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Tent Camping: Food and Meals

Dolores and her family enjoy primitive camping on an island in the Adirondacks in upstate New York.

We found the wooden gangplank or whatever it is resting on a pile of rocks. It made a great kitchen counter!

We found the wooden gangplank or whatever it is resting on a pile of rocks. It made a great kitchen counter!

All About Camp Cooking

While the lack of refrigeration may put a damper on your style, space and storage are the main concern regarding camp supplies. But if you plan ahead and get a little creative, camp meals can be fun, nutritious, and delicious.

Camp cooking may pale before your usual home-cooked gourmet feasts but don’t worry—fresh air really whets an appetite. Everything tastes great!

Make sure you pack essential equipment, foods, storage containers and food preparation necessities. The last thing you want to do when you're camping is have to run out to the store. Of course, many of the best campsites are way too far from any store to make a grocery run even thinkable. If you do forget something, learn to make do. That's all part of the camping experience.

Kitchen setup is important too. A well-laid-out kitchen makes cooking convenient, safe and fun.

The first thing is to build your kitchen with a large tarp, rope, branches or poles in case of rain. This sheltered area should be out of the wind and well away from the tents. If you have a campfire, the actual kitchen area should be set away from this for safety.

Remember, never take food into your tent. Food attracts pests to your tent—insects, rodents and bears.

Keep food area away from tents and provide shelter from the elements

Keep food area away from tents and provide shelter from the elements

Kitchen Essentials

  • Water: 2.5–5-gallon containers. You need 2–4 quarts of water per day per person—and that’s only to drink. Don’t forget water will be needed for cooking and cleaning up.
  • Stove and fuel (and waterproof matches)
  • Tarp, ropes, clothesline, etc.
  • Table or something to use as a table if you want to rough it. A cutting board set on top of a cooler works well
  • Seating: camp stools, camp chairs, logs, large rocks, etc.
  • Frying pan and Dutch oven: cast iron is best but heavy—you can transport stuff inside the Dutch oven
  • Coffee pot: can be used to heat water for tea, soup, pasta, coffee, hot chocolate or for doing dishes
  • Plastic bowl or tub: for washing up and storage
  • Rags, old towels, scrubbies and biodegradable soap
  • Eating utensils: knives, forks and spoons
  • Cooking utensils: sharp knife, can-opener, large spoon, spatula
  • Cutting board: wood or plastic
  • Cooler: good for up to 2 days if most of the food is frozen
  • Plastic tubs with tight-fitting lids (or bear-proof container)
  • Zip-lock bags for food storage
  • Aluminum foil (to wrap foods up and to cook)
Cast iron pan

Cast iron pan

Victorian campers and a lean-to

Victorian campers and a lean-to

Food That Does Not Need Refrigeration

  • Premade meals: dried, dehydrated, freeze-dried
  • Tea, coffee, hot chocolate, dry juice mixes
  • Hard cheeses like aged sharp cheddar, aged gouda, parmigiano reggiano, and pecorino romano do not need refrigeration—keep in a cool area out of sunlight
  • Cereals and grains: granola, cream of wheat, oatmeal, muesli. Quinoa is a good source of protein.
  • Fruit: fresh and dried
  • Nuts: great in meals or for snacking
  • Sunflower seeds: great in meals or trail mixes
  • Bread: flatbreads and hard crackers (regular bread gets squashed and takes up too much space.
  • Soup: instant Knorr, ramen or bullion to make your own
  • Lentils: quick cook, dried or canned beans
  • Pasta: thinner cooks faster
  • Dried veggies
  • Honey, sugar
  • Peanut butter
  • Flavoring agents: soy sauce, hot sauce, mustard, salt, pepper, garlic, dried onion, cilantro, cinnamon, etc.
  • Canned or dried meats
  • Alfalfa or dry beans for sprouting (in a zip-lock bag with a damp paper towel)
  • Chocolate, marshmallows, graham crackers! (For s'mores)
  • Potatoes: you can almost make a meal out of a baked potato (with cheese), or chop and fry up potatoes with eggs, onions, almost anything—a versatile, uncrushable food.
  • Shelf-stable milk: once opened it needs to be consumed or refrigerated
  • Pancake mix (the kind where you just add water) and syrup
  • Small packs of applesauce (must be refrigerated after opening)
  • Cooking oil

Cooking Over a Campfire

Great Camp Meals

The first and possibly second night out, you can enjoy fresh food from your cooler.

  • Chicken breast or cubed chicken cooks up real quick and can be added to rice or pasta. Or you can cook them at home to be eaten cold, or rewarmed.
  • Foil pack dinner: 1/4 pound of ground beef, turkey, chicken, or pork per person; chopped onions; carrots, celery, garlic and cubed potatoes with a splash of soy sauce. Close tightly and set on coals or on the stovetop and cook for 30 minutes or so.
  • Hot dogs and beans are great all-American camp foods.

After the ice has run out, dinners can still be delicious:

  • Macaroni and cheese (packaged or camp-made)
  • Canned chili
  • Canned stews
  • Pasta and dried or canned veggies
  • Grilled cheese and soup
  • A delicious beans and rice dish: Cook rice. In a pan, sauté garlic and chopped onions. Add canned black beans and canned chopped tomatoes. Heat up and add cilantro, pinch of salt and lime juice. Serve bean mix on rice with or without shredded sharp cheese.
  • Fresh fish: you can enjoy fresh food anytime if you’re lucky enough to land a legal-sized one. Clean the fish well away from campsite and bury the guts (to deter bears). Never wear your fish cleaning clothes in the tent. Cook and serve the fish as soon as possible for maybe the best meal you have ever eaten!

Cooking With a Dutch Oven

Deter Those Pesky Bears

If you are new to camping, you need to be careful and remember that it’s the bear’s home, not yours. You are the intruder and sometimes certain bears are not too happy with that.

Now, black bears, though appearing to be large, cuddly creatures can be dangerous as well as messy. There is nothing a black bear likes more than to raid a campsite, eat up all the brownies and cookies and throw everything else all over the place.

  • Avoid areas frequented by bears.
  • Use a bear vault: a strong bear-proof container that can be purchased. Some campsites provide bear vaults.
  • Try to spot the bear before he spots you; avoid him by backing quietly away.
  • Hoist your food container into a tree 4 feet away from the trunk and 10 feet above the ground if there are bears in the area.
  • Bang pots and make some noise if you think a bear is poking around. Supposedly, they don’t like a lot of racket. However, some folks think the banging of pots is like the bear’s dinner bell.

For Further Reading

The Camping Cookbook : Inspired Recipes for Cooking Around the Fire and Under the Stars by Marnie Hannel and Jen Stevenson

The New Camp Cookbook: Gourmet Grub for Campers, Road Trippers, and Adventurers by Linda Ly

Feast by Firelight : Simple Recipes for Camping, Cabins, and the Great Outdoors by Emma Frisch

Easy Campfire Cooking : 200 + Fun Family Recipes for Cooking Over Coals and in the Flames With a Dutch Oven, Foil Packets, and More by Peg Couch

Camping Cookbook Beyond Marshmallows and Hot Dogs: Foil Packet, Grilling, Campfire Cooking by Louise Davidson

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2009 Dolores Monet


Dolores Monet (author) from East Coast, United States on May 19, 2012:

shakefam - thank you. Sometimes, instead of ice, I freeze a bottle of juice or two. The frozen juice cools the food, then when it melts, you can drink it!

What ever did we do before zip lock baggies!

shakefam5 on May 17, 2012:

Great advice! I grew up camping and now that I have a family of my own, camping is their favorite vacation. My kids would rather go camping than go to Disneyland! One thing I have learned is anything you put in the cooler goes into a gallon sized ziplock bag first. Ice always melts and if everything is in baggies, nothing gets contaminated by something else. Always take extra baggie too, so your lunch meat doesn't taste like your catch of the day!

Dolores Monet (author) from East Coast, United States on June 22, 2011:

justamber - I never thought of making pizza at camp! A sure way to please the kids! Thank you for your input!

justamber on June 22, 2011:

liked this, got some new ideas. Something we always make when we camp is pizza. We each pick one ingredient and put it on a premade crust with the sauce.

Dolores Monet (author) from East Coast, United States on April 09, 2011:

jager - oh yes. We sure don't want to overload ourselves on a camping trip. Half the fun is the simplicity of camp life and making do with less. I hope you have a wonderful time! Thanks!

jagerfoods from South Carolina, USA on April 08, 2011:

This was very informative. We have a full summer planned out this year for camping and I've been going overboard buying things we probably really don't need. I guess I'm taking the boy scout motto 'Always be prepared', a little too far.

Dolores Monet (author) from East Coast, United States on November 16, 2010:

Moon - thanks for adding to my camp meals hub. The soup sounds delicious! And easy is best at camp!

Fayme Zelena Harper from Lucerne Valley, CA on November 15, 2010:

Great article.

We just got back from four days of tent camping. Our best meal was a four course Asian style soup. My boyfriend prepacked cut foods like tofu, veggies, miso, and chicken and threw them in the ice chest. Then, he boiled water on the camping stove. Starting with a powdered asian soup base, the cook then added various things like rice noodles, Shitake mushroom slices, fresh fish chunks, and so on. Each time the pot got full, soup was ladled out, leaving enough soup stock for the next batch of ingredients. He added spices like soy sauce and fish sauce and seaweed flakes. It was easy, fresh, and social. By the time the fourth bowl was ladeled out we were all full.

Dolores Monet (author) from East Coast, United States on June 01, 2010:

vb - we had a bear once due to a mix up of who put what where. The bear ate our Little Debbies.

vballkel from Michigan on June 01, 2010:

I like the info on taking care of your food so you don't get bears. I went camping one time with a group of friends and we didn't take the proper precautions with our food. We ended up getting an unwanted visitor that kept coming back the whole night. We also made the mistake of camping out under the stars which was great if we hadn't had a bear joining us!

Dolores Monet (author) from East Coast, United States on September 20, 2009:

That is a great idea, june, and I know a lot of people who make aluminum foil packages of camp stew, individual packets for each camper. Thanks for the suggestion!

Richard Francis Fleck from Denver, Colorado on September 19, 2009:

I enjoyed your very useful and practical article. You comment, if you forgot something--make do reminds me of an experience in the La Sal Range of Utah. We forgot, of all things, a pot for cooking stew. We made do with a large piece of aluminum foil which we shaped carefully into a pot and succeeded in cooking our stew.

dennisematt on June 05, 2009:

I go camping for 3 or 4 days every summer with my family, and my inlaws.....thats 10 adults and 5 chldren at least. We look forward to it every year, and every year I get better at my packing. I have found a deck of cards, and some games like Yahtzee are good ideas on longer trips. You never know when its going to rain.(I know this is about the kitchen, but often the kitchen is where we are stuck during downpours) Skunks and racoons are pests too, even when there arent any bears KEEP FOOD PUT AWAY. If some crazy picky person doesnt love campfire cooked food... it helps to have ketchup and hot sauce on hand. Now I cant wait to go camping again!!!!!!