Summer vacation time is here, and many people are going camping over the next few weeks. Whether you’re tent camping or “glamping” in a fully functional motor home or cabin, meal planning is one of the top priorities. Not many people want to wait until the tent stakes are secure to figure out what to throw on the fire or grill. For those on specific diets or meal plans, planning ahead is crucial.

If you follow the paleo lifestyle, you know that camping is the epitome of paleo. Our hunter-gather ancestors hunted the food, gathered the food, then cooked it over a fire – and then slept outside or in the cave or another shelter. Today, eating whole food over a fire is as close to returning to our roots as it gets. But whenever we’re trying something new with our diets and a social situation arises, the first instinct is to find ways to make your new diet fit a different mold. I felt a little silly last year when I searched for paleo meals for camping. What I was really searching for was the tried-and-true cooking methods over an open fire or grill using the foods I already eat.

So what are some easy and effective ways to make your next camping trip a cooking success? You need proper tools and great food.

[Read: Food for Thought: Can the Paleo Diet Heal Mental Disorders?]

Camping Tools

This is not an exhaustive list, and it greatly depends on your level of camping. Primitive campers will need to bring all their equipment, so they’ll need to be selective in their meal planning. For basic camping, you need three things:

Heat source: Decide if you’ll be using wood, charcoal or both. If you’re camping in state or federal parks, check your amenities list to see if they have a grill separate from the fire or the one that swings over an open pit.
All-purpose cookware: I love a large cast-iron skillet or dutch oven. If you like soups, an additional large stock pot with a lid is great to have. Whatever you choose, make sure it’s suitable for high heat.
Campfire and grill utensils: A long pair of tongs, a spatula and a long spoon will handle most cooking needs.
[Read: The Paleo Perspective: Is Fossil ‘Fuel’ the Solution to Our Obesity Epidemic?]

Camping Meals

To organize your meals, think about the method of campfire cooking. Here are four to consider:

Soups: Soups are an easy and very versatile method of campfire cooking. You can start with a protein and add any vegetables and broth. Chili is a very common camp meal.
Stir-fry: This is basically soup without broth. Using the large skillet, start with some protein and then add vegetables, sweet potatoes and seasoning. Common skillet suppers include sausage with potatoes, peppers, vegetables, or ground beef with squash, zucchini, onions and peppers. Shrimp cooks quickly, so add them after you’ve cooked your vegetables, stirring until pink and done.
Grill: For the grill, nothing beats a great steak, pork chop, burger or fish. Add skewers of vegetables, or make veggie steam packets.
Steam: Steaming vegetables inside aluminum foil packets can take some trial and error. The good news: Checking that something is done is easy. I highly suggest using heavy-duty foil to make your packets. Add vegetables, seasoning and a small amount of water and butter. You can also make meat and veggie packets. The cooking times depends greatly on distance from heat and the temperature of your heat source. Potatoes and other dense starches take a long time, so I suggest cutting them smaller than your other vegetables so they’re done around the same time.
[Read: Bachelor Pad Kitchen Must-Haves.]

Cooking Tips

Use common ingredients across several meals, and rely on seasoning and spices for versatility. The reason for this is food storage and waste.
Pick foods that are easy to travel and prepare. Peppers, onions, summer squash and zucchini can be used in many meals – they work well with most protein sources and cooking methods. You can skewer, grill, steam or put them in soups. They don’t have to be refrigerated and can be stored easily.
Cook once, eat twice. If you’re camping long-term, think of food as food, not breakfast-lunch-dinner. That big pot of soup the night before can be used again for breakfast and re-heated over the morning fire. If you’re grilling burgers, brats or dogs, make enough for two meals. Reheating food over a smaller fire is easier than making a large cooking fire or adding charcoal to the grill.
Determine how you’ll store cooked and uncooked leftovers Heavy-duty aluminum foil can store both if it’s tightly sealed. Plastic stackable bowls or zip bags are also great storage ideas.
Season, spice and herbs. The smallest change in flavor can have a big impact on camp meals. Basil, rosemary, dill, and thyme can be used in four different meals with similar ingredients – and have four very different tastes. Just because you’re camping doesn’t mean you have to rely on tasteless food or just foods in a can. Paleo cooking is using whole food with no additives such as sugar, gluten, soy or MSG. Depend on your own spices and herbs to make delicious meals that taste like real food.
Don’t get too caught up in “is this paleo?” Cook and eat whole food that you can identify, and enjoy your time outdoors.

Katrina Plyler