Kitchen Stewardship | A Baby Steps Approach to Balanced Nutrition

6 Ways to Eat Well, Spend Less While Camping

June 21st, 2011 · 17 Comments · Frugality

Camping starts out pretty doggone frugal.

No maid service. No rules about towels on the floor vs. hanging them up. No concierge or valet parking.

And no tipping the server or choosing to drink water so you don’t have to buy a drink at a restaurant.

Camping is all about bringing your own food, and it can be a nutritional disaster or a palate-pleasing delight, depending on how you choose to pack. eatwellspendless_banner

I firmly believe that one can eat very well while out in the woods. You’re not confined to hot dogs on sticks just because you’re living in a tent!

6 Tricks to Avoid High Prices and Low Nutrition

feet on the beach full sz

1. Make your own trail mixes.

If a store brand can mix nuts and dried fruit together, by golly, so can you! Buy or dehydrate your own fruit, make crispy nuts, and add a few high quality chocolate chips (we got a sample box from Scharffen Berger, and my goodness, are they amazing! No way was I making cookies with those babies, nor sharing them with the two-year-old, even if she was potty training…).

Let the kids make their own baggies of trail mix for the trip. It’s a great way to have the kids pitch in without needing a ton of supervision, and since everyone picked their own ingredients and ratios, they’ll be happy to eat the trail mix once you’re out in the woods. Label plastic baggies with names. (Nuts don’t do very well overnight in reusable sandwich bags, which let too much air and moisture in.)

Tip: If you’re planning to use your trail mix on a genuine hike, use unsalted nuts so you don’t drink your weight in water – that you had to carry in. You might pack your Berkey sport bottle with the amazing filter that can handle river water in case you need to refill before you make it back to camp.

2. pack a frugal picnicapple

For those picnics on the beach or a quick midday meal around camp that doesn’t need a fire, you can save a lot of money by avoiding the expensive lunchmeat – which usually has carcinogenic nitrites or other funky additives anyway.

Peanut butter and jelly is another classic, but for real lasting power and nourishment, I recommend egg salad. Use the best eggs you can afford, homemade mayo, mustard, salt and pepper. Mash together and call it lunch!

Packing pre-cut veggies (cut by you, not by the store where they charge a huge premium) and a homemade ranch dressing keeps the kids eating their 5 a day while you whip up the sandwiches, and a cold spelt salad is an equally frugal but more nutritious alternative to pasta salad to round out the packable meal. Bring unsquishable fruits like apples for a midafternoon snack. image

These tips and recipes and much, much more are in the Family Camping Handbook, 2nd edition released today – 20% longer!

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3. Make homemade backpacking foods

If you’ve ever shopped for perfect foods for a hike, you probably had sticker shock. Dried fruit and dried meats like jerky are some of the most expensive items I run across, mostly because so much water is lost when something is dried out. Fruit and meat are on the expensive side anyway, so when they shrink when dried (like your favorite wool sweater), it looks like a little food for a lot of money.

Did you know you don’t need a dehydrator to make homemade beef jerky and delicious fruit rolls? An oven at 200F does just fine for both items. Follow the link for roughly the beef jerky recipe I love around here. The fruit rolls are in both Healthy Snacks to Go and the Family Camping Handbook.

Basic fruit rolls: puree fruit in a blender, pour onto parchment paper about 1/8″ thick, and bake on a cookie sheet in a 200F oven for 2-4 hours until completely dried out. Strawberry and applesauce ready to go into the oven shown below:applesauce and strawberry rolls (sm)

4. Find inexpensive bread

Between sandwiches and perhaps a pastured sausage grill-out, you’ll likely need bread and buns on a camping trip. I recommend either:

sprouted whole wheat rolls 2 smaller (475x356)

I ran a series in the winter called Seeking the Perfect Homemade Whole Wheat Bread, and our family is a big fan of either of these recipes for hot dog or hamburger buns:

  1. Soaked Whole Wheat Bread Machine Rolls
  2. Sprouted Flour Rolls (also bread machine friendly)

I particularly love how fast they are when the machine does all the work!

5. Resist the urge to fall back on hot dogs

It may be just a little more work to make real entrees over a campfire or grill, but if you want to eat well, it’s well worth it. If you only care about spending less, bring on the $1 package of hot dogs and cheapo white buns. I want you to eat well in the woods though, and I promise it will taste better than cheap dogs!

foil packet dinner (3)

Foil packet dinners: There are so many dinners that can be wrapped in foil packets, prepared completely at home, then plopped into the coals or on a grate over the fire to cook. They’re hardly any more work than a hot dog on a stick that way, and ever so much more delicious. In The Family Camping Handbook, you’ll find recipes for:

  • Farmer’s Market Sausage & Potato foil packets
  • Fajita foil packets
  • Italian chicken and rice
  • Side dish in-season veggies
  • If you don’t get to peek into the book, you can wrap just about anything from raw meat to cooked meat, potatoes, cooked rice, vegetables, and seasonings in a foil packet with a few pats of butter, wrap it well (doubled, usually) and cook it in the coals. Yum. Seriously.

Skillet meals: If you’ve got a cast iron skillet, you can do much better than the standard white pasta/c0mmercial spaghetti sauce that a lot of frugalistas take camping. The newest recipe in the camping handbook is a chicken fajita skillet meal that is simply amazing. If you’ve got any one-skillet recipes for the home, it’s just a quick adaptation for the campfire. Eat that, Hamburger Helper! (Here’s my homemade hamburger helper, too!)

6. Pack Your cooler wisely

Throwing away food is quick way to waste money, and you’ll end up throwing something away either during your trip or when you get home if you’re not smart about packing your cooler:

  • Pack raw meats on the bottom – in case of unfortunate leakage, you won’t contaminate all your food. Plus, the bottom of the cooler is the coldest, better for raw meat and food safety.
  • Pack eggs on top in a sturdy carton, and keep them on top. No need to buy a special camping container for eggs, though.
  • Keep your butter and cheese in hard-sided, waterproof plastic containers. Even a little water leaking through a bag on these foods renders them disgusting.
  • Don’t pack too much! The probability that food in the cooler won’t come home edible is quite high, no matter how careful you are. Try to pack just the right amount of food whenever possible.
  • Double bag onions and peppers (to keep the smell out of the cooler) and anything else you think is worthy (to keep the cooler water out of the food).
  • Drain the water each time you add ice, which should always be before you run out of the previous load of ice.
  • Frugal ice tip: Either bag up your own ice maker ice for a week before the trip if you have freezer space, or freeze a few plastic containers solidly with ice. They’ll stay frozen longer, and when they do thaw, you have some delicious ice water to drink on a hot day in the woods.

imageIf you have small children and feel nervous about taking them camping, fear not! The new second edition of the Family Camping Handbook will give you all the encouragement you need to survive and thrive in the woods with infants, toddlers, preschoolers, and even teenagers. Read the reviews HERE and get the new edition:

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A Camping Related Giveaway

Wish you knew natural, non-toxic, non-chemical solutions for bug bites, cuts and scrapes, burns and…cleaning your face? Sometimes it seems like it’s too much to get it all together and learn what fixes what, but Redmond Clay has got you covered this week with a giveaway package of $75 worth of goodies, including their First Aid cream (hydrated clay) which fixes ALL the outdoor issues above in one simple tube! Hop in the giveaway right HERE {NOW CLOSED}.

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Kitchen Stewardship is dedicated to balancing God’s gifts of time, health, earth and money.  If you feel called to such a mission, read more at Mission, Method, and Mary and Martha Moments.

Disclosure: LPC Survival, who sells the Berkey system, is one of my sponsors for June, and this is their complementary mention in a post. However, I got that water bottle in the winter and can’t wait to take it camping! I am an affiliate of Fit Marriage as well. Scharffen Berger sent products for my review, and I’d like them to be a new advertiser. Visit them and say hi! See my full disclosure statement here.

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17 Comments so far ↓

  • Primal Toad

    Awesome tips Katie. I’ll be going camping with my siblings during the first weekend in August so I will have to remember some of these tips! Too bad the oldest of my older sisters will only go if we get a cabin. I may still camp outside in a tent :)

  • Tonya

    I don’t know how many of your readers are buying milk at the store, but i have found the new square milk jugs (costco has them & i see wal-mart has them now too), make great blocks of ice for my cooler. I put 2 in the bottom & pack things around them, with more blue ice blocks on the top.

  • Liz

    Thanks for the tips, Katie! My little one (18 months) and I are embarking on an epic road trip/camping trip in a few weeks and I was just starting to think about how we’re going to manage real food (we’re paleo) on the road. Jerky and trail mix won’t work for him since he doesn’t have molars, though. Any ideas on camping with little ones?

    Katie Reply:

    Oooo, paleo with the little one not able to eat meat? Uh. How do you do that? If you can do fruit, freeze dried is really easy to eat, like a Gerber puff! ;) Maybe he could do the power bars from the snacks ebook, because all the dried fruit and nuts are ground up. How old is he? Grain-free crackers with almond meal or flour come to mind. That’s a toughie though! Lots of cheese?

    Good luck! :) Katie

    Liz Reply:

    We do eat meat! Definitely eat lots of meat, just not jerky because he doesn’t have enough teeth yet :o)

    Liz Reply:

    I just saw the comment about using ground beef for jerky- he might be able to eat that. Guess I’ll have to buy your e-book ;o)

  • Danielle @ HetzelKitchen

    So, for the jerky, do you still follow most of the directions? How long does it stay in the oven? I like the thought of making my own, but do not own a dehydrator…

    Katie Reply:

    Danielle,
    The ground beef and spices are the same, although I adjust the spices. On a parchment paper 2-4 hours in the oven…complete instructions in the new camping ebook. ;) Katie

    Danielle @ HetzelKitchen Reply:

    Don’t worry, I just purchased the e-book! I’m at work though, so I don’t want to download it onto this computer.

  • Aimee @ Simple Bites

    Ahhh great post, Katie!! We’re planning a 2 day trip soon. Love all of your ideas!!

  • Emily

    I’m sorry, but camping and hot dogs are inseparable in my mind! :-) Trader Joe’s has awesome all beef hot dogs: uncured, no nitrates/nitrites, etc. Serve with homemade (soaked?) whole wheat buns and you have yourself a nutritious meal that was MADE for camping!

    Katie Reply:

    Emily,
    You bet! Actually, brats are a major part of our camping, too, and in the book. :) If we’re going to pay a premium for something in dog form, we figure we might as well get more flavor than hot dogs. :) Katie

  • Renee

    Wow– it’s been AGES since we’ve gone camping. Certainly “several kids ago”! I do remember packing for many road trips, though– some of a few days in length. My big 5-gallon water cooler and my Sharpies were my best friends for those trips!

    But I had to laugh at your comment about taking eggs: “Pack eggs on top in a sturdy carton, and keep them on top. No need to buy a special camping container for eggs, though.”. We used to have chickens– Americanas, which laid the prettiest blue and green eggs. We went to visit my grandmother once, a 10-hour drive. I bought a special camping egg box, and so-carefully packed a dozen of our best eggs to bring to Gram, so she could see our pretty eggs. We drive and drove, and got there very late….

    And guess what got left in the van after we arrived? That wasn’t realized for DAYS? Yeahhhhh….

    I tossed the whole thing. Eggs, special, expensive box, and all. I didn’t dare even try to save the box– I was too afraid of cracking an egg!

    So much for my pretty eggs….

  • Marla

    Your tips are fabulous! Thanks for pointing out how many healthy & delicious options there are for camping trips.

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  • Jennifer

    We always pre-crack all of our eggs and put them in a tupperware container with a screw top lid. No chance of breakage if you don’t bring the shells to begin with. And if you pour them out one at a time, they actually still pretty much stay together in 1 egg quantities. Our last day we have scrambled eggs and use up all the eggs that are left.

  • Hillary via Facebook

    I cannot recommend the Family Camping e-book enough! We were novice campers and when we took our first weekend camping trip I followed Katie’s e-book down to the menu. It worked out fantastic! My family loved the food I made for them and I felt great about feeding them healthy food, even out in the woods! Thanks, Katie, for a GREAT resource!

Welcome!  Meet Katie.

I embrace butter. I make homemade yogurt. I eat traditional real food – plants and animals that God created, not products of plants where food scientists work. Here at Kitchen Stewardship, I share how I strive to be a good steward of my family's nutrition, the environment, and our budget, all without spending every second in the kitchen. Learn more about the mission of KS here.

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