Adventure, camping, Camping, food, Kids, organization, Travel Tips

The 10 Easiest Car Camping Meals for Families on the Go

easy car camping meals
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Note: This Post contains affiliate links, which means I get a small commission from purchases you make through the product links. I will never endorse a product that I don’t totally recommend.  

Camping with our kids has always been one of my favorite ways to go on vacation, and over the years, we have done some serious compromising when it comes to our car camping meals. At home, our food is mostly whole food, often fresh from the garden, and fairly time consuming to prepare.

We indulge in these treats occasionally, but it doesn’t take long for a crappy camp diet to put a damper on things, even for the kids. Instead, we try to create or source recipes that are easy enough for the kids to prepare themselves (I don’t want to do ALL the cooking) and yummy enough to feel special (most of the time).

When Sourcing Ideas for Car Camping Meals, Here’s What We Look For:

  • Nutritionally balanced meals
  • Ingredients that are available at most supermarkets
  • Recipes that use only small amounts of perishable ingredients. For the most part, we stay away from meat, dairy, and leafy greens. Our exceptions are hard cheeses, yogurt, pepperoni, and other dried meats.
  • Recipes that use one or two pans are easy to clean up.

Our Car Camping Kitchen

car camping meals that are easy and delicious.


Cooking over an open fire is lots of fun, but if you’re camping long-term, it quickly becomes a hassle. We save open-fire cooking for special occasions and generally use a standard, 2-burner propane stove for most meals. Our car camping kitchen is actually a big duffle bag that holds everything we need for awesome meals on the road. Here’s what’s in it:

  • One 4-quart and one 2-quart sauce pan with a lid that fits on both (the lid has a strainer built in for pasta!), plus a removable pot grabber. Our all-time favorite set is made by MSR. It’s lightweight and made for backpacking.
  • A 12-inch fry pan with a removable handle – Honestly, I think we got ours at K-Mart, and we’ve had it for 10+ years. We never take it backpacking, so it’s okay if it’s a little heavy. I’ll probably test out some higher quality fry-pans this year.
  • Plates and silverware for everyone in the family – For plates, we love these from MSR becasue they can hold soup (although it cools down really fast). We don’t use sporks or plastic utensils.
  • Travel mugs – We love our Contigos (also available at many outdoor/discount stores)! We have one for each member of the family in a different color. They’re totally spill-proof, which means I can throw my tea in my backpack when I head out to watch the sunset after dinner. Again, these are heavy and not for backpacking.
  • A small plastic cutting board and a bigger wooden cutting board for bread
  • A serrated, folding picnic knife –  We LOVE this knife. We take it everywhere, and use it for bread and tomatoes.
  • A chef’s knife in a plastic sleeve – We steal this from our kitchen.
  • A whisk, rubber spatula, wooden spoons, big serving spoons, and a bench scraper – Stolen from our kitchen, but someday I’ll buy dedicated camp utensils.
  • A plastic liquid and dry measuring cup
  • Fuel for the stove, a lighter, and matches
  • A roll of tinfoil, plastic Ziploc bags, and grocery bags for clean up
  • A 12-egg plastic carton – Keeps our eggs safe and dry in the cooler.
  • A spice kit

Now for the Car Camping Meals

We don’t experiment much on the road. We test car camping meals at home so we don’t encounter any surprises. When we’re camping, the food has to be good, but we also just want to fuel our bodies so we can get on with our adventures. Here are our go-to meals for just about every road trip or camping adventure. Want a complete weekend menu for your next trip? This post includes a meal plan for a family of four, plus a printable shopping list.

DinnerCamp meals

Loaded baked potatoes – Make a hot fire and let it burn down to glowing coals. Wrap big, russet potatoes in foil and place them over the coals. Chop a head or two of broccoli mix with some olive oil and salt/pepper. Wrap in foil and add to the fire. Chop some cheddar cheese into bite-sized pieces. When the potatoes are ready, cut into them on you plate and add the broccoli and cheddar. If we’re using a stove, we make mashed potatoes and stir fry the broccoli.

Peanut noodlesThis is our go-to peanut sauce recipe for camping. I triple it for a pound of pasta and thin it out with the pasta cooking water. You can mix the whole thing in a Ziploc bag if you don’t want to wash an extra pot. Get a pot of water boiling in your 4-quart pot to cook the pasta. In your fry pan, stir-fry either broccoli or snap peas (our favorite when we can find them). When the pasta and veggies are cooked, mix everything together and serve.

Car camping meals should be no fuss so you have time for adventures

Pizza quesadillas –  Spread tortillas with canned tomato sauce, top with chopped cheddar cheese (keeps better than mozzarella) and chopped onions, peppers, and sliced pepperoni. Fold in half and fry in a bit of olive oil.

Little quinoa patties – We love this recipe for quinoa patties! They do require eggs, which actually keep pretty well in our camp pantry, as long as we don’t squish them. You can make this recipe as written, but it’s also great with cheddar instead of Parmesan and some salsa for extra flavoring.

Portuguese white bean soup – We make some version of this soup fairly often. We only add the kale if we’ve been to the store that day. Otherwise, we either skip the greens, or we forage for wilds like dandelion, violet leaves, or plantain. We also skip the fennel bulb and use crushed fennel seeds from our spice kit. It’s such a versatile recipe that as long as you’ve got the beans in your pantry, you can add whatever else you have on hand. Also, it’s awesome with Cabot Cheddar Shake , which is another staple in our spice kit. We can get Cheddar Shake all over Vermont, but if we didn’t live in Vermont, I would totally buy it on Amazon!

Panzanella – At the height of summer, nothing beats this panzanella from Smitten Kitchen. I could eat this every day of the week in August. When we’re camping, we rarely have tomatoes or fresh basil, but when we do, we NEVER fail to make this recipe.

Car Camping Meals for Breakfast

Our breakfasts don’t change much on the road. We have four standard meals that we have to cook, and for really hot, rainy, or busy days, we make do with PB&Js, granola bars, and fresh fruit. Here are our four basic meals that we rotate throughout the trip.

Oatmeal – Before leaving home, I mix up old-fashioned oats, dried milk powder, brown sugar, cinnamon, coconut flakes, a pinch of salt, and whatever dried fruit and nuts I have on hand. I whir it for a few seconds in a food processor so it cooks really fast. At camp, we mix it with water in a pot, cook for a few minutes and serve. Easy-peasy.

Pancakes – We’re Vermonters, so if we have room, we always have a few jars of real maple syrup on hand. Not only do we use this in coffee and on pancakes, but we’ve also traded syrup for car repairs in a pinch. Once you’re out of the north country, the stuff is in demand! Anyway, pancakes are really versatile. I try to make a fairly nutritious mix before leaving home:

  • 2 cups whole wheat flour
  • 1 cup buckwheat flour,
  • 1 cup almond flour
  • ½ cup of dried milk powder
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1 tsp. baking soda
  • a pinch of salt

At camp, we add eggs if we have them (they’re not necessary), a tablespoon of oil, and enough water to make a loose batter. We eat them fried and smothered in syrup.

Cheesy egg quesadillas – Scramble a bunch of eggs, add chopped cheese and salsa. Fry in a pan and serve on tortillas. One of the easiest and most delicious meals going. It’s a great pre-hike meal because it keeps you full for a long time and it provides you with extra protein.

Yogurt and granola – We do try to stay away from dairy products while traveling, but a quart of yogurt will keep in a cooler without ice for several days as long as nobody eats from the container (then it spoils quickly). We make granola before the trip, or buy it on the road.

So there you have it, our standby meals for easy camping. Lunch and desserts are usually fend-for-yourself affairs, but we try to keep a well-stocked pantry (plastic storage bin) with munchy-type foods, bread, jam, and peanut butter. We shop every few days when we’re traveling and less-frequently if we’re staying put in a campground.

Want to read more about preparing food while car camping? Check out these posts:

Everything You Need to Know About Washing Dishes While Camping 

Creating a Car Camping Spice Kit (great for road trips and hotel cooking too!)

One less thing to worry about on our next camping trip. These meals are healthy and a cinch to prepare.

Do you have a favorite car camping food you’d like to share? We’d love to experiment with new meals before our next trip, which is just over the horizon.

21 Comments

  1. Kristin

    Boy was I surprised when I saw this on Facebook and thought you just copied a link!! I had no idea you were writing this!! Awesome! I love it and you guys! Hope to see you soon!!

    • Ha! I try to keep it low-key, but it’s part of my long-term plan – full-time travel and writing to pay the bills! Glad you found me…

  2. Wow – this is such perfect timing! Our home eating sounds like yours and I’m facing the challenge of how to translate that to the road. We’re embarking on a year-long road trip and as I’m packing the van and thinking of the kitchen contents, I realize that I need to alter my repertoire. Thanks so much for the ideas! Little Quinoa Patties – yummm.

    • Thanks for stopping by, Rebecca. We eat the quinoa patties all the time. They’re a favorite and you can really experiment with different flavors. A year on the road – how exciting! I think our longest road trip was 4 months, and I was VERY happy to see my oven again when we got home. Have an awesome time!

  3. Passing these onto my daughter. Wish I had these when my kids were little.

  4. I love this post! My fiance and I are recently into camping. For Christmas we received an air mattress, a lantern, and a campfire stove. I can’t wait for this summer! We’ve only ever camped twice before and we were very unprepared. Ended up sleeping in the truck because our backs were so sore!

    • Awesome, Chelsea! Sleeping outside on the ground might be the hardest part of camping, but after you get used to it, you hardly notice. Have a great summer. I’d love to hear about your camping experiences!

  5. I’m definitely saving this. When I was younger, I remember eating such glorious meals when my parents took us for week-long camping trips. Now, when my husband and I go for 1-2 nights, I feel like we eat the same couple of meals every time. Boring! I like these ideas a lot.

    • That’s funny, Nicole, because I often feel that way about these recipes. We camp a lot though, so easy is often more important than tasty. I do think these recipes are really good, though, and I hope to mix it up a bit more this year!

  6. Loving this! Car campings are the best! Can’t wait to try these when the weather gets better!

  7. I love camping…what a great bunch of recipes!! I’m having a link party tomorrow if you’d like to stop by ans share some stuff!

  8. I’m pinning this to my camping board. My family loves to camp, but I always fail at knowing what to feed them. You make it so easy.

    • Thanks for the compliment, Lisa, and for pinning. It really isn’t too difficult once you get in the groove.

  9. OOOh this makes me want to go camping! It’s been too long! We ALWAYS do bacon and eggs for camping breakfasts, it’s the only time we eat bacon so it makes it extra special.
    Karin Rambo recently posted…A Week Long Travel CapsuleMy Profile

  10. This is a fantastic resource for typical non-campers like myself. We keep talking about taking the kids camping but wouldn’t even know where to start. Pinning this for future use 🙂
    Mama Munchkin (@globalmunchkins) recently posted…Health- 52 Weeks of GratefulnessMy Profile

    • I’d love to think that this little blog is inspiring folks to take the plunge and go camping with their kids. Thanks for stopping in, Mama Munchkin!

  11. This is such a great post. My boyfriend and I spent 2 months traveling up the California coast living in a van last spring and we got tired of 2 minute noodles real fast. We’ll be tackling another USA road trip this summer, so I’ll definitely be implementing some of these meal ideas for on-the-go. Thank you for sharing!
    Mimi Rose recently posted…A Different Kind of B&B: Adobe on Green StreetMy Profile

  12. I didn’t even think it was possible to make all these delicious recipes, when camping. I just pack a bunch of boxes and sandwiches but i am totally saving these recipes for next summer!
    Abeer recently posted…Raspberry banana oatmeal smoothieMy Profile

  13. One stop shop! Love that you include what’s in your kitchen. Makes it super easy for me to plan my next trip. I always felt like I had to do cooking over a campfire. This is better!
    Danielle Lindblom recently posted…The Perfect Cozy Cabin in the Woods: Sterling Ridge Resort in Jeffersonville, VTMy Profile

  14. Mmmmm yum! I will have to try some of these!

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