One image that comes to mind when thinking of cook outs while camping; breakfast eggs, bacon, roasted potatoes and cowboy coffee over an open fire. Dinner consisting of a hearty chili or beef stew that has been tended for several hours by the cook.
Unfortunately, that image only works if you are car camping or have think hauling all the cooking accouterments such as cast iron dutch ovens, a large cooler with lots of ice to keep things fresh and a supply of fresh foods. These things are heavy and most campers today who are out for the back country experience prefer to carry as light a load as possible.
This usually necessitates the use of commercial freeze-dried camping meals which are 1. expensive , 2. usually not enough for the number of servings listed on the package and 3. relatively tasteless and heavy on the salt and carbs. It is not necessary to do this when, with a little careful planning and a thorough search of your local grocery store can reveal a cornucopia of good food stuffs for you to take on your camping, canoeing or back-packing trip. And it doesn’t have to rely on Ramen noodles for three meals a day!
Your prime consideration is going to be weight. When you consider your food, remember that you will also be carrying clothes, sleeping bag, water purification system and or water, Thermo-Rest type mattress and who knows what else. Somewhere in with all your gear you also have to carry enough nourishment and energy for the time you are out in the woods. More than likely you will be cooking on one of the micro cooking stoves that are on the market. These consist of one burner and primarily fulfill the purpose of boiling water. Most of your food will be of the dehydrated variety so the stove is perfect for this.
There are many cereals on the market that are light in weight. Cheerios are healthy and light. Pre-packaged hot cereals, like oatmeal and Cream of Wheat work really well. If you are really interested in also reducing paper containers and keeping the price of your groceries down, buying the cereal in bulk, measuring out each days’ portion and mixing in dried milk and sugar in proportion and repackaging in Zip-Loc bags works very well. You can also mix in dried fruits such as raisins, dried cranberries or blueberries or what ever fruit works for you. When you add the boiling water to the warm cereals, the fruit will re-hydrate. Of course, with the cold cereals such as the Cheerios, you will use cold water with the powdered milk.
For your breakfast drinks, you can find Tang or the store variety of orange breakfast drink almost every where. Measuring out portions again and putting them in a Zip-Loc bag gives you a method of carrying enough for several days. It helps to write the proportion of water to mix on a small piece of paper and placing it inside the bag. It is now possible to find decent drinkable coffee in bags just like tea. However, instant coffee works just as well, and again, reduces the paper waste that needs to be disposed of either by carrying out or by campfire. Cremora is an acceptable creamer for your coffee and in some areas can be found in single serving packets.
Lunches can be interesting. For lightweight bread substitute crackers such as Wasa Bread or other crackers. These also have the added advantage of not getting stale as fast as regular bread. There are many types of cheeses that do not need refrigeration, as well as small packs of genoa salami or pepperoni. Peanut butter can be put in squeeze tubes, as well as jams or jellies. Always carry chocolate! It puts a nice finish on a meal and feels very luxurious. If you don’t mind carrying a little extra weight, there are numerous makers of canned meat products such as liver pate, chicken spread or ham spread, and even tuna salad.
When it comes to dinners, you have a real opportunity to get creative. Always think “out of the box” when you look in the grocery store. Many of the rice and noodle companies make dried rice and noodle dishes that at home you may use as a side dish, but out in the woods, with the addition of chopped jerky or additional cheese or the added small can of chicken chunks with sun-dried tomatoes, can be your main course. Remember to add some nibble items while things are cooking and you will find that the meal is quite filling. Single serving soups, such as Cup of Soup, are warming and a good way to soothe the hungry beast until dinner is ready.
The primary thing to remember when camping is that it is not a forever type of thing. After a few days you will be returning to civilization and the opportunity to eat a “real” meal. You will not die of malnutrition if you don’t get all your daily requirements for a couple of days. Camping in the back country makes it necessary to concentrate on calories for energy first and foremost.
However, with the above tips for cooking while outdoors, you will find yourself around the campfire, warm and full and thinking, “It don’t get no better than this!” because, as we all know, everything tastes better outdoors!