Easy Camping Food That Can be Made Ahead - Panergy
Breakfast and lunch can be more basic—if you’d rather not make bacon and coffee in camp, just bring some muffins, granola, or a batch of breakfast cookies, then break out simple sandwich stuff at midday. But in the evening, you’ll want something more substantial—yet you’re also ready to relax by the fire (and maybe by the lake, or the ocean, or under the trees). I’ve got you covered with these perfectly portable meals you can bring along with you. You’ll feel like you’re glamping, even if you don’t have pillow-top mattresses and portable air conditioners.
From hearty make-ahead salads that are good eaten chilled or at room temperature, to pre-assembled skewers you just have to throw on the flames, all of these meals are totally do-able outdoors or in.
Just be sure, when bringing these in a cooler, you wrap them really well—like twice over in foil and then individually sealed in zip-top bags just in case—because if your melted ice water seeps in it’ll ruin all your plans, and your appetite! Here’s how to pack a cooler for a short trip:
You can make all of these entirely (or at least mostly) ahead of time, leaving you more time to chill with a camp drink once you set up your tent or get back from that long hike.
Pressed Picnic Sandwiches (like Muffalettas)
Yes, I did say sandwiches were for lunch, but certain specimens are hefty and impressive enough for dinner (see our pressed picnic sandwiches guide for more). A New Orleans favorite, muffalettas are stacked with meat and cheese and olive salad, and taste best after sitting for at least a full day. But take these out of the cooler a little while before you want to eat so they’re not too chilled; the flavors and textures will be better for it. And if you want the cheese a little melty and the bread a little crunchy, wrap the sandwiches in foil and toss them on the grill for a few minutes. Get the Muffaletta recipe.
Leveling up, a shooter’s sandwich (so called because they were originally packed in saddlebags to serve as lunch during English hunts) is a full meal encased in bread, and traditionally made with steak and mushrooms, though you can alter the filling to suit your tastes. Like a muffaletta, it’s pressed down with weights overnight so everything stays in place and all the juices soak into the bread—so make sure your bread is sturdy enough not to get soggy and fall apart. You can find vegetarian versions too (for instance, this delightfully named Gardener’s Sandwich), but this one doesn’t skimp on the steak, and adds lots of blue cheese for creamy tang. Get the Shooter’s Sandwich recipe.
Chicken Shawarma Tabbouleh Salad
Salads can be great camp food—and full meals in and of themselves. You just pack the multiple components separately (lettuce, herbs, and raw vegetables* in one Ziploc bag, protein in another, and dressing in its own small tightly-sealed container), then combine them when it’s dinner time. *If your veggies exude liquid when cut, like cucumbers, wait to slice them until you get there.
If you prefer to cook your protein on-site, like this chicken boldly flavored with paprika, cumin, cinnamon, pepper, and garlic, you can still pack it in its marinade or rub so there’s no additional wait time later. Or pre-cook at home and simply warm it up when you’re ready, or even eat at room (or forest) temp.
The parsley-packed grains in this Chicken Shawarma Tabbouleh Salad recipe might start to get a little soggy after sitting, but you can just drain off the excess liquid and it’ll be fine. (Of course, you could also try some of these pre-salting steps to cut down on the moisture content to begin with. And you might choose to add the tomatoes at the last minute; just bring a paring knife and you can cut them in half right over the bowl.) Bring some hummus and pita to go alongside and you’ll have a feast.
Thai Steak Salad
As above, so it goes with this Thai Steak Salad recipe—the protein is just as good cold as freshly cooked, so you can enjoy this even if you don’t have a way to reheat it. The salad itself is fresh and healthy, packed with lettuce, Thai basil, mint, and bean sprouts; you might want to wait to chop the English cucumber on-site, or if you’re not bringing a knife, pack it separately so it doesn’t make everything else slimy. Nuoc cham serves as a pungent, sprightly dressing, but use these principles to build your own salad combos too. (You can definitely do meatless salads as well, like this vegan and gluten-free grilled portobello salad; if you feel it needs a bit more substance, add some rice, quinoa, or couscous, pre-cooked or made on the spot.)
Antipasto Pasta Salad
This Antipasto Pasta Salad recipe is bursting with flavor, and with enough mix-ins to fill anyone up—artichoke hearts, olives, peppers, greens, meat, cheese. You won’t need anything else to satisfy you, but you might like stirring in some torn fresh basil and summer-sweet cherry tomatoes at camp for an extra pop of freshness.
Asian Noodle Salad
Another cold pasta salad that easily makes a meal, this Asian Noodle Salad recipe coats the noods in a peanut sauce with Sriracha, honey, ginger, and rice vinegar. It takes almost no time to throw together beforehand either, but you could add some shredded chicken or baked tofu to bulk it up a bit. More veggies never hurt, either. (If you don’t do nuts, here’s a version with a soy sauce based dressing.)
If you’ll have access to a fire, kebabs are a no-brainer. They’re infinitely adaptable—from French chicken kebabs, steak fajita kebabs, and shrimp boil kebabs, to Turkish lamb and eggplant kebabs, BBQ seitan kebabs, and halloumi and vegetable kebabs, there’s bound to be a meal-on-a-stick to suit your fancy. Basically, spear well-seasoned chunks of whatever you like on skewers, wrap them well, and grill them up when you get hungry. You’ve got your protein and veggies all in one place, and all you need alongside is some rice or grains, or even just pita bread, warmed for a few seconds on the grate. Get our Lemongrass Pork and Red Onion Kebabs recipe.
Pro tip: If you’re going on a longer camping trip, you can freeze your skewers (after marinating or rubbing) before packing; they’ll thaw by the third day, so you can eat less longer-lasting camp vittles first and still have these to look forward to.