Nights under the stars and outdoor adventures during the day – ‘tis the season of camping.
With a little preparation and creativity, you can make sure your camping meals are not only easy and delicious, but also healthy.
Cara Marrs, a registered dietitian nutritionist at UCHealth Yampa Valley Medical Center, gives her tips for cooking healthfully while camping, below.
Be prepared with food ideas
If you have time before you leave, do some prep-work: wash produce, cook meat and consider making a pot of chili or a stir fry so you can bring a dinner-sized portion in a reusable container.
To keep things simple, Marrs likes to bring camping foods that mix well together. For instance, salsa, avocado and sautéed veggies can go into a skillet dinner or a breakfast burrito.
Even if you don’t have time for prep-work, think through the healthy camping meals you plan to make.
“Have an idea or list to bring into the grocery store so you aren’t overwhelmed and can shop quickly and efficiently,” Marrs said. “The main thing is to have some ideas for what you’ll eat before you go. It’s not fun when you’re hungry and tired, and the sun’s going down, and you haven’t thought of dinner.”
Make a hearty salad
A big bowl of quinoa salad with chopped vegetables that stay firm, such as kale, celery and cucumbers, along with pumpkin seeds, herbs and a simple dressing of olive oil and lemon juice, serves as an easy snack or a base for a meal.
“You can add in beans or cooked chicken and top it with avocado for dinner, or eat it with chips or rice crackers for a snack,” Marrs said.
Try foil packets
For an easy way to individualize healthy camping meals and minimize cleanup, try the ever-popular foil pack.
Add a protein such as black beans, tofu or cooked meat to a foil pouch, then add veggies, seasonings and a little olive oil or lemon juice. Seal the foil and cook it on a grill or on a grate over the fire. After 15 to 20 minutes, dinner is served.
“You open those up and everything is cooked and flavorful,” Marrs said.
Try taco meat, beans, peppers and onions for a Mexican flair, or mix cooked ground turkey with diced sweet potatoes, peppers, onions and cheese for filling comfort camping food. Salsa, avocado and other condiments can be added after the foil packs have cooked.
“It’s kind of like making a soup – it doesn’t matter what it looks like,” Marrs said.
Keep breakfast and lunch easy
A camping breakfast can be as simple as granola, yogurt and fruit (you can premake in a mason jar). Or fill a tortilla with scrambled eggs, potatoes you have seasoned and cooked at home, salsa, avocado and leftover sautéed vegetables for a breakfast burrito.
For a lunch on the go, try a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, a packet of tuna and crackers, or hummus with carrots and celery.
Trail mix, dried fruit and individual packs of nut butters and applesauce make for easy snacks. Or try one of Marrs’ favorites: a date stuffed with a nut or nut butter.
“Bring easy-to-grab snacks – rice crackers and tortilla chips to dip in hummus, cheese sticks, apples,” Marrs said. “If you don’t have something planned, more likely to reach for less healthy options.”
Don’t forget dessert
“You have to have s’mores,” Marrs said. “But you can buy natural marshmallows, different kinds of chocolate and gluten-free graham crackers so they work for everyone.”
For the non-chocolate lover, try a foil-pack crumble made with granola and berries.
With a little attention to what you’re going to eat, you’ll elevate your camping trip to the next level.
“Camping is an important activity right now. It’s safe, and it lets you disconnect and be in nature,” Marrs said. “But just because you’re camping doesn’t mean the food has to taste bad or be unhealthy.”
This article first appeared in the Steamboat Pilot & Today.