Camping with a whole slew of people can be an absolute blast, whether it's a family reunion or a friend getaway. Time spent outdoors together tends to be of the memory-minting kind, and there are plenty of folks who make such fresh-air campsite group gatherings an annual tradition.
Ah—but what to eat? What to cook? There's a fine balancing act between the inherent joy in cooking (and scarfing) together under the open sky and the logistical challenges of preparing grub for a lot of hungry stomachs while trying to socialize and otherwise enjoy the moment.
There’s a lot to be said for “lazy camping” when it comes to cuisine. Simplicity is the watchword here: There’s an awful lot of yummy camp fare you can whip up with minimal effort and maximum crowd-pleasing effect.
So enjoy some tips, hacks, and thoughts on the subject of lazy camping food, which is—let's face it—the sort of cuisine a lot of us are after when planning an outdoors getaway with a whole crew.
Lazy camping and quick-cooking deliciousness don’t imply winging it, necessarily. Especially when you’re coming up with a camping meal plan for a whole mess of mouths, you want to be prepared with versatile, quick-cooking (or no-cook!) ingredients and a rough sense of cooking-and-assembly timetables so that you’re not left scrambling—or tied to the cookstove or firepit with some long, convoluted recipe that turns what should be a fun hangout into a stressful, decidedly no-fun evening.
It takes a bit of work to account for portion control in the face of group size and differing appetites. To get you started, here are a few foundational resources on camping meal planning from the Mountain House blog archives: “7 Day Camping Food Meal Plan” and “Designing a Camping Meal Plan & List for a Quick Weekend Trip.”
When it comes to camping meal ideas, there’s nothing like the good old-fashioned one-pot solutions! Throwing everything together in a single pot or saucepan minimizes mess and dishwashing, streamlines cooking, and takes away a lot of the guesswork when it comes to timing.
There are all sorts of options that translate well to the campground, not least easy-peasy pasta dishes such as mac-and-cheese, chickpea pasta (such as Domenica Marchetti’s pasta e ceci), or various veggie-and-noodle dishes (along the lines of the Cozy Cook’s Creamy Broccoli Pasta).
Just about everybody loves chilling out around a campfire, but those crackling flames—and, all the more useful, glowing coals—can be put to culinary work as well. From the stone-cold classic hot dogs on a stick to Dutch oven cooking (utilizing top-and-bottom coals) and coal-tucked or grill-positioned foil packet meals, the sky’s just about the limit when it comes to creative fire cooking at the campsite.
There’s so much you can do ahead of time when it comes to prepping camp meals, not least cooking the darn things—or assembling no-cooking-necessary ingredients—so you don’t even need to worry about firing up the stove or mustering the campfire into cookery duty.
Cold cuts, cheese, bread, and pickles make a handy-dandy al fresco charcuterie board. How about a pasta salad, readily enjoyed cold? Prepared ahead of time, hard-boiled eggs serve as their standalone snacks (see below) or accouterments to ramen, salads, breakfast sandwiches, and the like. Cook black beans back at home—on the stovetop or in an instant pot—and you’ve got a secret weapon in the camp cooler at the ready for soups, stews, burritos, and more.
And then there’s the whole realm of freeze-dried goodness, which happens to be our specialty here at Mountain House. Freeze-drying preserves flavor and nutrition while reducing weight and space requirements, and with our Mountain House method makes for well-rounded, utterly mouthwatering meals that only require boiling water (actually, not even that—cold water, given more time, can also ready our freeze-dried eats).
We hope you’re curious! Well, if so, get the low-down on how the freeze-drying process works:
And learn how gosh-darn-easy it is to prepare our Mountain House meals:
We’ve got plenty of Mountain House packets ideal for satisfying large groups at the campground. Explore our full camping and backpacking collection, especially our buckets that come with a lot of servings!
All else being equal, we’d say snacks are more important on a camping trip than back at home, even though hanger can most certainly be an issue there. (We've all been there.) You want your camping party to stay well-fueled, particularly if you’ve got hiking, paddling, fishing, mountain biking, and other active pursuits on the itinerary.
Fortunately, high-quality camping snacks don’t have to be a bear to prepare. Homemade trail mix and no-bake energy bars are go-to options, as are simpler-yet dried fruit and store-bought granola bars. Long-lasting tortillas, pita breads, bagels, and English muffins are ready and waiting to be gussied up with spreads, fresh fruit and veggies, and the like.
A post-dinner linger around those dancing, popping flames simply screams for a campfire dessert, right? Everything tastes better outdoors, and that includes the confectionary end of the spectrum: Sweets are just sweeter on a camping trip. Science!
We’d reckon a lot of your minds are speed-rushing to s’mores right now, and there’s no question they’ve earned their king-of-camp-desserts crown. But you might consider also switching things up with some foil-readied campfire cones as well: Packed with marshmallows, M&Ms, chocolate chips, and the like, they’re definitely worthy s’more pinch hitters.
And no refrigeration is needed to keep our Mountain House freeze-dried desserts good to go: You’re going to win plenty of points whipping out some ice-cream sandwiches at the end of a long day camping!
It’s a bit more complicated abiding by food-safety standards at the campsite, but that’s not a reason to be lax. Whether you’re handling ground beef for camp stove campfire burgers or some raw eggs that are going toward a breakfast burrito or scrambler, make sure you’re washing your hands and utensils on the regular.
And even in a well-developed front-country campground, you need to be wildlife-aware when it comes to managing and storing your provisions. Learn more about food safety in bear country, and remember that even where you’re not potentially rubbing shoulders with black or grizzly bears, rodents and birds can wreak havoc with your foodstuffs—not good for you or for them.
Remember, too, to abide by Leave No Trace principles when cooking, eating, and washing up, especially when you’re in more primitive or backcountry settings.
Given the plethora of one-pot, quick-cooking, and no-cook meal ideas, managing food on a group camping trip actually doesn’t have to be the nightmare it sometimes seems to be in theory. And what we’ve pulled together above is only scratching the surface: We’ve got more resources when it comes to food ideas for camping trips elsewhere on the Mountain House blog, not least via this giant roundup of easy camping food ideas.
Our freeze-dried Mountain House dishes and ingredients, which can be enjoyed on their own or woven into some more complicated menu, have been saving the day for campers for decades. Explore our collection and start dreaming about your next camping trip!