nature

Camp Cooking: "Feeding With Love and Good Tents"

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Camp Cooking: How to Feed the Kids with Love and Good Tents

ONE OF MY FAVOURITE BOOKS...

...about how to feed children is Ellyn Satter's "Child of Mine: Feeding with Love and Good Sense".  Her approach to a healthy division of responsibility for feeding children is a classic, and guides me in more than just meal preparation.  But sleeping in tents doesn't mean saying bye to good sense.

After weeks of camping with my three boys over the past two summers I've figured out a few things about what to make us for dinner and how to handle the groceries and refrigeration.  How to have freedom and fun with food, while not giving up on the wholesome ingredients my kids need to feel their best.  In the summer spirit, I'm taking a break from infant development and infant sleep blogs to throw a few ideas down on paper about daily life for camping families: what to feed the kids and family.

A few assumptions:  I'll assume that meat is on your menu (because if it is not, you can ignore that advice). 

I'll also assume you are not camping in a group and aren't combining resources (because, again, you can ignore my advice and combine kitchen tools and menus as a group).

I’m assuming, as well, that you are car camping. Overnight canoe- or hiking- trips are wonderful adventures, but I’m focusing here on families who are venturing into camping with kiddos, rather than those with a lot of experience back-country camping.

And last, I'll assume you are trying to pack minimally: pots will get reused in the same meal, tools will tend to be multi-purpose or really worth the space. There is something really liberating about only having what you need.  What you don't have (or what you forget) will usually have some adequate substitute that will make you feel like a powerful pioneer woman, or like a “social connection seeker”, asking the next campsite over if they can lend you a lighter or pair of scissors.

So, here are a few basics:

  1. Bring the right tools, but no extras. Your car will be full enough with sleeping bags and a tent and pillows. Pay attention before your trip on what tools you use for what meals and start a list: Vegetable peeler, tongs, sharp knife, can opener, flexible cutting board --there are work-arounds for all of these, but they are also quite handy items that can make your trip go more smoothly.

  2. The exception to “bring no extras” is propane or fuel for your stove. Bring more than you need or know where you can get more. Until you get used to how much fuel you need, it may be better to have extra for next time than to run out. If you are a large group or are camping a long time, consider getting an adaptor for your stove so that you can hook it up to those large white propane canisters that you use with your backyard barbecue. Note: on windy days you will go through fuel much much faster.

  3. Eat meat early in the trip; focus more on vegetarian meals leading up to pack-up time or grocery trip day.

  4. Two smaller coolers (one for meat, one for veg) may be better than one large one. Also, I find a full cooler with block ice is very difficult to take in and out of the car safely: dividing your food into smaller coolers may help you when it comes time to tuck the coolers away for the night.

  5. Put your cooler in the car. I have occasionally partially 'locked' the cooler under a picnic table bench but that was in campgrounds where there were no seasoned racoons or skunks. Or bears. Better to be safe and still get breakfast in the morning than to attract unwanted guests. This general philosophy applies as much to urban car camping as it does to isolated backcountry camping.

  6. Check the plug on your cooler to ensure it is secure: a puddle of water in your car in the morning, or ants in the drained cooler is no fun. A trip to the home improvement store for silicone is no fun either but it will work if your plug breaks off and you need to McGyver it. (Not that this has happened to me).

  7. Opt for block ice if you are going for more than a day or two. The ice lasts much longer.

  8. Keep meals simple but nutritious. There's lots you and the kids may want to do while camping, and fueling your bodies well will help!

  9. Pay attention to what your family eats as you plan your trip. You may find that some of your regular meals are easily made while camping. Others can be modified.

  10. Don't sweat the normal routines. If bedtime snack is a major theme in your house, know that when camping the kitchen will literally be closed when you close up your car for the night. Many kids have an amazing ability to adjust to limits in choices and restrictions because the camping environment just doesn't support what can happen more easily at home. For those kiddos who have a difficult time with changes in routine, keep it simple and pay attention to the key rituals (is it the type of food they focus on, or is it something else like one on one time with you that is the clincher?).

MENU IDEAS:

BBQ PIZZA 

Sautee onions, peppers on a fry pan.  Add small stir-fry size chicken (or meat alternative) on pan.  Remove from pan.  Pan-heat soft tortilla shells (gluten free, regular...whatever fits your family's diet) with gouda (or alternative), barbecue sauce, the chicken and veg until cheese is melted.  Slide off onto places, cut into triangles, and eat.

PASTA:

Cook your pasta of choice in large saucepan.  On a separate burner (or afterwards if you don't have two burners free), saute onions, peppers in fry pan with oil.  Add ground beef or alternative, stir until cooked.  Strainers are nice but you can also adequately drain pasta with oven mitts and the lid on, and a slow pour down at ground level.  A bit of grass is usually ok :)  Empty pasta into a large bowl.  Put beef mixture into now-empty saucepan and add tomato sauce.  Heat.  Add into drained pasta.    Pasta can be cooked ahead of time if time will be tight for dinner.  

TACOS:

Cook ground beef, chicken strips or alternative ground protein as you do for pasta.  Add taco seasoning (we ditch homemade and bring the Ol' El Paso stuff for camping).  Slice avocados and cherry tomatoes, cut some lettuce, and get out the shredded cheese or alternative.  Bring a jar of salsa, whatever taco shells (or romaine lettuce wraps) you like to eat, and !Ahi Esta!, you've got a meal!  

BREAKFAST:

Either keep it simple: favourite cereal, with milk.

Medium grade: instant or quick oatmeal with nut butter, raisins and seeds.

Or heavy duty: Scrambled eggs and pre-cooked bacon.  You can cook the bacon the night before or when you first get up.  Chop extra peppers and onions the night before to add to the omelette, and hopefully you have extra cheese too.  Bacon is messy, and I tend to avoid it when camping.  I recommend buying eggs in plastic cartons or using the camp coleman-style egg containers: cardboard gets soggy in coolers.

You can also pre-mix the dry ingredients for pancakes and add eggs and liquid when you are preparing breakfast.  Bring nut butter, jam, syrup, or honey.  Or all four!

LUNCH:

We approach lunch as a light, cold, picnic-y meal so that you can make it quickly, pack it in a backpack, or graze between swimming, playing frisbee, or relaxing.  Of course, any dinner ideas work for lunch too if you are hanging around the campsite at lunch time.

Bring romaine, croutons, and Caesar salad dressing; use left over beef, chicken, or other protein from the night before (requires making extra or having kids that are too busy having fun to eat all their dinner --this happens a lot to us while camping).  Store extra meat in sealed container in cooler.

Prepare humus, tortilla chips, guacamole, cucumber, peppers, cauliflower, baby-cut carrots, and any other vegetable that will fit in your cooler.

Have nuts, seeds, raisins, and other trail mix options for hikes, or for hungry tummies while you make lunch.

Bring cold cuts if you eat processed meat.

Have easy warm meals for cooler days: instant or quick cook oatmeal with nut butter, macaroni and cheese (even if you forget the butter and milk), hot dogs if you have a barbecue, canned soups.

SNACKS and DESSERTS:

Bake muffins and cookies ahead of time.  Bring graham crackers, good chocolate, and marshmallows for S'mores.  I've tried the 'prepackaged' S'mores and they were very stale.  Perhaps that is not always the case, but it's not an experiment I want to run again!  If you have kids that are greatly affected by sugar or who go to bed too early for a fire, consider S'mores for after breakfast: for kids, the memories will be great whether the special camping rituals are after sunset or during the day.  Marshmallows can be cooked over a barbecue if there is a fire ban or if smoke allergies are an issue (Mother Earth will thank you, though I do know how lovely a crackling fire is for the camping experience).

If you like kitchen hacks while camping, consider lining a cardboard box with foil and place coals or hot bricks in the bottom to make an oven for baking.  

PACKING YOUR KITCHEN KIT:

One of the pleasures of camping for me is the isolation and (even if urban camping) my expectation is to avoid stores unless absolutely necessary.  As a result, I do my best not to forget anything critical.  And usually I manage that!

Some things, for me, are a must.  Others are an indulgence.  Take what you need, create a bit of a buffer, and leave the rest at home.  Usually, as long as you have the basics, you can make do missing a thing or two.

take a deep breath, and Have fun.

Camping for our family has meant an immersion in simplicity, a realization that our family priorities sometimes are at odds with our modern life, and that having nothing to do is a big blessing. There can be pressure to think that we need to plan our time. Limit your planning to getting there, and let the rest take shape. Let the experience (rained out barbecue, and leaky tent included) be an exercise in letting go, and giving nature her due: we try to control so much in our lives, that taking a deep breath and accepting what comes can be a welcome shift.

If you’d like to learn more….

Join me June 29th in St. Catharines for a presentation that is part slideshow (photos of Ontario and American Southwest camping with our kiddos), part how-to (more menu ideas, kit lists, and lessons learned), and part environmental imperative (a perspective on environmental illness, including guidance for preventing Lyme Disease).

Sign up here to be on the RSVP list for June 29th (you will also receive my weekly newsletter) or email me at heather@heatherboyd.ca to RSVP.

Let’s get camping!

Breath of Fresh Air -Reasons and Resources for Getting Outdoors

Seneca, New York (image in the public domain)

Seneca, New York (image in the public domain)

 

As an OT interested in environmental health, I am excited to see how much more attention is being paid by health professionals to the importance of being outdoors in natural environments. 

Time in nature is more than just something that 'feels good'.  More time outdoors means less time indoors, where air quality is frequently much poorer.  More time outdoors also addresses many physiological needs that improve physical and mental health, energy level, hormone balance, growth, and more.  At its most basic, more time outdoors fills our evolutionary need and gives our bodies and minds the type of environment we are physiologically designed to thrive in.

I recommend more time outdoors surrounded by trees, or with sand between your toes, or soft grass to lie on for cloud gazing for families as a balm for virtually any of the challenges young families face.  And I'm not alone.  More Occupational Therapists are promoting outdoor time as an effective and evidence-based approach to a variety of challenges.  

Kathleen Lockyer, an Occupational Therapist from California, has been 'prescribing' outdoor time for over 20 years.  In April 2018, Kathleen co-led a keynote address  at Guelph Outdoor School in Ontario, Canada on the importance of accessing the outdoors.  Her website has helpful resources as does her former blog The website RxOutside.com  focuses on her Nature-Led (c) approach to supporting children.

Angela Hanscom is a paediatric Occupational Therapist whose TimberNook.com approach to taking OT outdoors for addressing such diverse issues as ADHD and autism, focuses on nature-based child-led activities.  Based in New Hampshire, Angela's approach is now modelled through mentoring, training, and certification, with programs for children running in Calgary, Alberta, and Peterborough, Ontario

OTs aren't the only ones developing unique nature-based programs for children.  Growth in interest in Forest Schools in Canada, and in child-led outdoor programs like Erin Fleming's Little Seeds playgroup and Learning in the Woods alternative education in Hamilton, Ontario are providing ample opportunity for families who want to increase their child's time in nature.  The motivation to access these programs comes in part from the aesthetics and romance of the outdoors and in part through a desire to address health and behavioural issues beyond prescriptive and medically-based approaches.  Regardless of whether the reasons are romantic or a response to specific challenges, time outdoors is time well-spent.

Just as filling our plates with nature-based foods leaves less room for processed foods, filling our days with nature-based activities results in less time indoors.  Considering the well-established evidence regarding poor air quality and its impact on child health, the more time we can spend time in healthy outdoor environments the better.  Indoor Generations' compelling video on the hazards of indoor air quality on children is rather dark in its mood but reflects the current evidence on not only the proportion of time many children are spending indoors compared to previous generations, but also the reasons why indoor air quality tends to be so poor.  

With several weeks of summer weather, and a beautiful shift to fall stretched out before us, there is ample time to rejig our days to focus more on access to the outdoors.  With some attention to our routines, a motivation to shift how our time is spent, and a desire to access an effective and free 'treatment' for many of the things that ail us, summer is a terrific time to lay the ground-work for a nature-influenced childhood for our kids.  The winter, while posing some practical and psychological hurdles, is also a wondrous time to access nature --with a bit of planning, the proper clothing, and a summer of rejigging priorities, our children can benefit from outdoor access year-round.

If you are looking for strategies to incorporate more outdoor time (including camping with kids!), and feel like making these kinds of changes is daunting, I consult to families who have questions or concerns about infant development, infant sleep, and parenting.  Nature time supports all three of these areas, and I would be more than happy to support you.  

 

Resources:  

Forest School Canada http://childnature.ca/forest-school-canada/

Indoor air and child health: https://www.velux.com/indoorgeneration

Kathleen Lockyer: https://www.kathleenlockyer.com/  https://www.rxoutside.com

Learning in the Woods learninginthewoods.ca

Little Seeds https://www.facebook.com/groups/1459957610922767/

Timbernook OT program timbernook.com and timbernook.com/canada
 

Short Hills Provincial Park, Ontario, Canada (photo in public domain)

Short Hills Provincial Park, Ontario, Canada (photo in public domain)