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Camping with kids? Play with your food!

LINDA COAN O'KRESIK | BDN
Posted May 29, 2012, at 2:47 p.m.
Last modified May 30, 2012, at 10:59 p.m.
LINDA COAN O'KRESIK | BDN

A few years ago, as a family camping trip loomed, my (now) wife and I began to panic.

We figured her three young kids would have fun most of the time. We also figured that at other times, one or two might end up bleeding, or arguing, or creating a general nuisance that might get us evicted, tent and all, from our state park campsite.

They are, after all, kids.

But our biggest fear had nothing to do with conduct, or eviction, or even ravenous packs of blood-thirsty raccoons (which we may or may not have threatened to unleash upon the kids, should they misbehave).

No, our fear was much more mundane: How were we going to get three semi-picky eaters to enjoy the suppers we’d prepare over a campfire or Coleman stove?

We needn’t have worried. After a few quick searches on the Internet, Karen and I ended up with plenty of good ideas. And after the kids ate like hogs for the entire trip (even the most picky, birdlike eater of the bunch), we realized an important fact.

The kids ate enthusiastically because they played important roles in each evening’s meal. (It’s hard, apparently, to sit down and say, “I don’t care for this,” when YOU were the one who decided what you were going to eat).

Don’t want your kid too close to the campfire? Don’t think they know the first thing about cooking? Don’t worry. Here are a few sure-fire ideas that you can tinker with to meet your children’s preferences when you’re far away from a kitchen or pizza joint.

A quick disclaimer: None of these ideas is original. All are available in many forms on the Internet. All ill-fated attempts at humor, however, can be blamed on me.

Foil-wrap meals a hit

OK. Here’s the deal. Even if you’re a bozo when it comes to cooking outdoors, you can succeed on a grand scale. The first key to your future success: Buy a roll of tinfoil. Better yet, buy several.

Then build a campfire. Reduce it to cooking coals and get ready for the magic to start.

If you’ve camped at all, you may have cooked foil-wrapped meals. If you have, you’ll surely vouch for this magical meal-in-a-pouch. It’s quick. It’s easy. And (best of all, as I may have mentioned already) if the kids hate what they’re eating, it’s THEIR fault.

They picked the ingredients. They filled their own pouches. And you? All you did was cut up ingredients, handle the cooking chores, and (hopefully) pull each packet out of the coals before the contents were piles of smoldering ashes.

According to “ Art of Manliness,” a blog on all manly things, foil-pack cooking is remarkably easy.

The basic theory: Cut up some meat, some veggies, or other key ingredients (along with some favorite dry spices), wrap them up securely in tinfoil, and get cooking!

Among the tips offered at that website: Use heavy duty foil, or double-wrap your meals. Spray some cooking spray on the cooking side of the foil. Put the meat on the bottom of the package. Raw, hard veggies take a long time to cook, plan accordingly. Cook too long rather than too short. Flip. Flip. Flip again. Check progress once in awhile by opening your packet.

Then eat.

We’ve done ground beef with mushrooms, onions and potatoes, but that’s just a start. “The Art of Manliness” offers suggestions from Hamburger Veg-All, to Sausage and Eggs, Muffins in an Orange Shell, Apricot-glaze Pork Chops and Thanksgiving Dinner.

All sound easy. All will work. And all you’ve got to rely on is your ability to copy instructions off the Internet … or, if you want to have more fun, your imagination.

Who doesn’t like octopus?

When we were planning our trip, Karen happened upon a recipe online that we thought was cool. And no, it did not really involve cooking an octopus.

Instead, it called for creating octopi out of hot dogs. Simple. Cool. With one problem.

None of her kids like hot dogs.

The question: Would they like hot dogs if they didn’t look like hot dogs? If, per chance, they looked like octopi … or spiders … or whatever creepy-crawly we decided they looked like?

They did.

Again, this is a common campfire food. Trails.com has this recipe (if you can call a hot dog on a stick a recipe), as well as several other great suggestions that will keep the kids happy.

Your instructions: Find a suitable hot dog stick. Score the hot dog twice (or more, if you’re adventurous … the more strips you make, the more legs your octopi gets) from one end, stopping about two-thirds of the way down the dog. Put the hot dog on the stick, inserting it into the unsliced third. Find campfire. Roast weenie. Laugh hysterically as your hot dog’s “legs” curl during cooking.

Then plop the hot dog octopus (or spider) onto a plate, where it will sit, staring at you. Add condiments. Eat. Laugh. Enjoy. (Then, much later, realize that you don’t really like hot dogs).

More s’mores

I know, I know. Everybody knows how to make s’mores.

Toast a marshmallow. Add a chocolate bar and some graham crackers. Combine into a sandwich. Eat until you’re ready to burst. Then have one more, for good measure.

Easy.

But the folks who put together the Joy of Camping website have come up with a number of ways to spice up the old reliable s’more.

Some of their suggestions: Use Keebler Fudge Stripe cookies instead of graham crackers. The Hershey bar is no longer needed. Chow down on what they call a “cookie s’more.”

Spread peanut butter on a tortilla, sprinkle with chocolate chips and an untoasted marshmallow. Roll up the tortilla, wrap it in tinfoil, and cook on a grill grate for five minutes. You’ve just made a Mexican s’more.

Or build a “banana boat s’more,” by slicing a banana — still in the peel — lengthwise (but not all the way through). Sprinkle in some chocolate chips and mini marshmallows, wrap it in foil, and heat over the fire.

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