I'd like to tap into the collective wisdom of this community to get some car camping meals ideas for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

I have a group of 4 adults headed out for a week of car camping and are looking for meals that are nutritious and easy to prepare with a basic kitchen set. Something beyond the typical hot dogs and PB&J.

Here's the criteria for the group:

  1. We're traveling by plane to our destination, so won't be able to prep food to bring ahead of time.

  2. Most lunches will be on-the-go, so we're looking for lunches that can be pre-made or are self-contained.

  3. We'll have a basic car camping kitchen set, but nothing elaborate. Basically a pot, skillet, camp stove and camp fire with some utensils.

  4. We'll have access to a cooler and a small grocery store in town that we can stop at through the week to purchase and store some perishable foods.


I've just ordered a large set of Spaghetteria packages, such as:

Those are functionally identical to "official" outdoor meals, but at a fraction of the price, and I think the taste is quite good. They're my stock food when in the outdoors. I'm usually hiking or cycling, but of course one can eat them with car camping as well.

Note that they're marketed as for two people, but I think that'd be two very small meals. After a day hiking, one such bag is a perfect quantity for me.

(I do not work for Knorr, but they happen to have the largest selection of this kind of product, as far as I'm aware)

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My preferences are to minimize stove time. To my mind if you have a stove and a cooler that's luxury and you should have no problems at all. In the mornings I like to just boil a kettle, no stove at lunch, and full on cooking for dinner.

Breakfast. Boil a kettle for tea or instant coffee. Also use the boiling water to make instant oatmeal. Supplement with jam, peanut butter, or cheese on whatever bread/bagel etc you like. A small tub of margarine is probably better than butter in this context. One morning cook bacon. Bacon cooked outside is amazing.

Lunch. Avoid the stove and have sandwiches: jam, peanut butter, or cheese. Avoid presliced "cold cuts" but if you're in Europe and can get fairly hard cured meats they should be fine in the cooler. Also fresh fruit and raw veggies like celery or carrots. On a cool day where you have little to do, make some soup from a package.

Dinner. Anything you want. A chop or steak fried in the pan. Boil and mash some potatoes. A salad. Fry some onions in that pan to make your neighbours crazy. Use some ground meat and canned tomatoes to make a pasta sauce, then set it aside while you boil the pasta. Or make curried beef or chicken and set that aside while you cook rice. Really anything you want is possible. If you have access to a fire, you might want to cook with it but I don't recommend it: you need to learn how to make the fire (you cook on embers, not flames) and it takes up to an hour to get a cook-usable fire, which means lighting it far earlier than you probably want to.

Bring a cutting board and a good knife, plus at least one wooden spoon. Shop every other day because the meat won't keep forever even in a cooler, and you don't have the storage space for a week's worth of fresh vegetables and fruit.

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You left out a lot of particulars, like who exactly "we" is and whether you expect to camp for several days away from civilization, or will drive around enough that getting to a grocery store once a day or two isn't a problem.

I have a similar situation (within the course details you provided) every year when I go to a conference in Phoenix and add about 10 days before or after bumping around the hinterlands of Arizona and New Mexico. I also come and go by plane, so everything I bring has to be limited in size and weight, and I must be able to move it all around myself without assistance. Here is what I do:

  • Realize that eating three times/day is merely something you have gotten used to due to your routine and not something your body requires. You do need to stay hydrated, but you're not going to starve to death or be malnourished if you eat once a day. That makes logistics much simpler and leaves a lot more time for what you really came there for.

  • I usually do my main activity of the day in the morning, or at least start driving towards it in the morning. This may end mid to late afternoon, which is a good time to eat something, then consider where I want to be that night and then get there.

  • I drink only Gatorade (mixed from powder) during the day. You get thirsty, and you need to take care of that, but again, you don't need to eat three times a day. The Gatorade replenishes some of the electrolytes. It also provides a little sugar, but I don't think that is significant relative to your calorie use when hiking up a mountain and back. Again, you're not going to die of malnutrition over a 8 hour period. In fact, I find I'm too busy enjoying the outdoors to think about food or feel hungry. Unless you are really malnourished (which takes a lot more than a day), hungry is a state of mind.

  • I don't take any cooking equipment and don't cook. The only food-related equipment I take is one of those really small ratchet-like can openers, a knife, spoon, and fork. The fork is the least useful, and you can leave it home if you really want to conserve space or weight.

  • There are plenty of foods that are readily available that don't require perperation, and that don't spoil until opened. Since you will have a car, you have significantly more space and weight capacity while there than coming or going. Foods I like for this are cans of chili, fruit, and beans. Occasionally I get a single piece of fruit, like a apple, bananna, etc, but only if I know I'll be able to eat it that day. These things go bad fast when it's 115° out. Occasionally I might get a bag of chips. If you feel like some extra salt in the desert, it's probably a good idea to have some, as long as you have plenty of water too.

    You didn't say where you are going, but in the southwest US, they know how to do chili. Here in New England, there may be a few feet of shelf space in a supermarket devoted to a few different types and brands of chili. In the SW, there will be half a isle with lots of choices. Experiment and find what you like. My personal favorite is a few varieties of Stagg brand, although the worst I ever had was also a Stagg brand. I think that one was "Garden Vegetable" or something like that. It sounded good, but yecch. The one I like best is something something that mentions peppers in the title. I'll recognize it when I see it.

    All these things can be eaten right out of the can. That is another reason for eating once a day. Once you open a can, you need to finish it else it will go bad quickly. Also having a partially open can of anything in a car can get messy.

    As for fruit, I personally like cans of chunky pineapple. The crushed stuff is more messy, and the slices can't be eaten as easily using just a spoon.

  • Don't go overboard buying food just because you have the opportunity. Think carefully about how much you are really going to eat. Figure two cans per day, but don't buy too many days ahead. Sometimes stuff comes up. I usually try to provision about 3 days ahead. I drive around so I'm usually someplace different every night, so in 3 days I'll pass thru someplace that has a Walmart or something. At worst I have to buy a single can at extortion prices from a small local store, although that really doesn't happen much. When the end of the trip is near, don't try to buy much ahead. Even the extortion price is better than wasting a cheap can from Walmart.

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