caring for creation while caring for family

Month: April 2016

A Trim Healthy Mama Goes Camping: or what I eat on a weekend camping trip

I just published a post on the allergy-friendly camping menu I use at least twice a year to feed 20-40 people.  One thing I love about the menu is its versatility.  There is something for everyone in the mix, so if you want to eat healthy, but a large part of the group does not, there are options for everyone.  See the original post for details on the complete menu I use.   This is the companion post I promised to write on what I eat on this trip while still staying “on plan” – the Trim Healthy Mama (THM) Plan, that is.

What I eat on a weekend camping trip to stay on plan with THM -

Burney Falls is one of our favorite stops on our field trips. This pictures says it all…

I love THM (you can read more about my journey with THM here), but one of the BEST things about the plan is that it is easy to tweak a basic menu to be on plan for you, but not for others.  The basic meal types simply pair healthy carbs with protein for an Energizing meal (E), healthy fats with protein for a Satisfying meal (S), or combine healthy carbs, fats, and protein for a Crossover meal (CO).   While camping, I am personally very active and generally hike a lot and I’m on my feet all day.  Therefore, I eat a lot and also indulge in a good amount of Crossover meals.  THM recommends incorporating Crossover meals occasionally when you are at or near goal weight, pregnant and/or nursing, trying to gain weight, or for people with high metabolisms.  When camping, I am burning even more calories than I do in a normal day; as a home school mom with little kids, I am generally quite active everyday (plus I try to exercise daily), but camping takes it up a notch.  If you are the kind of camper that likes to lounge at camp all day enjoying a great book and relaxing, there is nothing wrong with that, but you probably don’t want to eat as many crossovers as I do…

Please read my entire menu plan to understand what I pack for the large group for our trip – this article just goes into what I eat from that menu.  So, let’s jump in…

Day 1 :


Lunch for the group is make-your-own sandwiches, fruit, chips, and water or juice.  For myself, I like to do an E sandwich (think healthy carbs and low fat) on a couple pieces of sprouted whole wheat bread.  I use turkey meat, light mayo/mustard, lettuce, and tomato.  However, if I want to make it a Crossover by increasing the healthy fat, I would add some avocado and a cheese slice – yummy!  I add a piece of fruit and some water for a perfect meal.

If you wanted to make an S meal instead (think low in carbs and higher in fat), simply  switch out the sprouted bread for a low-carb wrap or a couple pieces of some THM Nuke Queen Bread made at home before the trip.  You could have up to half an avocado, cheese, and mayo with this option. You could also have a fattier sandwich meat, like salami or roast beef, or even add some pre-cooked bacon slices for a treat.  Most fruits would be too high carb for this option, but if you packed some berries, that would pair perfectly with an S lunch.


Snacks can be a bit tricky, because on THM we want to make sure they are centered around protein to keep us fuller longer and to stabilize our blood sugars.  My go-to camping snack is a piece of fruit (an E) and maybe some healthy popcorn (low in fat), but that does not give my body enough protein to balance out the snack.  If you pack some low-fat cheese sticks or a Triple-Zero yogurt, that would work.  You could also grab some sandwich meat from the cooler to add to the snack.  Nuts are also a great snack, especially to take along on a hike.

Sometimes on camping trips, I like to prepare some foods that travel well to bring along.  (I don’t do that for these large group trips, however – getting food ready for 40 people keeps me too busy!) I love to make some Cowboy Cookies by Mrs. Criddles Kitchen or make up some pack-able treats from the THM cookbook (there are too many wonderful choices to list).


Dinner on the first night is my Famous Taco Chili, which feeds an army and is THM E.  I make the base of it at home and then add the canned beans at camp for a quick “from scratch” meal.  To keep this meal an E, skip adding cheese and sour cream (unless it is low fat) and eat it with some on-plan blue corn tortilla chips.  I always add a pre-made salad mix to the meal, so for an E meal, I make sure it has a lighter dressing and toppings, and, of course, skip the croutons.

I love bringing pre-made salad mixes camping.  I never buy them normally, but when I’m camping, I still want to get my greens, but I don’t want to bother with washing, chopping, slicing, etc.   Read the ingredients carefully.  You may need to mix up a salad without some of the additions to keep it on plan, but that is easy to do.

Dessert – 

I wish THM marshmallows roasted well, but I don’t think they would hold up!  Instead, I have some Lilly’s chocolate and some hot tea and sit back and enjoy the fire!

Day 2

What I eat to stay on plan while camping with THMBreakfast –

I like to keep breakfast simple with such a large group, so I have a large variety of continental breakfast items and heat up a big pot of water.  I eat 2-3 packets of oatmeal topped with a little milk and sweetened with some THM Gentle Sweet.  I also have hot tea sweetened with some THM Gentle Sweet packets (you can find them at the THM store – so convenient for camping!) and half-n-half.  A piece of fruit is always a good addition to this E meal.

Be sure to select the  instant oatmeal packets carefully to find something on-plan.  Most instant oatmeal is made with many added ingredients, including a lot of sugar.  Even the “Plain” variety can have many additional ingredients, but there are some healthier brands, so make sure to read the labels.

To add some protein to your breakfast, I like to add a scoop of collagen powder – it is easy to pack ahead in small Ziploc bags.  Alternatively, you could add the collagen to your hot coffee or tea.  Collagen can also be found at the THM Store, when they are not out-of-stock because it is such a high quality in-demand product!

Lunch – 

In the interest of keeping things simple, day two has the same lunch as day one.  There is a lot of variety in the sandwich meat, so I generally make it a bit differently, but still have an E or CO. (Actually, lets be honest – I always have a crossover – avocado is just too good to pass up on a sandwich.  Plus, I need the energy for all the hiking and caving we do all day.)  I add fruit and a lunch size packet of healthy popcorn.

Snack – 

Same options as day 1.  I like to pack a piece of fruit, or two, and some nuts or cheese sticks along for some hiking energy.  Some Lilly’s chocolate is also a treat!

WurstsDinner –

I love cooking food over the fire while camping, and this dinner does the trick.  I make everyone cook their own sausage (they come precooked, so I don’t have to worry that anyone will under cook them). I generally have Aidell’s Chicken sausages and/or cheddar-wurst for an S meal.  I skip the bun and baked beans I feed the group and have a large salad (from a pre-made salad mix again), this time indulging in something with a creamy salad dressing, since this is an S meal.

Dessert –

We have s’mores and hot drinks again for the group, but I enjoy some Lilly’s chocolate and hot tea or sugar-free hot cocoa instead.

Exploring the caves at Lava Beds National Monument

Exploring the caves at Lava Beds National Monument

Day 3

In keeping with the simplicity theme, my second breakfast is the same as the first.  Just like with lunch, there are so many options that there is still much variety for the group.  I have oatmeal and tea again, though, and a piece of fruit.

Depending on what we are doing on Sunday, we pack a lunch for a hike or simply pack up camp for the long trip home.  We stop for lunch (or dinner, if we had lunch on a hike before leaving) on the drive home someplace where there are many fast food options.  I like to have a lettuce wrapped burger or a large salad – my go-to choices when we eat fast food.

This is just an example of what I eat while feeding a large crowd of non-THMers on a weekend trip.  We will be taking a week-long family camping trip soon, so I plan to document my meals on that trip so that I can post about that as well.  Staying on-plan while out and about is more challenging than when we are at home, but it is very possible.  I try to keep things simple – that works well for me.  But if you like things fancier, that is also possible with some planning and prepping ahead of time.


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An Allergy Friendly Weekend Camping Menu (for a crowd!)

We LOVE camping as a family – and we love taking others camping, as well.  In fact, twice a year, we bring a large number of college students on a weekend camping trip.  This last weekend, we took a group of 30 college students,  plus our family and some extra help, for a grand total of 40 people on a three-day, two-night trip.  This group always includes my husband, who has multiple food allergies, and usually at least one or two students who also have allergies.  So, not only do I have to feed 40 ravenous people, but I also must have a menu that is allergy friendly!  The most common allergies on the trip are dairy, gluten, nuts, and eggs.  Thankfully, I am used to cooking for food allergies (check out my recipe section for my allergy-friendly recipes), so I enjoy the challenge.  It is also a treat for the students with multiple allergies to be able to eat on a school-sponsored trip.  As a wife of someone with multiple food allergies, I know how rare this is!

How we feed 20-40 people camping with an allergy friendly menu. -

Checking out the Sulfur Works at Lassen National Park while my hubby lectures in the background.

We visit different locations with our Fall and Spring Semester trips, but the schedule and the food is the same for both.  I have found a menu that works well and I stick to it!  Below is the menu we use, with some variations that I add for those that have food allergies or intolerances.  The healthiness of the food definitely varies, and since I don’t eat sugar or processed flour there are many items I choose not to eat, but since I am feeding 40 people who don’t choose to eat the same way I do, I make sure there are many options available. (Read this post to see what I eat as a Trim Healthy Mama on this trip.)

Another good option if you have a big group is to have an allergy-friendly ice chest with its own cutting board and knife as well as a special table for allergy-friendly food.  I keep gluten/dairy/nut free options away from the potential contaminates in the other food.  The last thing I want in the middle of nowhere is to take an emergency trip to the hospital or have a sick student.  If you have a small group, this may not be necessary depending on the severity of the allergies.

Friday – Day 1

An allergy friendly 3 day camping menu for large groups

Everyone makes their own sandwiches for lunch

Lunch (breakfast is eaten before they come, hopefully…)

Sandwiches with many different bread choices, including whole wheat, sprouted, and gluten-free options

  • Various lunch meat options, we usually have turkey, ham, roast beef, and salami
  • Mayo and mustard
  • Various sliced cheeses
  • Lettuce (already washed and cut into bread-sized pieces)
  • Tomato (washed before and slice when serving)
  • Avocado (cut, scoop, and slice when serving)
  • Peanut butter and/or Sun-butter
  • Jelly


  • Oranges
  • Apples
  • Bananas
  • Grapes


  • We buy the lunch size variety packs – they actually have some popcorn options that are quite healthy.

For beverages, we make sure everyone brings their own reusable water bottle (read why that is important here) that they can refill often.  We also have 100% juice boxes as an option for those who really want something to drink other than water.

Snack time

The snack options vary greatly in how healthy they are, but it gives choices for everyone.

  • Fruit
  • Several varieties of Trail mix (I have even found a dairy/gluten/peanut-free option at Costco before, but for many allergies, you may need to make your own)
  • Chips and Salsa
  • Cookies


I make a HUGE pot of chili (actually, I often need two pots for a really large group) by doubling or tripling my Famous Taco Chili Recipe.  This recipe is allergy friendly and generally a huge hit.  I make the base of it before hand (see the recipe for details) and simply add the canned items at camp and heat.  It makes a homemade camp meal easy-peasy and fills up those hungry tummies with lots of healthy hidden vegetables.   Generally, one recipe of my chili feeds 10-12 hungry adults, so you may need to double (or halve, etc.) the recipe for your group’s needs.

Garnish as desired with shredded cheese, sour cream (Daisy’s squeeze bags are convenient for camping), dairy-free sour cream (my husband loves this special treat), and tortilla chips.

I also serve sliced French or Artisan bread with butter and I bring pre-made salad mixes to toss and serve as well.

I love bringing pre-made salad mixes camping.  I never buy them normally, but when I’m camping, I still want to get my greens, but I don’t want to bother with washing, chopping, slicing, etc.   Read the ingredients carefully – usually there are gluten/nut/dairy/egg-free options.  You may need to mix up a salad in a special bowl excluding an item or two for the allergy group and place it on its separate table.  With a large group, we may have two salad options and mix one bowl especially for the allergy-friendly serving table.


S’mores, of course!  We always get a special dairy-free dark chocolate for those who need a dairy-free option,

How we feed 20-40 people camping with an allergy friendly menu. -

Roasting marshmallows for s’mores

Also. hot water for hot chocolate, cider, coffee, or tea.

Saturday – Day 2

How we feed 20-40 people camping with an allergy friendly menu. -


I like to make breakfasts simple when I’m working with a big group.  So a continental breakfast is the way to go.

As soon as I get up, I put a big pot of water on to boil.  This is used for hot drinks and instant oatmeal packets.

  • Large muffins cut in halves or quarters
  • A large variety of cereal options
  • A large variety of instant oatmeal options (including a gluten free option)
  • Milk (regular, rice, and almond)
  • Fruit
  • Juice
  • Hot drinks
    • Instant coffee (I know, sacrilege, but we’re not coffee drinkers)
    • Tea
    • Hot cocoa packets
    • Apple cider packets
    • Sugar/Stevia/Half-Half


In the interest of keeping things simple, day two has the same lunch as day one.  There is so much variety in the type of sandwich each person can make, it gives people the option for something different, if they choose.

Depending on the schedule for the day, we sometimes have the group pack their own lunch right after breakfast.  This has worked very well when we have a long hike.  We also make sure there are plenty of snack items available to pack as well.


How we feed 20-40 people camping with an allergy friendly menu. -

I love cooking food over the fire while camping, and this dinner does the trick.  I make everyone cook their own sausage (they come precooked, so I don’t have to worry that anyone will under cook them).

  • Pre-cooked sausages, an assortment
    • Costco polish sausages
    • Aidell’s Chicken sausages (these are a great allergy-friendly option)
    • Cheddar-wurst
    • Buns, I like to buy the large hoagie size – Gluten-free simply enjoy this bunless, or they could use some GF bread from lunch
    • Baked beans – I heat these up on the stove
    • Condiments – ketchup, mustard, etc.
    • Premade salads (see the note from Friday night)


S’mores and hot drinks again.

And my mother, who often comes along to help me (I am spoiled that way!), makes an amazing peach cobbler in the Dutch oven for an additional treat.  It is made with canned peaches, Bisquick, some sugar, and dairy-free margarine.   She works the magic – and we all enjoy it!


Sunday – Day 3

In keeping with the simplicity theme, my second breakfast is the same as the first.  Just like with lunch, there are so many options that there is still much variety for the group.  Sometimes there is even leftover cobbler from the night before and that is especially good for breakfast!

Depending on what we are doing on Sunday, we have packed a lunch for a hike or simply packed up camp for the long trip home.  We stop for lunch (or dinner if we had lunch on a hike before leaving) on the drive home someplace where there are many fast food options.  We also make any leftovers available if people don’t have money for lunch or dinner.

How we feed 20-40 people camping with an allergy friendly menu. -

Caving with a group of students at Lava Beds National Monument


That is how I feed 20-40 people and keep it allergy friendly and mostly healthy for a weekend.  It’s not amazing, but it has worked for several years and gives a lot of variety while keeping things as simple as possible.



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Tips for Hiking with Little Kids: or how to NOT carry them the entire trip…

My husband and I have quite literally been hiking together since day one – yes, really – we met on a backpacking trip in college!  Since then, we have hiked over 5000 trail miles together, most of those while hiking the length of California on the Pacific Crest Trail two and a half times. Backpacking and hiking are second nature to us, so it is only natural that it is something we love to do as a family, as well.


Pre-kids thru-hiking the length of California on the Pacific Crest Trail.

However, making the transition from two long-distance backpackers to parents of small children has been a challenge. We are serious about our hiking and the trails we chose – it is not just a stroll along a well manicured trail for us!  When we had just one baby, it was easy still, we could still hike as we wished.  We enthusiastically purchased a nice baby backpack (the most expensive item we had bought for him) and took him everywhere we went.  It was easy and natural and fun. Babies really are incredibly portable and our little guy fit pretty seamlessly into our active lifestyle – he went camping at two weeks old, as well as hiking for the first time on that trip – it was not a problem at all.  


Hiking with a toddler and a baby was still pretty easy.

When our second came along not long after our first, we invested in a second backpack when he was too big for the front carrier and carried them both for a year.  But, the summer our oldest turned three, hiking as a family became much more challenging…

Hiking with young kids is similar to trying to hike with a cat (something I have actually done, but that is another story). They sit down in the middle of the trail and refuse to take another step. They are fascinated by every little bug, stick, or rock they stumble over. They decide to turn around and hike home before you get to your destination.  And, unlike cats, they throw temper tantrums or dissolve into tears.


Hiking with an independent three-year-old and a one-year-old – Things just got interesting!

So how do we take a fun family hike in those years between 3-ish and 7-ish and actually get somewhere?  Despite the difficulty of taking the little ones, we regularly go on long(ish) hikes with them (between 3 and 8 miles) and these are the tricks that work for us.

Turn your hike into a game.  

In my experience, kids of all ages love games and we have become experts at finding fun ways to keep them moving and distracted by how “tired” they feel.  The following are the games we use most frequently:

  • Interactive storytelling is by far our kids favorite hiking game.  Storytelling gets their imaginations flowing and thoroughly distracts them from any discomfort they might be feeling, plus, it has the added bonus of being excellent for their cognitive development. I will start a story and then pass it on to my son, and he takes over for a minute or two and then passes to his brother or dad.  Depending on how old your kids are, you may need to get the story going with another adult, or tell the entire story yourself.  It is fun and the miles pass easily with this family activity.


    The boys love to race up the trail!

  • Trail races – My boys love this one, but it is certainly exhausting! Children love to race and will happily race each other.  However, if you don’t have multiple children, or they are not at the same skill level, the adults may need to get involved.  In our family, usually I race our 5-year-old and my hubby races the 7-year-old to a predetermined point on the trail (the big rock up there or that large shade tree).  We ensure the child wins, but just barely so they don’t think we “let” them win.  If you are the adult carrying the baby, it is not so hard to “let” them win. At the end of the race, there is a celebration and a water break before starting over again. We find this works best in the challenging uphill sections and it is a great interval workout!
  • Choo-choo trail trains – this is a fun one, especially if your child likes trains. It works best if you have something to link the train “cars” together.  We have used hiking poles and sweatshirts with each person hanging on to the shirt or pole in front and behind them.  The engine leads the way and the rest of the family chugs along behind. Make up obstacles and stories along the way – passing over bridges, picking up cargo, and of course, the classic “I think I can” for big hills!hiking2
  • Scavenger hunts – this is a classic kids hiking game, but it can slow the party down significantly, so it is not one we use unless we have no mileage goal for the day.  However, it is a great learning activity and really gets children exploring the outdoors.  They love looking for a stick shaped like an arrow or the roundest rock you can find.  There are some great printables on Pinterest you can bring along, or you can just think of things on the fly and give the next challenge after they find the first.



Geocaching makes treasure hunting real!


This one could fall under the hiking games category, but I’m going to give it its own category.  My dad is a master geocacher and loves to take the grandkids out treasure hunting.  Check out for more information, or this post by REI on how to get started if you’ve never tried it.  Although national parks do not have physical geocaches to find (the educational earth caches at national parks are fun) most public lands have physical treasure boxes of various sizes hidden not far from trails. The kids love finding treasure and will happily run to the next geocache location.  Most of the trails we frequent have caches every ¼ mile, so there are many opportunities for kids to explore. Let kids navigate using a handheld GPS unit or smartphone – it’s a great way to teach them about cardinal directions and latitude and longitude.

Pack fun snacks

 Who is not motivated by food? This is not one that I am particularly good at because our hikes are often last minute.  However, if your kids have a special hiking food that they love, but only get on hikes, it can really help them get through those long miles.  My kids love trail mix, yogurt or chocolate covered raisins, and fruit snacks, to name a few.


Homemade Rice Krispy Treats at the summit!

Bring a hidden carrier, just in case.  

Our ergonomic carrier packs in the bottom of our day pack pretty easily and we have pulled it out when our little guys are just too exhausted to make it to the end.  However, we have found, that if the kids know there is the option to be carried, like bringing an empty baby backpack along to hold snacks, they often beg and whine to be carried and pester power eventually wins.  The ergonomic carriers are easy to pack and they are much easier than carrying a kid on your back or shoulders.

Reward (or treat) at the end 

After a good long hike, we love to reward the kids with a fun stop on the way home. There is a great frozen yogurt shop on the way back from some of our favorite hikes and the kids look forward to stopping there all day.  But if we are somewhere else, we may stop at the campground store, Rite Aid, or even McDonald’s for a soft serve ice cream or fruit parfait.

crater lake

Hiking at Crater Lake

Be patient 

*This is likely the most important tip* – Expect that the hike will take at least two times as long as it would without little ones.  Don’t have a strict timeline or no one will be happy. Take lots of breaks for water and snacks.  Enjoy the nature around you. There is so much to learn outside and your children are sponges eager to soak everything in. Take time to really enjoy it.

If you do not make it to your destination, in most cases, the world will not end. Usually our kids can hike 5 miles, but some days their limit is 3 – honestly, some days their limit is a ½ mile when they are overly tired.  Pay attention to their signs and know when it is a good time to turn around.  No one knows your kid like you do, so you are the best one to know how much is too much and can likely distinguish between whiny and truly exhausted.



Making it to the destination is a reward in itself!

We want hiking to be something that our kids look forward to and really enjoy. These strategies all take a good amount of work or prep from the parents, but they also create lifelong memories and bonding.  I believe that is worth the extra effort.  They will not always be little, but, hopefully, they will always love hiking!

What are some ways you make hiking fun for young kids?


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