Campfire cooking

These healthy staples make for some delicious outdoor-cooking grub.
Published March 7, 2017

Philosophers may still debate over the sound a falling tree makes in an empty forest, but if you're using the same logic for calorie-counting, think again. No matter how far you are from civilization, every calorie counts, even if you're all alone in the wilderness.

Not that we're recommending you start foraging for berries or edible mushrooms. There are easier ways. Many of the most popular camping foods are actually good for you, says Shirley Perryman, MS, RD, nutrition extension specialist at Colorado State University. And most not-so-healthy outdoor eats can easily be replicated in lower fat, lower calorie versions that are still high on taste.

Snacks to pack for a camping trip 

Pack it: Carrot and celery sticks (and other pre-packaged veggies). These straightforward snacks are rich in nutrients and high in water content to help with hydrating.
Make it better: It's hard to improve on something so simple and healthy, but by buying pre-packed veggie sticks you can cut down any prep work that's involved. If you want a snack with a little more kick, stir a powdered dressing mix into fat-free sour cream or mayonnaise and use it as a dip.

Pack it: Chili or beans. These easy-to-heat foods pack in the protein and nutrients.
Make it better: Look for low-salt versions at the store to keep your sodium intake down. If you don't mind a thinner chili, mix in a can of tomatoes to decrease the calories per serving. Also, be mindful when adding toppings like low-fat cheese or fat-free sour cream, but feel free to pile on the veggies.

Pack it: Trail mix. Nuts and dried fruits are great for an afternoon pick-me-up.
Make it better: Choose a trail mix with all-natural ingredients. (No, shiny, candy-coated chocolates don't count!) A mix of nuts, seeds and dried fruits can add protein and natural sugars to your diet and a little skip to your step. But remember, although this tasty treat is good for you, a small amount of nuts and fruit goes a long way. Don't overdo it: Pre-portion them into containers and calculate the Points values ahead of time.

Pack it: Oatmeal. This good-for-you breakfast food is rich in fiber.
Make it better: It's tempting to pick individually packaged, sweetened varieties of instant oatmeal, but it doesn't take much longer to make the original kind. By adding your own brown sugar or dried fruit for flavor, you'll keep the Points value down and the nutrients up.

Pack it: Dehydrated or canned soups. Quick to fix, soup can help you stay hydrated and add nutrients to your diet. 
Make it better: Many soups are high in sodium, so look for a low-salt option. Also, some brands of dry noodle soups fry the noodles, so choose baked varieties for a healthier meal. To add extra nutrients, start with vegetable soup and add beans, tofu or more veggies.

Skip these eats
Skip it: Hot dogs, bratwursts and burgers. This grub can be high in fat and sodium.
What to sub: Veggie burgers and tofu or turkey hot dogs are obvious alternatives, and a grilled Portobello mushroom is also a nutritious stand-in. Healthy skewers are also a quick fix for supper: Simply spear a mix of veggies like peppers and onions alongside lean meats, such as chicken chunks or homemade turkey meatballs.

Skip it: Macaroni and cheese. This favorite may be easy to prepare, but even "healthy" varieties lack substantial nutritional value.
What to sub: Pack pre-cooked whole grain pasta, a jar of low-calorie tomato-based pasta sauce and texturized vegetable protein, or TVP, which can be found in health food store bins. Hydrate the TVP in water (Add 1/3 cup TVP to 2/3 cup water) then add to the sauce for ground meat-like texture and protein. For extra nutrients, add veggies like mushrooms or zucchini.

Skip it: Sports bars. Unless you plan to summit a super-steep peak, these bars supply more calories and carbs than you need.
What to sub: For less filling choices, steer clear of the performance snacks and instead look in the granola bar aisle. Light varieties will satisfy your crunch craving without packing on the pounds.

Skip it: Juice and juice drinks. This high-calorie beverage tastes great, but lacks the fiber of whole fruit. And unless it's 100% juice, it's really just fruit-flavored sugar water.
What to sub: Nothing beats water, but for a thirst-quenching treat, try mixing individual size flavor packets into your water bottle. This way you'll sacrifice calories, not flavor. Or grab fresh, packable fruit, such as oranges, apples, cherries or berries. These choices contain fiber, which you don't often find in juice alone.

Skip it: S'mores. This messy dessert is a real splurge.
What to sub: Nothing can replace the gooey goodness of this campfire favorite, so think portion control. Instead of packing a king-size milk chocolate bar, bring along a few snack-size dark chocolate bits or miniature chocolate bars. Same goes for the marshmallows: Carry only enough for each camper to have 3 or 4 S'mores to ensure you enjoy, but don't overindulge.