A gourmet menu for camping with kids

picnic at Athabasca Glacier
© K Martinko -- A picnic lunch in front of the Athabasca Glacier in Alberta, summer 2016

Camping becomes a lot more fun when you can look forward to delicious food.

The house is torn apart. There’s a heap of sleeping bags and air mattresses on the kitchen floor, along with a tent, an Action Packer filled with cookware, and a huge box of food. I have a mental list of fridge items that need to be packed into the cooler; the kids keep trying to sneak marshmallows; and I have several articles to write before we leave mid-afternoon.

This is a typical pre-camping weekend day in our household. It’s chaotic, messy, and loud, but as soon as we hit the road, it will rapidly become one of the most memorable weekends of the summer. It breaks us out of our usual routine, forces us to forget the endless chores, and leads to unexpected adventures.

While my husband’s thoughts are tied up with camping gear, mine are preoccupied with food – because food, in my opinion, is the most important part of a camping trip. (Well, maybe staying dry takes the prize, but food is a close rival.) Food makes or breaks a trip, which is why I always spend a lot of time figuring out exactly what we’ll eat before going camping.

There’s a practical side to this, too. In a relatively remote campground, such as the one we’re heading to this weekend, the nearest town is 20 km away, so we can’t pop into a store for a loaf of bread if needed. Hungry children need food quickly and in large quantities, so I’ve learned to be prepared.

My strategy is to pre-cook the main meals because actual cooking in a campsite take a lot of time and fuel. I prefer to reheat, only cooking simple sides. Then I pack a variety of snacks to keep everyone happy.

camping picnic table© K Martinko -- Hungry child awaits a meal at a campground in Radium Springs, B.C., last summer

FAMILY CAMPING MENU

Friday night: Reheated rosy chicken, basmati rice, green salad, s’mores

We’ll arrive Friday night around 7 p.m. The kids will be hungry and tired. We’ll have a tent to set up and a tarp to spread over the site, since rain is in the forecast for the next two days. Dinner will need to be on the table fast. One of the first things I’ll do is start a pot of basmati rice on the stove so it can cook while we set up the tent. Then I’ll reheat the chicken (an easy delicious recipe from Food52’s new cookbook, “A New Way to Dinner,” that braises bone-in chicken pieces with tomatoes, onions, and wine) and toss a salad with pre-washed lettuce from our CSA share and olive oil-white wine vinegar dressing. S’mores will be enjoyed around the campfire later on.

Saturday morning: Granola with yogurt and blueberries, fried eggs, coffee

There’s something about breakfast in a campground that makes it taste wonderful. My especial favorite part is frying eggs and brewing coffee in a moka pot over a fire. We sit around sipping our coffee out of thermos cups and yelling at the kids to quit waving burning sticks near each other’s faces. (That’s not my favorite part.)

Saturday lunch: Sandwiches with pita, hummus, lettuce, cheese, veggie turkey, and salami

We don’t often eat sandwiches because we can’t seem to keep fresh bread or fillings in the house. I avoid cold cuts like the plague, but trips like these are an excuse to stock up on a few different things. We buy bags of pita bread ahead of time because it stays fresh longer, and kids love eating anything in roll-up form.

Mid-afternoon snacks: Pita with peanut butter and jam, old-fashioned stove-top popcorn drizzled with olive oil and salt, granola bars

Saturday dinner: Bean soup with pita and hummus, probably more s’mores

Bean soup is a winner in our house – supremely easy to make, hearty and filling, and fast to reheat. I presoak local organic navy beans overnight, then simmer with whatever is in the fridge. This batch contains onions, carrots, turnips, zucchini, and vegetable stock. We’ll eat it with leftover pita dipped in hummus.

Sunday breakfast: Oatmeal with peaches and cream, eggs, coffee

I’m a fan of the easy, one-pot, stick-to-your-ribs breakfast, a.k.a. oatmeal. Its warmth is appealing on a cool late-summer morning, especially when topped with luscious Niagara peach slices and drizzled with cream. My husband, of course, will insist on his fried eggs, as usual.

Sunday lunch: Salade niçoise

Our CSA share is bursting with new potatoes, green beans, and tomatoes, which is perfect for one of my favorite foods – salade niçoise – which I only eat a couple times a year. (I avoid tuna the rest of the time.) I’ve precooked the potatoes to save on fuel. On Sunday, one of the kids will trim the beans before steaming them. We’ll toss with tomato slices, kalamata olives, and two cans of ethically-sourced tuna. Drizzled with olive oil and seasoned with salt, it’s a delicious lunch.

Tags: Camping | Cooking

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