Camping 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. At camp, our kids want hot dogs on a stick, mac and cheese from a box, and gooey s’mores every single night.
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 easy car camping recipes that are simple 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).
The easy car camping meals listed below are relatively healthy and mostly meat-free.
If you’re looking for the perfect grilled burger or chicken kabobs, you won’t find them here. Fortunately, the internet is full of great resources for those types of meals!
What to Look for When Sourcing Easy Car Camping Meals
We spend a huge portion of our summers on camping road trips, so we’ve had to figure out a way to make packing, cooking, and eating on the road easy.
I’m always tweaking and experimenting with different camping recipes at home so that they’re easy to prepare when I finally make them at camp.
Here’s what we look for when figuring out our car camping meals:
- Meals that are nutritiously balanced (we’re not saints, but we try to provide a bit of nutrition).
- Ingredients that are available at most supermarkets across the country.
- Recipes that use only small amounts of perishable ingredients. For the most part, we stay away from meat, dairy, and leafy greens when camping because we don’t want to deal with constantly buying ice for the cooler. Our exceptions are hard cheeses, yogurt, pepperoni, and other dried meats, which can take short periods of less-than-ideal temperatures.
- Recipes that use one or two pans are easy to clean up.
Create a Car Camping Kitchen for Easy Meals
Cooking over an open fire is lots of fun, but if you’re camping long-term, cooking over a fire quickly becomes a hassle. We save open-fire cooking for special occasions and generally use a Coleman 2-burner propane stove for most meals.
Using a propane stove means that you can have morning coffee in a flash, not to mention simple foods like soup and pasta. So much easier than starting a fire.
Propane is also available at just about every good-size grocery store.
Our car camping kitchen is a big duffle bag that holds everything we need for awesome meals on the road.
Want to read about how we organize and pack our car camping kitchen?
Check out: Your Amazing Car Camping Kitchen
We keep our camping kitchen packed and ready to go during the camping season, so when the time comes, we just have to add food and hit the road.
Here’s a quick overview of what’s in our car camping kitchen:
- One 4-quart and one 2-quart saucepan with a lid that fits on both – Our all-time favorite set is made by MSR. This is a nesting set with a removable handle. It’s lightweight and made for backpacking, but is perfect for car camping too. The lid has a strainer built-in for pasta, which is ingenious. While the price point is higher than cheaper models, I can totally vouch for this set. We’ve had ours for 10+ years, and it’s the set we buy for all the new campers in our family.
- A 12-inch fry pan with a removable handle – Our frying pan is 5.9 ounces and light enough to take backpacking. Made by MSR, it nestles perfectly with the saucepans mentioned above. This pan is fantastic for camping pancakes, which everyone needs!
- Plates and silverware for everyone in the family – For plates, we love these from MSR because they can hold soup or solids and are easy to clean. They are super light and come in different colors. We don’t use sporks or plastic utensils, just regular stainless steel silverware.
- Camping mugs – We switch up our camping mugs based on where we’re camping and what we’re doing. Mostly, we use these incredibly lightweight mugs from TOAKS because it’s simple and easy to clean, but you can read about some of our other favorite camping mugs too.
- A 12-egg plastic carton – There is nothing worse than finding a carton full of broken eggs when camping. Everyone who car camps needs this egg carton. It is guaranteed to be spillproof and leakproof, and it keeps your eggs safe no matter where you venture.
- A small plastic cutting board – Plastic cutting boards are available just about everywhere, including your local grocery store. These colorful cutting boards are incredibly lightweight and small. Perfect for camping!
- A serrated, folding picnic knife – We LOVE this knife, which is probably our most coveted item when we’re out camping or picnicking with friends. It’s also our all-time favorite gift for outdoor-loving friends. We take it everywhere and use it for bread and tomatoes.
- A chef’s knife – Sure we could just steal a knife from our kitchen, but we find it easier to have a dedicated camping knife. This affordable knife from Primus is incredibly light. We’ve had ours for almost 3 years, and it is still the sharpest knife we own.
- 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 cooler – I could go on forever about the pros and cons of different coolers, but the bottom line is that you want a cooler that will hold us and keep your food cold for many days. It’s worth paying more for this luxury because who wants to be constantly buying ice? I won’t proclaim to be an expert, but I will share our favorite – The Rovr RollR 45. It has the most rugged wheels, and it’s 100% worth the (high) price!
Do you bring a spice kit with you when you go camping with your family? Our super awesome homemade spice kit comes with us on all of our camping road trips.
Now for the Super Easy Car Camping Meals for Your Family
We have tried to find a balance between car camping meals that taste good, fuel our bodies, and are easy to make. Here are our favorite easy camping meals for our family. We use these for just about every road trip or camping adventure so they’re always on rotation.
Easy Car Camping Meals: Dinner
Dinner is the most time-consuming meal of the day, but it’s also the meal that we’re most likely to enjoy together while relaxing after a long day.
These car camping dinner ideas come together pretty quickly, so you can maximize your family time.
Loaded Baked Potatoes for Camping
Potatoes are the perfect camping staple. They are both easy and filling, and they taste awesome over a campfire.
Our kids love having crispy loaded baked potatoes at least once during every camping trip. As a bonus, there’s very little clean-up with this one. Here’s how to make this easy camping dinner.
- Make a hot fire and let it burn down to glowing coals. They will take about 45 minutes to cook thoroughly, so give yourself plenty of time. Now is the time to pull out a deck of cards.
- Wrap big russet potatoes in two layers of foil and place them over the coals.
- Chop a head or two of broccoli and 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 them into them on your plate and add top them with broccoli and cheddar.
- If we can’t have a fire for some reason and have to use a camp stove, we make mashed potatoes and stir-fry the broccoli, but it definitely doesn’t taste as good as the fire-roasted potatoes.
- Optional: Add chopped pepperoni, tuna fish, or another protein for a well-rounded dinner.
Spicy Peanut Noodles for Camping
This is our go-to peanut sauce recipe for camping. Make it at home before you leave for your camping trip. You can keep it at room temperature, and it is the perfect amount for a pound of pasta.
When you get to camp and start cooking, you can thin out the sauce as needed with the pasta cooking water.
Here’s how to make peanut noodles using a camping stove.
- Get a pot of water boiling in your 4-quart pot to cook the pasta.
- In your frying pan, stir-fry either broccoli, asparagus, or snap peas (our favorite when we can find them) in a bit of olive oil.
- . When the pasta and veggies are cooked, drain the pasta, leaving a bit of the cooking water behind with the noodles.
- Add the peanut sauce and the veggies to your pot of pasta.
- Enjoy! This is one of the easiest car camping meals for your first night at camp.
Pizza Quesadillas for Camping
I think if you asked my kids what their favorite camping meal is they would say pizza quesadillas.
We make them in a frying pan on our camp stove, but you could probably wrap them in foil and put them over the fire as well. Here’s the easiest way to make them:
- Spread flour tortillas with canned tomato sauce.
- Top with grated or chopped cheddar, which keeps better than mozzarella outside of a cooler.
- Add chopped onions, peppers, and sliced pepperoni.
- Fold in half and fry in a bit of olive oil.
- Serve with a green salad or sturdy chopped vegetables.
Little Quinoa Patties for Camping
Quinoa is a great grain for camping because it is very high in protein – perfect for vegetarians among us. These patties do require eggs, which actually keep really well in our camping pantry or cooler. You’ll want this egg carton.
We use this recipe for quinoa patties.
The recipe is really versatile, and in the past, we’ve omitted the onions, used powdered garlic, and made them with parmesan instead of cheddar.
They always come out amazing, especially when served over a salad with honey-mustard dipping sauce. I still consider this an easy car camping meal, but it’s more difficult than the other camping recipes on this list.
This is my favorite way to eat quinoa, so even if you’re not a fan, give it a try! It’s a favorite vegetarian camping meal that even meat-eaters love!
White Bean Tomato Soup for Camping
We make some version of this white bean and tomato soup fairly often when we go camping, but of course, we make our own loose version using whatever veggies we have on hand, usually potatoes, carrots, garlic, and onions.
We love using fresh greens in this soup when we can, but we only add kale if we’ve been to the store that day. Otherwise, we either skip the greens, or we forage for wild greens like dandelion, violet leaves, or plantain.
This soup is a one-pot camping meal and it’s such a versatile recipe that as long as you’ve got the beans in your camp pantry, you can add whatever else you have on hand and it will still taste delicious.
Panzanella: A No-Cook Camping Meal (Vegetarian Too!)
At the height of summer (camping season), nothing beats this Panzanella, which is a spin-off from one we found on Smitten Kitchen years ago. I could eat this every day of the week in August.
Panzanella is especially awesome on a camping road trip, after stopping at a side-of-the-road farm stand. Pick up tomatoes, cukes, peppers, and red onion, and whip up this colorful, but simple car camping meal to go with burgers over the fire. It’s heavenly!
Easy Camping Breakfasts for Families
Our car camping breakfasts don’t change much on the road. We have four standard meals that we love to cook, and for really hot, rainy, or busy days, we make do with PB&Js, granola bars, and fresh fruit.
Here are the four basic breakfast meals that we rotate throughout our camping road trips.
Before leaving home, I mix up my own instant oatmeal mix consisting of:
- 2 cups old-fashioned oats
- 1/2 cup dried milk powder
- 1/4 cup brown sugar
- 1/4 cup coconut flakes
- 1 tsp. cinnamon
- pinch of salt
This oatmeal recipe can be easily doubled or tripled depending on your needs.
At home, I whirl this in a food processor for just a few seconds so it cooks faster when we’re camping. At camp, I add 1/2 cup of whatever dried fruit and nuts I have on hand. I mix our camping oatmeal mix with water in a pot, cook for a few minutes and serve. Easy-peasy.
We’re Vermonters, so if we have room, we always have a few jugs 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
If I don’t have time to whip up the mix above, I make do with Kodiak High-Protein Pancake Mix, which is the best pancake mix I’ve ever tried. 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.
If we’re feeling adventurous, we like to create some of these incredible pancake variations. We eat them fried and smothered in syrup.
Cheesy Egg Quesadillas for camping
These egg quesadillas are so good after a night under the stars!
Scramble a bunch of eggs in your frying pan (over the camping stove or a campfire), and add chopped cheese and salsa. Fry in a pan and serve on tortillas. One of the easiest and most delicious car camping meals going. This a great pre-hike meal because it keeps you full for a long time and it provides you with extra protein.
Yogurt and Granola
One of our favorite quick car camping meals in the morning is a simple bowl of yogurt and granola.
For the most part, we 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 best car camping meals for the whole family – the recipes we use over and over again when we don’t have time to experiment.
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, Fig Newtons, and peanut butter.
We shop every few days when we’re traveling and less frequently if we’re staying put in a campground.
Do you have any favorite easy camping meals for your family?
We’d love to experiment with new car camping meals before our next trip, which is just over the horizon.
Want to read more about how we prepare car camping meals? Check out these posts:
- Our Favorite Hot Drink Recipes for Camping
- Planning a Picnic for Your Next Road Trip
- Your Amazing Car Camping Kitchen
- How to Wash Dishes When Camping
- Check out the web story for easy car camping meals.
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Tara is a freelance writer and travel blogger with a passion for outdoor adventures. She currently blogs at Back Road Ramblers and Vermont Explored, where she shares travel tips, adventure destinations, and vacation ideas for the wanderer in everyone.
Wednesday 13th of May 2020
We camped a lot. 4 kids, 2 adults, in a astro van. One thing I really learned was regular sandwich bread is not camping worthy. Never failed the loaf ended up smashed. SO-go ethnic. Tortillas, bagels, pita, even french bread or hearty round loaves of farmers bread. I guess I am braver, I always pack meat and veggies. I always had a few bags of frozen soup, chili, and spaghetti sauce. Heat it up, a bread of some sort, thats dinner. Always had to make left over breakfast burritos, anything from left over steak chunks,hot dogs, potatoes, and eggs, salsa of course. Discovered we could enjoy a salad without greens. Cube up a cucumber, tomatoes, radishes, and toss in a bag of store bought croutons, toss and serve with bottled (or jarred homemade) dressing. I wish I had been able to blog back when we did this. Not so much for the writing, but for the pictures.
Wednesday 13th of May 2020
Thanks for your comment, Jennifer. I agree with you about the bread! Sandwich bread doesn't seem to hold up, and the other stuff you've mentioned works way better. We do pack meat for short trips and sturdy veggies for longer trips, especially now that we have a decent cooler.
Wednesday 12th of February 2020
All of these options sound delicious! The loaded baked potato sounds particularly scrumptious. I love some good peanut noodles, too. Don't have a cooler, but investing in one might be worth it in order to bring along some cheese and yoghurt. Definitely saving this for later and revisiting before I go on my next camping trip! Unfortunately my tent is in the states while I'm traveling, so I'll have to wait awhile before putting these to use. Thanks for the great tips
Riley - Riley's Roves
Tuesday 11th of February 2020
Wow, it's clear you put some thought into these. Nice work!
Monday 10th of February 2020
Oooh these are really helpful ideas even if you don't have kids with you! We bought our first tent last year, and so far we have only really tried car camping, but my husband and I are both keen to get further into the wilderness this year. I love loads of these ideas so I saved your pins!
The peanut noodles, pizza quesadillas and the white bean soup all sound fantastic for after a long hike. I love the sound of baked potatoes too, but we are normally not allowed fires here in BC once the summer has started, so I'll only be able to try those in the springtime...
Monday 10th of February 2020
Thanks so much, Josy! I vote for the peanut noodles, but my kids really love the pizza quesadillas best. Happy camping!
Wednesday 29th of May 2019
How do you safely carry the small propane tanks ? Don’t they get too hot left in the car when your out hiking or site seeing ?
Wednesday 29th of May 2019
Hi Roberta, The propane/butane canisters do have a pressure release valve so that, in theory, they should never get hot enough to explode. You can take precautions by parking in the shade, wrapping the canisters in towels, and putting them in your trunk. You can also leave them outside the car if you are concerned. We have never had an issue leaving them in the car, but it's prudent to be aware of the risks, so thanks for bringing it up.