By Lindsay Watkins, RD, CLC, Take Control Health Coach
A weekend camping in the great outdoors is a great chance to get moving. Hiking, chopping wood, and even a quick swim can be great ways to stay active. Not only is it good for your body, but being outdoors can relieve stress and give us a much-needed break from technology.
Even though spending time outdoors can improve our health in several ways, it can make it tricky to choose healthy food options when camping. Hot dogs and s’mores over the fire, sugary drinks, candy bars, salami sticks, and chips – all foods that people have been eating on camp trips for generations. These treats taste good, but they also tend to be packed with sugar, sodium, and unhealthy fats — ingredients that fall short of fueling us for physical activity, and make us crash later in the day. However, with a little planning and preparation, you can have healthy, delicious camp food that will keep you energized through all your activities.
Plan, Plan, Plan
Before going on your trip, make sure you plan and write down each meal, including snacks. This is very important, because once you hit the road, these choices are final. An organized menu also ensures everyone has enough food. Make sure to also write down and pack the correct cooking tools, plates and utensils, dish soap, paper towels, and cups. It’s usually a good idea to pack more than you think you need, just to make sure you don’t run out.
Pack the cooler with ice packs or large blocks of ice which last longer than smaller cubes. Or try freezing your drinks, which can act as an ice packs before they are consumed. Pack your cooler with harder, sturdier foods on the bottom; and softer, more squishable foods on top. Store non-perishables, even some fruits and veggies (apples, oranges, bananas, carrots) in a box or plastic container so they don’t get smashed.
Depending on your preference, breakfast can be simple or more complicated. Pre-measured bags of rolled oats are a great option, and can be easily cooked on a camp stove. Instead of dousing them in sugar, top with fresh or dried fruit, honey, and a few nuts for protein. Oats and nuts are both great sources of fiber, which will keep you fueled for your morning activities. Whole wheat pancakes (made from a mix to keep it simple) topped with yogurt, fruit, and pure maple syrup are another simple option. Eggs are easy to cook on a camp stove too, and are a great source of protein. Serve with lean turkey or chicken sausage and some chopped vegetables cooked in foil in the fire or on the camp stove. The veggie pack can contain potatoes, sweet potatoes, onions, carrots, cauliflower, mushrooms, and whatever else you like. Chop and season the veggies, and add a little olive oil before you leave town to keep things easy. For a make-ahead option that doesn’t require any cooking, try overnight oats. In a small mason jar mix together ½ cup old fashioned oats with ½ to ¾ cup milk (depending how thick you like it), 1/3 cup plain yogurt, 2 tsp. honey or maple syrup, cinnamon, and a pinch of salt. Top with berries. This serves 1.
It’s best to keep lunch simple and no-cook so you can continue with your daily adventures, whether that’s lying by the lake or climbing the local trails. Whole grain tortillas and pita are great options, which pack easily. Stuff them with nut butters and fruit, hummus and veggies, or tuna. Buy the tuna packed in pouches rather than cans for lighter packing. Snack plates can also work well for lunch – think whole grain crackers like Triscuits, lean deli meat, cheeses, olives, veggies with hummus, and fruit like grapes or apples. Salads are a good option too, but be sure to consume your greens in the first day or so before they spoil.
If you’re out hiking or swimming, you’ll probably want to pack plenty of snacks, especially if you’re camping with kids. Certain fruits and veggies — such as apples, grapes, carrots and celery sticks are easy to pack, and a great way to sneak in some fresh produce. Try trail mix – separate ¼ cup servings into individual bags. Low-fat popcorn can be a good substitute for high calorie chips. Protein and granola bars are also options for easy snacking; just be sure to choose varieties that are low in sugar and preservatives. Or try making your own before you leave. Here are a couple ideas:
Peanut Butter Vanilla Protein Bars
No Bake Oatmeal Peanut Butter Bites
Fruit and Nut Granola Bars
For dinner, try beans, corn, brown rice, salsa, and Mexican spices in whole grain tortillas. Or use whole wheat pita bread to make easy pizzas — just add sauce, cheese, veggie toppings, and toast in a pan over a cook stove until the bread is somewhat crispy and the cheese has melted. For a healthier burger, try lean ground beef or ground turkey with avocado slices on a whole grain bun. Have your burger with some of the veggies from breakfast. You could also pack some premade pasta sauce and have with whole grain pasta and your favorite veggies. Add beans or precooked chicken for protein. Kebabs are another easy and healthy choice. Another option is to make your meals ahead of time. Chili, stew, or soups reheat beautifully. For dessert, try grilled fruit like peaches with a little honey and nuts (Or go ahead: Have a s’more!).
Remember to drink water throughout the day, and it’s a general rule to pack a minimum of 64 oz. per person per day. Check in advance what water sources will be available and whether you’ll have to bring your own.
Sticking with your healthy diet isn’t hard, it just requires a little thought and planning. And you’ll still be able to enjoy the outdoors, fuel your adventures, and stay on track with your diet. You may not be able to predict what the weather will be, but at least you can count on having healthy delicious meals while you’re out in the elements.