There is something about sleeping outdoors, enjoying nature with little between you, the ground and the stars. We get to be in tune with the environment. The fresh air increases our oxygen intake, the time in the sun ups our vitamin D levels and usually there is a hike or two involved. Generally, camping is a very healthy pastime.
There is just this one thing: Camping food. As I watch my fellow campers get out food from their coolers it can sometimes lead to me having my own secret mini panic attacks. I wring my hands and fret as someone pulls out chips covered in chemical cheese or worse, a canned cheese product. I want desperately for the world to begin to take responsibility and play an active role in their own health. The fact that some things are still consumed at all still shocks me.
I have ended up at too many group campfires where vegetables are not an option and junk food is all that is available. Once you begin a lifestyle of healthy eating, you begin to really like the way you feel when you choose foods that benefit your body, and the idea of polluting it is no longer so appealing — hence my secret internal turmoil as I try not to get labeled as the health nut I know I am. Feeling healthy and energized is an amazing payoff to good food choices.
I am not by any means discouraging the occasional s’more, the premier dessert for any camper. However, there is a need for healthful options to be added to the usual camping staples of processed bars, prepackaged chemically laden foods, chips and hot dogs. Balance is essential in life, so have a few treats, but choose to give your body the nutrients it needs and deserves.
Eating healthy while camping is pretty easy but planning ahead is essential. Take the time before your departure to stock up on hardy vegetables and fruits such as peppers, carrots, onions, celery, potatoes, apples, grapefruit and oranges. Nuts and seeds are good for snacks or to make your own trail mix. Make some things ahead of time so you just have to reheat them at your campfire. Pack spices, at least salt and pepper, but I like to bring garlic and onion powder as well at a minimum. They make all the difference to any meal. Use a pill container or old Tic Tac boxes for convenient storage that saves on space.
Even if you are not a camper, the suggestions below work well for picnics, hikes, or even just your everyday dinner.
Make your own version of instant noodle soup in a 16 ounce Mason jar.
Start by placing 1 tablespoon of soy sauce, one-half teaspoon of lime juice, 12 tablespoons of vegetable powder or 1/4 of a stock cube, and garlic powder and grated ginger to your taste. Then add dried shiitake mushrooms, grated carrot, napa cabbage, small tofu cubes, seaweed, chopped scallions, chopped cilantro, and/or crushed red pepper. Then add your rice noodles, break them apart so they fit. Screw on the lid and store in your cooler. When you are ready to eat, pour boiling water into the jar. Pour in enough water to cover the noodles, about 1 1/2 cups. Replace the lid and let the noodles soak for about 12 minutes or till they have softened. Mix the soup gently so that the spices dissolve evenly. Be careful, the jar will be very hot, use a towel or oven mitts to handle the jar.
Note: Adding hot water to a very cold glass jar can cause the glass to crack.
• Grilled fish: If you are fishing, this is a no-brainer. Make sure you have your fishing license and know if the area where you are fishing is safe to eat from.
• Grilled fruit: Pineapple, pears, melon, or apples are all delicious.
• Homemade granola bars.
• Three-bean salad.
• Mason jar salads: Put salad dressing on the bottom, then layer fixings such as mushrooms, beans, cherry tomatoes, and nuts and top with your greens. Throw it in your cooler and eat within the first two days of your trip.
• Vegetable chili: make ahead of time in a crock pot, bring in Tupperware and reheat over your camp stove or fire. Add as many vegetables as possible to get the most nutrients.
• Veggie foil packets: Foil cooking is a go-to for many campers. Lay a large sheet of heavy-duty foil or a double layer of regular foil on a flat surface. Put the ingredients in the center of the foil. Bring the short ends of the foil together and fold twice to seal; fold in the sides to seal, leaving room for steam. Make packets filled with sliced vegetables such as zucchini, potatoes and peppers. Add a little olive oil and your spices, and you are good to throw them on your grill. These can be made ahead of time or at the site.
• Stuffed portobello mushrooms: Stuffed with sauteed spinach, kale, onion, garlic, salt and pepper mixture. Pack in foil and put over your campfire. Top with grated Parmesan if desired.
• Burritos in whole wheat tortillas.
• Snacks: roasted chickpeas, almonds, celery with almond butter.
• Make your own pizza: Bring a pre-baked whole-grain pizza dough. Cook on your camping grill topped with sauce, veggies, a hard cheese of your choice and garlic.
• Whole grain, brown rice, or quinoa pasta with shredded zucchini, carrots and a chopped clove of garlic with tomato sauce of your choice. Be sure to pick a tomato sauce low in sugar.
• Instant oatmeal: Making your own is better than the instant packets because you can control the amount of sugar. Try this: Combine 2 cups instant rolled oats, 12 tablespoons brown sugar, 1/2 cup raisins, 1/4 cup slivered almonds, 1/4 cup wheat germ and 1 teaspoon cinnamon. Store in a plastic bag or Mason jar and just add hot water to desired consistency when you want breakfast.
• Of course, there is the sandwich. Bring sprouted bread, whole-wheat wraps, or even large seed crackers for a gluten-free option. Healthier toppings include hummus, avocados and sliced carrots. Almond butter and sliced grapes, or hard cheese and sliced apples with mustard. Or make your own pesto and bring as a spread then top with veggies of your choice.
• If you are going for a long time and will not have access to any produce, consider packing a few green powder packets. Barley grass or wheat grass powders are not my favorite way to get in greens, but they are a way to get some green nutrition if no other options are available.
• In season and where appropriate, forage. Fresh mint, dandelion greens, blueberries, raspberries, mushrooms and more are out there growing wild to be an amazing food source for you. Just make sure you are confident that you know what you are eating before you put it in your mouth and that it is safe.
Nothing is worse than coming back from a trip feeling bloated, sugar-high and in need of a detox after too many toaster pastries and processed food. Next time you go camping opt for some healthier options that will leave you feeling rejuvenated. The most important thing to keep in mind is to include vegetables whenever possible. Even if you are making boxed macaroni and cheese, add some broccoli. Keep it simple, choose options according to your taste, and as often as possible make choices your body will thank you for.