By Rebecca Mason, RDN
Going camping is a favorite summer getaway for many Michiganders, and even more these last two summers with the pandemic keeping many family’s travel plans closer to home. There’s nothing quite like being immersed in nature, telling stories by the campfire, enjoying quality time with family and of course, eating. Convenience, portability and tradition typically guide the camping grocery list and we can tend to default to the ever-popular hot dog over the fire or burgers on the grill. But with a little bit of planning and preparation, you can serve up healthy and delicious camping fare. Here are my top five tips for making healthy camping meals a breeze:
1. Prep ahead.
When my family and I go camping, our first meal at the campsite is dinner. We set up shop, then go hike, kayak or play at the beach. All of this work and play makes everyone look forward to that first meal together and that means we need to work quickly to pull off a satisfying meal in a short time. My two favorite prep-ahead meals are:
- Fajitas: Simply slice your peppers, onions and protein at home prior to packing the cooler (can even be done the day before). Bonus points if you marinate your meat the night before you head out. All that’s left to bring are some fresh whole wheat tortillas and your favorite toppings.
- Shish kebabs: Wash and cut your veggies and store in an airtight container. Cube and marinate your protein of choice and bring along the skewers. Simply assemble (my kids like to pick their own assortment) and toss on the grill at dinnertime. With this option, everyone gets a meal that is chock-full of lean protein and veggies.
2. One pot wonders are wonderful at the campsite, too.
When you’re making a meal with less-than modern amenities, it’s important to consider cleanup. Besides, who wants to spend their time doing dishes instead of enjoying an after-dinner walk or relaxing as you watch the sunset ?
- Chili: If you like to go camping when the evenings get a little cooler, chili is a super satisfying and balanced meal. Just bring along a stockpot, pre-chop your veggies, put your spice blend in a small container and make a batch of spicy turkey chili on your next camping trip. Bonus tip: Make your chili ahead of time and freeze a batch. Toss your frozen chili in the cooler and heat it up when you’re ready to eat.
- Low country boil: What really sets this meal apart is how shareable and fun it is. All you need is a stock pot, fresh water and a strainer—and you’ll be enjoying this flavorful dish in 45 minutes or less. Rather than using butter, we serve ours with a drop of cocktail sauce.
3. Put the grill to work on something other than burgers.
Sure, everyone enjoys a good burger from time to time, but you can use the grill in some other fun and unexpected ways.
- Flatbread pizza: Grab a package of whole wheat flatbreads (or make your own) and top them with sauce, a sprinkle of mozzarella and your favorite veggies (diced in advance, of course). Toss them on the grill until the cheese is melted and you’ll be enjoying pizza around the campfire in no time.
- Make dessert: Grilling ripe fruit like peaches, pears or pineapple caramelizes the sugars and creates a warm, toasty dessert that is lovely with a dollop of Greek yogurt (and you can feel proud for sneaking an extra serving of fruit into your family’s diet).
4. Make breakfast a breeze.
- Making egg-stuffed breakfast potatoes ahead of time and cooking them on the fire means your family will get to enjoy a healthy, warm breakfast and you’ll get to relax and enjoy it with them.
- Try pre-baking a batch of banana bread muffins. Breakfast will be instant, healthy and easy to clean up.
5. Never underestimate the power of simple.
It doesn’t take a lot of equipment, complex recipes or hard-to-find spices to make an amazing meal. Sometimes simplicity is downright delicious. A simple side of grilled or roasted veggies seasoned with no more than salt and pepper is a fabulous complement to a summer meal. Hard boiled eggs are a perfect, portable protein to add to your meal to fuel you in the morning. And an apple with a handful of almonds is a delicious and filling snack.
No matter where your adventures take you this summer, be sure to camp out the healthy way with a little bit of planning and these helpful tips. After all, everything tastes better when you’re enjoying time in the summer sunshine with those you love.
About the Author: Rebecca Mason, RDN, is a registered dietitian/nutritionist. She is passionate about helping families and individuals improve their health through nutrition education and nutritious food access. Rebecca is certified in adult weight management, and has a background in both clinical nutrition and wellness programming.