Camping with very small children can seem daunting, and it does take a lot of preparation and packing, but let me tell you that it's absolutely worth it!
Our two (almost three) year old son adores camping, and our 10 month old son has already been on two camping trips. There's something about sleeping, cooking, eating, playing, and just generally existing outdoors that really puts a smile on their little faces. It's a wonderful experience to give your children and I definitely recommend it!
Our most recent camping trip was in early October to the Otways in Victoria, Australia, when our littlest boy was eight months old. It's a beautiful place, and a beautiful time of year! Mr. Toddler loved going on walks to see the waterfalls, and had a blast sitting around the fire at night time talking with everybody and eating his snacks.
Small children are eating machines, and this doesn't change when you are out camping. In fact, they tend to eat even more than usual while running around outdoors from dawn til dusk. It's important to make sure you bring enough food to keep up to their increased energy needs while camping.
This might sound like a massive undertaking, but it's really not. You just need to be selective about what sort of food items you bring along. Choose mainly foods which keep well at room temperature, are portable, and that won't create much mess.
What food did we bring for the kids?
Our most recent camping trip was for two nights, so two breakfasts, two lunches, two dinners, plus snacks. Here's a snapshot of most of the food we took with us to feed a toddler and an eight month old baby:
Pictured here we have:
- 5 bananas
- 3 mandarins
- 2 apples
- 2 jars of home made baby food breakfasts
- 2 jars of home made baby food dinners
- Corn kernels
- Goji berries
- Vegetable crackers
- Grated cheese and carrot
- Cheese pieces
- 6 wholegrain wraps with spinach and grated cheese (two were for Mr. Toddler)
We also stopped in a store on the way to the camp ground to pick up the following things:
- Milk, 2L
- Sausages, 12pk
- Bread, 1 loaf
- Peanut butter
- Ice for the esky
So of all the above items, the only things that needed to go into the esky to stay cold were:
- Baby food jars
- Corn kernels
- Cheese pieces
- Grated cheese and carrot
- Spinach and cheese wraps
The rest was simply stored in our camp pantry.
What our baby ate while camping
Our eight month old had baby food jars which I'd made at home for both breakfasts and dinners. I figured that these would be much easier than trying to prepare his meals at the campsite. For breakfast he had porridge with applesauce mixed in, and for dinner he had a simple beef and vegetable mash.
For lunches he had banana, mandarin and cheese pieces. I brought along a cheap high chair to sit him in so he could just eat his pieces of food right off the tray by the fire.
The little guy is still breastfed, so milk is easy for us while camping. For formula-fed babies there is more effort and organisation involved, but don't let that stop you as it is absolutely achievable! Bring a small camp gas cooker along to heat water for bottles. Before you go to bed, boil some water and put it in a good quality thermos to keep it warm so you don't need to get up through the night and boil water for bottles.
What our toddler ate while camping
Mr. Toddler had cheerios with milk and a banana for his breakfasts.
For lunches he had a cheese and spinach wrap and peanut butter sandwiches.
For dinner we had sausages in bread. Normally we would have a more balanced meal with meat and vegetables, but we decided that sausages would do just fine for two nights out camping.
Then all the rest was for snacks - Mr. Toddler burns through snacks, so we made sure to bring plenty along. He had apples, bananas, mandarins, sultanas, corn kernels, crackers, goji berries, grated cheese and carrot (a fantastic flavor combo), cheese pieces and dry cheerios. A lot of these snacks were just mixed up into a ziplock bag and given to him to carry around the campground. This was also a great opportunity to teach him how to properly dispose of his trash in an unfamiliar place once he'd finished.
Tips for feeding your little ones while camping
- When choosing a campground, try to find one with a store nearby in case you need to pick up any extra food, drinks or ice.
- Consider buying a camp pantry. They are fairly inexpensive, are easy to set up, and will allow you to organize your food, dishes and other camping items so they are easy to see and grab out as you need them.
- Consider buying a fold-up table for meals, it's so much easier for little ones to eat at a table rather than from a plate on their laps.
- Bring zip lock bags to store food in, as well as plenty of extra ones to put snacks in for your little one to carry around the campground, in the car, or on walks. They are convenient, resealable, and you will have less dishes to wash or paper plates/bowls to dispose of.
- Make sure you bring plenty of water, not just to drink but also to wash any dishes, clean grubby hands and faces, and also clean any scrapes your little ones might get from playing outside all day.
- If you are bringing meat from home, freeze it before you leave. This will help it keep longer in the esky, as well as keep everything else in there colder for longer. If you are bringing a pre-made pasta sauce or casserole along, go ahead and freeze that too. If you need meat to cook within the next few hours, remember to leave some unfrozen as it may not defrost quick enough to cook so soon.
- Use airtight containers to pack things in separately in your esky. You don't want melting ice water to get into all the food, particularly if you have your meat in the same esky as food you will be eating uncooked.
- Try to avoid bringing messy food that will result in a need for clothes changes and face washing. Stay away from sloppy yoghurts, berries which will stain skin and clothes, etc. You really want to try and minimize the amount of extra work you need to do while out camping. Having said that, bring plenty of extra clothes anyway - they will definitely get dirty!
- Dried fruits such as sultanas, goji berries, apricots, dates, etc are a great snack food to bring along. They keep well at room temperature, taste great, and take up very little space.
- Pre-make sandwiches and wraps to bring along. Store them in an airtight container in the esky. This will cut out a lot of time preparing food at the campsite.
- If you have a baby or very young toddler, bring along a highchair. It not only makes mealtimes much easier, a highchair is also a great place for them to sit and watch the fire. You could also put some toys on the tray for them to play with.
- Bring along a play pen or portacot. These will give your little one a safe area to play in so you can get things done around the campsite such as setting up tents or preparing meals.
Most of all, just have fun! One of the best parts of parenting is sharing new, exciting and rewarding experiences with your children, and camping is a great way of doing it.
Have you taken your babies / toddlers camping? What was their favorite part? Do you have any other helpful tips for feeding little ones at a campground? We'd love to hear from you, let us know in the comments below.