Basic Camping Cuisine: Good Eats for Beginning Trail Chefs

By Justin Powell

Eating proper nutrition is important every day, but is especially important when hiking and camping. The rigorous activity of walking a long distance with the weight of a pack will require the right kinds of foods to keep you fueled up with sufficient energy.

You also need to plan ahead and consider that you need to bring with you everything required to feed your family. Both the meal ingredients and the means to cook your food will need to fit neatly within your pack and will add to the weight you are carrying. A small propane camp stove is an ideal tool for cooking your meals.

Your ability to keep refrigerated items cool will also be greatly reduced. You will need to plan ahead for how you will store foods that need to remain cold. It will be best to use those foods first if you are planning to camp for more than one night.

Preparing good camping cuisine need not be a challenge. In fact, it can be both easy and fun for the whole family. Kids and parents can work together to prepare the meal and enjoy their creations. Cleaning up after each meal is also easier when everyone is involved.

Breakfast at your Campsite:

Breakfast is the most important meal of the day and preparing breakfast together around a camp stove is a way to start off the day's adventures.

  • Instant coffee is a must for those parents who need to start the day with a Cup of Joe. Sugar and instant nondairy creamers can be brought along to flavor the coffee.
  • Instant oatmeal or grits are a good breakfast food and can be mixed with fresh fruit like bananas or apples.
  • Bagels or English muffins are also a good start to the day which travel well.
  • Cold cereals are also good breakfast items. If you like your cereal with milk, bring along pasteurized milk boxes that don't require refrigeration.

If you plan properly and keep your food cold overnight, the breakfast on your first morning could include eggs, pancakes and breakfast meat. One idea is to grill some slice some potatoes in a skillet and mix in eggs, vegetables and bacon. This hearty skillet meal will provide plenty of energy for a day's activity.

Trail Snacks

Having proper snacks when taking your morning hike are important to keeping up your energy and endurance. Your food should contain the proper level of protein and carbohydrates to burn as fuel, while being portable and not requiring refrigeration.

Some great trail snacks are:

  • Trail mix with nuts, dried fruit and granola
  • Cereal bars
  • Beef or turkey jerky
  • Fruit
  • Water

Lunch on the Trail:

Taking a break from your adventure to have lunch is important to keep up your energy. Having a picnic at a scenic outlook or next to a waterfall can also create a wonderful memory. You'll want to keep your lunch straightforward so its be easy to prepare and clean up. By saving time, you'll have more time to explore the area where you stopped to picnic or for hiking on the trail.

Great lunch items are:

  • Sandwiches are ideal for lunch on the trail. Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches are fun, keep well in a variety of temperatures and provide lasting energy. Other good sandwich options are a bacon, lettuce and tomato or a tuna salad prepared right from the can with celery, chopped onion and vinaigrette dressing.
  • Carrot and celery sticks make great side dishes.
  • Fresh fruit provides a tasty and nutritious dessert.


After a day of rigorous activity, having a hearty dinner is important. Dinner also poses certain challenges since many dinner foods will require refrigeration during the day and cooking for their preparation.

  • An easy way to address this challenge is to prepare meals at home and freeze them. As long as the weather is reasonably cool, they will slowly defrost in your backpack and will be ready for reheating over a camp stove by dinner. A fun meal is chili with beans, ground meat and sliced hot dogs.
  • You can also prepare a stew from canned vegetables and meats. Diced tomatoes and canned chicken can be combined with fresh ingredients and your favorite spices. Cook in a pot over your camp stove while stirring occasionally.
  • No family camping trip is complete without making s'mores and toasted marshmallows over the a campfire or your camp stove. Be sure to pack a bag of large marshmallows, some chocolate bars and Graham crackers. Bamboo skewers dipped in a little drinking water are a great for holding your s'mores over the fire.

Meals on the Trail are Fun

Cooking meals together on your camping trip aren't just important for sustenance, but are a great opportunity to work together as a family and have fun. Cooking on the trail doesn't need to be difficult, but some advance planning helps ensure things go efficiently. Planning meals with ingredients that don't require refrigeration is a key aspect of having a smooth experience. Most importantly, have fun!

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