Camping trips brim with healthy fun.
We hike, swim and paddle. We run until we’re breathless.
We get close to nature, inhale fresh air and gaze at the stars.
All those outdoor activities require fuel. And with a little planning, the camping menu can be just as healthy—and fun—as a day at the beach, says Angela Fobar, RDN, a Spectrum Health dietitian.
A mom with three young children, Fobar has spent many nights at campgrounds with her family, both in a tent and a camper. They roast marshmallows over the campfire and eat their share of s’mores.
But as a dietitian with Spectrum Health Zeeland Community Hospital, Fobar also looks for ways to eat healthy on vacation. In her pre-trip grocery shopping, she opts for kid-friendly foods that deliver good nutrition.
And simplicity is key.
“It’s camping,” she said. “You want to spend your time relaxing, hanging out and doing activities—and not spend an hour making an elaborate meal.”
She shared three tips for keeping nutrition on track, even when you’re sleeping in a tent or camper.
One-pot (or packet) meals
“We like to cook a lot of our meals over the fire,” Fobar said. “To do that, I think, takes a little planning.”
She creates foil packets that combine some form of protein—chicken or shrimp, for example—with assorted vegetables, olive oil and spices.
A favorite packet dinner combines turkey sausage with potatoes and green beans. You can vary the spices, adding Italian seasonings or a fajita flavor.
“I think that’s the fun of it,” she said. “You can mix and match whatever you want.”
The ingredients can be cut and prepared at home before the trip. You can assemble the packets at home or at the campground. (Combinations suggested below.)
And if you don’t want to make individual servings, you can combine the ingredients in a cast-iron skillet and cook the dinner over a fire.
If she uses a camper and has an electric hookup, Fobar often prepares one-pot soups and stews in a Crock-Pot.
This recipe for Six-Can Tortilla Soup, found on allrecipes.com, works especially well for a camping trip because the ingredients don’t require refrigeration. The tasty soup combines canned chicken with beans and other ingredients.
Because some canned goods are high in sodium, she advises looking for salt-free or low-sodium options.
Using a cast-iron pizza pan over a campfire, Fobar makes pizza dinners that her family calls “hobo pies.”
Using bread as the crust, they layer pizza sauce, cheese and a variety of toppings. She usually makes hers meatless, but the toppings available can vary with a family’s tastes.
“It’s fun because the kids get involved,” she said. “They can choose whatever ingredients they want to add.”
Fruits and veggies
Even when camping, you can still get at least five servings of fruits and vegetables a day, Fobar says.
“I like to cut up fruit ahead of time so I have tubs of fruit available,” she said.
She also keeps a tub of veggies on hand. Often, she chooses ones that require no prep—carrots, baby tomatoes, sugar-snap peas.
Having a stockpile in the cooler or a camper fridge makes it easy to add fruits and veggies to every meal.
Packet meal recipe
Use one of these combinations for a one-pot or foil packet meal. Or feel free to vary them and concoct your own.
—Turkey sausage or kielbasa, red skin potatoes, onion and green beans. Season with salt, pepper, garlic and rosemary.
—Apple chicken sausage, sweet potatoes, red onion and Brussels sprouts. Season with salt, garlic, thyme and cinnamon.
—Chicken, onion and red, yellow and green peppers. Add fajita seasonings.
—All veggie: broccoli, carrots, cauliflower, cherry tomatoes, onion and summer squash. Season with salt, pepper, garlic and rosemary or thyme.
Prep for packets can be done while camping or at home and taken to the campsite in your cooler or fridge.
Think size when cutting your items. Items that take longer to cook can be cut smaller than items that cook in a shorter time.
Assemble packets. You will need a square of foil, 12 by 12 inches, for the top and bottom of each packet.
Build with desired chopped ingredients.
Add olive oil—2 tablespoons per packet, to prevent sticking.
Fold each side of the packet two or three times to make sure they are secure when flipping over the fire.
Cook on a grate or grill over a bed of hot coals for about 40 minutes. Check the temperature of any meats with a meat thermometer prior to serving.