If you need help with planning a camping menu, you’re in the right place! One of the biggest tenting camping challenges is deciding what to eat and how to store it. Creating systems and planning helps make your tent camping experience more enjoyable!
I’ve been tent camping since I was just a few weeks old and many of these tips are lessons I learned early on from helping my mother pack for our camping trips as a child. Additionally, I’ve learned from my own mistakes as an adult (always fail forward!).
Invest in a Quality Ice Chest/Cooler
One of the first things beginning tent campers will want to invest in is a couple of quality ice chests or coolers. Of course, you’ll want to find a cooler that fits your budget. If a Yeti doesn’t fit into your budget, no worries (it doesn’t fit into mine). Fortunately, there are plenty of great choices out there.
We use the Coleman Xtreme. It’s affordable and it keeps things cold for 3-5 days.
You’ll want one cooler for food and one for drinks.
Use Plastic Totes to Organize Food, Kitchen Utinsels/Dishes, and Toiletries
For a 3 to a 5-day camping trip, I typically have one large plastic tote full of dry food. Having all the dry food in one place (rather than bags or open boxes) makes my life easier both for packing the vehicle and while at the campsite.
Plastic Totes Keep Small Critters Out of Your Food
First, a latching tote makes the food inaccessible to mice, rats, skunks, raccoons, birds, etc. These critters can be persistent when it comes to food, especially when you’re sound asleep, so the plastic tote is an excellent deterrent. It will keep your food safe, and it will keep the critters from eating things not suited to their diet.
One time, as a child, I remember camping with friends. They left a brown paper bag of food on their picnic table. Unfortunately, a cunning crow spied a bag of hamburger buns. He (or she–I’m not very good at identifying the sex of a crow mid-flight) swooped down and began aerating the package with his beak. Needless to say, the burgers went bun-less at dinner that night.
Plastic Totes Makes it Easier to Store Camping Food
Secondly, depending on where you’re camping, you may need to store all food and toiletries in a bear box. A bear box is a large metal box that has a special latch, making its contents (your food) inaccessible to bears. It’s easier to store food, move it around, and keep it from getting crushed when you keep it in a tote.
TIP: Use a small, latching plastic shoebox tote for as a s’mores kit. It makes it easy to grab all the ingredients in the dark!
Planning Food for Your Camping Menu
Planning your camping menu can be overwhelming for beginning campers. Some people like to cook one-dish meals, while others want food that they can cook over the fire.
Clearly, you should choose meals that bring you joy. If fast and easy brings your joy, do fast and easy. However, if a delectable, ornate spread brings you joy, then create a delectable, ornate spread. After all, you’re on vacation. You should enjoy it!
I love both, but I don’t like to do meal prep while I’m camping. I do as much meal prep as I can ahead of time. For our first meal, I typically stick with “fast and easy”. On the remaining nights, I like food that is grilled over the fire and well-balanced.
Write it All Down
Sit down with a pen and paper and write down your camping menu for every meal. First, I choose an entrée for each meal.
First, Choose Your Entrees (EXAMPLE MENU)
Dinner 1: Sausage Link Tortilla Wraps
Breakfast 1: French Toast
Lunch 1: Chicken Caesar Salad
Dinner 2: Hamburgers
Breakfast 2: Country Breakfast Scramble
Lunch 2: Nut Butter & Jelly Sandwiches
Dinner 3: Teriyaki Grilled Chicken
Breakfast 3: Pancakes
Next, Add Your Sides (EXAMPLE MENU)
I select and write down sides for each meal, making sure to incorporate veggies and fruits.
Dinner 1: Sausage link tortilla wraps, raw veggies, and grapes
Breakfast 1: French toast, bacon, and strawberries
Lunch 1: Chicken Caesar salad, watermelon
Dinner 2: Hamburgers, potato salad, grapes
Breakfast 2: Country breakfast scramble and blueberries
Lunch 2: Nut butter & jelly sandwiches, chips, raw veggies, apples
Dinner 3: Teriyaki grilled chicken, pineapple, veggie medley
Breakfast 3: Pancakes, breakfast sausage links, mixed berries (blueberries, strawberries, raspberries)
Finally, Write Down Every Ingredient
This list will become your camping menu packing list. Look at each meal, again, and write down EVERY SINGLE ingredient you will need for that meal. After it’s written down, separate it into two categories: dry food and cold food.
Because it makes my life easier, I created a Google spreadsheet with menu plans and packing lists. Whenever we’re planning a camping trip, I cut and paste the items I’ll need, so I don’t have to reinvent the wheel every time.
Camping Menu Grocery & Packing List (1st Day)
-Sausage links (cold–freeze)
-Torn Romaine lettuce (cold)
-Caesar dressing (cold)
-Grilled, cubed chicken (cold–freeze)
-Parmesan cheese (cold)
Camping Menu Grocery & Packing List (2nd Day)
-Beef patties (cold–freeze)
-Garlic powder (dry)
-Sliced cheese (cold)
-Grilled onions (cold)
-Mayo (cold–if open)
-Ketchup (cold–if open)
-BBQ sauce (cold–if open)
-Potato salad (cold)
-Baked potatoes (cold)
-Breakfast sausage (cold–freeze)
-Onion, chopped and sautéed (cold)
-Peppers, chopped and sautéed (cold)
-Cheese, grated (cold)
-Olive oil (dry)
-Sandwich bread (dry)
-Nut butter (dry)
Camping Menu Grocery & Packing List (3rd Day)
-Chicken breasts (cold–freeze)
-Teriyaki marinade (cold–marinade chicken before freezing)
-Vegetable medley (olive oil, squash, zucchini, onion, bell pepper, mushrooms, and garlic) (cold)
-Pancake batter (dry)
-Breakfast sausage links (cold–freeze)
-Mixed berries (cold)
Usually, we have to pack up before lunch in order to be out of the campground by the checkout time, so we usually opt to eat a snacking lunch on the final day (crackers, cheese, fruits, veggies, etc.) or eat out on our way home.
Having all these details (it seems like a lot) helps create your grocery list and makes food packing SO MUCH easier!
In addition to your main menu, don’t forget to create a beverage and snack list!
Prep as Much Food as Possible
I like to prepare everything that I can for my camping menu ahead of time. This allows me to enjoy my time camping, hiking, swimming, and exploring rather than cooking and cleaning up.
I go meal by meal and prep whatever I can. For example, a day or two before we leave, I’ll cut up all my veggies, bake my potatoes for home fries, shape my beef patties, cook the breakfast sausage, make potato salad, mix up the marinade, slice cheese, grate cheese, etc.
Freeze as Much Food as Possible
To help keep your food cold and prevent premature thawing, I like to freeze any foods that can be frozen. Typically, it’s my proteins…things like beef patties, sausages, cooked breakfast sausage, etc.
TIP: Instead of using block ice, freeze 1-gallon plastic milk jugs or water jugs. Block ice will fill your ice chest with water as it melts, while jugs keep the water contained.
Only Pack What You Need
Save space by only packing what you need. For example, if we’re only having pickles with hamburgers, I’ll only pack enough pickle slices for our burgers. If I only need ½ c. of mayo, I’ll pack it in a small mason jar rather than take a 32oz tub.
Not only does this save space, it saves time on clean-up when you’re unpacking. Additionally, it eliminates the possibility of having to toss an entire jar if the contents go bad.
TIP: Place all items should be in sealed, waterproof containers. Zipped bags, latching containers, and mason/canning jars are all good choices.
Group items by meal
Digging through your ice chest to find the items you need for a meal can be a pain. As much as possible, I like to group camping menu items together.
For example, I’ll place the hamburger toppings in individual bags inside of a larger zipped bag that contains everything I need for that meal.
The Hard Work is Done!
Food prep is the most time-consuming portion of getting ready to go camping. But, once you develop a system and have some tried-and-true camping meals that you use, it becomes easier and faster.
Need help packing? Check out The Beginner’s Guide to Tent Camping: 102 Things to Pack!
Do you have any questions about planning your camping menu for your next trip? I love to hear from my readers! Leave them below in the comments section.