Organizing meals for large groups when camping in the backcountry can be a challenge. Now that we’ve camped with large groups (25 people or so) a few times, here are some things we’ve learned, plus a 5-day menu to get your mouth watering and ideas flowing!
- Plan meals in advance. At least 1-2 weeks before your camp trip decide how many meals you’ll need. Recently we dispersed camped (primitive camping) with 12 adults and 13 kids in attendance, so six families provided either a breakfast or a dinner during that time. Lunches were on our own. We collaborated via email and signed up for one breakfast or one dinner and indicated what we’d bring. Providing just one meal for a large group cuts down on the number of items you'd have to bring otherwise, if providing only one’s own family meals over a few days.
- Publish food allergies during meal sign-up. Because no one wants anaphylactic shock in the backcountry.
- Ensure at least two tabletop gas grills will be available for use by the group. Cooking for a large group over the campfire is really tough due to inconsistent heat. It’s much easier and more efficient to cook on gas powered grills. Two tabletop gas grills got the task done just fine for our group of 25.
- Prep everything you can in advance. The whole purpose of camping is relaxation and if you’re chopping 10 pounds of potatoes while everyone else is having happy hour that’s not so much fun. Buy pre-formed burgers. Buy pre-chopped frozen potatoes. Cook meat in advance if possible. Anything you can prep beforehand will make cooking for a large group easier.
- Ensure your perishable food stays cold. If you camp (or “glamp?) in a camper with a fridge/freezer this isn’t such a concern. But if, like us, you camp with a Grizzly or Yeti in tow, here’s what I’ve found to work best for longer camping trips (e.g. 5-6 days).
--Buy a few inexpensive insulated soft-sided coolers and use one per meal, with two approximately 5"x8" ice packs in each (these are all re-usable items and should last a few camping seasons, so consider it an investment). Soft coolers containing the first couple days of meals can stay out of the main cooler and should stay cold just fine. The rest can be packed in the main/large bear-proof cooler (if applicable in your area) with more ice packs in with them. This worked very well for us recently over five days and all our food stayed cold. The reason I like using an individual cooler for each meal is because I don’t have to open the large cooler at all until mid-way through the trip, thereby keeping the food inside colder. Plus, then I have all the ingredients I need for each meal, in each cooler, and prep at camp is quick and easy and I don’t have to think about what I need to cook each day. Admittedly this takes prep work, organization, and extra effort before the trip – but I found it totally worth it at camp.
Inexpensive soft coolers (with ice packs inside) are packed into a large bear-proof Grizzly for use during the latter part of the trip.
–Pack meat frozen. No matter the meat, freeze it for a couple days before your trip. This will help the meat and all your food stay cold. We brought BBQ meat for the recent large group camping trip, and I purchased it, cooked, on a Tuesday and immediately froze it. On Thursday morning it was packed into a soft-sided cooler, with ice packs, and then placed into our main Grizzly cooler. On Saturday afternoon when I checked the BBQ meat it was still frozen, so I had to let it thaw a bit before heating. This illustrates the value of freezing meat before packing, plus keeping coolers closed, in order to keep food cold at camp.
- Keep non-perishables separate. I had a couple bags of bread items, chips, and various snacks that I stuffed in the Jeep (and locked in there at night to help prevent bear activity). These items didn’t need to be kept cold and would just take up room in the cooler, so I stored them separately.
- Be willing to pitch in. Even if you’re not cooking, it’s nice to help out the chef of the night. Not having to provide food for every meal, or plan each meal, or get all the ingredients, takes the pressure off and it’s more fun to help out with cooking when you don’t have to do everything! Plus, the chef of the night will really appreciate the assistance!
And now for some meal ideas! Recently we group camped in a remote area of the backcountry with 12 adults and 13 kids ages 10 and under in attendance. The first few meals, plus lunches, were on our own and then each family took either a breakfast or a dinner for days 2 through 5.
Day 1 Lunch: Pre-made PB&J sandwich, bag of fresh berries, beverage. This was just me, setting up our portion of camp. So I kept it simple with a quick sack lunch.
Day 1 Dinner: Backpacker meal, Caesar Salad, beverages per person. I LOOOOVE me some backpacker meals and if it’s just us, or camping with a very small group, I think they are the way to go. Easy to cook, easy to clean up, and all-around no fuss. The Caesar Salad was a kit from the store with cheese, dressing, etc. already inside. I mixed it up in the lettuce bag and we ate out of there. This meal was just for our family of two adults and one child.
Day 2 Breakfast: Breakfast Skillet on the JetBoil. I wanted to try cooking on the JetBoil (other than water) and I was able to set a 12” stainless steel saute pan on the JetBoil and cook our whole breakfast in there. I wasn’t sure the JetBoil stand would hold the heavy pan but it did famously. For the Breakfast Skillet I’d packed about a tablespoon of butter which I melted in the pan. I added about 1.5 cups frozen diced hash brown potatoes plus one container of pre-chopped pancetta and sauteed til cooked through. I added another tablespoon of butter and then a generous portion of pre-beaten eggs. Some salt and pepper and breakfast was served!
Don’t forget – the coffee! Every morning at camp I percolate coffee on my JetBoil because coffee is underrated and I need it as soon as I can get it. Pretty much every family made their own coffee or tea in the mornings, and that worked well.
Freshly percolated coffee... it's sure to be a good day at camp!
Day 2 Lunch: Backpacker meal, baby carrots plus Ranch dip, apples, beverages per person. The baby carrots were individually bagged (store bought that way) plus individual Ranch dip tubs. These were easy to throw into the Day 2 Lunch cooler. This is more wasteful than I usually like to be, but we don’t always camp and it makes things easier there. Plus, with a campfire, we burned all food garbage and didn’t have food waste to worry about.
Day 2 Dinner: Turkey Walking Tacos - I loooooove Walking Tacos for simplicity and great taste. This was what I was initially going to bring but another family snagged it first! Walking Tacos is a great meal for kids because it cuts down on the messiness of food spilling off plates.
Day 3 Breakfast: Breakfast Burritos – the family who brought these pre-made 25 breakfast burritos (scrambled eggs, sausage, potatoes) and warmed them on the tabletop grills. SOO yummy!
Day 3 Lunch: Hotdogs, baby carrots plus Ranch dip, apples, beverages per person. Almost all the families thought alike and planned hotdogs for this meal so we all grilled them to perfection and chowed down. Everything tastes better in the great outdoors, doesn’t it?!
Don’t forget – the snacks! Especially if you have kids, snacks between meals are so important. Bring a variety of munchies, healthy or not, and incorporate some new items or things your kids don’t usually get to eat. It’ll make the camping experience more special.
Day 3 Dinner: BBQ Dinner – this was our meal. We brought 10 pounds of a variety of BBQ meats (pre-cooked) and warmed it on the tabletop grills. As it turned out, 10 pounds was a little too much because there was quite a bit left over. Eight pounds would have been better I think. In addition, I had two bags of coleslaw mix plus two jars of coleslaw dressing. Plus, two trays of dinner rolls, two bags of potato chips as well as two jars BBQ sauces, and two store-bought containers of mini cookies for dessert.
Day 4 Breakfast: Continental Breakfast – Mini-muffins, mini-cinnamon rolls, yogurt, berries. Plus we warmed the leftover BBQ for those who wanted some meat.
Day 4 Lunch: Grilled ham-cheese-tomato sandwiches, baby carrots, apples, beverages per person. Do you see a theme with carrots and apples? They’re the most packable veggie and fruit and require no prep. So they are standard camp food for us.
Day 4 Dinner: Hamburgers, brats, and hotdogs. For this American classic meal the family had pre-formed burgers which they grilled on the tabletop grills, plus brats/hotdogs and all the condiments (buns, ketchup, mustard, spicy sauces, etc.). They also had a green salad and chips. And for dessert they tried a Pinterest special – cinnamon-sugar biscuit dough wraps grilled over the open fire – a little taste of charcoal but super yummy nonetheless!
Don’t forget --- the all-important s’mores!!! Kids love these and it wouldn’t be camping without ‘em. Ensure that one or two families bring s’mores ingredients for at least one of the nights around the fire.
Nothing like a perfectly grilled s'more!
Day 5 Breakfast: Breakfast Sausage Bake and Monkey Bread – for our last meal of the trip this family pulled out all the stops and created an amazing breakfast bake of potato, sausage, and egg, plus pans of monkey bread. All of this was baked on the tabletop grills. It required some frequent flipping (of the monkey bread) and careful monitoring (of the breakfast bake) in order to alleviate some scorching. Dee-lish!!
Do you have a favorite menu for multi-day group camping trips? Drop me a line so I can share your meal plan on this site! Or, comment on our Facebook page. Here’s to good times, tasty food, and fun adventures in the great outdoors!
by Dawn Gallegos
Dawn Gallegos is the founding editor of the Chicks On The Rocks blog. When she's not working to fund her Jeep habit she's thinking up new ways to inspire others to explore the great outdoors!