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!
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
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
- 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.
The snack options vary greatly in how healthy they are, but it gives choices for everyone.
- 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
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,
Also. hot water for hot chocolate, cider, coffee, or tea.
Saturday – Day 2
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)
- Hot drinks
- Instant coffee (I know, sacrilege, but we’re not coffee drinkers)
- Hot cocoa packets
- Apple cider packets
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.
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)
- 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.
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.