We’re a PNW family through and through – our almost 5 year old daughter asks to go camping for her birthday, our 2 and a half year old son loves going hiking, and our 9 month old son is a rock star in the kid carrier pack, going nearly half a mile between each pacifier drop. But seriously, we love a good campout and we reeeeeeally needed to find some nature relaxation this past weekend. Thankfully, National Forest land is a mere 45 minutes from our house[sitting house, more on that later] and 3 national parks are within 3 hours. We headed to North Cascades National Park – Colonial Creek Campground to be exact – and had a blast.
A key element in the equation, though, is having great food. As anyone who camps will tell you, food tastes better outside. Camping trips are a great time to indulge in some fun foods (s’mores, anyone?!?) but they’re also a time to eat hearty since you’re probably working up a sweat paddling a kayak (on our wish list!), hiking a peak (check, check, and check), or just bumming around the campground.
I don’t want to spend a ton of time prepping food in camp so I did all of the prep ahead of time as well as chose foods that were easy to use get ready once we got there. We are luck to not have any food sensitivities in our family but we do try to eat real food as much as possible, even while on the road.
Three Day Family Friendly Car Camping MenuDay 1: on the road + your first night
Breakfast: at home before/while you’re loading those last second things
Lunch: most likely in the car on the way to your destination
Sliced cheese (we enjoy raw jack cheese from Sierra Nevada Cheese Company via our monthly Azure Standard order)
Salami and applewood smoked ham (we like True Story’s versions from Costco; both are nitrate/nitrite free and organic)
Crackers (I said mostly real food aaaaand those Late July butter crackers are a delicious treat!)
Veggies (everyone, kiddos included, will eat sliced bell peppers, carrot sticks, and snap peas)
Blueberries (we picked A TON at our local pesticide-free blueberry patch so we filled up a container for the trip)
Dinner: first at the campsite, you want something easy but still warm and hearty to help you settle in for the evening
Hot dogs and mac and cheese: it’s a classic. Yes, it can be the boxed stuff or you can up your game nutritionally and taste-wise by doing some prep at home.
Make whatever noodles your family eats (I boiled whole wheat pasta in homemade chicken bone broth), drain, add butter and grated cheese of choice (we use Kerrygold butter and the aforementioned raw jack in combination with Dubliner cheese). Stir until the cheese melts and blends into the noodles. Refrigerate and then throw in your cooler.
To cook at camp, pile your mac and cheese about 2 inches thick on a big piece of heavy duty foil and wrap closed. Place on a grate well above your cook fire, rotating often while it heats. Roast the hot dogs (we love Teton Waters Ranch’s Polish sausages that Costco carries) until well cooked – give ’em a little char. Slice and BOOM! You’ve got mac and cheese with polka dots (don’t tell me I’m the only one who grew up calling it that).
Dessert: do we have to tell you to bring s’mores? We class it up just a smidge by using Ghirardelli’s squares of semi-sweet baking chocolate and Annie’s Organic Honey Grahams but love the Jet Puffed square marshmallows for their superior size ratio compared to your normal round ones. I commend those of you that make your own graham crackers and marshmallows but I just don’t have it in me.
Day 2: first camp breakfast, probably an outing of some sort, and then relaxing in and around camp
Breakfast: for a three day trip, this is your most relaxed morning so this is a great opportunity to really do it up.
Roasted cinnamon twists: super fun, looks cool, and
tastes really good. The only other time I’ve ever attempted cinnamon rolls while camping, I ruined my Dutch oven (burnt those suckers real good) so I was desperate to find another way to have delicious, warm pastries after a night sleeping in the great outdoors. Buy your fave cylinder of pre-made cinnamon rolls (we buy Annie’s Organic or Immaculate Baking Company) as well as a 1/4″ dowel. Wrap the dowel in foil and then – after popping open the container without scaring yourself (you know you still jump when it pops) – wrap two to three cinnamon rolls around the stick. Hold over well-prepped coals and turn ever so often to cook completely. It takes at least 10 minutes so be patient; gooey dough is still tasty but trust me, wait. Slide off onto a plate and drench in that awesomely sugary frosting.
Sausage: simple stuff here. We brought Amylu’s Organic Maplehouse Chicken Sausage and they were a perfect pairing with the cinnamon twists. We roasted these over the fire while we were waiting for the cinnamon rolls to “bake”.
Lunch: take it with you on your adventure or have it when you get back to camp.
Chicken salad: simple and yummy, make it ahead of time and you’ll be a hero with hungry hikers since you’ll be able to grab it out of the cooler and throw it at them before they can ask “what’s for lunch”. We use canned chicken with Chosen’s avocado oil mayo (when I don’t make my own), salt, and pepper. Serve it on crackers or in lettuce leaves.
Veggies and ranch: y’all, have you tried Toby’s ranch yet? You won’t go back. We love it with all sorts of veggies.
Blueberries and cherries: yum. No explanation needed.
Snack: hanging out around camp (in our case, hanging at the lake)
Apples and peanut butter: marketing geniuses for an apple packing company contracted with Disney to put Mickey, Minnie, Donald, Goofy, and Pluto stickers
on their apples so you know which organic gala apples my children pick every time we go to Costco. ;) Pair them with Adams peanut butter (our fave) and we’re all happy.
La Croix: I’m sorry but who doesn’t drink this now? Oh wait, those of us who can’t afford Spindrift. But I digress…
Square Mile Hard Cider: I only have to share this because I just discovered it and it’s SO GOOD. If you’re looking for a new hard cider, check out this Portland product.
Dinner: last night in camp, make it fancy without making it difficult
Ravioli and meatball packets: really, that’s it. Gather your fave tortellini or ravioli (I chose Rava’s organic three cheese ravioli from Costco), marinara sauce (Kirkland organic marinara – no sugar added!), and fully cooked meatballs (I make my own: bake them ahead of time and freeze in dinner amounts). Cut the meatballs into bite size pieces so they cook faster and make serving size foil packets – for the adults, I did 8-10 raviolis and 4 meatballs (which ended up with 12-16 pieces of meatball). Then spoon marinara sauce over each pile of meat/pasta and wrap the packets closed. Double wrap these as you’ll be flipping them during cooking. On a grate over a cook fire, cook for 10 minutes on one side and then flip for another 5-10 minutes. You can pull them off and check for steam escaping which means they’re probably done.
Green salad: I chop all the fixin’s ahead of time. This time we had Romaine with tomatoes, avocados, carrots and peppers. Top with Toby’s ranch and so. much. yum.
Crusty bread: make your own or lean on Essential Baking Company’s take-and-bake sourdoughs. I baked it, sliced it, and buttered it all at home before wrapping it in foil so it would be ready to warm up over the fire while the dinner packets cooked.
Day 3: last morning in camp, probably still adventuring on the way home
Breakfast: we went retro and bought those little boxes of cereal. Our kids were in shock that they got to eat cereal (we have things like yogurt and granola, stove-cooked oatmeal, or sourdough pancakes for breakfast) and thought it was SO fun to eat out of a mug while sitting in their camp chairs. We loved having super easy clean up the morning we had to pack up everything. Win win!
Lunch: same as our first travel day. I also had a quinoa salad I made for the night we arrived in camp but never ate because I brought more mac and cheese than I thought. Quinoa salad, btw, is super easy: cook the quinoa, let cool, and then add rinsed beans (we used kidney and black), crumbled feta, chopped bell peppers, chopped cilantro, olive oil, lemon juice, and salt and pepper.