The Camping Family

Menu Planning


or buy a bunch of groceries and fly by the seat of your pants?   

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Meal time the crew gathers around ©MarianSonntag

I think I have always been a planner even before kids, I was in charge of the food when we went on group trips. Its a hard task to accept, so many food likes and dislikes. If a meal bombs and tastes horrible then its all on you! Not taking into consideration if you don’t plan enough food per serving for the big hungry guys in your group. Its pretty much the same with families. There have been times when I plan out a menu, flip it over and write out the corresponding grocery list with quantities if there are duplicate items needed, purchased them, took them home and then completely forgot to pack them in the cooler! Let me tell you forgetting bacon does not go over well! And then the next trip I forgot the eggs, which was remedied with a drive out to the nearest shop and purchased at premium$6 for one dozen!

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Like a giant menu spread sheet sorted and ready to go! ©MarianSonntag

Typically I start with a blank menu template, I have various ones depending on the trip length and whether the trip is for car camping or back country canoeing. I figure out where the first 2 meals will be consumed. For example are we leaving very early in the morning and will eat on the road or can we eat before we leave? Then I will fill in the blank with a HOME or ON THE ROAD, I work my way through the menu from there. For every meal I fill in I flip over my menu and write the corresponding ingredients, lest I forget something. I also find it helpful to fold my menu sheet into thirds, and use the divisions as columns to write down things I need to precook, reminders, gear lists etc.

All of our menus are different, I’ve kept every single one over the years and they are now housed in a binder. The point is not to schedule your meals and follow with military precision but to be prepared so if you don’t feel like hamburgers on day 3 you can switch the meals and have Sheppard’s pie instead. It also helps to be flexible so if you’ve come back late from a hike or found a camp-site late in the day then you can put together something quick.

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Last stage is packaging and labeling meals ©MarianSonntag

That’s the key to menu planning especially on canoe trips, sometimes longer days than anticipated happen for any number of reasons or the weather is really crappy and you want something warm and comforting. I wouldn’t plan a meal that’s complicated and needs a period of time to rehydrate before serving on a day when we are portaging 3 kms and paddling 15km before landing on a camp-site. Instead it would be something relatively quick and easy like Mexican quesadias or rice, beans and chicken. The same applies to a busy car camping day.

I recommend trying any new recipes out at home before taking them to the camp-site especially anything that has been dehydrated. You want to try them at home so:

  1. If it tastes horrible you can fix or readjust flavour
  2. It gives you an idea if the serving size is correct
  3. You know how long it takes to rehydrate/cook
  4. If its well liked you maybe able to repeat the meal later in the trip

Number 4 is very important especially on longer trips when you tend to run out of variety, rice and pasta can become tiring very quickly no mater what you add to them!

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Bisquick biscuits are fast and easy ©MarianSonntag

Do you use pre-packaged food,  mixes, side dishes? Yes I do, not for every meal because the sodium really isn’t that healthy but they do have a position in our menu. One of my kids favourite canoeing meals is the fettuccine pasta with tuna in a pouch and fresh baked bisquix rolls. I will dehydrate frozen mixed veggies(peas/carrots), rehydrate and mix them in for a fresher healthier taste to the meal. Look for the ones that don’t require milk or you’ll have to take and mix up powdered milk as a substitute  which works well but is another added step to the cooking process and another item to clean.

Be creative in your planning, we live in a very multicultural city and have several ethnic grocery stores to shop at. They can carry things that might have a longer shelf life or will spice up your menu. Naan used as a base to make flat bread pizza excellent and is very filling! We tend to eat fresher ingredients on car camping trips where we have access to a cooler, but then I find we are dependent on replenishing ice every day. In those cases I will plan fresh food for the first half the the trip and more dried foods for the second half. I’m lucky that my kids don’t mind powdered milk in their cereal while camping, which saves space in the cooler.

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The last breakfast feast! Eggs, Bacon and hash browns on Day 9! ©MarianSonntag

Dehydrate to your little hearts content! Use the abundance of fresh vegetables and dehydrate for the next season. You can freeze whatever you have dehydrated for longer shelf life. Be creative! Naan pizza on day 8 of a 10 day canoe trip will make you a winner. How? Naan, while heavy is a very durable flat bread and wont crumble or squish. Pizza sauce made at home and dehydrated, rehydrates with hot water in a mater of minutes, cheese(old) wrapped in cheese cloth to preserve will last 10 days or more, toppings of diced onion, bacon bits, rehydrated ground beef and mushrooms make for a delicious combination. Its really limitless!

Finally plan what your family will eat, there’s no sense in buying, packing and carrying food all over portage after portage if they are not going to eat it. I plan for 3 meals a day, I myself could go with 2 meals and just have snacks but I find you will get more enjoyment out of your trip when your child’s belly is full. They are happier and have more fun rather than being tired and complaining because they don’t have enough energy. It also breaks up the day to be able to sit and have a family meal together. During busy periods sometimes that doesn’t happen for us at home so its nice to enjoy the time together to share, enjoy company and hear stories that might not happen at home. My favourite tip is to end a trip with a bang, save a special treat or meal for the very last day as a special reward. Its a great way to end a trip, we like to have a bacon, egg and hash brown breakfast if time allows and our dinner is almost always shepherds pie when we are canoeing. The kids have come to know the second last day as a free for all day, when what ever is left in the “hidden” candy bag can be consumed freely. On the same note, I pack reward snacks for the kids to eat at the end of really tough, long or difficult portages.

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Our 2 60L Barrels store and keep our food dry ©MarianSonntag

Once planned our food is divided and packed according to the menu, last meal goes in the bottom of the barrel and I work backwards in the week so the most current meal is always on top…no digging through and pulling stuff out.  Meals get labelled with Day 1 BKFST for example and packaged together in recycle newspaper bag sleeves. Each bag then becomes that meals trash bag, sealed afterwards to contain smells and oils. I label each meal package with any ingredients that maybe kept in volume such as oil, milk powder or fresh ingredients kept in a small cooler bag made especially to store within  our food barrels. Recently I’ve played around with creating a giant recreation of my paper menu’s on recycled roller blinds that I cut and laid out on a portable folding table. It helps me visualize meals and place ingredients as they are purchased this helps me keep organized for big canoe trips while balancing snacks and volume of food actually needed.  All of our food fits into 2 60L canoe barrels for a 10 day back country canoe trip for 6 people. On a well planned trip we usually come back with a few leftover snacks and our 2 backup meals(side dishes or soups). Trips menu’s evolve, good food really makes a trip!

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The head backcountry chef! ©MarianSonntag

Side note:  You’ll see that I have included some additional columns on the canoeing menu. When we are canoeing I like to use the menu sheet as a small sample of the trip diary to record details about a meal but also to record weather, wildlife, daily events.

killarney canoeing menu 2015


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