How to Plan a Simple Camp Menu

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How to Plan a Simple Camp Menu

By Brianne Dela Cruz, Gather & Grow

I’ve spent many days of departure loading up the camp cooler with too many ingredients to fit. At best, it’s a complicated game of Tetris, and, at worst, it’s an over-packed nightmare of perishables that go unused. It can be challenging to simplify our pack list and our cooking experience if we don’t strategically plan a camp menu ahead of time. 

It wasn’t until I started venturing on multi-day river trips that I discovered the beauty of strategic menu planning. Floating for days on end, with a small amount of space to carry our food, forced me to be intentional about packing and using ingredients. Menu planning simplifies the camp cooking process and ultimately enables us to spend less time fretting and working and more time enjoying the great outdoors. I want to share some of the experiential wisdom I’ve gained for planning a simple (but elevated) camp menu. 

Camp Menu Planning Tips

The key to planning a simple camp menu
is to develop multiple meals that use many of the same ingredients.

If you can use leftovers after a large meal, all the better. My method for coming up with a menu begins by thinking about meals in groups of three: dinner, breakfast, and lunch. I plan meals in that order because it’s easy to reuse leftovers for breakfast and lunch. Dinners are often the first meal we make after leaving town anyway, so I like to use the dinner recipe as my main inspiration for breakfast and lunch the following day. 

Making a double batch of dinner also helps craft the other meals around the leftover (and already prepped) ingredients. Another way to simplify camp cook-life outdoors is to prepare ingredients as much as possible before leaving town. Not only is it a time-saver, but it saves loads of cooler space, too. I do this by marinating meat and mixing sauces the day before or the morning I leave town.

Another pearl of wisdom that helps to use food at camp:
set out the morsels of leftover dessert in the morning. Cobblers, cakes, and brownies always get gobbled up with coffee by the early risers the next day. 

My last menu planning tip is for those that will be out in the wilderness for multiple days. Multi-day trips can throw a tricky wrench in the menu planning game, but a longer timeline doesn’t mean we can’t still enjoy elevated food in the wilderness.

For trips like this, plan the first set of meals using ingredients that don’t last long: thawed meats, berries, and tender greens. For meals later in the trip, use more non-perishable ingredients like beans and rice, cabbage and carrots, and deep-frozen meats or pre-cooked sausages. 


Now that you know my best camp meal planning tips, here's how to make a Griled Pork Belly Noodle Bowl

How to Make
Grilled Pork Belly Noodle Bowl

Serving: 6 |Prep Time: 5 min | Cook Time: 20 min | Total Time: 25 min + day for marinade 


Pork Belly Noodle Bowl
  • 1 ½ pounds pork belly, cut into 1-2" pieces
  • 12 ounces dried rice vermicelli noodles
  • 2 cups bean sprouts
  • 2 cups romaine lettuce
  • 4 carrots, shredded
  • 1 large cucumber, sliced
  • 3 jalapeños, sliced
  • 2 cups fresh mint
  • 2 cups cilantro, roughly chopped
  • 2 cups green onions, diced
  • 3 cups Vietnamese chili fish sauce
  • 5 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • 1 tablespoon fish sauce
  • 2 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 1 shallot, minced
  • 1 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon brown sugar
Vietnamese Chili Fish Sauce
  • 2 cups warm water
  • ¼ cup fresh lime juice
  • ½ cup brown sugar
  • 2 Thai chilies, diced
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • ¾ cup fish sauce


At Home
  1. Cut the pork into 1-2 inch pieces. Combine the marinade ingredients into a ziplock bag and add the pork, mixing to combine.
  2. Chill marinating pork in the cooler for at least 3 hours, but try to marinate overnight.
  3. Pre-make the Vietnamese chili fish sauce and store in the cooler in an airtight container until ready to serve.
  • Whisk together the lime, warm water, and sugar until the sugar has dissolved.
  • Slowly add the fish sauce, a little at a time until you reach your desired flavor. (Start with 5 tablespoons, then add more (up to ¾ cup) per your flavor preference.)
  • Add the chilies and garlic and let it stand for 20 minutes before chilling.
At Camp
  1. Heat 30 coals in a fire pit. 
  2. As coals are heating, boil water in the kettle and prepare vegetables.
  3. Place the dried vermicelli noodles in a mixing bowl and cover with boiling water. Let them soak for 5 minutes, or until they are softened.
  4. Drain the noodles and set them aside.
  5. Heat 2 tablespoons of oil in a large cast iron skillet over the fire.
  6. When coals are mostly white and cast iron is sufficiently hot, add the pork and marinade to the skillet. 
  7. Stir fry for about 5-7 minutes, or until pork is caramelized on the outside (by the time it gets a crust, it should be fully cooked).
  8. Transfer half of the batch of cooked pork to a sealable container and set aside for breakfast the next morning. 
  9. Set aside ⅔ of the prepared vegetables and herbs. Store in the cooler until ready to reuse for breakfast and lunch the next day. 
  10. Add the vermicelli noodles to the serving bowls, then garnish with bean sprouts, veggies, and fresh herbs. 
  11. Add a few cubes of pork to each bowl and flavor with the Vietnamese chili fish sauce.

Curated image with Enamelware Dining Collection - Eggshell, Flatware Set


Brianne Dela Cruz is a master gardener, wild forager, campfire foodie, and acclaimed writer and photographer. From her home in Salt Lake City, she teaches online gardening and foraging courses for modern folks and budding naturalists as well as hosts seasonal community gatherings. Brianne's blog and online school, Gather & Grow, is a community of folks exploring the intersection between nature and personal growth by discovering ways to slow down and nourish themselves with nature.

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