A Guide to Eating Healthy While Camping

Healthy Eating While Camping - Chopping Veggies by a Rocky River

Yes, You Can Still Eat Whole Foods When You’re Miles from Whole Foods

If only we had a Whole Foods in Alaska.  It’s funny how we dream of getting away, taking a few days for camping in a pristine setting. Pure air, pure water, pure heaven. Ahhh.

But then what do we pack to eat while we’re there? Typically, something processed, either pre-made dehydrated meals that are easy to pack, or road-trip food laced with enough preservatives to last 4 days in a hot trunk without even blushing. This is how your parents did it, and their parents before them, so it’s part of your camping DNA. Plus, if you grew up associating camping with boxes of donuts or buckets of fried chicken, it might not even feel like a vacation without them.

On the other hand, when you’ve worked hard to incorporate real foods into your diet; when you’ve finally gotten a handle on your blood sugar, your body’s hunger cues and your weight; you can be reluctant to do anything that jeopardizes your hard-won gains. Vacations and travel can seem like such minefields that you’d rather just stay home. But don’t do that — your body and mind will love you for getting out into nature. It just takes a little extra planning to keep your health goals on track.

You may wonder how you can possibly eat healthy from a campsite when all you’ve got to work with is a cooler and a fire-pit. I won’t lie…it does take more planning than cooking in your own kitchen. But you absolutely can eat healthy while traveling or camping. It is possible to maintain your health with whole, real food and, what’s more, you can even have fun and tasty foods that feel vacation-worthy.

How to eat healthy while camping

Here are a few things to consider:

  1. My take is that if you are eating reasonable portions of real food on your trip, you can count it a win. You don’t necessarily have to make large formal meals or maintain strict divisions of what is breakfast food and what is lunch food if you don’t want to – and loosening up your expectations can make it easier. Hard-boiled eggs for dinner? Why not? Leftovers for breakfast? You’re on the trail that much faster, then!
  2. Just remember balance. When camping, you may tend to rely on carb-heavy foods like granola bars, energy bars, pasta, etc. But make sure to get your carbs from whole food and whole grain sources and balance each meal and snack with some healthy protein and fats. For instance, think of almond butter on whole grain bread, or  hummus on a whole wheat pita.
  3. Finally, fruits and pre-cut veggies are your friends. They’re healthy, tasty, easy-to-pack, and hydrating (which is great when you’re hiking and playing hard). You might pack some tubs of pre-washed berries for noshing, and, of course, the classic watermelon can be plunked in the creek to stay cool until dessert time.
  4. For those of you with diabetes or pre-diabetes: Nature is your medicine.  Breathing in the fresh air, walking around your campsite to collect firewood, and just moivng around as you set up camp, will get your trip off to a great start. All of these things reduce stress, and help your cells to open up and let the sugar in (so it’s not in your blood). Don’t be surprised if you see better than normal blood sugar readings while you are enjoying your natural surroundings!

What about if you want to make full meals? First off, you’ll need to know what you’re working with. Will you have access to cooking facilities – a grill, a campfire, a propane stove?

No grill, no problem

If you don’t have access to a grill, stove or firepit, then you can still make healthy meals from pre-cooked foods that you bring with you. Try to eat the more perishable foods first and then move on to the shelf-stable items. For example, if you have the cooler space, you might pack in a mixed-green salad with veggies and grilled chicken knowing you’ll polish that off the first night to get at least one dose of fresh greens. Pack squeezable lemon wedges and a little bottle of olive oil to top it. Then for your second dinner, you could pack a hearty 3-bean salad (try this one, courtesy of KOA). Many people treat this as a side, but it makes a healthy and filling main dish that is easy on your blood sugar. Then, for your third night, you could make hearty sandwiches. How about a caprese on whole wheat made from sliced mozzarella, sliced tomatoes and fresh basil for nutrition and zing? Drizzle with the olive oil you brought. These items take up little space in the cooler and yet are healthy and satisfying.

Fire it up!

If you’ve got a grill, then you’ve really got options. This is limited only by your space and creativity in pre-preparing foods. There are the classics, of course – burgers and hot dogs. Up the health content by seasoning and prepping some bison or grass-fed beef patties that you can pull out and grill. Or cook up some Applegate turkey sausages. Serve them in whole-grain buns the first night and then you can make extras into breakfast sandwiches the next day. Just slice up hard boiled eggs and the turkey sausage and serve on a whole wheat English muffin.

Kebabs are another fun and easy choice. You can prep and marinate the veggies and your choice of lean meat at home, pack them in a Tupperware, then just skewer them before grilling. In fact, kebabs are versatile and easy enough they could get you through a whole camping trip by themselves. Here are 15 fabulous recipes from Fresh Off the Grid. Try the colorful ratatouille skewers and you’ll be eating a rainbow of veggies on your trip.

My favorite camping meal: anything breakfast

I don’t know about you, but my appetite is never better than when I wake up with the sun after hiking or kayaking the day before. I want a hearty, healthy breakfast to fuel another day of fun. One of my favorites is a Coconut Breakfast Bowl. Just cut up some fruit (or use the pre-cut fruit and berries you packed), then add nuts or chia seeds. Top it with yogurt and coconut shavings and dive in. Another favorite is this Make Ahead Breakfast Casserole. Start your day with this energy powerhouse and the leftovers make a great follow-up lunch or snack.

Finally, how about muffins? They’re so portable and delicious, and you can slather them with nut-butter for a balanced breakfast option. Pack these Apple Walnut Muffins for sustained energy through a day of fun and sun. If you’re gluten-free, try these super-simple Coconut Berry Muffins.

And now for the real fun: Banana Boat Sundaes

Fun and Healthy Camping Food: Grilled Banana Boat Sundaes

Remember I said you can have healthy camping food that actually feels like you’re on vacation? Here is my new favorite indulgence, courtesy of Fresh Off the Grid. The idea is pure genius…Just split a banana in half, fill it with toppings, wrap it in foil and heat it over the grill or fire. You can use fruit, nuts, dark chocolate, coconut, peanut butter or anything you think would taste yummy on a banana boat. We’re in uncharted waters here, so invent your own!

As you can see, with a little planning, commitment and creativity, you can bring your healthy eating lifestyle to the great outdoors. You have to plan and pack anyway, so why not plan on real foods worthy of the natural setting…and worthy of you?

For more on-the-go healthy eating tips check out my guide, “How to Travel Without Resorting to Fast Food.” You’ll save money, maintain your healthy lifestyle, and hit the ground humming with energy when you arrive.

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