Only Have a Cooler to Keep Food Cold? 3 Dinners to Pack that Won't Spoil Quickly.
Tired of eating the same thing?! This happens while camping just like it can happen at home. The next challenge is refrigeration. If you don’t have an RV fridge or a plug in fridge things can go rancid within a few days! We camp with a simple, hard sided Coleman cooler. Honestly it is probably 15 years old but we did ‘upgrade’ it with some insulation foam but that is a different story. Here we talk about FOOD! Including dinner menu, shopping list and cooler tips to make life easier.
The below can easily be changed into meat based meals. We eat meat but will usually have at least half our meals vegetarian. Less to spoil, good on the wallet and switches things up.
When you are tight on space you might throw items in the cooler that don’t really need to be kept cold. If they aren’t already cold don’t add them, it limits your cooler life. Make sure your beverages are already cooled at home, juice could be frozen to help keep the cooler cold without further ice packs. We freeze some meals like pasta sauce. Space is limited so we rarely use ice packs since they take up valuable space, we try to use items we will consume as ice packs. Throwing a bunch of ice in the cooler really does help but it also gets everything wet. If you add ice to your cooler make sure paper egg cartons, corn on the cob and anything that you don’t want sitting in water is in a water sealed bag or away from the ice.
We prefer to prep as much as we can at home. Some friends don’t have time to do this and do it all at the site, it’s a personal preference. We do it to allow us to make meals faster because we are often out hiking, climbing or biking and are ravenous when we get back no matter the number of snacks we brought. Prep often limits dishes. We chop things that won’t go bad like veggies to snack on or onions. We make quinoa salad, bean salad, pasta salad and even steam potatoes and cut them up to make hash browns in the morning. Camping is enough ‘work’ I don’t need to be in the kitchen all day.
This is important if you are bringing meat. If you are having meat multiple nights and know your cooler might not be as cool, freeze your future meals. We often freeze our pasta sauce, we can still easily cook it from frozen if needed. Frozen steaks take longer to thaw so we rarely freeze unless we are gone for a week. Have an idea of when you will eat what and you likely won’t have food spoil. Also bring more food than you think, being outside usually works up an appetite. No one enjoys hangry company.
We are not vegetarian but we also don’t consume animal products daily. Our kids love beans, grains and simple fresh food so we just choose what we eat at home to bring camping. Beans and legumes don’t spoil like meat so if you don’t already eat them regularly try out recipes at home and find what you enjoy. Bean burritos are delicious but add delicious toppings to anything and I’d probably eat it.
We rarely camp at a serviced campground so what we bring we need to pack out. If it fits in your vehicle to get to camping you can BRING IT HOME! Since we prep a lot of our food we put it in reusable containers, we either wash these or re-seal the lids and throw them in the dishwasher when we get home. Please do not package all your prepped food into plastic zip lock bags if you don’t need to. Is it REALLY necessary? Maybe if you are doing a multi-day backpack trip it makes sense, MAYBE. We haven’t purchased ziplock bags in YEARS and we manage just fine. Re-use bags you do come by and don’t let convenience overtake. You are going camping in nature, be responsible don’t litter, burn plastic, overuse plastic baggies, etc. Okay my soapbox chat is done :)
Short for time or have no fridge? Buy ‘just add water’ style camping meals from your local outdoor store. Some are delicious others are not. Eat pasta, rice, peanut butter sandwiches. My kids wouldn’t be thrilled about the packaged meals but to each their own.
Hope some of these tips make food prep for camping a little easier for you! Bon Appétit.