Hurray! The kids excitedly jump up and down when they hear about a camping trip plan in the works. While visions of flip flops, bathing suits, adventure, late nights, campfires dance through the little ones’ heads, lists, laundry, packing, food and tent pitching run through yours.
Okay mama, take a deep breath and peruse through this list of tips for easy camp meals that are sure to be tasty, mildly healthy and most importantly, LESS WORK for you!
Try to get as much prep done ahead of time as possible! I know, we’re talking about less work here so let’s not go crazy with the meal prep, BUT a favourite dish whether we’re at home or out in the great outdoors is tacos!
Pick up some shells, fry up some lean ground beef, cut up some lettuce and peppers, shred some cheese and voila! A fam fav prepped and ready to devour.
Recycle! Kids didn’t finish all the peppers in your tacos the day before? Perfect! Get out the old trusty cast-iron skillet and fry it up with strips of chicken (already cut of course). You may even want to cheat a little more and get some pre-cooked chicken, and then it’s just heating it up.
Pair your meals with a ‘fun’ activity. Yes, we all know the s’mores and hot dogs around the fire trick. The easiest meal in camping history, right? Give the kids the sharpened spears and raw meat and let them cook it up by open flame. A different spin on feeding two birds with one scone is berry picking. Before you leave for your camping adventure, scope out some close picking spots and spend an afternoon harvesting your dessert and snacks! Not only does this burn off energy and kill time, but it also gives everyone a tasty treat (you might want to limit the number of berries they eat though – we all know camping bathrooms aren’t the greatest!).
Share the load. If you’re camping with a bunch of people, why not coordinate and put together something fancy? And by fancy, I mean a full-out turkey dinner cooked up camping-style in (what else?) a garbage can! Now, before you judge, stick with me, and you’ll have campers down the road following their noses to your master chef-worthy site.
Get a metal garbage can (a new one!) and pack it in your trunk (fill it with sleeping bags and pillows to preserve valuable packing real estate). This takes a bit of communal planning as you’ll all have to prep the fixins and the turkey on the same day.
Once you’re settled on the day, get the turkey started a few hours before you want to eat. Put some aluminium foil on the ground and place an aluminium dish in the centre of your makeshift pit. It will need to be big enough to put the garbage can on top and still have a healthy rim around it for hot coals and fire. Drive a stake into the ground through the centre of the dish. You’ll want to make sure your turkey has thawed out already and stick it onto the steak with its legs facing the ground. Then, you put your garbage can over the turkey. Pile some charcoal around the can onto your tinfoil border and on top of the can (which is now, in fact, the bottom). Light it up! Let it burn for a couple of hours or so and when the coals have burned out, lift the can off (carefully, it is hot in there!), and you should have a beautifully browned bird.
While that’s cooking, your campmates can be prepping the stuffing, boiling their potatoes and carrots and making up with gravy.
Grab the grill! You may have come to rely on the faithful Coleman stove but don’t underestimate the wonderful things you can pull of with a portable backyard grill that can be picked up for about $40 at your local department store. It packs up to a small size and allows you to have excellent temperature control. The sky’s the limit for quick and easy grilling grub. You could premake steak and veggie packs (done in aluminium foil; no skillets necessary!), hots ‘n’ hams or even grill up come clams or kebabs.
Finally, in all things, go with the ‘keep-it-simple’ method. Think about ways you can reduce your use of dishes both to cook and eat with. If possible, try to plan your meals so that you can get away with one skillet and one cooking pot. Finger foods mean less cutlery cleaning and by cutting things up ahead of time and packing them in reusable beeswax food wrap, you’re being kind to the environment and cutting down on campsite prep and cook time.
Camping should be about spending time with your family and friends, not being chained to the ‘kitchen canopy.’ Keep two of your three meals a day easy: think toast, muffins and fruit for breakfast, sandwiches for lunch (peanut butter, ham and cheese) and then get a little more creative with your suppers as people are winding down for the day. Keep water bottles close for hydration throughout the day and lots of finger snacks handy (granola bars, chips, apples).
Take it easy and make it easy. Use your brainpower to make sure everyone has sunblock on, that they’re staying out of hornets nests and that everyone has a healthy balance of dirt and hygiene instead of spending your time cooking and cleaning. After all, we all do that enough of that at home, don’t we?
By Leah Whitehead
Leah cut her teeth in broadcast journalism as a reporter with CTV News. She traded in her microphone for a pen and now works as a freelance writer and runs a marketing business with her husband. She’s written for Lonely Planet, CAA, AAA, Canadian Special Events and a variety of other tourism-based periodicals. You can find her corralling her three kids under 5, while balancing on one foot and doing the hokey-pokey in Halifax, Nova Scotia.
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