Winter Camping Food: Family Meals for Cold Weather Camping
Prepping meals for winter camping with kids can take a little more effort than those in the summer, since hot and nourishing food is even more important when you are outdoors in cold weather than in hot. In the summer, we focus on hydrating, cool foods like raw fruit and veggies, hard-boiled eggs, easy wrap sandwiches and crackers, cheese, and salami.
But in winter, you are burning more calories conserving body heat to stay warm, so you’ll need not only more food but high-calorie, high-fat options.
In the winter when we are camping, we try to have three hot meals a day to keep morale high and our bodies warm from the inside out. And because we keep a fire going for most of the time we are at camp, cooking these meals over an open fire means both saving stove fuel and staying warm during the process.
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Camping Breakfasts Ideas
A hot and delicious breakfast is super important to get everyone out of the warm and cozy tent on a chilly morning. A morning fire also helps to motivate sleepy stragglers and get everyone moving to start the day. If you don’t have time or desire to start a fire, you can always cook breakfast over a camp stove instead.
Camping Breakfast Tacos
After living in Texas for six years, our whole family has developed a deep and abiding love for breakfast tacos. These are so versatile so you can make them in different ways to keep everyone happy. What you need:
- Small- or medium-sized tortillas
- Bacon or sausage (optional)
- Toppings: Salsa, guacamole, sour cream, jalapeños
Cook up meat first, then add eggs and cook until firm yet still runny. Add cheese to the mixture. Warm tortillas on the grill grate over the fire or in a pan. Add mixture to the tortillas and add desired toppings. As a quick alternative, you can make these ahead of time, wrap in foil, and simply warm up in the morning over a fire or on a pan on a cookstove.
Grits and Eggs
Another regional-specific breakfast, grits can be harder to find out west or up north (and they can be a bit of an acquired taste). But we love them in our house, and they make an amazing oatmeal alternative without the need for additional sugar. You can cook them up quickly in a pot of boiling water over the fire or camp stove, then add lots of butter and cheese for protein.
These pair amazing with scrambled eggs on the side. I sometimes even crack a few eggs into the pot itself (a trick my grandma taught me!), which is easier and doesn’t dirty up an extra pan, but you still get the nutritional benefits and a creamier texture to the grits.
In a big cast iron skillet, you can cook up a delicious breakfast hash. We sometimes use leftover veggies or meat from camping dinners to cut down on food waste. If you don’t have leftovers, first cook some bacon and reserve the grease. Then throw on some pre-cut peppers and onions, and cook until they are soft. Then cook your hash browns; I like to use the dehydrated hash browns that you rehydrate in the container and then cook on the skillet, but you could also use frozen. Add eggs and scramble all together. Top with salsa, hot sauce, ketchup–whatever you prefer!
Biscuits and Gravy
No oven? No problem. Biscuits can cook up in a lidded cast iron skillet or dutch oven beautifully. Using biscuits from a can or the freezer section means little prep beyond greasing the pan and throwing them into it after it’s been preheated.
In a separate pan, you can cook up some gravy with breakfast sausage (for a vegetarian option, I love the Beyond Breakfast Sausage). My recipe calls for a pound of sausage, ¼ cup of flour, and 2.5 cups of whole milk: brown the sausage, sprinkle flour on top, then slowly add milk while whisking continuously. Reduce heat to low, simmer for a few minutes and add salt and pepper to taste. Top the cooked biscuits with this protein-rich, warm and filling gravy.
Pancakes and Sausage
Another easy but satisfying breakfast is pancakes and sausages. For ease while camping, you can mix up the batter in a Stasher bag or other reusable container. There are also pre-made mixes when you can just add water and shake them up and pour straight onto a hot pan.
Hot Drinks for Camping
Make sure to have plenty of coffee to go around for those adults who partake! We have a few different camping coffee-making methods, depending on how many folks are drinking coffee and what kind of campsite we are staying at (e.g., dispersed with no utilities or at a campground with electric & water). The Jetboil Flash Java Kit French Press works great both in the front- and back-country. I’ve had mine for five years with frequent use, and it’s held up well.
We also use a Aeropress coffee maker, both at home and while camping. It’s virtually unbreakable and makes an absolutely delicious cup of coffee (almost espresso, but not quite). Bring along a battery-powered frother wand if you’re fancy (warm up the milk first in a mug or small pot).
One downside to the Aeropress is you can really only make a few cups at a time, so it takes more work if you are serving coffee to 3 or more adults. So, if you are camping with friends, the Stanley French Press can make a larger quantity of coffee all at once, and keeps it warm for those adults who are sleeping in a bit later than the others who are up bright and early with the kiddos.
For the younger crowd, we do hot chocolate morning and evening (and sometimes in between) on cold camping trips. My kids would revolt if I forgot this key staple.
Quick tip for breakfasts: In the winter—depending on the climate—you also have to consider how to keep foods from freezing, especially during colder nights. That means you want to leave certain foods (like eggs, for example) at home. At the same time, keeping cold food cold is much easier, and a cooler will be more efficient or perhaps even unnecessary! If temps are cold enough to freeze eggs, use dehydrated eggs and scramble them up like you would regular eggs.
Camping Lunch Ideas
When camping in the summer and shoulder seasons, we typically do quick, easy lunches. But in the winter, it’s nice to have a hot midday meal. But it doesn’t have to be complicated or time-consuming. Here are a few quick ideas to keep bellies full and bodies warm.
After a morning fire, and if at least one person will be staying around camp to watch over the fire (don’t leave fires unattended!), use the coals to cook lunch while you are playing games or hanging out.
Let your morning fire die down to the coals after cooking over it, then double-wrap potatoes in heavy-duty foil—poke holes in them first to avoid exploding potatoes—and leave around the edges to slowly cook in the hours before lunch. Set up a baked potato bar with butter, cheese, sour cream, bacon bits, cooked broccoli, and scallions.
As another option, my whole family loves sweet potatoes and these coconut curry sweet baked sweet potatoes can be prepped ahead or cooked over the coals, whatever works for your family!
Grilled Sandwiches and Quesadillas
For other base camp lunches, a cast iron pie press is a great addition to your camping setup. You can bring whatever cheeses, meats, veggies (spinach and mushrooms are great for this) and sauces you love, and smash them between two pieces of bread and cook over the fire.
Another favorite around here is bean and cheese quesadillas, cooked on a cast iron skillet straight over the fire or on a camp stove. Again, like the breakfast tacos, these can be prepped ahead of time, wrapped in foil and quickly warmed up. You can make them ahead during breakfast prep, wrap them up in foil and pack them in an insulated cozy, and take them with you on the hike.
Lunches on the Go
If we are going to be hiking or exploring during the day away from our campsite, then obviously keeping a fire going and cooking during our downtime won’t work. For lunches on the go, we like to bring ramen or mac and cheese cups and a Jetboil (or similar backpacking stove setup) for heating water and cooking those. They are easy to make, filling, full of carbs to keep energy levels and who doesn’t love noodles?
Be sure to offer lots of protein-rich and fatty snacks during the day as well: trail mix, granola bars, cheese sticks, and salami are all great options.
Camping Dinner Ideas
Dinners (for me at least) can be the most challenging but also the most rewarding. Usually we’ve been exploring all day and we come back to the campsite around dusk to settle in for the evening, play games, start a fire, and wind down. This can also be a really stressful time, if everyone is hungry and you need to get them quickly fed.
Depending on our schedule and how the day has ebbed and flowed, I like to keep a few different dinner options from quick and easy to longer and more complicated (but ultimately more delicious). That way, I can decide on the fly what is the best option at that moment. There is nothing worse than coming back, struggling to start a fire, trying to quickly get dinner finished, with hangry kids (and parents, let’s be honest here!)
For a quick dinner after a long day, the old favorite of roasting hot dogs and sausages is one of our go-to. It’s easy, it occupies kids and keeps them warm huddled around the fire.
To mix things up, I like to sometimes bring along crescent rolls (the kind in a refrigerated can) and wrap the hot dogs in those rather than bring buns, which almost inevitably end up smushed in our camping food storage.
For especially cold evenings while camping, I love soups of all kinds. These can be nourishing, healthy, delicious, and (best of all) easy to make! Two of our favorites are loaded chili and veggie potato soup. I use quite a few shortcuts for these, which cuts down on prep and cooking time while at camp at all. Soups can also be made ahead of time, frozen, then simply warmed up in a pot at camp. But as a full-time working mom, it’s usually easier for me to make it once we are out there.
For the chili, I’ll either bring pre-chopped onions and garlic or use dried, depending on time constraints and my mood. If I’m going to pre-chop them, I like to store them in a stasher bag in the cooler. After cooking those down in a bit of oil, I’ll add a can each of:
- Chili beans
- Pre-seasoned chili diced or crushed tomatoes (you can use regular ones and add chili powder if these are hard to find in your local grocery store, or you happen to have them on hand already and don’t want to make an extra trip)
- Kidney beans
- Tomato sauce
- Broth (beef or veggie work)
For extra veggies, you could pre-dice some peppers or even just bring a bag of shredded carrots and add at the beginning. We top our chili with shredded cheese, sour cream, cilantro, and scallions. So delicious, fast, easy, and filling on those cold winter camping nights! And bonus: leftover chili can be stored in a stasher bag in the cooler and then used to top hot dogs another nights.
Potato Soup with Veggies
This one is a personal favorite of my kids and possibly even easier than the chili recipe above. As above, you can either use pre-chopped onions and garlic (stored in a stasher bag in the cooler) or dehydrated/powdered onions and garlic.
For this soup, it’s super versatile too and can be one of those “use what you got at home now” if you don’t have the time for a big pre-camping shopping trip with a long list of specialized ingredients. You can use frozen veggies or canned, in whatever combinations your family will eat. I like a medley (it’s usually something like beans, peas, corn and carrots) or you can just bring frozen or canned corn (and then it’s corn chowder, yum).
I cook the onions and garlic in a little oil or butter, then add the veggies and about 32 oz or so of veggie broth (cubes or other concentrated broth work great for bringing along on camping trips). Once that’s boiling, you can remove from the heat and add in potato flakes. I usually buy the big bag of Bob’s Red Mill potato flakes, but any variety of instant potato will work for this.
Mix those into the hot broth and veggies, stir well to avoid clumps, and let sit. Add more broth to reach the texture you prefer. Top with cheese, sour cream, and scallions if you prefer (we sometimes even save a bit of bacon from breakfast to crumble on top).
For seasonal winter camping, I like to make a “Thanksgiving dinner” type meal. This one is a bit more complicated, requiring more pans, prep, and ingredients, so I usually reserve it for special occasions. This one is certainly versatile as well, and you can choose individual dishes according to your preference.
In general, we like to use a box of Stovetop Stuffing, instant mashed potatoes with a packet of instant gravy, a package of pre-made rolls (though make sure these are packed carefully to avoid the almost inevitable bread smush), and then baked sweet potatoes in the fire. For more directions and details, see my previous post on Thanksgiving camping.
Sometimes in my busy life I don’t even really have the bandwidth for the soups above. During these times, we’ve had pretty good luck with instant soups. These are cheap, relatively healthy, and you basically just add water and cook!
The only downside to these is they usually do take some time to cook, this vegetable beef soup from Bear Creek needs 15 minutes of boiling. When conserving fuel, we’ve attempted to bring to a boil then let it sit for a long time in hopes it would turn out the same; it didn’t, though it was still edible if just a bit chewy. Since they do take a bit more time, these soup mixes work better when cooked over a fire, since you won’t need to worry as much about using up all your fuel.
Instant soup mixes like this are also great backup meals, in case a meal you’ve brought doesn’t turn out. I like to throw a few in our camping food stash just in case we need extra food or decide to stay an extra night.
Winter Camping Drinks
Finally, don’t skimp on the hot beverages throughout the day. These are important at breakfast (I need my morning coffee, camping or not!) but they can also warm everyone up at other times.
Swedish Blueberry Soup
Hot chocolate and tea are our staples and we keep them flowing on cold camping trips, but for an extra special treat, you can try the Swedish “blueberry soup” (blåbärssoppa). Swedes usually partake in this warm treat when out cross-country skiing, but it’s a great one to take along for hikes as well.
This drink is so popular in Sweden that it comes in prepackaged boxes you can buy at any grocery store to simply warm up and take with you outdoors. But since most of us (unfortunately) don’t live in Sweden, it’s also possible to make at home!
All you need for this traditional treat is blueberries (frozen work well, I like the tiny “wild blueberries” since they more closely resemble Swedish blueberries, which are actually not true blueberries but rather European bilberries, so they are smaller and more tart), sugar (honey or maple syrup work too), cornstarch and cream (optional). You can find a detailed recipe and instructions for blåbärssoppa here. Trust me, it’s delicious and a great alternative to hot cocoa!
Finally, for those parents who choose to partake in adult beverages, there is nothing better on a cold, winter camping night than a warm cocktail. We love making hot toddies around the fire, with bourbon, lemon juice, honey and boiling water. You can make different versions too: with tea, with cinnamon, or with another sweetener like maple syrup. Once kids are safely tucked into the tent, gather together for a drink and some adult conversation – you’ve earned the downtime!
Winter Camping Meals Don’t Have to be Complicated
We know winter camping can be intimidating: there’s a lot more to consider and pack than when you are camping in milder temperatures. Winter camping food can be warm and satisfying, but don’t necessarily have to be time-consuming or complicated.
Choose things your family already loves to eat, then modify them for outdoors cooking. Lean on instant or dehydrated meals when you don’t have the bandwidth to cook up things from scratch (we get it!) Get comfortable with these, and then (if you want) expand your meal repertoire with other things to switch things up (check out The Easy Camp Cookbook for ideas).
Most importantly, keep everyone warm, fed, and happy, and make those outdoors memories.
- Family Camping Meal Plan
- How to Set Up a Camp Kitchen
- Winter Camping with Kids
- 5 Recipes for Car Camping
Winter Camping Food: Family Meals for Cold Weather Camping
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