Adventuring in the great outdoors is an energy-intensive pursuit. To keep ourselves fueled in the mountains, many of us turn to high-calorie foods that are easy to pack and cook. But most of these snacks are both highly processed and full of additives that aren’t good for us.
For many of us health-conscious hikers, this dilemma raises the question: How can I eat healthy while camping?
If you want to eat healthy while camping, consider swapping out highly processed energy bars and freeze-dried meals for real food. Packing nutrient and calorie-dense foods like dried fruits, nuts, and jerky instead of candy bars can be a great way to enjoy a healthy snack on the trail. You can also bring dehydrated veggies to give your meals some added nutrition in the backcountry.
In this article, we’re going to talk you through different ways to add more nutrients to your camping menu so you can maintain your healthy eating habits, regardless of where life takes you. We’ll offer up some healthy camping food ideas and provide some top tips to help you maximize your nutrient intake in the backcountry.
How To Eat Healthy While Camping
Many people think of camping as a fun and healthy pastime that provides an easy way to be active in nature. While it’s true that camping is typically physically demanding, however, the foods that we eat while in the backcountry often aren’t as good for us as we might want to believe.
Think about it: When you imagine a classic camping meal, what do you think of? Probably something easy to cook like mac and cheese or something jam-packed with sugary goodness like s’mores.
While these foods are okay to have once in a while, they’re definitely not staples in a well-rounded and wholesome camping meal plan. As a result, if you’re serious about packing nutrition into your outdoor meals, you’ll probably have to rethink how you approach camping food.
One of the best ways to eat healthy while camping is to focus on eating real foods.
This means limiting your reliance on pre-packaged instant meals and snacks in favor of actual ingredients that you have to cook and other whole foods. Doing so gives you more control over what you’re eating and it gives you the power to remove unhealthy ingredients from your meals. It also gives you the flexibility to customize your dishes so they better suit your taste buds and nutritional needs.
It’s also worth pointing out that you can take fruits and vegetables into the great outdoors.
If you’re going car camping, a quality cooler can go a long way toward keeping your perishable foods as fresh as possible. For the backpackers among us, remember that dehydrated fruits and veggies are your friends. They’re super light and packable, so there’s really no reason not to add veggies to all your meals.
But keep in mind that there’s a place for sugary snacks and treats in the backcountry, too. While it’s often best to stick with healthy camping snacks like fruits and nuts, there’s nothing wrong with a candy bar every now and again—especially if you want a little pick-me-up after a long day on the trail.
How Do You Eat Vegetables While Camping?
Eating vegetables while camping can seem like an impossible task, but it doesn’t have to be. Getting your five a day in the backcountry is easier than ever thanks to the convenience of dehydrated vegetables.
If you’ve never had dehydrated vegetables before, they might sound a little scary and perhaps a bit gross. But they’re super easy to cook with and they’re incredibly lightweight, so they’re the perfect option for anyone looking for some camping nutrition.
You can get dehydrated vegetables from a number of companies (Harmony House Foods is one of our favorites) or you can make your own dehydrated veggies at home if you have a dehydrator.
We typically bring an assortment of different dehydrated veggies on backpacking trips, though bell peppers, onions, and spinach are some of our backcountry staples. We add them to nearly every rice and pasta-based dish as these veggies re-hydrate well on a camp stove.
What if you’re going car camping, you might ask?
For roadside adventures, you can definitely bring dehydrated veggies. But if you’ll have access to a quality cooler, then you might as well bring some fresh fruit and veg. Some people find that it’s easier to pre-chop their veggies at home and then bring them to the campground in Tupperware, though it’s up to you to find a system that works best for your camping style.
How Do You Eat Healthy When Camping in an RV?
Life on the road can make sticking to a healthy diet a bit of a challenge. However, one of the wonders of an RV is that you have access to a full kitchen and a fridge for your adventures. These two conveniences make healthy eating while RVing fairly simple—if you’re willing to do a bit of planning before you hit the road.
There are a few key steps you can take to improve your eating habits while RVing, including:
Plan Your Meals
If dinner time rolls around and you don’t have a meal plan in place, your hungry brain is likely going to start daydreaming about a quick, calorie-packed meal. While there’s nothing wrong with some comfort food on occasion, routinely making healthy meal choices often involves a bit of pre-planning.
Consider planning a week’s worth of RV meals in advance so you know what you’re going to eat during your travels. Having a plan in place for what you’re going to eat can also make it easier for you to start cooking earlier in the day, so you can avoid the not-so-good food choices that many of us make when we’re really hungry.
Write a Grocery Shopping List
It’s easy to get lured in by convenience foods if you go to a grocery store without a shopping list. So make a food shopping list before you venture to the supermarket so you can avoid adding unnecessary snacks to your cart while you’re in the store.
Better yet, try to avoid grocery stores altogether and check out local farmer’s markets if you’re RVing during the summer months. Farmer’s markets are often super fun and they’re a great way to get seasonal fresh produce in your adventure destination.
Prepare Your Snacks Ahead of Time
Many of us reach for a bag of chips when we’re hungry simply because they’re readily accessible. If you make healthier snacks more convenient, you’ll be more likely to reach for them instead.
For example, get yourself baby carrots and hummus, yogurt with fresh berries, or homemade trail mix for when you want a quick protein-packed afternoon meal. The more convenient your healthy camping snacks are, the less likely you’ll be to mindlessly reach for a sugary treat or drive over to a fast food joint when you’re hungry.
Camping and junk food don’t have to go hand in hand. While we all enjoy snacking on a bit of chocolate after a long day of trekking, maintaining healthy eating habits in the backcountry is important, too.
There are many ways to eat well while outside, but pre-planning your meals, opting for real foods over processed snacks, and packing your dishes full of dehydrated fruits and veggies can go a long way for your overall nutrition. Happy camping!
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David is an accomplished mountain endurance athlete who has completed over 25 ultra marathon races (follow on Strava). He is most proud of his finish at The Drift 100 – a high elevation, 100 mile winter foot race that zigzags along the Continental Divide in Wyoming. In the future he hopes to compete in the ITI 350 and ultimately the full 1,000 mile Iditarod Trail Invitational that follows the same path as the historic dog sled race.