outdoor cooking with kids chicken steak

Cooking Camp: 5 Tips for Cooking Outdoors with Kids

Last Updated on July 10, 2020

It’s summer, the season of outdoor cooking. You may be plenty acquainted with grilling out in the sun, or going camping and skewering hot dogs over a campfire. But how often do you involve your kids in your outdoor cooking exploits?

Today, we’d like to introduce you to the idea of an outdoor cooking camp—for your kids! In this guide, we’ve compiled tips to successfully foster confidence and creativity in your little ones, all while soaking in some vitamin D.

This guide works for cooking at a campsite or just grilling in the backyard. You can find ways to cook outdoors with kids, no matter the equipment you have at the ready. Here are just a few reasons why you’d want to get your kids cooking outside.

Why cook with kids outdoors:

Cooking outdoors teaches self-sufficiency

It probably goes without saying, but learning how to cook is an essential life skill. It’s important to involve the kids in the kitchen (or camp kitchen!) from an early age. Plus, it’s the gift that gives back. The more your kids learn to cook on their own, the less that burden falls on you.

Cooking outdoors teaches confidence and provides a sense of accomplishment

Beyond self-sufficiency, learning to cook is an educational activity that boosts children’s confidence. The more adept they grow with, say, knife skills, or following a recipe, the more accomplished they feel.

Cooking outdoors encourages creativity

If cooking (especially outdoors) isn’t an outlet for creativity, what is? Let your kids come up with the recipes they’d like to cook outside and let them customize them to their heart’s content. This is also a great tool to ensure they’ll actually want to eat what they cook.

Cooking outdoors can be an amazing bonding opportunity

Did you grow up with memories of cooking with your family? If you did, you know how cooking can bring families together. If you didn’t, now is the time to make those memories with your kids!

cooking with kids outdoor camping

1. Plan ahead

When cooking with kids, planning for all the necessary steps and potential hiccups keeps everything running smoothly. It’s already a handful to supervise and guide kids through all the steps of an outdoor recipe, let’s not add to the chaos with no preparation.

This is especially true if you’re camping or otherwise cooking away from home, and you’ve forgotten a tool or ingredient. To avoid this, make a checklist of everything you’ll need, from equipment to ingredients. You can read more about recipes and equipment options below.

2. Prep ahead (and let the kids help)

On the same note, it’s helpful to prep any ingredients that you can ahead of time. Making fruit kabobs? Avoid the potential for outdoor pests and chop the fruit while you’re still indoors, then store it in airtight containers until you’re ready to skewer it.

The same goes for meat that may need marinating or seasoning, or batters and doughs you need to mix. This way, you can focus on the actual cooking outdoors.

Just because you’ve moved indoors for prep, doesn’t mean the kids can’t help. It’s still a part of the whole experience, so let them help every step that they can. Even little ones can help with mixing batters or seasoning meat.

3. Keep recipes kid-friendly

Chances are, if you’re cooking outside with your kids, you’re not looking to make a Michelin-level meal. (But hey, if that’s you, kudos!)

Instead, you’re probably focused on teaching your kids self-sufficiency and trying to whip up a simple, crowd-pleasing meal. For this, kid-friendly recipes are best. Opt for recipes that allow for lots of customization, with plenty of opportunities for kids to get hands-on with the cooking. Think simple recipes like burgers or grilled veggies.

Check out some of our suggestions below.

4. Campfire? Grill? Figure out your cooking approach

Are you camping, or in your backyard? Do you have a portable grill, or are you working strictly with campfires? These are the questions that’ll determine your family’s cooking approach.

Outdoor cooking options have come a long way—you can, if you have the inclination—transport a whole kitchen outdoors if you’d like. Or, you can keep it simple with some coals in a fire pit. Either way, you’re teaching your little chefs life skills and bonding at the same time.

Here are some equipment options for cooking outdoors with your kids. Work with what you’ve got!

  • Old fashioned campfire (in a fire pit)
  • Coals in a fire pit (use tools like skewers, rotisserie, cast iron skillet, or a Dutch oven)
  • Charcoal grill
  • Gas grill
  • Portable BBQ or flat top
  • Camp stove
  • Pizza oven
  • Smoker

5. Don’t stress about mess

If there’s one idea we could leave you with for cooking with kids, it’s this: Let go of perfection. That’s not the point of outdoor cooking camp.

Instead, your kids are taking major steps toward self-sufficiency, you’re creating beautiful family memories, everyone is soaking in some vitamin D, and you all get a delicious meal out of it.

So, if there’s a bit of a mess, have everyone pitch in to clean it up, and get on with your day. Don’t stress about it in the midst of cooking.

We hope these tips help you get your family outside to experiment with all the delicious recipes you can whip up outdoors.

Courtney Hamilton is a writer and editor with over seven years' experience in journalism, blogging, communications, and other media. She has written for publications like PaleoHacks, PaleoPlan, The Center for American Progress, OC Weekly, and more. 
Check out more of her work at www.courtney-hamilton.com.