, and generally cared for. By the time breakfast was finished, we had to get a start on lunch. Cooking meals while camping might be fun for some, but I was starting to wonder why we’d spent so much money and time in preparation to attempt to do all of our normal “inside” duties out in the dirt, pulling soggy food from the half melted ice in the cooler.
As much of a pain as it was, camping is an experience that I want my kids to have every year. So while they’re little, we’re going to make cooking a little easier and a lot less messy so we have time to actually enjoy ourselves. I’d like it to feel a little more like vacation and a lot less like we’re on the Oregon Trail.
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While there’s still a lot of prep work with this meal plan (and there’s still dish washing, you aren’t going to get out of that one..), the prep is mostly done in the comfort of your own kitchen. It means less mess to clean up at the campsite, less time spent making food, and less stuff to bring. I purposefully picked foods that would need to be heated up and work well over a camp stove or even a fire pit, so that you still have the illusion that you’re eating food cooked over an open flame like the real woodsmen that you are.
This meal plan assumes that you’ll eat lunch on the way to your destination, so it starts at dinner on night #1. It covers 3 nights spent camping and ends with breakfast before you head home. Obviously you’ll have to adjust amounts according to how many people you’re feeding. Raw meat is cut and prepped at home and cooked early in the trip. (This assumes that you have a camp stove with at least two burners. The link is for a basic Coleman camp stove, but there are some pretty fancy ones out there, too.)
Dinner: Chicken Fajitas.
(Home Prep: Slice chicken into thin strips and season with fajita seasoning. Place into a large ziplock or leak proof container. Slice onion and bell pepper into thin strips and put in a large ziplock as well, enough for fajitas and for bratwursts for dinner tomorrow. Bring shredded cheese (and some extra for chili on day 3), tortillas, avocado, and salsa. You could even precook some Mexican style rice. At the Camp Site: All you’ll have to do is heat a skillet with olive oil, throw in the chicken and let it start to cook, then add in the bell peppers and onions. If you chose to make some rice, heat that in another pan. When you’re ready, slice up your avocado and heat your tortillas over a burner or the fire and make your fajitas!)
Breakfast: The Traditional. Eggs, bacon, hash browns. Coffee.
(Home Prep: It’s up to you how much prep you want to do here. I like to precook the bacon at least a little so it’s almost done. If you want, you could cook it completely at home and warm it up over the fire for breakfast. Pack up eggs and frozen hash browns. Grind your coffee ahead of time. Don’t forget to pack ketchup, salt, pepper, butter to cook your eggs in, and cream or whatever you like in your coffee. P.S. If you have picky little eaters like we do, try making a few toddler oatmeal pancakes ahead of time to bring with you to heat up in the a.m. At the Camp Site: Heat up or finish cooking your bacon. Use your skillet start cooking the hash browns (which take the longest) and as they get close to finishing, start cooking your eggs! Oh wait, back up. Before you use those burners, you might want to make your coffee first. Here’s how to use a stove top espresso maker if you’ve got one. My favorite camping (and at home) way to make coffee!)
Lunch: Bagel Sandwiches, apples, chips, veggie sticks.
(Home Prep: I think lunch should be super simple while camping, because you’re probably going to want to spend your afternoon doing something fun. Prep enough of this meal for today and tomorrow. It’ll be totally ready so you could even grab it to take with you on a hike/bike ride/beach adventure if you want. Slice as many bagels as you need for sandwiches for two days. Use whatever sandwich fixings you like. I like to use some cream cheese with sliced deli chicken or ham. Place the sandwiches into ziplock bags. Then pack up some sliced tomato, red onion, and lettuce to throw on the sandwich when you’re ready to eat. Slice carrots and cucumbers and pack into ziplocks. Slice apples and let them soak in some orange juice before packing them up..it’ll keep them from turning brown as quickly. At the Camp Site: There’s very little prep for lunch! Fix up your sandwich the way you want and go have an adventure!)
Dinner: Bratwursts with grilled onions and peppers, corn on the cob.
(Home Prep: There isn’t much to do! Just make sure you’ve sliced up enough onions and peppers while prepping the fajitas. You can take off the outer most layer of husk on your corn to make it easier once it’s cooked. Don’t forget buns for your bratwursts! At the Camp Site: Grill your brats so they’re cooked all the way through. Use your skillet to grill your sliced onions and peppers. Grill your corn on the cob over the camp fire. It should take about 10 minutes, rotating the corn every couple minutes. You can always peek under the husks to check if the kernels are getting tender. Carefully (they’re HOT!) pull off the husks and corn silk, and add butter and salt and pepper while it’s still hot! When the brats and veggies are ready, toast the buns over a burner or your camp fire.)
Breakfast: Breakfast burritos. Coffee. (Duh)
(Home Prep: The breakfast burritos are frozen, which means you can make them way ahead of time to reduce your prep work load during the couple of days leading up to your camping trip. Here’s my go-to freezer breakfast burrito recipe. Make and bring enough for two days worth of breakfasts. Make sure they’re wrapped in foil, no plastic wrap, and place them all in a large ziplock together. At the Camp Site: Since they started out frozen, the burritos will stay nice and cold in your cooler until you’re ready to use. You can remove them from the foil and heat them up in your skillet over low heat until heated through, or you can leave them in the foil and heat them over your camp fire! Probably ought to bring some hot sauce for these..)
Lunch: Bagel Sandwiches, apples, chips, veggie sticks.
(All of your prep for Day 3 lunch is done!)
(Home Prep: This is another meal that should be made quite a while ahead of time and frozen. It helps keep the food colder when it stays in the cooler for a couple of days, and makes your prep easier. Follow my favorite chili recipe here, and make sure to bring chips and cheese (and maybe some chopped onions) to top it off. Once your chili is cooked and cooled down a bit, place the amount you want into a large freezer bag, and lay flat to freeze. It takes up less space in the cooler that way! At the Camp Site: By the time your’e ready to eat your chili, it will be thawed and ready to heat in a pan, over a burner or the fire pit. Add your favorite toppings!)
Breakfast: Breakfast burritos. Coffee.
(You already know the drill. This is an especially great breakfast for the day you’re packing up to head home, because there’s no clean up! Gives you a little extra time to spend your morning in your camp chair in front of the fire, sipping your coffee, eating your burrito, pretending that you don’t have to figure out how to fit your new outdoor home back into your vehicle.)
Note: I didn’t mention dessert, but you obviously need to remember to bring everything you need for s’mores. And seriously, pack double the amount you think you’ll use.. And snacks. Lots and lots of snacks.
(Amazon has some pretty cool telescoping s’mores skewers…you’re gonna need something like this!)