Preparing healthy, satisfying food during a camping trip isn't nearly as straightforward a proposition as cooking at home. Camp stoves are small, and fires are erratic, and the lack of refrigeration -- and sometimes, of potable water -- add to the difficulty. Perishable foods are out of the question unless you feel like toting a cooler, so it's best to think in terms of foods that will hold up perfectly well without refrigeration or cooling.
The Bar Exam
High-energy snack foods for hiking and camping aren't difficult to arrange. One of the most versatile options is granola bars or energy bars, which are lightweight and can help keep you going if your camping trip includes lots of hiking or other strenuous opportunities. Commercially made bars are relatively inexpensive, or you can custom-tailor your own personal versions and wrap them for the trail.
If small nibbles are more your style, or if you need the flexibility to provide kid-sized snacks without ruining the kids' dinner, you can exercise some serious creativity. "Good ol' raisins and peanuts" are tasty and nutritious, but they're not the only options. Dried cranberries and blueberries or apple and banana chips are just as good in a campground mixture, as are pumpkin seeds, cashews, sunflower seeds or almonds in place of peanuts.
The Can Can
You won't want to pack too many cans if you're hiking, but they're a useful option if you'll be setting up camp and coming back each evening for meals. They're heavier than many camping foods, partly because of their packaging and partly because they contain all their natural moisture. That offsets their weight to some extent, because it reduces the quantity of water you need to haul or purify.
If you're going to bring cans, choose high-impact foods that will reward you for the extra weight. For example, canned bacon will survive even the longest trip, and it makes your breakfasts a lot more enjoyable. Canned chicken or meats punch up otherwise bland meals, and canned chili or other pre-made meals are ideal for days when you're all tuckered out and don't want to invest a lot of time in dinner.
It's in the Bag
Prepared meals are also available as boil-in-the-bag portions. These meals are lighter than cans and convenient for camping in areas where water is available but its quality is suspect. Just drop one pouch per person into simmering water -- two, for big appetites -- and dinner's ready in minutes. Even better, one pot can provide each diner with a separate meal. That's a great convenience, if your party includes finicky eaters.
Carry in the Carbs
If your camping trips are filled with hiking and intense activities, don't neglect the carbs. You'll need lots of fuel, and they're relatively light. Uncooked pasta, oatmeal, rice or more exotic options such as millet or quinoa are all pack-friendly, and provide lots of food energy. If water's a problem, pack along cooked grains in boiling bags or rely on tortillas and other durable flatbreads to provide some substance to your meals.
Light and Dry
Dehydrated foods are among the most varied of pack-friendly items. Dried fruits and vegetables lose some of their nutrients, but they remain as healthful and unprocessed a camp food as anyone could ask for. Prepare your own at home, if you have a dehydrator, but they're readily available at most bulk food stores. Just remember to pack them in waterproof bags or containers, so a sudden rain or a tumble into the river can't spoil your week's meals.
The Veggie Rainbow
Flakes of commercially dehydrated vegetables, or their larger homemade counterparts, cook quickly along with your rice or in a pasta sauce. A handful of dehydrated veggies can make a tasty soup with pasta and a good-quality bouillon cube or pouch of miso. They even make their way furtively into pasta sauces or chili, providing added nutrition on the sly to vegetable-averse kids or adults.
Meaty and Chewy
Jerky and shelf-stable cured meats are also great camping foods, both as high-protein snacks and as savory meal ingredients. Dry-cured sausage is good for quick sandwiches, or it can be combined with rice and veggies to make a campfire entree. Jerky packs a similar punch, and even a small quantity can flavor a large portion of soup or stew. For vegetarians, dehydrated tofu or tofu jerky can fill the same role.
Powdered baking mixes can make you campground hero when you turn out biscuits, cornbread or quickbreads on hot stones or in a Dutch oven. A bag or sealed lightweight container of mix provides lots of options, especially if you also bring a bag of sugar, a bag of milk powder and one of powdered eggs. With a few spices and dehydrated fruit, you could even muster a pie or cobbler at the fireside.
Most of these foods can be used in multiple combinations, so keep an open mind. For example, you might bring dried eggs for baking, but they can also be scrambled with powdered milk, dehydrated bell peppers and canned bacon, then folded into a soft flour tortilla to make a breakfast burrito.
If you're camping or backpacking into an arid area, you'll need to carry most or all of your water. Be sure to carefully calculate the water you'll need to stay hydrated, as well as what you'll need for cooking purposes.
If you plan to pack your food every day, as opposed to hauling it in and then working from a fixed campsite, you might find it best to plan your meals in advance. Then bring in exactly the foods you'll need for those meals, rather than simply hauling ingredients you might or might not use.
Even in the most pristine wilderness, don't assume that the available water is potable. Parasites and bacteria are commonplace, so water should always be boiled, treated with water purification tablets or filtered through a 1-micron filter before use.