Typical camping foods aren’t generally that pricey individually, but once everything is added together, the food budget for a simple camping trip can actually end up being quite hefty.
This is unfortunate since one of the great perks of camping is that it is one of the cheapest vacation options. The good news is that with a bit of forethought and creativity, camping food can actually be inexpensive, delicious, and healthy.
Check out these tips and suggestions for eating well while camping without breaking the budget.
1 – Consider Foraging
There’s no price better than free, and that’s the cost of any foods you forage on your camping trip. In the summer, wild berries can be found growing plentifully in many areas throughout the country. Look for berries that are easily recognizable such as blackberries, raspberries, and blueberries.
While berries are probably the most popular food to forage while camping, don’t be afraid to experiment with some others as well. Camping in the spring months? You may not find berries, but why not try looking for wild asparagus? Whole-Fed Homestead has a really comprehensive article on How to Hunt and Forage for Wild Asparagus.
Another option that should be recognizable to most everyone is dandelion greens. In many areas, dandelions can be found throughout the year, so keep an eye out for them even if you aren’t camping in the warmer months.
You can eat these greens raw if you like, but many people find them to be too bitter unless cooked. Try sautéing some dandelion greens with eggs over the campfire one morning for a budget-friendly breakfast that is both healthy and delicious.
If you’d like to forage plants that aren’t as easily recognizable as these, make sure to do your homework first. You don’t want to risk eating anything poisonous, and many plants resemble one another so closely that expertise is required before correctly identifying what is edible from what is toxic.
The Guide to Foraging Wild Edibles from Wild Edible contains some helpful tips and information on safety issues related to foraging.
Foraging is also a great activity if you are camping with children. Little ones love the treasure-hunt aspect of foraging. Just make sure to keep an eye on them as they hunt for edible plants and don’t forget to explain the importance of not eating anything until the adults have had a chance to inspect it first.
2 – Make Your Own Beef Jerky
Beef jerky is a great snack for long walks and hikes through the wilderness and doesn’t require refrigeration. Unfortunately, commercially-produced jerky tends to be very pricy and is often full of additives such as MSG and nitrites. The solution? Make your own.
Many people think you need a buy a dehydrator in order to make beef jerky at home, but this isn’t true. If you end up loving homemade beef jerky, you can always buy a dehydrator or smoker sometime in the future, but for now your regular oven will do the job perfectly well.
Check out Jerkyholic’s advice on How to Make Beef Jerky in the Oven.
3 – Go Fishing
If you are camping near a river, this one is a no-brainer. The fish you buy at the grocery store will never taste as good as fresh fish caught the same day it’s cooked, and with the addition of a lemon and a bit of salt, you’ll have a dinner that costs less than a dollar.
Sierra Trading Post has a very helpful article covering everything from cleaning to cooking fish while camping. If you don’t already own any fishing gear, try borrowing from a friend. Some campgrounds also rent out the essentials for a nominal fee.
4 – Cook Oatmeal for Breakfast
As a classic budget-friendly breakfast option, oatmeal is great while camping. To keep costs down, skip those little flavored packets, and just bring along some oats and brown sugar.
Boil your oatmeal in a pot over the campfire the same way you would on the stovetop. If you forage for berries, you can even garnish your bowl with a few of those as well!
5 – Bring Along Frozen Homemade Bread
Sandwiches are a great lunch option while camping. You can make up a batch in the morning and easily pack them in your backpack to enjoy while hiking or fishing.
Using homemade bread is a great way to jazz up classics such as peanut butter and jelly while still keeping costs extremely low. Just wrap a loaf of homemade bread in foil, seal in a plastic bag and freeze.
Bring the frozen bread with you when you head off for your trip, and it’ll be thawed and ready to use when you need it.
6 – Roast Vegetables Over the Campfire
All too often, campers spend way too much money stocking up on packaged snacks and convenience foods that lack both taste and nutritional value. This is understandable because many of us worry about how we’ll keep foods fresh throughout the trip.
Preservative-laden snacks can come in handy when you’ve only got one ice chest. But, you’ve come out in the forest to enjoy the beauties of nature, so—to the extent possible—why not experience the delights of eating foods in their whole, natural states as well?
Corn, squash, and potatoes are all wonderful when roasted over the campfire, and they all pack easily and don’t need to be kept in an ice chest. Bring along a stick of butter, and with your baked potato or roasted squash, you’ll have a great accompaniment to your fresh fish at dinner.
7 – Make Your Own Chili From Scratch and Bring it Along
Chili is a part of essential camping fare for many of us. Canned chili isn’t terribly expensive, but again, even small costs add up, and homemade chili tastes so much better anyway.
To make it as inexpensive as possible, make your chili vegetarian and use dried beans instead of canned. Chili freezes incredibly well, so you can make it well in advance of your trip. Just pack a container of the frozen chili in your cooler and, when you are ready to eat, you can easily heat it up in a small pot over the campfire.
If you don’t already have a favorite low-cost chili recipe, check out this one for Vegetarian Bean Chili From Scratch.
8 – Make Your Own Trail Mix
There’s no reason to buy packaged trail mix when it’s simple to make your own. Another positive of homemade trail mix is that you can choose exactly what ingredients to use. Don’t like raisins? Leave them out. Have a special affinity for pumpkin seeds? Throw in extra.
If you’ll be camping with children, try The Camping Family’s suggestion of letting each family member make up their own zipper storage bag of trail mix using their ingredients of choice.
For smaller kids, try setting out bowls of individual ingredients—seeds, nuts, dried fruits, cereal, chocolate chips—and let them grab from each bowl while compiling their own special trail mix combination.
9 – Buy Meat On Sale and Freeze Until Your Trip
Hot dogs, hamburgers, steaks, and even chicken skewers are all popular campfire foods. Meat tends to be one of the priciest components of any meal, though, so cutting costs here is essential when you want to make camping food on a budget.
The good thing is that all of these meats freeze extremely well. Watch for sales throughout the year, and stock up when prices are lowest. Once you’re ready for your camping trip, just pull whatever meats you need out of the freezer and add them to your ice chest.
Just make sure the meat is packed well in airtight containers or freezer bags in order to prevent leaking which could lead to raw meat contaminating other items in your ice chest.
10 – Make Campfire Banana Boats Instead of S’mores
This is a healthier and cheaper s’mores alternative that is sure to please. It’s basically just a roasted banana with a handful of chocolate chips and mini marshmallows inside.
If you prefer, you can even omit the marshmallows and use peanut butter instead. Check out the recipe on Chowhound.
11 – Make Your Own Granola Bars to Bring Along
Oats are one of the cheapest pantry staples, allowing you to make homemade granola bars for pennies. This is another suggestion that will take some preparation in advance, but if you have the time, it can really pay off.
Granola bars store quite well, so you can make them make them about a week in advance. They also keep for months in the freezer. Such as with homemade trail mix, making your own granola bars allows you to tailor things to your own personal tastes.
Have fun experimenting with different recipes until you get them just the way you like.
12 – Cook Apples or Peaches Over the Campfire
Want a healthy and inexpensive dessert option while camping? Try wrapping an apple tightly in foil and then just put it directly in the coals of your campfire for about 7-8 minutes, or until fully softened.
Once it’s cool, slice it up. It’ll be delicious as is, but if you’d like a dessert that rivals apple pie, simply sprinkle with a bit of sugar and cinnamon. Peaches cooked the same way are delicious as well, just omit the cinnamon.
Use These Suggestions as a Starting Point
Don’t feel constrained by these tips; rather think of them as ways to stimulate your own creativity. Everyone has their own tastes and preferences. The main key to eating well for less while camping is to think outside the box.
Don’t feel compelled to fill your grocery cart with junk foods just because they are cheap and easy to pack. Look for ways to cut costs while maintaining flavor and nutrition. Hopefully, some of these tips will help you get started on your menu plan.
Ben has a bachelor’s degree in construction engineering. When not constructing or remodeling X-Ray Rooms, Cardiovascular Labs, and Pharmacies, you can find him at home with wife and two daughters. Outside of family, He loves grilling and barbequing on his Big Green Egg and Blackstone Griddle, as well as working on projects around the house.
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