Tips From Two Camping Experts on Making Healthy Eating a Priority
For years, my outdoor culinary repertoire was limited to opening a can of beans. That was until I rediscovered cast iron cooking and, specifically, Dutch ovens. Now I make meals I savor just as much as my outdoor experiences themselves. But healthy eating isn’t always easy.
Let’s face it; popping a bag of chips in your mouth takes a lot less time than washing and cutting up vegetables. And when camping, it can seem even more cumbersome if you don’t know how to prepare, pack, or store nutritional food appropriately for good eating on a long trip. We have some expert advice on how to overcome its challenges so you don’t put on calories while tackling your outdoor adventures.
Here are some nutritional recipes and preparation tips from two outdoor enthusiasts who make healthy eating a priority while camping.
Jeremy Vimmerstedt Climbs to Healthier Heights
Jeremy Vimmerstedt is a general contractor in the Vail, Colorado, area who says he was literally born camping. “We would lock up the house in June when school let out and spend every summer in our camper until school started again in the fall,” he says. Today he is still an avid camper, as well as a mountain climber and skier, and he enjoys the outdoor life with his wife, Pam. She is Jeremy’s main climbing and camping partner and their favorite place to climb and camp is the Shelf Road sport climbing area, just north of Canon City, Colorado.
The couple’s camping adventures may involve a long, multi-day hiking trip into the backcountry, carrying a tent in their packs. Jeremy says, “When we are doing a rock-climbing trip, we will bring our little teardrop camper and sleep at the base of the crag we are climbing.” He has climbed at least a dozen mountains in Colorado that were above 14,000 feet and has rock-climbed several rock faces that were 10 to 15 pitches long.
Jeremy’s most memorable time climbing was when he went to Shelf Road and led a climb. He placed an engagement ring on a carabiner at the anchor at the top with a note that read, “Together there is no mountain we can’t climb. Will you marry me?” After Jeremy came back down, Pam went up for her turn and found it. She screamed down, “YES!”
Because Jeremy has been camping his whole life, he has had many years to perfect his healthy eating habits while enjoying the outdoors. Here are his tips for high-energy, healthy, easy-to-prepare food recipes.
Start the Day with a Healthy Breakfast
Eggs are a quick-and-easy way to start the day. Jeremy says they require little preparation while packing for your trip.
- Shredded cheese
- Scoop of salsa
- Salt and pepper to taste
PREPARATION: Scramble up a bunch of eggs with some peppers, onions, shredded cheese, a scoop of salsa, salt, and pepper. Mix it all up at home, throw it all in a couple of old Nalgene bottles and toss them in the cooler. Pour some of the mixture into a pan when you wake up. That way, you don’t have to deal with the prep and cleanup at the campsite. It lasts for days and days in the cooler.
Pack Light and Healthy When Hitting the Trail
When Jeremy is backpacking, he travels as light as possible using dehydrated food. To keep things light, dehydrated fruit of any kind will do. He also says he’ll never go into the backcountry without nuts of some sort for extra protein. “These days there are a million types of protein and granola bars out there; it’s a little overwhelming when you look at them in the store,” Jeremy admits. “But after a while you start to figure out which ones you like and dislike. Some are gross, but some can be really good.” His advice is to experiment to find the protein and granola bars you like best.
Easy, Healthy Camping Food
When Jeremy camps in his camper, he says meals are a lot more fun. “At home I will prep some dishes to save time and effort while camping. I love taking a variety of veggies,” he says.
Jeremy has a favorite veggie recipe that requires little preparation for camping.
VEGGIES WITH EVOO
- Assortment of veggies
- Extra virgin olive oil (EVOO)
- Garlic powder
- Salt and pepper to taste
PREPARATION: Clean and chop up an assortment of your favorite veggies. Drizzle a little EVOO, salt, pepper, garlic powder, and rosemary. Wrap them up in foil and pack them in your cooler or camper fridge. When you are ready to eat, throw them either on the edge of a fire or on a grill. A softer veggie like zucchini or peppers and onions will only take 15-20 minutes, but firmer veggies like sweet potatoes or carrots take more like 45 minutes.
REMEMBER: Softer veggies need to be used in the first couple days of a trip before they get mushy, but the firmer ones can be kept in the cooler for several days before you need to use them up. Just don’t throw them directly in the flames or they will burn. You can use any spices you like.
ADD MEAT TO THE MIX: Jeremy likes to put chicken breasts and a favorite marinade in a gallon freezer bag ahead of time at home, too. It’s simple and much healthier than a burger. “I will usually plan one meat and one veggie for dinner every night Pam and I plan on camping,” he says.
Christine Willers Makes Camping Nutrition a Priority
Christine Willers is a certified personal trainer and nutrition coach through National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM) and PN1 Nutrition Certified through Precision Nutrition. She started Irene Iron Fitness (ireneironfitness.com) with her husband, Aaron, in 2018. They live full time in a Class B Airstream Interstate (Sprinter van) and travel the country. Willers works directly with their clients online by providing fitness programs and nutrition coaching.
The couple prefer to use an RV when camping. They previously tent camped, and before they purchased their RV they camped in a Chevrolet Tahoe. Willers says, “We simply removed the third row of seats in the back and folded down the second row of seats to make an area large enough for us to sleep in. It was an exciting upgrade from a tent, and we loved it.” It was easy, and they were protected from the elements, such as rain, wind, and bugs.
Now that they are full-time RVers, Willers says, “We fully understand the challenges and nuances of nomadic living. RVers tend to live like they are on vacation, and their heath can take a toll from dining out and grabbing convenience food.” The couple’s niche is to help fellow RVers and other nomads who have a hard time establishing routine and healthy eating habits while living on the road or camping. “It’s difficult to form a routine while relocating constantly, whether it be daily, weekly, or monthly,” Willers says.
PACKING HEALTHY FOR RV LIVING
The Willers’ shopping cart and meals are built around lean proteins and vegetables—fresh, whole foods are a top priority. “It doesn’t make a difference if we are eating in our van, or eating on a mountain out of a backpack, as I will usually pack a small Tupperware container of food consisting of protein, vegetables, carbs, and fats,” Willers says. For healthy “backpack-friendly” food, she packs items like bananas, apples, nuts, rice cakes, protein shakes, and protein bars. These are second choices when the Willers are unable to bring a Tupperware container of an actual meal.
Here are two of Willers’ favorite healthy camping recipes with a Southwestern flare.
Fajitas are great for camping because nothing beats onions, peppers, and protein, according to Willers. This recipe is flexible because it can be served in a bowl or in a shell with desired garnishes.
- 1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breasts cut into strips
- 1 teaspoon salt
- ½ teaspoon pepper
- 2 teaspoons extra virgin olive oil, divided
- ¾ teaspoon chipotle powder
- ½ teaspoon dried oregano
- ½ teaspoon dried cumin
- 1 teaspoon smoked paprika
- ½ lime
- 1 onion, sliced in thin half moons
- 1 bell pepper, sliced in thin strips
PREPARATION: Heat 12-inch skillet over medium heat and add 1 teaspoon of olive oil. When hot, add onions and cook until translucent and brown color begins to form, about 5-10 minutes. Add in peppers and mix well.
While the onions and peppers are cooking, season the chicken with the chipotle powder, oregano, cumin, paprika, salt, pepper, and lime juice. Allow it to sit for a few minutes while the onions and peppers cook.
Transfer the onions and peppers to a holding plate and cover with foil.
In the same 12-inch skillet, increase the heat to medium/high, add 1 teaspoon olive oil, and add chicken in a single layer. After the first side has seared (about 4-5 minutes), flip and sear the other side (about 3-4 minutes).
Add peppers and onions mixture back into the skillet and mix well to warm through and combine flavors.
If you are making it up ahead of time to bring camping, you can let it cool and store it in Tupperware, a large zip-lock bag, or foil. When ready to eat, reheat over a campfire, grill, or propane stove in a proper pan. It will last refrigerated or in a cooler for a few days to a week.
This chili is Texas-style because it has no tomatoes and no legumes. It requires a lot of time to simmer on the stovetop, but it is worth it. Make it up ahead of time before you start packing. You can make up a big batch using an inexpensive cut of meat.
- 8 dried whole guajillo chiles
- 2 teaspoons ground cumin
- 1 teaspoon fresh cracked black pepper
- 1 Tablespoon salt
- 1½ teaspoons cayenne pepper, optional
- 2 teaspoons smoked paprika
- 2 teaspoons olive oil
- 3-3½ pounds beef chuck, trimmed and cut into 1-inch cubes
- ½ white onion, finely chopped (5 ounces)
- 6 large garlic cloves, minced
- 3-4 cups beef stock
- 2 Tablespoons corn starch
- 3 Tablespoons white wine vinegar, use more if needed to taste
OPTIONAL: sour cream, lime wedges, cilantro, avocado
PREPARATION: Lightly toast the dried chiles in a medium/large enamel Dutch oven over low-medium heat until fragrant. Toast on both sides, but be careful not to burn the chiles, which will make them bitter. Put chiles in a large bowl and cover with hot water.
Place a plate over the top to weigh them down to submerge. Soak until soft, about 30 minutes.
Drain the chilis (reserving the water), remove stems and seeds by slitting lengthwise down the middle and rinsing under water. Place the chiles in a blender or immersion blender cup and add the cumin, black pepper, salt, cayenne, smoked paprika, and ½ cup of the reserved water. Puree the mixture to form a smooth paste, adding more water only if needed. Set aside.
Heat skillet to medium-high heat and lightly coat with olive oil until it’s smoking hot. Sear the meat (season with salt and pepper first) in batches to brown the top and bottom of the cubes. Do not overcrowd the pot because you will not get a good sear. Transfer beef into a bowl and reserve.
Reduce pot to low-medium heat and add the onion to cook until translucent, which takes a few minutes. Add garlic and cook for another minute or so until fragrant. Add the stock and gradually whisk in the corn starch.
Add in the chili paste, stirring well to combine. Add beef into the pot, cover, and reduce to a low simmer for 1-2 hours. Once beef is tender, add in the vinegar to taste.
Let it cool, place in Tupperware, and put ingredients in your RV refrigerator or cooler. While camping, you can reinvent the leftovers in many ways: tacos, omelets, sauce for salad dressings, and so on.
Visit Willers online at ireneironfitness.com to get recipes or learn about healthy eating and fitness on the road.
Tips to Keeping Your Food Fresh
If you have the luxury of RV camping, Willers says you can store about one week’s worth of fresh meat and produce in a tiny dorm-size fridge or a giant cooler that campers often carry. To save on space, here are her healthy food tips to consider when storing perishable items for your camping trip:
- Take food out of its original packaging and transfer it to your own packaging. For example, if you buy greens in a large tub, transfer the greens into a gallon-sized zip-lock bag and squeeze the air out of it to save on fridge space. Go green tip: Wash and reuse those zip-lock bags to minimize plastic use.
- Before your trip, trim and store all fresh vegetables that require refrigeration in air-tight Tupperware containers along with a clean paper towel (or a microfiber towel to minimize use of paper products). Storing in an air-tight container with a paper towel makes a HUGE difference in how long the product will last, by resisting condensation that creates soggy, water-logged vegetables. It also saves on space.
- Pre-cook! The simplest way to prep food is to bulk prep your main categories. Cook up a big batch of protein (i.e. chicken) and a big batch of starchy carbs (i.e. rice or quinoa). Once cooked, store in Tupperware containers.
According to Willers, “When you have these prepped staples on hand, you can easily mix up a single skillet meal in 15 minutes.” Pre-cooked meals come together very quickly, and you save on trash and water.
Editor’s Note: A version of this article first appeared in the May/June 2020 print issue of Tread Magazine.