Stocking the Camper Pantry on a Budget

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Our camper is in the shop for warranty work.  It should be done soon. When it comes home, I will be ready to pack and organize it for this year’s camping season.  Everyone has probably figured out by now that we don’t wait until summer to camp We love to go all year ’round, but late winter and spring is a good time to re-stock and rotate the pantry so things don’t get too old.  Also, I noticed that on our last trip over Christmas, I had to get very creative with my cooking since some of the items I usually keep in there had been used up and not replaced.  So, I have a big pile of items that will go into the camper when it returns.

When we are camping, I have found that it is a budget-buster to go to the store frequently, if there even is a store near-by.   Sometimes, the stores near campgrounds do have food, but it’s really expensive.   I don’t want to buy ketchup, mustard, canned soup, etc., etc., etc. while I am camping.  I spend too much money and end up with a lot of duplicate items that I already own at home and were purchased on sale or in bulk for a fraction of the camp-store prices.  One reason we camp is to keep our vacations frugal so we can go more often.

This past summer, we went tent camping two times, once to the Redwood Forest, and once to Lost Lake, near Hood River.  The rest of the time, we took our camper.  I organized and planned the food meticulously for the tent camping trips, especially the one to the Redwoods since we took very little camping gear with us, just the bare bone essentials.  I have a lot more options when we are in the camper, so here’s what I do.

I stock the camper pantry with ingredients and cans of food similar to what I stock at home, but focusing more on quick-to-make meals and convenience foods so that I have less dishes to clean and more time to relax.  I start by thinking up a few meals and making sure I have the ingredients for those. Then I fill in the rest with as many all-purpose ingredients as I can fit in, such as cans of pineapple, tomato sauce, etc.  When we are camping, I don’t worry if I have all ingredients for a certain dish–if we run out, we use what parts and pieces we do have left.  No one will suffer if they need to eat spaghetti on curly noodles instead of long skinny ones, or tacos without tomatoes:)

I may not have all of these items at the same time.  If some get eaten, I might replace them right then, or just plan to eat something else until I do replace them.  Everyone’s camper pantry will look different from mine, but here’s what I do try to put in.

Spices and baking supplies:  I have tiny little Tupperware containers I label with the name of several common spices and re-fill from the bulk spice section.  That is much less expensive. I keep them in the camper in plastic baskets and refill when needed. I have little containers of soda, baking powder, cornstarch and white rice flour for thickening. I put gluten-free flour, sugar, brown sugar, etc. in zip-top bags or containers and keep a small supply in the cupboard.

Staples: I just put things like rice and noodles in small baskets from the Dollar Store and put them in the cupboards, basket and all.  The baskets are easy to pull out and sort through.  I label them with cooking instructions since they are from my bulk supply.

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Spaghetti:  noodles and jars of sauce, frozen hamburger in freezer or home-made meatballs that I make ahead and freeze

Tacos:  Frozen turkey or beef burger–either already browned and seasoned, or raw, canned re-fried beans, taco sauce and salsa, hard corn shells or tortillas, olives, cheese in fridge, lettuce and tomatoes.

Fire meals:  Meat and sausage, hamburger patties, hot dogs, chicken–usually protein that Rob can cook over a fire, which he loves to do.  Then, I make sure I have buns if needed, but don’t mind serving plain hot dogs or hamburger patties if I don’t.  My kids love to roast anything like S’mores, apples, and hot dogs, but especially plain marshmallows.  They will roast them for 3 meals a day if I let them.  We usually take firewood, too, from home, so we don’t have to buy it at the campground, but Rob takes care of all that.

Dutch oven meals:  These would include ingredients for stews, chicken and dumplings, soups, and any other recipe Rob wants to try.  We often take home-canned apple pie filling and he makes a crisp in the Dutch oven.  He has several cookbooks and if he wants to make a certain food, and tells me ahead of time, I take the ingredients.  He is in charge of his pots, since they ride under the camper in the storage compartments.

Canned and boxed goods:  I take as many items as I can fit in.  I buy in bulk, and on sale, and pay rock-bottom prices.  I like to take advantage of that, even when I’m camping.  If I have a wide variety of ingredients that are versatile, I can make many different meals from what’s in there.  I just mix and match according to what we are hungry for.  I usually put canned beans in the camper.  At home, I use dry ones and cook them up, but usually don’t want to do that while camping. I put some canned soups in there for the same reason, as well as boxes of mac and cheese, pork and beans in cans, and cup of noodles, instant mashed potatoes and other things you just pour hot water on.  I cannot tolerate even the slightest bit of gluten, so make sure I have plenty of choices as well.  I take home-canned fruits, green beans, relishes, pickles, etc.  I take a basket or box to put the washed, empty jars in when we empty them.  It’s not hard to do, and saves us a bundle.

Mixes: I put some gluten-free mixes in as well, such as cornbread mix, cookie mix, and biscuit mix.  They save time and dish washing.  I often make my own, clearly labeled with the directions.  The top picture is some pizza crust mix I had Lovana make up for the camper.  The second picture is a pizza I made from a mix from last year.  I like to rotate them to keep them fresh.  We have a small cookie sheet in the camper that will work in the tiny oven and we can do one pizza at a time.  I keep tomato sauce and paste in the cupboard as well as mushrooms, olives, pineapple, etc.  Any favorite recipe can be made into a mix.  The key to to clearly label it and to be sure to take all of the wet ingredients, such as oil, butter, eggs, or whatever it calls for to finish it off.  I also have some mixes I bought.

Freezer:  Beef, pork, chicken, usually at least 1 casserole I prepare at home and freeze, frozen vegetables from our garden, bread or buns (if room), 1 tray of ice cubes, 1 box butter, and some coffee.  I stuff this as full as I can since we often go for over a week and occasionally have friends and relatives “drop by.”  I love cooking for a crowd and like to have plenty on hand, even camping.  One time, we were camping with one set of friends and another family dropped by with their children (like 100 miles from home), and we were able to feed about 15-17 people between both of our freezers.   We were delighted that they had made the effort to come see us and served an eclectic meal. It was filling and everyone had fun.

Refrigerator:  Some things stay in there, such as mayonnaise, condiments, drink pouches or juice boxes for the kids (we rarely use those at home, just camping), spreadable butter, jam, etc.  Right before camping, I fill it up with produce, eggs, dairy products, lunchmeat, leftovers from our home fridge, usually 1 meal already cooked for the first night (such as a casserole or some soup because we usually arrive late in the day and can cook it on the stove or in the oven while we set up camp), cheese, etc.  (at our house, cheese gets its own category since some of my “mice” live on it).  I might make potato salad, or some other food as well, depending on how much time I have before we leave.

Other:  I usually take a bag of potatoes, some onions, cereal, and some drinks and snacks or chips.  I have real plates in the camper, but take paper products as well.  We use them when we eat outside, which happens a lot if weather permits.  I have baggies, saran wrap, foil, dish-washing soap, scratchy pads, and coconut oil to season the cast iron with.

I’m getting excited!  All of this organization is putting me in the mood to go camping.  I hope this helps with your organization.  If you have ideas, feel free to share them with the rest of us in the comment section.

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3 thoughts on “Stocking the Camper Pantry on a Budget

  1. Great post. I know when we moved into ours – I brought too much! I am slowly pulling things out and putting them into storage. I didnt want to wash dishes all the time, so I did put our plates in storage and decided to use paper plates, but I brought our flat wear with. I had to lol when I read the statement you made about having different pasta to go with your sauce because we hardly ever use the right noodles!! lol

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    1. This camper has an outside kitchen. We haven’t had one before, so are excited. It’s stocked with paper plates, barbecue tools, an outside cooktop and a mini-fridge that only works when we are plugged in. So, we are going to use it to hold drinks when we travel and a few things like hot dogs that we want to cook outside when we are camping. I can bring some paper goods into the camper when I want to use them. Over Christmas, we used our dishes and washed them. I can see that when the weather is good, and we can actually eat outside, we will use the paper more often, and then just burn them afterwards in the fire. We are year-round campers, even in rainy Oregon.

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