Family camping hack: Cook your first night’s meal before you leave

Melissa's tip was echoed by many others:

When we have gone camping, my mom always made sloppy joes, easy to warm up that first night. Many a night camping as a family when I was a kid meant setting up in the dark because we were so late getting out of the house/city. Having a meal that was good for warming up and eating instantly (and in the dark) was always helpful.

Related: Not-As-Sloppy Joes: use hot dog buns!

More: Family camping tips


  1. Sara says

    My mom always liked chili for these quick meals. If you do meatless, it can be even easier – just from canned goods that don’t even need to be packed in a cooler.

  2. Katie says

    We always do foil dinners the first night. You do have to wait for them to be cooked, but there is no prep involved and they are delicious. Foil dinners is one of the best things about camping.

  3. says

    I also love the tinfoil dinners for camping. My hint is to cook and freeze them before you go, and parboil the potatoes. Then you don’t have to worry about undercooked food, plus it is much faster.
    We went camping last weekend and had both sloppy joes (cooked and frozen in ziplocs) and tinfoil dinners.

  4. Annette says

    Meadow: I will definitely parboil the potatoes next time we make “hobo stew” (as we call it in our family) – what a great time-saver! Good old-fashioned hotdogs roasted over a campfire is another quick and easy camping meal with very little clean-up.

  5. jeanne says

    I use the mini-size crock pot to make meatballs for sandwiches the day we arrive. Toss frozen meatballs and spaghetti sauce in the crock pot in the morning – unplug and wrap in towels – it stays warm for 2-3 hours.

  6. Teresa says

    I like boil-in-a-bag dinners for that first night…We typically do omellettes. Pour in about 1/2c egg substitute into a ziplock bag, and add toppings of choice, label each bag, then stash them in the cooler til we get there. Once the fire is going set the big Dutch oven in the coals and add water, then boil for 13 minutes. We hold the bag with a pot holder and eat them out of the bag, too.

  7. mom, again says

    along the same lines as using ‘block ice’, also freeze whatever meal components that you can. pre-cut meat, pre-shaped burgers, tomato sauce, pre-scrambled egg, etc. We used freezer bags and flattened whatever it was as much as possible when placing it in the freezer, then stood them, zip side UP in the cooler, like a file of frozen food. Over the course of the weekend, they would thaw enough to cook from. obsessive compulsive me would put them in order of planned use, so as to minimize cooler open minutes. Yes, we were camping in high summer in the deep south, why do you ask?

    oh, and our block ice was quart or half gallon jugs of water, milk or juice, providing cold beverages through the weekend. When we left the house we usually had a cooler of completely hard frozen stuff and another with frozen stuff keeping stuff cold. Gradually stuff would get moved around and used up and combined into one, we returned home with one full of empty containers, and the other full of jugs with beverages that still had huge frozen lumps in them, but enough could be poured out to prevent the need for stopping for soda on the way home.