My entire life I’ve watched my family—and later my in-laws—set up camp kitchens in the wilderness to put my own at home to shame (this includes a rafting trip we took through a remote wilderness area where we camped in a different site each night and all the food and gear traveled in our boats). We all have different talents, and I can accept that mine has never been cooking. Rather than beat myself up about it when we pack up for a car camping trip, I like to recall the advice of Henry David Thoreau:
“Our life is frittered away by detail. Simplify, simplify, simplify!”
In that spirit, I offer a handful of our family’s favorites that have vastly simplified car camping trips with our kids. And so far, I haven’t heard any complaints.
- Applesauce Cups – They require no refrigeration, come in their own child-size bowls, work for babies through big kids (and parents), and the cups rinse clean under the spigot and go into the campground recycling bin when finished. Need I say more?
- Bag of Mini Bagels – Get a kid-pleasing variety such as cinnamon raisin or blueberry and set one on top of an applesauce cup and you’ve made breakfast! To fancy it up, set out your jar of peanut butter (the no-refrigeration required kind) or a small container of cream cheese.
- Can of Black Olives – Again, no refrigeration required, and with a pull-tab can you won’t even kick yourself for losing that can opener somewhere in the trunk of your car. Tip: Dump into a bowl and set out as an appetizer before you start cooking to help keep kids happy and out of your cooler until dinner is served. I’m always stunned how they continue to regard this as a treat!
- Pre-Popped Popcorn – Whether you pop your own before leaving home or pick up a bag of pre-popped popcorn from the store (I am hooked on T.J.’s white cheddar!), it makes a great kid snack mid-afternoon or evening campfire alternative to marshmallows. Yes, you can do Jiffy Pop Popcorn over the fire, too, if you’re camping where campfires are permitted. Tip: Since Jiffy Pop seems to be hit or miss with seasonal items at the store, you can always order online if needed.
- Cheese Sticks or String Cheese – Individually sealed cheese sticks or string cheese give a protein boost between meals and keep just fine at the top of your ice chest where they are conveniently located for small snack thieves who might otherwise disrupt the delicate balance of your overstuffed cooler. When heading out for a hike, toss a few in the family daypack.
Author of Travels with Baby and the new Take-Along Travels with Baby
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