by Positive Adventures Tue Jul 5 2022

Whether planning a family vacation, an adventure with friends, or a weekend youth trip, camping is one of the best ways to enjoy nature. No camping trip is complete without delicious food, so being prepared with everything you’ll need will ensure that bellies are full and spirits are high.

For backcountry camping you’ll need to keep it light and easy, but for drive-in (or “frontcountry”) camping there are tons of fun options. Car camping allows you to bring a lot more, since you don’t have to carry your food and supplies. Planning out fun, delicious meals can help make your adventure memorable, but packing too much – or not enough – can put a real damper on your experience. Fortunately, we’ve got you covered with some great recipes plus some culinary pro tips for your next outdoor getaway!

The Gear

The gear you bring can make or break your culinary adventures. You’ll want to bring everything you need but try not to overpack. Having a plan for each meal can help you streamline your gear, which will make loading and unloading a breeze. What you need will depend on the size of your group and what you’re serving, but here are a few of the staples.

  • Grate. Many drive-in camp sites will actually have a grate attached to the fire pit, which is great. If they don’t, make sure you bring something that you can use to cook over the fire. There are several types, so find the one that best suits your cooking needs.
  • Fire starters. We know: you have a lighter and a pack of matches, plus you were in scouts and can start a fire with a bow drill. And that’s good for you. But the rest of your group doesn’t want to wait while you build a fire plough, so bring some backups, and plenty of tinder (or fire starter bricks). Don’t bring gasoline or other liquid accelerants.
  • Skewers. Skewers are handy, fun, and can be easily cleaned in the coals after use. These are a great way to engage the group by letting people assemble and cook their own food, and great for easy prep work (dice and season some veggies and you’re all set). Plus, you can’t go camping without marshmallows, and you don’t want to end up scavenging for sticks.
  • A sturdy pot. This is just a multi-purpose tool. Boiling water? Pot. Making coffee? Pot. Soup? Stew? Chili? Pot, pot, pot. A pot is also super handy because you can generally put it directly on the coals of your campfire, on a grate, or over a camp stove.                                                                                                         cast iron on grate over campfire
  • Cast-iron skillet. Much like the pot, this is just a go-to multi-purpose pan that you’ll be happy to have. Eggs, veggies, beef, oats, bacon, tortillas… There’s almost nothing that can’t be whipped up in a good cast iron skillet. (If you’re new to cast iron, make sure you read up on care instructions before getting started.)
  • Utensils. More specifically, cooking utensils. When cooking over flame, it’s important to have grill-ready tongs and a fire-safe spatula. Depending on the meals that you’ve planned, make sure you have all the tools you’ll need to cook and serve them.
  • Aluminum foil. Aluminum foil is your best friend for campsite cooking. Tin foil is ultra-versatile and can be used for storage and cooking. It’s also quick to clean up and comes in a nice compact roll that’s easy to pack. With minimal cleanup, you can’t beat a foil dinner.

The Pro Tips

We know – we’ve talked about what to bring camping before. These tips are all about the grub, so make sure to save this before you set out on your next adventure.

#1. Always have a fire alternative. Cooking over an open flame is great. Everyone gets to gather around for light and warmth, and the smoke does wonders for keeping the bugs away. Unfortunately, lighting a fire may not always be an option. From fire bans to inclement weather or wet fuel, there’s just no way to guarantee that you’ll be able to get that campfire going. Always be sure to plan backup meals. This could mean utilizing a camp stove or simply packing some no-cook meals. Whatever you choose, make sure that a lack of fire doesn’t leave your group feeling hangry.

#2. Pre-cook EVERYTHING. Or at least as much as you can – especially raw meats. Keeping things at a safe temperature can be next to impossible, and the last thing you want is to share a tent with food poisoning. This will also save you time when cooking, which means less fuel and less wait time for your hungry compadres. If you absolutely must grill up some raw meat, make sure you plan that for the first night, when you’ll have the best chance of keeping a safe storage temperature. There are plenty of meals that can be prepared and cooked at home and will just need to be warmed up when you get there.

#3. Freeze, freeze, freeze! Since keeping things cold is a challenge at the campsite, the best way to be proactive is to freeze… well, pretty much everything. Not only will freezing give you more time in the “safe zone” of food storage, but all those frozen items will help act as a refrigerant in your cooler. There’s nothing worse than being sent on an ice run in the middle of your trip, so do yourself a favor. Water bottles are the most important to freeze, since they’ll cool everything around them, and are super refreshing once they’ve melted. When you’re done, there are plenty of ways to reuse those bottles.

#4. Measure and label all your ingredients. This is more about being concise and efficient than anything else. You won’t have a whole kitchen to work in once you get there, so do your measuring and portioning before you go. We’ll also talk later about the importance of aluminum foil, so be sure to label everything to save hassle later.

#5. Leave no trace. In this case, don’t pack in what you can’t pack out. That means plates, cups, cans, and literally anything else that you take out of the car. Bring plenty of garbage bags and plan to stick them back in the car if there isn’t a receptacle around. This is probably a good time to mention glass: DON’T PACK GLASS. Like, ever, ever, ever, ever. If glass breaks on a trip (it will; you’re not the exception), it will be impossible to pack out. Some of that glass will be left behind for critters or the next group of campers. It’s also just downright dangerous to pick up glass without the right equipment – especially at night.

#6. Don’t bring glass. (This is just in case you weren’t paying attention during #5.)

The Grub

Ok, we know you’re here for the camping recipes. We even broke them down into neat little sections for you.


#1: Apple Cinnamon Oatmeal. Oatmeal is an easy and economically-friendly breakfast that everyone will love. Just pack oats, water, and your favorite ingredients.

Check out this healthy, simple breakfast recipe that will give you an extra boost:

Hot Apple Cinnamon Oats with Coconut 

(serves 10)

Ingredients: 4.25 cups oats | 6 cups water | 1.5 cups rice milk | 2 apples, chopped | 2 tsps ground cinnamon | 1 tsp salt | 1 tbsp brown sugar| 1 tsp vanilla

Toppings: raisins, craisins, dried coconut, almond slices, yogurt

Instructions: 1) Combine water, rice milk, oats, and apples in a pot. 2) Bring to a boil. 3) Reduce heat and simmer until oatmeal reaches desired consistency stirring occasionally. 4) Add vanilla, cinnamon, salt, and brown sugar.

Top with: Choose from the toppings list above or get creative and add your own!

#2: Breakfast Potatoes. Breakfast potatoes are an easy and versatile dish to make for any size group. You can add anything: simple salt and pepper, peppers and onions, or meat and cheese. Almost anything goes well with potatoes. Here’s a recipe we love.

#3: Granola/Cereal. This is another meal that can be modified any way you choose. Whether your adding milk, serving warm, or eating dry, you’ll be fed and ready for whatever the day brings. For an easy hot granola meal that you can prep at home, try this 5-minute recipe.


#4: Burritos. Tortillas are your best friend on the trail. They keep better than bread, won’t get smashed, and can be used for almost anything. Plus, you won’t need plates, which makes packing and cleanup a breeze. You can make them at home or cook them up at the site, but make sure you do all the prep ahead of time; chopping and cleanup can be a real hassle out in the wild. Another great idea is to utilize leftovers from breakfast or other meals to make your camp burritos. Remember to cook any meat ahead of time for safety. Here’s a great recipe that utilizes foil and doesn’t require any cookware.

#5: Pozole Stuffed Onions. Another fun and easy camp cuisine option is pozole, which can be customized to your liking, and prepared in a myriad of ways. Pozole can be served on its own or used as part of another dish. We mentioned that foil is the camp chef’s best friend, and this is no different. Using onions as a bowl and foil as an over, you can cook and serve these Coal-Roasted Chuckbox Pozole-Stuffed Onions in no time. Note that if you want to serve a vegetarian version, you can use tofu, mushrooms, or eggplant instead of pork.

#6: Kebobs. Kebobs are fun way to get your group involved in the “kitchen”. Invite your companions to assemble their own skewers to make their own custom meals (which is especially helpful when dealing with picky eaters). Again, it’s important that you cook meats ahead of time. If you want to make a marinade and cook on site, be sure to freeze your meats and use them as soon as they’ve thawed. Here are 15 fun skewer recipes for your next trip.

#7: Bagel Sandwiches. Bagels are another amazing substitute for regular bread. Packed with carbs and rugged enough for travel, they’ve been a commuter staple for generations. They’re also delicious and perfect for camping. You can use bagel sandwiches for breakfast or lunch and put literally anything you want on them. We’re not even linking to a recipe for this one; you know how to make a sandwich.


paella over campfire

#8: Paella. Want to impress the lightweight, water-resistant pants right off your fellow campers? Go gourmet with a campfire paella. You can make this meal in a single pan (#winning) and have plenty of options. You can use meat, seafood, or veggies, and make it about as spicy as you can handle. Just remember: crust is key. You may want to stir the rice but try to resist. The crispy bottom layer is what makes paella so unique. Don’t worry, we’ve got a recipe for this one, straight from REI.

#9: Chili. If you have a larger group, chili will become your best friend in no time. You can make everything ahead of time, seal it in a bag, and heat it up in a pot or Dutch oven. This is a great meal to freeze and use as an extra ice pack in your cooler. Once it’s thawed, it’s ready to cook. This author loves their chili with bacon tips, beer, beef, and an extra kick, but my editor said to include some vegan-friendly options, so here ya go: Vegan two been camp chili.

#10: Pasta Salad. This is one of those “no-fire backup meals” we mentioned. This can be a side dish or the main course. It’s another meal that you can make at home, and is ready to serve in seconds. There are endless options for your salad, but here’s a recipe for Italian pasta salad that actually gets better when it sits.

#11: Freeze-Dried Meals. Freeze-dried meals are simple, only require hot water, and don’t need plates. They’re also a great option if you’re roughing it a bit, since they pack ultra-light. There are tons and tons of options available, so you can take the family to your local outdoor store and let everyone pick their own meal. This is another one that’s great if you can’t light a fire, since you can quickly heat up some water over a camp stove. You can even make your own freeze-dried meals at home. Here’s a quick guide for making your own meals with or without a machine.


#12: Trail Mix. You can either buy a mix or make your own. We’re cheating a bit since this isn’t an actual recipe, but the good news is: there are no rules for making your own trail mix. You can add whatever you like and omit what you don’t. Buying mix can get expensive, so we highly recommend making your own. Great choices for a healthy mix include nuts, dried fruit, cereal, granola, and even a bit of sweet candy will help fuel you for all your outdoor adventures. Here’s a DIY trail mix that we dig… be sure to scroll down to “My Favorite Healthy Trail Mix Recipe”.

#13: S’mores. Everyone knows the standard recipe – graham crackers, chocolate, and marshmallows. For fun extras, you can add Nutella, bacon, bananas, caramel, or substitute the crackers with your favorite cookies. For a fireless backup, you can make a S’more dish in a pan to serve chilled.

roasting marshmallows

#14: Popcorn. Bringing a bag of popped corn is the easiest way to snack but popping your own kernels over the fire is way more fun. Bring a bit of sunflower oil, plenty of kernels, and the seasonings of your choice. For a fun twist, season with Old Bay and a bit of sugar. Just be sure to bring the right pot so you don’t burn your corn!

#15: Oranges (Leave No Trace). Oranges are an easy treat to replenish your body and can be easily packed and eaten. Remember: just because something is biodegradable does not mean it’s okay to leave behind. Properly dispose of peels and cores left over from your food.

So, what is Positive Adventures? 

We curate and create the perfect backdrop for youth outdoor education and company retreats (among a plethora of other awesome team activities!) This means, from the very beginning, we assist with every piece of the planning – from finding a location, booking campsites, yurts, or lodges, designing activities and a program flow to achieve outcomes including leadership development and team bonding opportunities. Basically, our staff has the privilege of bringing your ultimate team adventure dreams to life.

So, why are we telling you this? We’re getting to it… sheesh. Because each of our outdoor programs provides fresh, organic food for our participants. We even provide our own private chef to do all the hard work so you don’t have to. Although many of our menus are custom-created for our clients, providing for dietary restrictions and preferences, we’ve convinced our head chef to let us publish this fan-favorite recipe. Enjoy!

#16: Thai Coconut Curry

(serves 4-6)

Ingredients: Steamed jasmine rice |1 tbs. coconut oil | 2 cloves garlic minced | 1 medium red onion, sliced | 2 tsp. grated fresh ginger | 1-2 tbs. red curry paste | 2 tsp. fish sauce | 2 – 8oz cans of coconut milk | juice and zest of 1 lime | 2-3 tbs agave syrup | 3 medium carrots, peeled and cut into coins |1 red bell pepper sliced | 4 baby bok choy chopped | 1 cup frozen green peas | 2 cups green beans, ends removed

Optional: Chopped cilantro and chopped roasted salted cashews for garnish

Directions: 1) Start by adding the coconut oil to a large heavy bottom pot. 2) Add the onions, minced garlic, and ginger and saute on medium heat until translucent (about 5 min). 3) Add the curry paste, stir, and saute another few minutes to warm the spices. 4) Then, add the coconut milk, fish sauce, lime juice, lime zest, and agave syrup. 5) At this point you’re adjusting for flavor, so look for a nice balance of sweet, spicy, and sour between the curry paste, fish sauce, lime juice, and agave. 6) Once the sauce is ready, bring it to a gentle boil, add the carrots, and simmer for 5 minutes. 7) Then add the bell pepper and frozen peas, cooking for another 5 minutes. 8) Add the green beans and cook 2-3 more minutes then add the bok choy and remove from heat. 9) Let rest for 3-4 minutes and serve over steamed jasmine rice, topped with fresh cilantro, chopped cashews, Sriracha, and fresh squeezed lime to taste. 


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