If you’ve ever been camping, the chances are you know this feeling: trying so desperately to fit everything into the car, the family and friends, camping gear, personal items, leisure equipment, maybe the generator (it’s ok glamp it up, I won’t judge), and the food. All the while cursing that darn cooler, full of food, for all the room that it’s taking up. If only there was a way to trade that big, bulky cooler in for a smaller one that keeps just the essentials cold! Well, I have your solution. Just don’t keep your food cold. Toss caution, and refrigeration, to the wind and pack warm. Knowing which foods are able to be kept out of the refrigerator safely can be the difference between a great trip and a serious case of food poisoning. The bacteria that cause food poisoning can quickly grow on foods that are improperly stored and can make you extremely sick! To make matters worse, you may not even be able to tell there is anything wrong with your food. To give you one less thing to worry about, here’s a list of great and healthy “warm” foods so you can go camping without a cooler.
Warm Foods and Ingredients
When you think of foods that can be kept where its warm the first thing that comes to mind is likely junk food. However, it’s important to continue to eat healthy while you’re camping so you can get the most out of your trip. Below, you can find suggestions for fresh and nutritious foods that can be kept outside of the fridge.
While it may not be as good as the real thing, powdered or canned milk will do when you’re trying to ditch the fridge. Powdered milk would need to be mixed with some cold water and canned evaporated milk can be added to coffees and teas as is. Condensed milk tends to be sweeter and closer to the consistency of cream. Because of this difference, I would recommend bringing evaporated milk and saving the condensed for making pies.
Butter can also be kept out of the fridge. Make sure you are using pasteurized, salted butter stored in an airtight container (for the germs and for the mess). If you do, you can keep it out of the fridge for a week or two without worrying.
Cheese can be difficult but I can’t live without it and you shouldn’t have to either. When camping with no refrigeration, stay away from soft non-aged cheeses. Aged hard cheeses will keep without being cold. If you know it is going to be really warm on your trip, it might be best to leave the cheese at home. Even the hard cheese can soften and spoil in the heat.
Any type of fruit can be kept out of the fridge and still be safe to eat, cool temperatures just help to keep them fresh, so bring your favourites with you! Fragile fruits, like berries and cantaloupes, will ripen faster when stored at room temperature and even faster when outside camping; don’t let this keep you from packing them though! Just make sure you eat them before they are overripe to keep them from going to waste. Heartier fruits will fare better in flocculating heat. Apples, pears, bananas, and oranges will last a lot longer. To help keep your fruits fresh, store them in brown paper bags.
Vegetables and Herbs
All vegetables and herbs can be kept outside of the fridge. Just like fruits, the cool temperatures just help to keep them fresh for longer. You may find your leafy greens and fresh herbs wilting in hot temperatures with no air flow, to get the most out of them make sure you keep them unwrapped or stored in brown paper bags. Other vegetables will be just fine stored in containers with air flow to prevent condensation. Water is the enemy of fresh food! Another thing that helps to keep your veggies fresh longer is to avoid preparing them before you use them. Cut vegetables lose their water faster than uncut and you’ll find they shrivel more.
Without a method of refrigeration, meat is simply out of the question, but that’s ok! There are tons of other delicious ways to get your protein. Dried beans and lentils, quinoa, nut butters, raw nuts and, mushrooms are all great ways to get your protein meat free! Quinoa is a great additive to a meal but can be a little bland, cooking it in vegetable stock or boxed broth will give it a little more flavor.
You can also bring canned fish with you if you don’t like the above-mentioned foods. Canned fish like tuna and salmon are excellent additives to rice and quinoa to give you a little extra flavour as well.
Eggs can also be kept out of the fridge without spoiling. Farm fresh eggs that have not been treated and already refrigerated can be kept without going bad for about a week! When you think about it, this makes a lot of sense, after all, there’s no air conditioning in the chicken coop!
Carbs and Grains
This is probably the easiest category to take with you as most of your carbs do not require refrigeration. Breads, pastas, and rice are foods that are easy to make and are very filling. Breads are probably the first thing you should pack when preparing to go camping. Bread is a good supplement for any meal and can be paired with almost any ingredient.
You can find many different packaged pastas and rice that just need water and their included flavour packaging what you can easily cook over a fire if you don’t like a lot of the other foods on this list.
Oatmeal is a great camping food because it’s very versatile! It can be eaten on its own or used as an ingredient in many different foods. It’s full of fiber and antioxidants and can help keep you feeling full longer, meaning more time enjoying nature and less time worrying about what to eat! If oatmeal isn’t your thing granola is a similar option. You are able to find tons of different granola based cereals at your grocery store. There’s sure to be one to satisfy your palate.
Honey is a great additive to many foods that don’t need to be kept cold. Use honey to give pretty much anything a little added sweetness. It’s full of antioxidants and good sugars. It can also be used in first aid methods and help treats wounds and burns, soothe a sore throat and quiet a cough. Other syrups and nectar can be brought in addition to or instead of honey.
Anything you can buy in a can, you can bring with you camping. Canned fruit or fruit cups, applesauce, pickles, canned vegetables, pasta and other sauces, salsas an queso are all other options you can bring to dress up your meals and make for quick snacks.
A lot of condiments say to refrigerate after opening, however, you can get single-use packets which do not require to be refrigerated. Jams have a longer shelf life if you keep them cold but all of the sugars will keep the bacteria at bay without a fridge. Make sure you use clean utensils and keep the lid on tight to prevent mold from growing.
Chocolate and other spreads are a nice way to turn a bit of bread into a sweet treat (or not so sweet if you’re a Vegemite person) and they don’t need to be kept cold.
Store-bought stocks and broths do not need to be kept in the fridge before opening, and vegetable stock can be kept at room temperature after it is opened. I recommend bringing some along to add extra flavor to your grain dishes. If you know you won’t be using the entire carton or would prefer chicken or beef broth you can also use bouillon cubes.
You have all you can bring from your other groups, this is where the junk food comes in, after all, we’re on holiday and deserve a treat after all of the healthy food we’ve packed. Break out the marshmallows, chocolate, chips, and cookies. Unfortunately, ice cream is not camping friendly.
Make Ahead Suggestions
Before you go it’s a good idea to do some basic meal prep that way you can spend less time cooking and more time enjoying your trip. Here are some things you can make ahead and take with you!
Muffins are a hearty snack and make a great breakfast. There are endless muffin recipes online (all hail Pinterest), so there is no doubt that you will find one you like. My personal favorite is chocolate chip banana muffins. If you are using bananas or making some other types of moist muffins make sure they get plenty of air in their container to keep mold away.
These handy little snacks are packed full of protein and super easy to snack on. You can use any kind of nut butter and make them in many different flavors. These chocolate covered strawberry energy bites are to die for but your bites can be as simple as a mix of peanut butter and oatmeal.
Fruit leather is just fruit roll-ups (I was mind blown when I found out this was the real name of my beloved childhood snack). You can buy it in most grocery stores or you can make your own before you go! Personally, I can’t get enough of mango fruit leather.
When I was a teenager I did a summer exchange in France and my exchange mother made what she called “Apricot Pizza.” Essentially it was just an open-faced apricot tart, but it was delicious and I lived off of it. The closest recipe I’ve been able to find is for this open-faced plum tart which I often switch jams and fruit. You can also sub out the pie crust for puff pastry dough. It is a really nice sweet snack that is still healthy and great for camping.
Banana, Zucchini and Other types of Breads
Breads made with fruits are great snacks for while you’re camping. They have the added flavour and nutrition of whatever you choose to make your bread with. I can’t get enough of lemon zucchini bread.
Lentils take a little longer to cook as they have to sit in water to help them soften properly before cooking. Lentil burgers are a great option for any meal really and you can warm them up in a skillet over the fire. I like this recipe for lentil burgers.
Below I’ve listed a few ideas for some possible meals. I’ve thrown a lot of foods out there and at this point, you may be feeling a bit overwhelmed!
For breakfast consider:
- Campfire toast (which you can make using a pie iron) and your favorite jam
- Fruit salad
- Oatmeal made using a camping kettle. You can create any flavor using honey, syrups or even fruit and nuts
- Fried eggs in a skillet over the campfire
By the time you get to lunch chances are you’ll be starved! Consider giving these a try:
- Campfire nachos, you can use your handy skillet to melt them all together
- Packaged rice or pasta
- Grilled veggies using a grill mat
- Quinoa and veggie stir fry (I love this recipe)
As your day is winding down and you’re preparing to sit by the fire with your camp mates a good dinner is important! Give these a try:
- Black / Red Bean burgers are awesome even though they take a little time to put together. You can cook them up in your skillet over the fire. You can make the dough for them ahead of time or pack a hand food processor to help you out and make it fresh!
- Zucchini “steaks” are something that I love doing in place of meat. I’ve never been able to find a real recipe for them but halving two good sized zucchinis, covering them in oil and steak seasoning, and grilling them so they are just starting to soften is something that will not disappoint you!
- Campfire spaghetti and “meatballs” take things up a notch from traditional camping food and is a little fancier. Use your campfire safe pot to cook up your noodles and rice for your meatless meatballs.
- Hobo Dinners are awesome camping meals and so easy! All you need is tinfoil and a campfire grate. The possibilities with these type of meals are endless.
Sitting around the campfire at night is a classic camping activity. Here are some awesome snacks to add to your s’mores:
- Campfire pies are personally one of my favourite snacks. Again, the possibilities here are endless. You can really personalize these and you get to use that awesome pie iron again.
- S’more cones these things speak for themselves. Another snack that its really able to be personalized and only needs tinfoil and a campfire grate to be cooked.
- Baked apples are so simple and so good. All you’ll need is tinfoil. Wrap them generously and stick them carefully into the coals. You can add some butter to the fillings to make more of a syrup in the centre or even fill with fruit and bake it all together.
Next time you go camping feel free to leave the big cooler at home. With a little extra preparation, you can fill your trip with non-refrigerated foods healthy foods. Fruits and veggies don’t actually need to be kept in the fridge and if you are careful with your purchase choices eggs can be brought along as well. Butter makes most food better (you know it’s true) so don’t leave it at home! You won’t lose out on your protein if you bring other sources like beans, mushrooms, and nuts. With some careful planning and conscious shopping, you can have a fridge free trip.
Bonus Tips and Tricks for Food Storage
Before you go, get to know the wildlife that is around where you plan to camp and how the campground or park authorities recommend storing food for your safety. Don’t assume that food is safe in your car, if they really want in, they will find a way. On that note, do not keep food in your tent or sleeping area! You don’t want animals trying to get in where you don’t want them. The sun is not your friend. Try to find a cool shady spot to keep your food. This will keep the temperature of the food down and prevent condensation from happening. If you know that you are in an area where you can keep food containers relatively out in the open, you can pack an extra tent to use as a kitchen, just make sure that you have some way of securing the tent to keep critters out. This can really come in handy on extended trips and trips with large groups of people. You can also save space (and money, and the planet) while camping if you opt for a refillable water pitcher with a filter and reusable water bottles rather than packages of bottled water. This will also save you some space in your cooler.