Part of the fun of camping is gathering around the campfire at mealtimes to relax, talk about your day of hiking and exploring, and enjoy a well-earned plate of food—and that takes planning. Unless you’re a culinary whiz in the wilderness, from-scratch decadent creations might not be on the menu. But, that doesn’t mean you can’t still have a satisfying breakfast, lunch, and dinner. 

With the wonders of freeze-dried and ready-made meals, your biggest concern might just be how to boil water. So, remember to bring the necessities. A camp stove and fuel (or you can use the campfire, with practice), pots and pans, cooking utensils like spoons and spatulas for cooking. Prep with knife and cutting board, and don’t forget the dishes and silverware. Your exact inventory will ultimately depend on what and how you’re cooking. It’s best to plan out a full menu for your trip. If you want hot dogs and marshmallows over the fire, then go for it. Just keep in mind, you probably won’t want it for every meal. 

Know Your Options 

Even if you’re not the best cook, you have options for achieving a full belly with better than subpar food. The easiest option is to camp near a town or area with restaurants within walking or short driving distance. There’s no shame in going out for dinner and letting someone else worry about the cooking and cleaning. It’s not the cheapest way to camp, but the convenience is appealing. 

If you plan to make your own meals but lack the culinary ingenuity, you can keep things simple. Instant rice, pasta, instant oatmeal, soup mixes, and other easy-to-cook items are great. If you need sustenance that’s more satisfying, you can get freeze-dried and dehydrated foods.  The quality upgrade and convenience do up the price. But, if you’re tired from a long day of hiking and have just enough energy to boil water, then it can be well-worth shelling out the extra cash. 

Make sure that you also bring food that doesn’t require cooking, like energy bars, nuts and dried fruit. Your camp stove could fail on you, for instance. You also want to have items on hand to fill your belly when preparation is a problem. They’re also great for quick meals with no fuss or cleanup. You can quickly wrap up breakfast with a bagel or energy bar and get to the fun stuff sooner, and you can keep moving on the trail at lunchtime with a mobile pb&j sandwich. 

Packing Your Food 

Your dry and canned goods can be packed easily enough in tubs or other storage totes. For perishables, you will need an ice-cold cooler. Be sure to dump the ice in your cooler about an hour before you put in the food so it has time to chill to an appropriate temperature. A clever idea is to freeze bottles of water, milk, and juice and use them to keep your cooler cold. They last longer than just regular chipped ice, and when they melt you can drink them. 

Once you have a chilled cooler, you can pack away the items for your weekend. Keep meat at the bottom, where it’s coldest. Before you go camping freeze the meat that you won’t use on the first day. To make things easier for packing and cooking, you can chop up the meat to bite-size pieces and pack them in zip-top bags. It takes some of the fuss and mess out of mealtime, and you can just pour it directly into the pan when you’re ready to cook. 

Make sure you keep a clean campsite, free of any food scraps and trash out in the open. When you’re out overnight, keep your food locked up in your car, or at least secured and away from where you’re sleeping. Critters can pick up on your stash and try to get to it. Your cooler and other food storage should be locked down tight. If there are bears, you might need to use a bear canister or locker. They’ve been known to break into cars. Be sure to check the campsite regulations to know what their rules are. 

Hunger is inevitable, especially when you’re out in the wilderness moving around and having fun. Keep your growling stomach satisfied at any skill level of cooking. Be ready for a stack of pancakes and sausage links in the morning to a big pot of chili before you turn in. With a little preparation, you can enjoy a tasty meal with your friends and family with minimal fuss and maximum flavor.