Designing a Camping Meal Plan For a Quick Weekend Trip

Admit it: Your life revolves around food. Everybody’s does, technically, right? Meals give structure to our day and inject a whole lot of pleasure into it to boot.

Food’s all the more central to the camping experience. Appetites seem to enlarge in the woods, even if you’re not burning through the calories backpacking. Maybe it’s partly because, as everybody knows, stuff does just taste better outdoors.

If all you’ve got time for is a quick weekend camping getaway, you may be tempted to skimp on the meal-planning and just improvise your menu at the last minute. Ultimately, though, that’s not a particularly satisfying way to go about things. Coming up with a meal plan in advance organizes your preparation and makes the trip run much more smoothly. When you only have two or three days to play around with, you really don’t want to be delaying your departure scrambling for last-minute supplies—or sacrificing time at your camping destination trying to brainstorm dinner ideas. And it goes without saying that depending on where you’re camping, you may have limited or nonexistent options for grabbing provisions.

Let’s talk about some basic tips for developing a camping food menu plan for a weekend escape.

Coming Up With a Camping Meal Plan

To get started, you should define the parameters of your weekend camping trip so you know the sort of menu you’re dealing with. Here are some things to consider:

  • What sort of camping are you doing? Car campers can obviously get away with bringing more food and more supplies, and given the brevity of a weekend trip it’s not unreasonable to have the makings of a few alternative meals on hand. Backpackers, by contrast, can’t haul around too much extra fodder. They need to consider the weight and space requirements of ingredients, their perishability, and—given how much energy a backpacker expends on the trail—their caloric content.
  • What time of year are you camping? Shoulder-season or winter campers are going to appreciate heartier meals and lots of hot-beverage options.
  • How many people are in your camping party? And what are their dietary preferences and needs?
  • How much time do you want to spend cooking while camping? Some people love preparing meals in the campsite; others want to devote as little time as possible to the task in favor of other activities. Some like the simple route food-wise, saving gourmet experiments for the home kitchen. Others relish the challenge of making more elaborate dishes in the boonies. If you’re backpacking, remember that speedy cooking’s typically always the way to go, as you’ll likely be on the weary side when you start setting up camp for the night, and you may have limited daylight at that point. If you’re covering major ground, you probably want to hit the trail bright and early, meaning breakfast should be similarly quick to ready.
  • Do you want to cook at all on the trip? Weekend campers in particular have the option of bringing premade or “raw” foodstuffs. A backpacker if she so chooses can haul a precooked dinner along for the first night on the trail. Car campers with a big cooler could eat premade meals the whole time. Or you could simply live off sandwiches, granola bars, trail mix, and the like. It comes down to personal preference and the logistics of your camping itinerary and setting.
  • If you are cooking, how will you do so? With a two-burner cookstove or a little backpacking stove, with a campfire grill or a Dutch oven?

Keep in mind that besides ensuring you’ll have enough food for everyone on the trip, thoughtful meal-planning also reduces the likelihood you’ll have too much. For a car camper, that’s not a huge deal, but it’s definitely a negative for a backpacker who has to haul around the surplus weight and deal with preserving and storing excess cooked food.

Camping Meal Plan Ideas

You really can’t do better than Mountain House for your camping meal plan. Our freeze-dried entrees require nothing more than a pot of boiling water to prepare, which saves on the amount of time and cookware you need and also cuts down on cleanup. They’re supremely packable and lightweight, too, and they boast the industry’s leading shelf life.

So there’s the practical side. But of course Mountain House meals are also delicious and varied, a boon for campers who don’t want the same bland and boring food for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. From Biscuits & Gravy to the Chicken Fajita Bowl, we make it blissfully easy to enjoy a downright gourmet camping menu with a minimum of ingredients and hassle.

If you really want to go old-school and cut back on the pots and pans and utensils, you can also try foil-wrapped meals cooked over the fire on a grate or directly on embers. From roasted garlic to baked potatoes to quesadillas to paella, there’s actually an incredible variety of appetizers and entrees you can whip up this way.

For snacks anytime as well as on-the-trail lunches or on-the-go picnics, here are some reliably useful kinds of grub to have on hand:

  • Tortillas
  • Pita bread
  • Nuts
  • Trail mix
  • Dried fruit
  • Summer sausage
  • Cheese
  • Hardboiled eggs
  • Chocolate

Now, don’t forget some condiments and spices. These can take a humdrum lunch and make it downright mouthwatering. In addition to whatever of the classics you enjoy (ketchup, relish, hot sauce, etc.), you might consider packing garlic powder, dried shallots, and herb mixes, all of which have wide application when it comes to cranking up the flavor of a dish.

Some Camping Meal Plan Tips

If you’re a frequent camper (and you are, aren’t you?), consider dedicating a bag, pack, or bin as a go-to portable kitchen for weekend getaways: stocked with cookware, utensils, a can opener, corkscrew, cleaning supplies, salt, pepper, condiments, spices, and other essentials.

Post-meal cleanup is another one of those issues that’s a bit more straightforward for a car camper, but remember whether you’re in a frontcountry campground or a backpacking campsite you should keep a clean camp and safely secure all food and dishware from critters.

Some backpackers go without soap in the interest of Leave-No-Trace ethics, simply scrubbing out messy dishes with water, sponge, and fingers; if you do want soap, choose a biodegradable version and make sure to deposit your wastewater 200 feet or more from any stream or lake. Strain out all food particles before dumping your wash water.

Another advantage of the weekend camping trip? You can, if you so choose, skip washing dishes on your last night and simply do it back home the next day. Ah, the luxury!

Camping Meal Plan Template

Break down your weekend camping trip into the number of meals each day. Then list the necessary ingredients for each of those meals. Throw in the snacks you’ll inevitably be craving in between, and in a flash you’ve got your grocery list spelled out for you.

Here again, if you choose Mountain House for your dishes, you’re cutting way down on the number of supplies you need to rustle up at the store (not to mention pack).

Here’s a very basic camping meal plan template for a two-night Friday-through-Sunday getaway:

Friday

Grocery list: Graham crackers, marshmallows, chocolate bars

Saturday

Grocery list: Pita, premade hummus (or makings for homemade), apples, cheese, granola bars, banana chips, eggs, bread, butter

Sunday

Grocery list: Peanut butter, jelly, chips, dried apricots, trail mix, jerky, string cheese