The thought of cooking dinner every night is enough to send a lot of parents into a panic. And even though I typically enjoy being in the kitchen, I admit to catching the culinary cooties during the summer months, when the days feel so long and the house feels so small.
But a weekend in the woods, with its fresh air and open fires, is all it takes to get me motivated again. It also helps to refresh my patience when it comes to teaching the kids some new skills (it doesn’t feel as crowded in the kitchen when you’re cooking outdoors).
Here are some tips for food prep while camping with kids:
1) Take advantage of the kitchen sink at home: if camping means “roughing” it in tents like our family does, you’ll likely be on a site without running water. So do some of the prep work at home by pre-washing fruits and veggies and putting them into large re-sealable bags. And mix up a simple salad in an airtight container (best served the first night while it’s fresh). I also prepare and marinate any meat (like these delicious Homemade Hamburgers or Honey Balsamic Chicken Kabobs) at home and then place it into a tightly sealed bag (that I double up for safe measure). Prepping meat at home also means you won’t have to sanitize utensils and cutting boards without access to warm water.
2) Keep it small and tidy: Outdoor eating can’t happen without condiments. But there’s no need to bring the full-sized containers from home. Invest in smaller, sealable and squirtable containers and fill them with any sauces, pastes and spreads (like mayo or butter) so they take up less room in your cooler. We also have a stacking salt and pepper set and camp-sized utensils (that double as a spoon and fork) that we bring each time.
3) Foil and fire are your friends: The fire pit on your campsite isn’t just for telling ghost stories and roasting marshmallows. It also doubles as an outdoor oven. We love to roast corn in their soaked husks and cooking food in foil packets is so easy. One of our tried-and-true family recipes is chicken souvlaki. We wrap the marinated chicken breasts in foil packs and place them over the fire for 20 - 25 minutes. Veggie packages (chopped up veggies, onions and a pat of butter) are also ready to eat within 10 minutes. We also like to wrap s’mores in foil packets and throw them on the fire for a few minutes. No extra dishes, no extra mess.
4) Don’t mix your drinks: There’s no cooler that will be opened more often than the one that holds your drinks. Drink boxes or grown up beverages will be in high demand, so give them their own smaller cooler to avoid jostling your food and exposing it to the heat and little hands more often than needed. A smaller cooler can also be carried down to the beach for the day. Pack larger containers of water, so you can refill reusable water bottles as needed. If you freeze containers of water ahead of time, it also provides extra cold insulation for your drinks.
5) A family that camps together cooks together: I know this is going to make me sound sappier than the trees that fill the woods where we camp, but there is nothing like the sight of kids lined up at a picnic table assembling their own dinners, or standing around a camp fire roasting dogs on a stick. It creates a feeling of “we’re all in this together” and I’m always looking for ways to make that happen.
So don’t be afraid to move your kitchen into the woods, where there are so many opportunities for learning and sharing to be found. And I promise, whether it’s hot dogs or homemade chicken kabobs and salad, the fresh air makes everything taste better. And with the cool night air starting to arrive, this is the best time of year for it!