Everyday tasks necessary for a camping trip—including shopping and meal preparation—can take on a whole new dimension when seen through the eyes of a child. Kids get excited about camping on a level of their own, and incorporating them into the food buying and cooking can help them to focus that excitement, encourage planning and responsibility, and keep them busy.
Here are three meals and snacks that are particularly suited for little hands.
This should be done ahead of time, and is more of an experience than a recipe. Take your children to the store. Give them the number of ingredients to choose—and even a budget, for kids old enough to do math. Ask them to pick out bite-sized dry foods they think would make delicious trail mix (cereal, nuts, seeds, dry fruit, chocolate chips, etc.). Try not to influence their decisions. Let them be creative, and let them buy their ingredients themselves (kids love to be the one who pays).
When you get home, have them dump all of the trail mix ingredients into a large bowl. They can mix to combine it all with a wooden spoon or clean hands. Next, have them use a small measuring cup to scoop trail mix into whatever container you want to take camping. Snack-size plastic baggies are especially fun and convenient for individual servings.
Dinner in a Bag
What you need:
• Single serving bags of tortilla chips or small corn chips
• One can of chili
• Shredded cheese
• Chopped green onions, jalapeños, cilantro
Heat chili in a saucepan on the camp stove or over the fire. Cut the top off of the chips bags. Top with chili, cheese, and vegetables. Enjoy! Possibly the best part of this meal (convenience-wise, anyway) is that you can throw away the bags when you’re finished eating, and you only have one pan to wash!
What you need:
• 1 lb ground beef or turkey
• 1 onion chopped or sliced
• 1 bell pepper chopped or sliced
• 6-7 sliced mushrooms
• 2-3 tomatoes diced (or one can of diced, stewed tomatoes)
• 3-4 sliced carrots
• 2-3 diced potatoes
• 2 cups of washed spinach leaves
• Butter or olive oil
• 1 packet of dry onion soup mix or other favorite seasonings
• nonstick spray or oil
heavy-duty aluminum foil
Kids with good knife skills (and supervision, of course) can chop, dice, and prepare the vegetables. Even very young kids can help wash and dry the veggies. Wiping off mushrooms with a damp paper towel is an excellent task for small hands.
Once the ingredients are prepared or unpacked, each person builds his or her own stew. Place a 14- to 16-inch piece of foil on a table
. Spray it with nonstick spray or brush it with a bit of oil or butter. Have one person pile or layer favorite ingredients onto the foil. Be sure to add 1/4 cup or more of liquid to prevent scorching (diced tomatoes work, too). Sprinkle with a bit of dry onion soup mix or other preferred seasonings. Top it all with a pat of butter or drizzle it with a bit of olive oil. Then carefully fold the foil, being sure to seal the edges. Surround the whole packet with a second layer of foil. Make this layer into a distinctive shape so you can tell whose is whose after cooking (kids can make swans, crabs, volcanoes, balls, and more—foil is fun to play with!). You can also use a thick pen to write names on packets (but that’s a far less artistic option).
Cook each package on hot coals for 20 to 30 minutes. Cook time will vary depending on the available heat and how much is in the packet. The stew is done when the meat is cooked through and the vegetables are tender.
When it’s ready, remove it from the coals and allow it to cool slightly. Eat the stew directly from the foil for easy clean up!