Fresh air and exercise can up the appetite, and you get plenty of both when camping. Spend some time before your trip planning your meals, the equipment you will need and prepping food so that you have ample time to enjoy the great outdoors. With a little inspiration and the proper cooking equipment, you can enjoy camping meals that are easy and delicious.
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For a quick and easy meal that does not require cooking, pair sandwiches with a salad. A pasta salad or fruit salad is often the best option, as lettuce can quickly spoil in the cooler. Make a large muffaletta sandwich before the trip, and all you will need at mealtime is a knife to cut it into individual servings. Muffalettas are best prepared in advance and will hold well for up to a few days.
The cooked meals you can prepare depend on the type of equipment you have available. If you have access to a grill or grate for the campfire, think traditional meat, potatoes and grilled vegetables. Soup or chili with a slice of bread makes a quick and filling meal if you have a stockpot in your arsenal and propane stove, grill or campfire grate. Campers with a cast-iron skillet or Dutch oven are well equipped to make a quick stir-fry or easy casserole.
Make pasta or fruit salads ahead of time and store in resealable plastic bags. Add the dressing at the last minute to keep it fresh tasting. For meat or poultry that you plan to grill, place meal-sized servings in resealable plastic bags with the marinade of your choice. Freeze them before you leave for the trip. The meat or poultry will slowly defrost in the cooler and marinate at the same time.
Russet potatoes or sweet potatoes make a quick and easy side dish for grilled meats and poultry. Simply coat them with a little oil, sprinkle on a little salt and wrap them in tin foil. Place directly on the coals in the grill to cook, or on a hot stone near the edge of the campfire. Cut vegetables, like zucchini, tomatoes, bell peppers or onions, in half and brush with some oil. Cook them directly on the grill or around the edge of the grate over the campfire.
Do as much prep work as possible before you leave for your camping trip, and store everything in resealable plastic bags or containers in meal-sized portions. Store the food in the cooler in the order in which you will use it, with the items you plan to use in the first day or two at the top, and then cover everything with ice. Store all dry goods in airtight containers or bags to keep them dry and bug-free, and then place in sturdy cardboard boxes or old milk crates.
Many outdoor enthusiasts believe that camping meals consist of hamburgers, hot dogs, peanut butter sandwiches and protein bars. They may be fine for the first day of your outing, but you will quickly tire of them if camping for more than a couple of days. Instead of eating bland food or trying to recreate complicated meals that you make at home, bring your favorite flavors with you camping. If lasagna is a family favorite, brown some ground beef in a cast-iron skillet over the campfire or on your propane stove. Add a jar of tomato sauce, a touch of ricotta cheese and some cut-up pre-cooked lasagna noodles. Stir the mixture until heated, top with mozzarella cheese and cover with tin foil until the cheese melts.
The USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service states, “Most bacteria do not grow rapidly at temperatures below 40 degrees F or above 140 degrees F. The temperature range in between is known as the ‘Danger Zone.’” If camping in warm weather, be careful not to over-pack the cooler, and add fresh ice to it at least once per day. Pack a meat thermometer with your cooking tools, and test all foods to be sure that they reach a minimum of 140 degrees F. Grilled steaks must reach 145 degrees F, while pork, ground beef, veal and lamb are not considered safe until they reach 160 degrees F. Cook poultry until the internal temperature reaches 165 degrees F.