For me, the best part of camping isn’t the rugged hiking trails, swimming in a pristine lake or sleeping under the stars — it’s the food! It’s easy to get caught up in a junk-food rut when packing for a camping trip — potato chips, over-processed hot dogs and preservative-laden packaged foods. But planning campfire meals that are better for you is easier than you might think.
A recent campfire cookout with my family inspired me to make our next camping menu healthier — but still delicious! Try these ideas and easy-to-prepare dishes on your next outing.
1. Pancakes: Mix up whole-wheat pancake mix before you leave, using dried egg and dried buttermilk, so all you’ll need to add at the campsite is water. The wheat fiber will keep you full and energized for an active day of hiking, biking, boating and late-night campfire conversation.
2. Hearty oatmeal: Try my yummy make-ahead recipe (below). It’s less sugary than packaged instant oatmeal.
3. Trail mix: Make your own trail mix with an assortment from the bulk foods aisle of your supermarket, including nuts, dried fruits, seeds, and carob or chocolate chips. The trail mix can double as a sprinkle on oatmeal.
4. Tuna melts: Make tuna melts on crackers or toasted bread with tuna from a pouch and slices of individually wrapped cheese on top. Heat on grill until cheese melts.
5. Grilled-cheese sandwiches or panini: Toast them over the hot fire.
6. Veggie dogs or turkey dogs: They’re better for you than regular hot dogs.
7. Veggie ramen: Combine ramen noodles and chopped fresh vegetables (or freeze-dried ones) and low-sodium hot broth made from a powder or liquid concentrate. (If you use the flavoring packets that come with the ramen noodles, only add in about half the packet to cut back on sodium. I promise, it’ll still be plenty flavorful!)
8. Rice pilaf or couscous: Prepare according to package directions; combine with your choice of fresh vegetables, mushrooms, dried fruit and nuts.
9. Kebobs: Thread pieces of mushrooms, green pepper, cherry tomatoes, fresh fruit, extra-firm tofu or seitan, chicken or beef onto metal or wooden skewers. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and/or brush with a marinade. Cook over an open fire until the vegetables soften and meat is cooked through.
10. Potatoes: Before leaving for your trip, cook whole potatoes in the oven or microwave until they’re just tender when pierced with a fork; pack whole. Prepare at campsite as stuffed potatoes (cut slits in the potatoes and stuff with cheese and shredded beef jerky) or cut up potatoes and sauté in butter or a little oil to serve with breakfast.
11. Hobo stew: On a large piece of aluminum foil sprayed with cooking spray or brushed with oil, arrange small chunks of meat, if desired, assorted fresh vegetables, onions, and fresh garlic or garlic powder. Top with a pat of butter. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and gather up sides of aluminum foil to make a sealed pouch, allowing some room at the top for steam. Cook in the coals for about 10 minutes.
12. Chili: Make chili in a camp oven with cans of beans, tomatoes and corn, seasoned with powdered chili spice. Bring cornbread mix to make in a cast iron skillet, or make it at home.
13. Grilled fish: Packed in ice for the first night, salmon or tilapia will make a luscious dinner cooked over the fire. Try my easy yet fabulous recipe (below) for Foil-Wrapped Trout with Arugula and Onions.
14. Grilled fruit: Grilling really brings out the flavor of stone fruits, for a satisfyingly sweet finish. Halve peaches, plums or other stone fruit and remove the pit. Grill cut side down until the fruit begins to brown and soften, then turn over and grill a few minutes on the other side, sprinkling with brown sugar if desired.
15. Baked apples: Core apples, fill with brown sugar and raisins and top with a pat of butter. Wrap in aluminum foil, set in coals and bake for about 15 to 20 minutes.
Hearty Oatmeal Mix
This “instant” oatmeal is less sugary than store-bought packets, and you can customize the mix with your favorite nuts, sweetener or dried fruit. Make it before leaving home and store it in a zip-top bag or a plastic container. Don’t forget a half-cup measuring cup to portion out the oatmeal and the water!
2/3 cup powdered milk
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1/2 cup golden raisins
1/4 cup slivered almonds
1/4 cup wheat germ
1 teaspoon cinnamon
In a bowl, combine the rolled oats, milk, brown sugar, raisins, almonds and cinnamon. Stir to combine completely. Transfer to a storage bag or container.
To prepare, put 1/2 cup oatmeal mix in a bowl. Stir in 1/2 cup boiling water. Let sit for 1 to 2 minutes until the oatmeal thickens, and stir again before serving. For thicker oatmeal, use a little less water.
Per Serving: 393 calories; 8g fat; 17g protein; 67g carbohydrate; 7g dietary fiber; 4mg cholesterol; 116mg sodium
Foil-Wrapped Trout with Arugula and Onions
These tidy packets are ideal for the first day of a camping trip. Make up the packets the morning you leave for your trip and keep them packed in ice until you’re ready to prepare. If you fish, this is also a great way to prepare your catch. Feel free to substitute spinach for arugula.
8 ounces arugula, roughly chopped
1 small onion, thinly sliced
4 trout fillets (about 6 ounces each)
Salt and pepper
8 thin slices lemon
4 sprigs fresh thyme
Rub the dull side of four large pieces of aluminum with butter. Divide the arugula into four portions and arrange the leaves in the center of each piece of foil. Top arugula with two or three slices of onion. Place the trout fillets over the onions and arugula. Sprinkle the fish with salt and pepper and place two lemon slices and a thyme sprig on top. Fold corners of the foil over the fish and crimp edges to seal into a packet. Keep cold until ready to cook.
To cook, place packets on a grill grate set low over a hot fire. Cook for 6 to 8 minutes or until fish is flaky and opaque, arugula is wilted and onions are soft. Fish can be eaten right out of the packets or transferred to a plate.
Per serving: 235 calories; 7g fat; 36g protein; 5g carbohydrate; 2g dietary fiber; 102mg cholesterol; 93mg sodium