Going camping is a lot like Christmas shopping.
You start with a list. You check it twice. You check it off as items are completed and when you’re done, you go back through and make triply sure you didn’t miss anything!
At least that’s how it felt getting ready for our camping trip this past Memorial Day Weekend. Mr. Crumbs has been wanting to visit a volcanic range in Northern California for a few years now, and this trip was his birthday present. Since the camping trip before this one was a big fat failure, I really wanted to make this trip extra fun, and extra special.
(In case you missed it – yes, we camped on a volcano!).
I went camping often with my grandparents as a kid, but that does not make me an expert in any way, whatsoever. Somewhere along my 30-something-year timeline the desire to spend time outside with bugs and dirt left me. Back then, sleeping bags, bug spray and hot dogs were all the rage. Nowadays, I much more prefer a roof, bed and warm covers. Not to mention the unknown chemicals found in bug sprays and hot dogs freak me out.
Despite camping being out of my comfort zone, we want our kids to have the same fun memories of camping as a child that we have. So we found happy medium of cabing camping. Some would call it “glamping,” although if that were the case, a one-room cabin with one electric plug would most certainly be a low rung on that multi-tiered ladder.
Regardless if you camp, or glamp, the process is still the same: Make a list. Pack your stuff. Have a great time and hope you didn’t forget anything too important!
Food was a huge concern of mine for this camping trip, but after polling the Crumbs Community on Facebook and reading The Family Camping Handbook from cover to cover (seriously), I felt much more prepared.
I’d like to pay it forward for you guys and share what made our camping trip a true success. Beth asked what type of camping food we ate because her friends are eating junk. She’s probably not the only one curious how to avoid the bags and boxes while camping, so you’ll find a copy of our menu, what we brought (and why in some cases) and the tips we learned along the way. Plus some photos. Because lists are always better with pictures!
As a bonus, there’s a free download too that you can use for your own frugal camping trip!
The Simple Camping Menu
In an effort to keep the trip simple, and not have to pack too many foods that required to be kept on ice (which we’d have to pay for), I kept our meals incredibly simple:
Breakfast: nitrate-free bacon and whole grain biscuits on the griddle; fresh strawberries, blueberries and watermelon; coffee and water
Lunch: peanut butter sandwiches on whole grain bread; apples; raisins; pretzels; water
Dinner: BBQ chicken/steak; campfire potatoes; corn on the cob; onions/peppers in foil packets
Dessert: lots of s’mores!
Remember, there was a bit of reasoning behind this menu…
- We could have had pancakes…. but then we’d have to bring syrup and milk.
- We could have done an egg scramble on the cast iron skillet… but then we’d have to bring eggs and worry about them breaking.
- We could have done yogurt with granola… but then I’m packing more glass, and something else that requires a cooler and ice. (Did I mention that we had to borrow a cooler?)
We could have done a lot of things, but in the end, simplicity and the lack of refrigeration won out.
10 Lessons Learned on Food:
- Bacon is awesome. It’s also a big treat in our house, so you can only imagine how amazingly delicious it was to enjoy bacon for breakfast for three straight days! Grocery Outlet had 12 oz packages of nitrate-free bacon for just $2.99 before we left. If it weren’t for that deal, Costco carries in bulk for approximately $2.50/lb. PS – Want to make other campers jealous? Cook bacon.
- Biscuits can be cooked on a griddle – and they’re good! Before we left, I mixed up three batches of whole wheat biscuits through the cutting in of butter and put each in it’s own quart-sized bag. When you’re camping, just add water a little at a time, the morning of. Butter doesn’t require refrigeration, so these didn’t have to go in a cooler. Plus the empty bags doubled as storage containers for our lunch sandwiches later that day.
- Squishy foods should be eaten at camp. Fresh fruit makes for an easy breakfast, but it’s difficult to hike with berries and watermelon. In order to not have to bring storage containers for these foods (which means carrying around in a backpack AND washing later in the day), we only ate them at camp.
- Plan for simple, travel-friendly foods on hikes. Our sandwiches didn’t have jelly for a reason (one less thing to bring, plus the jars are glass). Apples, raisins and pretzels are easy to transport and can be stored in baggies (which can be re-used) rather than containers. We brought two big stainless steel travel mugs filled with water (we filled it up at home before we left to conserve the water we’d have to buy on arrival) on the hike and everyone drank water.
- Don’t skimp on dinner. Cooking on the grill, or over an open fire, is fun. Plus, after a full day of hiking and sight-seeing, campers are hungry! We served the same veggies both days, with chicken on the first night and steak on the second. (Both meats came from my freezer, so no additional expense.)
- Eat s’mores. And lots of them! Whether you make your own graham crackers and marshmallows though, is up to you. Frankly, I didn’t. There wasn’t time, plus this is a vacation for me too! There’s already enough to do just to get ready for the trip and making every.single.thing. from scratch just wasn’t gonna happen. I didn’t even make the bread for sandwiches! (I bought organic whole wheat bread instead.)
- Pack condiments. Our local dollar store had those black and white salt & pepper shaker combinations for $1. We packed that, plus butter and BBQ sauce from home. Those condiments alone were able to cover nearly all of our seasoning needs.
- Pack coconut oil. Coconut oil is so versatile – it gave us fat for cooking (for the foil packets), moisture for our skin and even doubled as a sunscreen. Bringing a jar of this meant no need for olive oil, which meant less to pack.
- Freeze your meats before you leave. All of our meat – bacon, chicken and steak – was frozen when we left. Those acted like ice packs for other items in the cooler, and we simply pulled out what we needed for dinner at breakfast. No ice needed, and everything was cold enough to avoid spoilage.
- Don’t pack junk. The coolness of not being in your kitchen, is that you only have access to what you bring. Don’t bring the junk and no one can eat it!
The Basic Food Gear
My “to pack” list first started with our menu plan and the utensils needed to accomplish that. However, the packing plan in The Family Camping Handbook REALLY helped me cover all my bases and thing outside just the meal plan (like clothes and dealing with dirty dishes). Knowing I’d have one plug, I packed three items that ultimately made the trip successful: a griddle, a coffee pot and an extension cord.
We brought the cast iron skillet, but ended up using the small grill and the griddle for all of our cooking. The extension cord was so that we weren’t cooking bacon inside the cabin (brilliant!) and seriously, what good is vacation if you can’t take your time drinking a hot cup of coffee in the morning? Just don’t forget the coffee, coffee filters, coffee mugs, sugar and creamer!
Another smart packing move was bringing our large cutting board and two dinner knives, sharpened before we left. I quartered a large watermelon before we left the house to make it easy for transport, but the cutting board came in handy for slicing and serving. We also used it for cutting onions and peppers, our steak, as a hot plate and general clean working surface.
Four Lessons Learned on Gear
- Know your camping conditions before you leave. Call ahead regarding electricity, small grills and fire pits. Make sure you’re equipped to deal with the appropriate cooking situation: Do you need a grate for the fire? Coals for a grill? Lighter fluid? Old newspaper? A lighter?
- Don’t forget the cooking accessories. Cast iron skillets get hot; you’ll need oven mitts. Biscuits need to be flipped, marshmallows need sticks and foil packets need foil.
- Reuse what you can and go disposable when it counts. Washing dishes isn’t very easy with a spigot (note to bring a bucket, soap and sponge!), so we only washed what we had to: cups, all utensils and cookware. We brought disposable plates to make the load a bit easier. Pick and choose what you’re willing to wash, but don’t burden your vacation with washing dishes (times three meals, every day!).
- Dress your table. Picnic tables are dirty and the long boards make it easy for things to slip in the cracks. Invest in a $1 plastic table cloth and a set of clips to make dining at the table easy, and pleasurable.
Preparing for Next Time
When we got home, I took all the non-perishable camping items (foil, ziploc bags, marshmallow sticks, raw sugar packets, etc.) and put them in a plastic storage bin. Once I’m done typing this post, our packing list and meal plan is going in that box too. That way, we’ll be one step ahead of the game for the next trip!