As comedian Jim Gaffigan says, "My wife said camping was a tradition in her family. It was a tradition in everyone's family—until we invented the house!" Love it or hate it, there's no better way to step back from the hustle and bustle of "real life" and reconnect with nature than taking a camping trip. When you're sleeping under the stars, surrounded by the sounds and smells of the great outdoors, all those demands and stresses that seemed so important last week suddenly become trivial in comparison.
There’s no doubt the great outdoors is therapeutic—and it may be the cheapest therapy around. Studies have shown that simply getting outside can spark a myriad of mental health benefits, including reduced depression, improved concentration and a more positive outlook. It's also a great way to bond with family away from the distractions of screens, schoolwork and soccer practices.
And if you’re looking for a little extra exercise on your excursion, you’re in luck: Camping can moonlight as a weight-loss tool. There are plenty of active aspects that burn major calories, from setting up camp to gathering firewood to hiking the surrounding trails.
In the midst of all that family fun and bonding, don’t cancel out the benefits of all that outdoor activity by succumbing to s'mores, hot dogs, chips and other unhealthy fare. The key is coming prepared with the right gear, ingredients and recipes to prepare healthy, yet satisfying, campfire meals.
Camp Cooking Hacks
Unless you want to live on trail mix and peanut butter sandwiches during your outdoor adventure, you'll likely want to do some prep work and bring along some campsite cooking gear to prepare hot meals.
18 Camp-Friendly Recipes
- Bring a camping stove. If you're not crazy about the idea of cooking directly over a campfire, you might want to invest in a portable camping stove. There's a wide range of sizes and features, from a tiny backpacking stove to a classic propane stove to a standing three-burner model.
- Plan on pots and pans: Although not a requirement, many avid campers like to invest in a set of lightweight, easily packable pots and pans designed for outdoor use. Another essential is a cast-iron skillet, which can be placed over a campfire grate for baking, frying, searing and stir-frying. A two-burner aluminum griddle fits nicely over most camping stoves, making it a breeze to cook pancakes, bacon, eggs, veggies and more. We also like the Lodge Drop Biscuit Pan for cooking biscuits, eggs, muffins and mini meatloaves.
- Dish it out: Again, you can always bring plastic dishes from home, but you might want to grab some affordable camping tablesets designed for outdoor use.
- Make breakfast your main squeeze. Morning meals will be a breeze when you bring pancake mix and eggs in a clean squeeze bottle, so you can easily squirt them on the griddle without worrying about cracking or mixing.
- Don’t forget the foil. Foil packets will quickly become any camp chef's best friend. They're great for grilling everything from veggies and potatoes to chicken and steak.
- Let nature dry the dishes. Bring along a mesh dunking bag to hold washed dishes, then hang it to dry.
- Try making a Swedish torch. This self-contained, self-ventilating fire doubles as a cooking surface, and will slowly burn itself out.
- Conquer cooking clutter. Use an affordable over-the-door accessory organizer to keep spices, utensils and other cooking items organized and easily accessible.
- Campfire Breakfast Burger: Start off your day with a powerful protein punch, fueling all of those trail hikes. Sausage and eggs are the stars of this easy, satisfying breakfast burger, which is a cinch to cook in a biscuit pan.
- Breakfast Scrambler: Made with ham, bacon or sausage, this one-dish meal can be cooked in an aluminum pan over the fire.
- Campfire French Toast: This thick, hearty and kid-friendly breakfast can be served with diced strawberries and sliced almonds.
- Banana Whip Oats: Heart-healthy oats are sweetened with ripe bananas and almond milk for a low-sugar, gluten-free breakfast or snack. Top with granola, nuts or seeds for an extra energy boost.
- Orange Cinnamon Rolls: Fruit doubles as an eco-friendly bowl in this sweet citrus treat, which is great as a breakfast, snack or dessert.
- Campfire Parmesan Popcorn: Keep it simple but satisfying by tossing some kernels, oil and parmesan cheese into a foil packet or popcorn pot, then popping them over the campfire or grill. Add some dark chocolate chips and/or walnuts for a flavorful twist.
- Baked Apples: These warm, cinnamon-flavored apples can be eaten alone or sliced on top of oatmeal.
- Roasted Chestnuts: You don't have to wait until the holidays to roast chestnuts on an open fire. In addition to being warm and delicious, they're also loaded with vitamin C.
- Bear's Toast: Named for its bear-y appealing ingredients, this tempting toast is layered with peanut butter, blackberries and honey, with equally tantalizing (optional) toppings.
- Grilled Brussel’s Sprouts with Whole Grain Mustard: A weekend in the woods is the perfect time to go green with this deliciously healthy snack or side.
Lunch & Dinner Recipes
- Chipotle Sweet Potato and Chicken Sausage Foil Packets (Gluten Free): Glazed sweet potatoes, spicy chicken sausage, onions and zucchini are seasoned and then tossed in a foil packet for easy grilling. Optional toppings include cheese, sour cream and cilantro.
- Campfire Vegetables and Quinoa: Prepare these veggie-and-quinoa foil packets ahead of time, keep them in a cooler and then toss them on the campfire grill at mealtime.
- Salads to Go: Looking for an easy way to meet your veggie quota in the woods? These make-ahead salad cups serve as a healthy, hassle-free lunch on the trail.
- Grilled Margherita Sandwich: Italian garlic bread is layered with fresh tomato slices, mozzarella cheese and basil, and then grilled in a skillet over the campfire grate.
- Cedar Plank Salmon: Cooking a salmon filet on a cedar plank over the campfire gives the fish a delightfully woodsy flavor. Complete the open-air meal with a sweet potato and veggies.
- Whole Wheat Pasta with Goat Cheese and Tomatoes: Pasta might not come to mind when you think of camp-friendly foods, but when it’s pre-cooked and wrapped in foil packets, it’s a breeze to toss it with tomatoes, garlic and basil and then warm it over the fire.
- Campfire Banana Boats: A split and grilled banana is topped with dark chocolate chips, coconut, cinnamon and hazelnuts for a sweet treat made from whole-food ingredients.
Do you enjoy outdoor cooking? What are some of your favorite camping recipes?
- Chocolate Chip Almond Butter Bliss Balls: These vegan and gluten-free snacks hit the sweet spot, while also providing a power-up energy boost for all of those hikes.