When I’m planning my camp menu, I usually start with how many I’m feeding and how many meals I need to make. For example: Friday dinner, Saturday breakfast, Saturday lunch, Saturday dinner, and Sunday breakfast. The number of people and the number of meals determines my budget. Here in the Northwest, I estimate $5-$7 per person per meal and that seems to work really well.
Next, I note any allergies or dietary restrictions I need to work around. Depending on what it is, I have to decide if it’s something I can just leave out or if I need to plan alternatives.
Next, I assess my equipment and what I think I will need in order to cook in the quantities I need. How big is my propane stove? Will it accommodate large pots or small ones? How many burners will I have? Will I have my Dutch ovens? Can I bring a box oven or 2 or 3? Will there be a fire during the day that I can cook over?
When I first started camping, all I had was my little 2-burner propane stove; so I was limited to what I could boil in a pot or fry in a skillet. Then I added a griddle and I could make more than 1-2 pancakes or grilled cheese sandwiches at a time. When I added Dutch ovens and box ovens, a whole world of possibilities opened up. I could make anything I could make in my home kitchen. Now, we were cooking with fire (so to speak)!
Next, I review the schedule and activities for the weekend. Are we arriving late on a Friday afternoon? Do I need to plan an easy dinner like Winner, Winner, Chicken Chili Dinner or Spicy Taco Cobbler that I can have on the picnic table in 20-30 minutes leaving plenty of time to set up tents, the camp kitchen, and get a campfire going? Will lunch on Saturday need to be a packed lunch or will we be in camp and have time to actually cook a lunch? Will we be working and playing hard? Do I need to plan high energy meals for maximum fuel? Do we have time Sunday morning for a big breakfast or do we need a no mess, no clean up meal so we can pack up and hit the road?
Lastly, I check the weather forecast. Is it going to be hot and sunny and meals need to be cool and lighter or is it going to be rainy or chilly and meals need to be hot and hearty?
Finally, it’s time to start thinking of food! Taking all of the above into consideration, I start planning the meals. One of the mistakes I often see meal planners make is planning an entire weekend of big meals or swinging in the complete opposite direction and planning nothing but hot dogs and hamburgers for the entire weekend. Don’t get me wrong. I like a good grilled burger or dog when I’m camping, but when you do as much camping as I do, that can get real old, real fast. What you really want is a balance between the two.
I usually choose 1 or 2 meals where I want to blow out all the stops and it usually involves a Dutch oven or 2 or 3! Usually I’ll choose Saturday morning breakfast and/or Saturday night dinner to be my big meals and then my meals for the rest of the weekend are easier. And by that I mean easier on the chef, easier on the stomachs, and easier on the budget!
Now it’s time to actually start planning our meals. You can choose to go in chronological order or choose to plan your big meals first or whatever, it doesn’t really matter. However you want to do it, just pick a meal, any meal.
For the meal I’m planning, I start by deciding on my entrée(s). If you’re cooking for a crowd, don’t feel like you have to do only one entrée. Sometimes you just don’t have a pot big enough to feed everyone so instead of making the same entrée in 2 or 3 pots, you could make 2 or 3 different entrees or different versions of the same entrée. This works well if you need a vegetarian option or a gluten-free option or a beef or chicken option. This also helps combat picky eaters. If there is one dish they won’t eat, maybe there is another dish they will eat.
Once my entrée or entrée(s) is chosen, then I think about side dishes. Vegetables? Bread? Salad? What will compliment my main dishes and how can I round out my food pyramid? Classic pairings include chili and cornbread, meat and potatoes, soup and sandwich, you get the idea. Don’t just grill burgers and call it good. Add some baked beans and a potato salad or a pasta salad or a coleslaw and some fruit. Now thatsa meal!
Next, choose a beverage to go with the meal. If you’re being good, you’re drinking water all day. A meal is a great place to change things up and have milk, juice, or lemonade.
Finally, my favorite: Dessert! What kind of dessert will you make? I know dessert with breakfast sounds odd and my scouts always give me the funny look when they see it on the menu planning sheet until I explain to them that many cultures include a sweet, usually bready, item with breakfast. For example, Pecan Sticky Bun Bits, Blueberry Cinnamon Crumble, muffins, scones, even a French toast cobbler for breakfast, are all technically dessert type dishes. So adding a dessert to breakfast is A-Okay!
Choose your next meal and repeat this process until all your meals are done. And then, to round out the menu, consider some healthy snacks to have on hand. If the weather is chilly, you will probably want to bring a collection of hot beverages, including coffee, tea, cocoa, apple cider, Russian tea, etc. It really helps warm you up on a cold morning or a chilly evening and all you really have to do is maintain a supply of hot water.
When you’re done building your menu, go through it carefully and build your grocery list. Remember to pack things that people may want to add to their meal. For example, some people just won’t eat eggs without ketchup. Others won’t eat anything without hot sauce! Think of things that people may need once you’ve all sat down at the table, including salt and pepper, sugar and creamer for coffee and tea, condiments, etc. Remember to pack some cooking oil for greasing your griddle, and dishwashing soap (I prefer the grease cutting ones) and a little bleach for clean-up.
Next, review your menu again, this time think about all your supplies and equipment and build that list. If you’re planning to cook pasta in camp, you may want to bring a colander. If I’m making cornbread, I always make sure I have my pastry cutter.
Finally, review your menu one last time and determine what you can prep at home and what will be prepped in camp. If I’m doing any baking, I mix my dry ingredients at home and load them into a resealable bag. If I’m planning to marinate a meat, I’ll start it at home and let it marinate on the way to camp. You can even cook some meats and pastas at home before you go. It’s up to you.
Now, you have a plan! Way to go! Let’s go campin’ and get cookin’!