By Lizzie Waldo, Registered Dietitian Nutritionist

There’s nothing quite like summer nights, with the sound of a crackling fire and the smell of fresh food cooking over flames. However, building a fire, prepping the food, and making sure nothing is over or under-cooked can make campfire cooking intimidating. That's why I’m here to give you tips on how to get started and five healthy and delicious recipes to try!

The first thing to consider is how the food will be cooked. Check out these different ways to make food over a campfire:

Cooking on the coals - This is a great method if you want to avoid cooking over jumping flames. Pile all the coals together and wait until the fire is red hot before throwing your food right on top. Be sure to have a good set of tongs and mitts to avoid burning your hands when turning or removing food.

Cooking on a stick – The first time I ever cooked something over an open fire was with a twig I found in the woods near where my family was camping. While this method of cooking is the easiest and most nostalgic, it can also be somewhat limiting. It is best for warming pre-cooked, simple foods, such as hot dogs, sausages, marshmallows or breadstick dough. Make sure any food that needs to be thoroughly cooked is pre-cooked, and use long sticks or poles to allow yourself some distance from the fire.

Cooking in a Dutch oven - A Dutch oven means versatility. It can cook anything you would normally cook in your oven at home, making it almost impossible to mess up a recipe. Plus, you can cook large, one-pot meals to feed a group. The only downside? These pots are heavy! So, if you are backpacking and cooking along the way, this method may not be for you.

Cooking in foil - This is another simple method. Wrap your food in foil, and place it directly on the coals or on top of a grill rack over the fire. Similar to cooking directly over coals, the fire needs to burn down from active flames to smoldering red coals before placing food on top. Make sure you layer the food within the foil to allow for even cooking, with the long-cooking food on the bottom and more tender or quick-cooking items on top.

For example, you could line the foil with potatoes, onions, peppers, and other vegetables, add meat or fish on top, and then sprinkle with herbs or spices. To prevent your meal from drying out, be sure to drizzle your meal with a liquid, like a heart-healthy oil or water.

5 Campfire Recipes

Once you’ve decided which cooking method you want to try, it's time to put your campfire skills to the test. Choose from this curated list of my favorite healthy and delicious recipes. Happy trails!

    Photo courtesy of Fresh Off the Grid
    [Slideshow] 1. Campfire Banana Boats

    Crossing a s’more with a banana split, this recipe is a fun and delicious way to satisfy any sweet tooth. Simply cut the banana long ways, stuff it with your desired toppings, wrap it in foil, and place it over the fire. I love this recipe because it uses the natural sweetness of the banana as the base and allows your imagination to run wild in the quest to find your favorite topping combo.

    Extra tip: This is a great one to try if you are traveling with kids. Place toppings in small bowls in front of them and allow the creativity to begin!

    View Recipe
    Photo courtesy of This Lil Piglet
    2. Campfire French Toast

    The fluffy, tender insides and golden crust of French toast are what make this breakfast staple one of my favorites! You can make this dish even when you’re camping. This is a great way to feed a hungry crowd before a long hike, and a sweet reward after a full day of summer fun. Use whole wheat bread and fresh fruit to make this breakfast nutritious and filling.

    Extra tip: Did you know that maple syrup grades have changed? Originally there was Grade A syrup and Grade B syrup, the latter being the darker and bolder flavor of the two. Now there's only Grade A, with four different classifications. Check out this article to learn more.

    Photo courtesy of Thomas J. Story
    3. Dutch Oven-Braised Beef and Summer Vegetables

    Summertime means an abundance of fresh vegetables. This recipe is the perfect combination of savory and seasonal, with antioxidant-rich vegetables, protein-packed beef, and buttery potatoes. The Dutch oven makes this recipe such a breeze, it will feel as though you haven’t even left your kitchen!

    Extra tip: New to using a Dutch oven? This article teaches you how to use this kitchen tool to its full potential.

    View Recipe
    Photo courtesy of Fresh Off the Grid
    4. Grilled Chicken & Veggie Skewers

    These bright, colorful skewers are summer to a T. For an easy and delicious end to a summer day, pair these skewers with some brown rice or cool pasta salad to make a complete meal the whole family can enjoy. Prepare the kebabs ahead of time by chopping the chicken and vegetables into small pieces and placing them a large container to marinate overnight. That will make this meal quick and easy the next day. Simply skewer the ingredients and toss them on a grate over the campfire to cook.

    Extra tip: Don’t forget to soak wood skewers in water for at least 30 minutes before cooking to prevent them from burning.

    View Recipe
    Photo courtesy of Fresh Off the Grid
    5. Dutch Oven Vegetarian Chili & Cornbread

    This recipe combines two of my favorite comfort foods in one meal. Spicy chili and fluffy cornbread will keep you warm as the cool evening air rolls in. And the best part? It’s all done in one pot. No fuss and less mess to clean up!

    Extra tip: Prefer more protein? Add chicken, turkey or lean ground beef to give it an extra boost.

    View Recipe

Hungry for more?

Check out A Dozen Summer Recipes Our Registered Dietitians Love. Get more information on YMCA memberships and health and fitness programs at your local YMCA fitness center near you.