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Feeding Picky Campers - Easy Camping Meals for Kids
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Feeding kids can be tricky, even with all the comforts of civilization. However, when you can’t just run to the corner fast food joint to pick up their favorite chicken nuggets on a family camping trip, keeping them happy and satisfied gets even more complicated.
It can be tempting just to let hot dogs be the star of every meal on the camping menu. But hot dogs can lose their appeal pretty quickly for adult campers, plus they aren’t exactly packed with adventure-fueling nutrition.
You are wrong if you think your picnic table fare has to be bland just because you’re cooking without a proper kitchen. Cooking delicious meals right at your campsite isn’t all that hard. With some prep and planning, you can whip up tasty chow even the pickiest campers will love.
Here are some of my favorite tips and recipes for feeding fussy outdoor adventurers.
Let Them Help
Sometimes, the best way to get picky eaters to quit their fussing is to get them involved. Including kids in the cooking process can spark an interest in whatever is on the menu. The sense of pride at the end of the meal prep could have them devouring the meal and asking for seconds.
Getting the kids involved with making their camping meals could be the key to getting them to try new campsite cuisine. Try letting them hold a wiener roasting stick or supervise the careful flipping of a grilled cheese sandwich. You can also let them choose the ingredients for a homemade trail mix or a quick and easy hobo stew.
Keep It Simple
With limited kitchen utensils, cooking surfaces, and food storage space, preparing meals in the great outdoors can be tricky. Whether you’re catering to picky eaters or not, keeping meals simple saves a ton of headaches.
If you’re used to fixing one meal for yourself and another for the kids, that can be next to impossible while camping. Focusing on one meal that will satisfy everyone will save you cooler space and clean-up time. Camping isn’t the time to dive into French cuisine or attempt a dinner with 20 different fresh ingredients.
Stick to recipes that only require a handful of ingredients. Not only will this simplify packing, cooking, and clean-up, but finicky kids tend to like simple foods with fewer components.
Do What You Can at Home
Most campsites have minimal prep space. Add in a hungry child whining for food or sprinting around the site, and making dinner becomes even more difficult (and sometimes dangerous).
If you can, do your chopping, dicing, and shredding at home and pack ingredients in zipper storage bags. Then, all you have to do is assemble and cook your recipes on-site. I also recommend browning ground beef at home and tossing it in a storage bag or container to save a recipe step at your campsite.
If you like to cook in foil packages, go ahead and assemble those at home, too. Just toss them in the hot coals of your campfire, and you’re good to go.
Make-ahead foods like muffins, cookies, mini frittatas, and burritos can also simplify mealtime at camp.
Everything is Better on a Stick
Kids love to cook and eat their own meals with a stick. Whether you choose reusable telescoping metal roasting sticks or bamboo skewers, sticks make camp meals ten times more fun and infinitely more memorable. Since making memories is what camping is all about, I highly suggest working in at least one stick meal into your camping menu.
Hotdogs, shish kabobs, meatballs, sausages, and the stereotypical marshmallows can all be roasted over a campfire. If you don’t feel comfortable trusting little hands to hold a stick over open flames, eating fresh fruit off a skewer is one of life’s great joys, especially for young people.
Keep Things Familiar
A week-long camping trip probably isn’t the best place to introduce new foods into your picky eater’s diet. If you plan to pull out something unusual during a campground stay, it’s a good idea to give it a test run at home to ensure it’s a keeper. That’s just good advice whether you’re taking little ones with you or not. Going to sleep hungry is even worse when you’re sleeping in a tent.
If all your child eats at home is pizza and pancakes, add them to the menu. There are camping-friendly versions of most kid favorites, including macaroni and cheese, and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches are one of the best camping meals around.
Easy Kid-Friendly Camping Food Ideas
Camp Stove Pancakes
This make-ahead pancake mix stores easily in gallon-size zip-tight baggies. At the campsite, you can add water (and an egg if you’re feeling snazzy) directly into the bag, give some hearty squishes, and then pour right onto a griddle or skillet. Don’t forget your favorite pancake toppings to finish off the meal. This recipe is enough to make about ten pancakes.
- 1 cup all-purpose flour
- 1/4 cup sugar
- 1/4 cup dry milk powder
- 4 tsp. baking powder
- 1/4 tsp. Salt
Mix ingredients and store in a baggie or air-tight container. Add 1 cup of water and an egg (optional) and mix well. Pour onto a greased frying pan. Flip when bubbles appear and the edges of the pancake start to dry.
Easy camping meals are important for those family camping trips, and camping food doesn’t get much easier than a good hobo stew.
You can cook and eat a hobo stew from the same aluminum foil packet, meaning there’s nothing to clean up after the meal. One of the beautiful things about foil packet cooking is that each person can assemble their own, adding and subtracting ingredients to match their taste. Or you can cook one big meal in one big foil packet. It’s up to you.
Some suggested ingredients include:
- Hamburger or ground sausage crumbles
- Diced chicken or ham
- Diced or sliced potatoes
- Frozen peas, corn, or other favorite veggies
- Chopped onions, peppers, or garlic
- Seasoning (I love to sprinkle onion soup mix over my uncooked hobo stew)
Set each foil packet into the hot coals of your campfire or charcoal grill. You can also put them right in a skillet if you need to cook over a camp stove. Cook for approximately 30 minutes. Let stand for about five minutes before opening the packets to prevent painful steam burns.
Campfire Mini Pizzas
Mini pizzas also allow each camper to customize their toppings, and you can get the kiddos involved by letting them build their own.
- English muffins split in half
- Jar pizza sauce
- Shredded mozzarella cheese
- Your favorite pizza toppings (pepperoni, sweet peppers, mushrooms, olives, etc.)
Spread pizza sauce evenly on muffin halves. Top with cheese and whatever toppings your heart desires. You can place these on a campfire grate or cast iron pan. Heat over hot coals until the crust is crunchy and the cheese melts. If necessary, you can place a lid on your cast iron skillet to help melt the cheese.
Easy One Pot Mac and Cheese
Macaroni and cheese is a regular kid favorite. The hearty dish is also the perfect fuel for long hikes and other outdoor adventures. If you don’t want to rely on a box mix, you can whip up this easy mac and cheese in a single pot. It’s not only delicious, but it also cleans up easily.
- 4 cups milk
- 3 cups dry macaroni
- 3 ½ cups shredded cheese
- ½ cup cream cheese
- Salt and pepper to taste
Add the milk and macaroni to a medium saucepan. (This recipe works best with a camp stove.) Bring to a boil and stir frequently to prevent pasta from sticking to the pan.
Cook over medium heat until pasta is tender and milk has thickened (about 8-9 minutes). Remove from heat. Add the remaining ingredients to the pot without draining the milk. Stir until smooth.