Want to know how to make a camping meal plan?

Help! We are planning our next camping trip and I either don’t pack enough or pack way too much food. How can I make a camping meal plan that doesn’t require seventeen trips to the store once I’m out there, but also ensuring I won’t be bringing half my pantry there and back? Elizabeth M.

skillet and pie irons cooking over a fire

Hi Elizabeth! Oh man, that’s a good one. I frequently bring too much food with us, although that is not always a bad thing. Let me share one of my favorite stories.

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It’s storytime!

There was this one time we were camping in a smaller state park with a lot of active nightlife. We didn’t hang our food up high because I thought it would be protected in the totes inside of our shelter. I was wrong. So very wrong. The first night some critters absconded with half a loaf of bread. The second night they managed to destroy a pack of tortillas. And it wasn’t until after we got home that I realized my emergency supply of hot dog buns was nowhere to be found. That was one trip I was very glad I brought too much food! And it made a difference to how I store our food…which I remember to do most of the time.

However, for a better answer to your question, I prefer to err on the side of too much food for all my camping meal plans.

I don’t want to go grocery shopping once I have made it to the campsite. Which is why I will plan for more meals than I expect us to need. If we are going for a weekend and I’m expecting Friday night dinner and dessert, three meals on Saturday (plus snacks), and Sunday breakfast and lunch I will typically add in one more dinner, one more breakfast, one more lunch, and one more snack/dessert. Most of our meals can be eaten at a different time of day and if something goes wrong with one of them, I can substitute an alternate. Plus, I always plan on enjoying any leftover food once we get home.

Using like ingredients or similar methods:

I plan my camping meals to either use like ingredients or similar cooking methods. If I’m going to be making breakfast sandwiches using sliced bread in my pie irons, I try to plan other meals that are also going to require the use of sandwich bread. If we are going down the route of tortillas being our carbohydrate of choice, I want to use tortillas in as many meals as possible. You can tell that was not my philosophy during the critter trip, but it has stood me well going forward for our short weekend trips.

Don’t like leftovers? Call them planned overs instead!

On longer trips I obviously need to plan for more meals and more variety. Some folks are fine eating the same thing over and over (and over) but we are not. Therefore, I might switch out the cooking methods but still try to utilize similar ingredients or use the planned-overs method. First night we cook up steak, second night we use it in Philly Cheesesteak sandwiches. One morning we cook up eggs in a nest, the next morning those hash browns are stuffed.

Say yes to healthy; say yes to junk food:

I like to encourage eating fruits and vegetables even while camping and typically include a green salad with dinner on the first night, maybe even the second night. Other vegetables we might bring along for snacking include carrots and snap peas. They don’t require refrigeration and we enjoy eating them plain so I don’t have to worry about dips going bad. We do not want fruits that ruin quickly so apples and cuties tend to be our go-to fruits.

Additionally, we will purchase and pack individual servings of both breakfast cereals and chips. We don’t typically do this while at home which makes for an enjoyable treat when we are starving but the fire isn’t quite ready for us to cook our planned meal. Plus, there are just times when I too am craving junk food!

Check the weather:

What is the weather going to be like while you are there? While no one can predict the weather with complete accuracy, it helps to know if rain is predicted. This can affect any fires which might need to be built for cooking. After all, no one wants to stand in a downpour to cook dinner for everyone.

We also like to take into consideration if the temperature is expected to be hot or cold. Cold days mean hot meals for us. But if the temperature is on the hot side, we might plan more cold or non-cooked meals.

Know what the campsite has for cooking:

Will there be a fire pit? Does it have an attached grill station? Will you be allowed to build a fire during your stay or is there a fire ban in place? These are all good to know prior to making your camping meal plan as the answers to these questions will dictate some of the choices you have available.

We plan to buy firewood at or around the campsite but always travel with a charcoal backup just in case. More than once, we have gotten to the campsite and been unable to find firewood to purchase. We also take a butane camping stove along for (almost instant) coffee gratification in the mornings. It was lovely to grill hot dogs on it during a downpour when we really needed something warm to eat.

Think about the order of your meals:

There are three categories of food to consider when making your meal plan: non-perishable, refrigerated, and frozen. We recommend eating refrigerated stuff towards the beginning of the trip, allowing frozen food to thaw for the middle of the trip, and eating the non-perishable at the end. For us that might look like eating pie iron tacos the first night using precooked and refrigerated taco meat while our steak fajita foil packets thaw overnight for dinner the second night and peanut butter and jelly wraps the third day.

Create a plan around just a few tools:

Don’t bring every piece of cast iron cookware you own just because you are going camping. They are heavy and can be bulky. To make it easier on everyone, create your camping meal plan focused on just a few cooking styles. We try to bring either the cast iron skillet or the Dutch oven, not both, but we always have our pie irons.

Make sure you have the proper equipment:

Granted, we are on the foodie side of the equation and have an entire post on how we built our camp kitchen kit, as well as reviewed camp kitchens, dining tables, etc. but we highly recommend making sure you have all the gear you need for your meals. Not only are you going to need your plates and silverware, but think about items like serving utensils, bowls for mixing, and ways to store your leftovers. Other items you will need include trash bags, heat resistant gloves, and a way to wash your dishes.

A camping lifesaver – aluminum foil:

I could also write an entire love letter to the joys of aluminum foil while camping. We always keep at least one roll with our camping supplies and recommend two rolls. It can be used to cook food over the fire, keep cooked food warm if cooking in batches, and wrap up any leftover food. Heavy duty foil is our first choice, but if you only have the normal stuff bring it along.

Bringing stuff home:

You might ask what happens with that leftover food after we return home. Some of it can just go back into regular rotation for meals at home. Alternately we have no problems eating camping food whenever the opportunity might arise so we often just build a fire or heat up the grill one evening the next week and cook anything that needs to be eaten.

Ways to keep down what needs to go back into rotation would be to bring smaller amounts of items like condiments. I bought small containers at one point of the things we use most often and try to refill them as necessary going forward. This also has the benefit of taking up less space in my cooler if they are items that require refrigeration.

Camping Meal Plan A focusing on tortillas:

Camping Meal Plan B using sandwich bread:

Finally, here are my general tips for camping meals:

  • Whenever possible, prep at home. It is easier and more sanitary to prepare your ingredients and meals at home with running water and countertops.
  • Dishes known as “one pot” make quick meals without requiring a lot of thought while at the campsite.
  • Practice mise en place with ingredients pre-divided in the correct size amounts before you head out the door. Bonus is that smaller containers typically pack easier in small fridges or coolers.
  • Plan your meals to use similar ingredients to make packing simpler.
  • Don’t forget snacks as all that outdoor air and activity makes everyone hungry!

Our answer:

I hope these tips help you feel more confident about the choices you make packing for your next trip. Also, if you enjoy any of the recipes we’re recommending, please let us know. Plus let us know of any favorite recipes you have. We’re always looking to add new ones to our repertoire. Feel free to tag us on Instagram @campinganswer and let us know how it goes!

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