How to Plan and Pack Car Camping Meals

Car Camping Food: How to Plan and Pack

New campers often spend considerable time organizing gear—tents, sleeping bags, chairs—and not enough time organizing food. Eating well should be one of the highlights of any camping trip, so don’t make menu planning a last-minute fire drill. The great thing about car (and boat) camping is that you don’t have to worry about weight and space as much as you do with backpacking. But you still want to plan and pack carefully to have great meals with minimal fuss. Here’s how. 

Assess Your Group and Trip

Step one: Determine how much food you need. There are a few factors to consider. 

Who are you feeding?

Start with the number of people in your group. But also factor in who they are: big eaters, young kids, a mix? Do they have food preferences or allergies?  

How many meals do you need?

Count the total number of breakfasts, lunches, and dinners. Don’t forget snacks, desserts, and drinks. 

What kind of activities will you do?

If you’ll be tackling all-day summit hikes instead of lounging in a hammock, your calorie needs will be higher.  

What’s the weather like? 

In cold temperatures, you need more fuel to stay warm. You might want to stock up on foods with higher fat content.  

Make a Meal Plan

Using the group and trip info above, create a plan that lists food by day and by meal. Now turn that into a shopping list with ingredients and quantities. Here are some tips on recipe planning. 

  • Stove: You can make delicious meals without a lot of ingredients or complicated steps. Think about things like: a stir fry with instant rice, veggies, and chicken (in a can or packet; burritos with canned beans, veggies, and cheese; pasta with marinara sauce, veggies, and precooked sausage.   
  • Grill: Nothing is simpler than throwing chicken or hamburgers or portobello mushrooms on a grill. Make a marinade at home to add a little flair. 
  • Fire: Nothing says camping like roasting hot dogs over an open fire. Or bake potatoes in the coals (more on campfire cooking below).    

Shop

Take your list to the grocery store. Some shopping tips:

  • Check serving sizes for prepackaged food, and check calories against serving size. For example, instant oatmeal packs will say one serving, but if they’re only 150 calories per serving, most campers will want at least two for breakfast. 
  • Think about durability. Tortillas travel better than bread. Apples and oranges survive camp abuse better than bananas and grapes.
  • Consider packaging: If you’ll be out for more than a few days, try to buy things that you can leave sealed until you need them. They’ll stay fresh longer.   
  • Avoid shopping while you’re hungry. That can be a double whammy, making you rush (and forget things) and also leading you to buy too much of some things.    

Prep

At home, organize and pack food so it’s easy to transport, stays fresh, and is easy to store in camp. 

Prepare ingredients: Save time in camp by doing things at home, like slicing carrots for a stir fry or marinating meat. 

Downsize: Get rid of any unnecessary packaging before you leave home. 

Organize: Put ingredients into zip-top bags by meal for each day. For some things, like snacks and desserts, group them together in a “themed” bag. Going straight from store to camp? Bag your own groceries and organize at check out.  

Store: You can store food in coolers, reusable tote bags, boxes, etc. A great way to keep track? Store food in clear plastic containers.   

Keep It Cool

Though you can do a lot without the need for refrigeration, a lot of delicious foods start to spoil in temps above 40F—dairy and meats, certainly, and some vegetables and fruits if you’re on an extended trip. Check this guide to choosing and using coolers.

Camp Kitchen Packing List

  • Stove
  • Fuel
  • Cookware
  • Utensils for cooking and eating
  • Cutting board
  • Plates
  • Bowls
  • Mugs
  • Lighter
  • Cleaning supplies
  • Pot holder

All articles are for general informational purposes.  Each individual’s needs, preferences, goals and abilities may vary.  Be sure to obtain all appropriate training, expert supervision and/or medical advice before engaging in strenuous or potentially hazardous activity.

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