Dandies vegan marshmallows at Target (for a not totally unreasonable price)!! So if you need to make s’mores for a Troop of vegans, vegetarians, non-pork eaters, non-beef eaters, or just girls who like the yummy yummy gourmet vanilla flavor.
Every year, my Older Troop evolves their cooking methods and cooking gear, trying out new techniques and new things to make. To prep for their 2015 campout, they learned how to make vagabond stoves and buddy burners using the traditional #10 can (acquired from the local elementary school for free!) and tuna cans.
In 2016, my Co-Leader and I had a great idea to make a “cook kit” for the girls, so they could take home their own stove (instead of me storing them in my garage) to be ready for the next campout.
Here’s a picture of one of our cook kits next to one of our old #10 can vagabond stoves. The girls managed to abscond with all of the smaller stoves we made for the 2016 campout. However, they looked just like their bigger cousin, only using a 28 oz. tomato can instead. As you may be able to tell in the picture, our buddy burners this year were made out of cat food cans, so as to fit in the smaller stove.
We spent one meeting prepping the cook kit contents in stations, with help from the parents that were spending the night at camp with us.
Station 1 – First Aid Kit
Their first aid kits were made from Altoid tins, covered in white duct tape and a red electrical tape cross on the top. Inside, we gave them wipes and cotton swabs for cleaning a wound, antibiotic ointment, bandaids and larger bandage. While the girls assembled the first aid kits, our camping First Aider talked to them about treating burns: clean the wound, cool the wound with water or ice, and cover the wound.
Station 2 – Buddy Burners
My Co-Leader and I precut the cardboard strips for this project (cookie cases to the rescue!!) because we had the girls cut them last year. Not only did it take forever, but they whined and tried to get out of it, because even in seventh grade, they just don’t really have the hand strength for it not to hurt a lot to cut the cardboard. So, all they had to do was roll the cardboard strips around a birthday candle tightly and insert the roll into the cat food can. Then they took it over to the propane stove, where my Co-Leader was melting and pouring wax.
Station 3 – Vagabond Stove
Here, we had the dad who was coming camping with us. Working with the tin snips made him happy. He cut the doors using the shears, and watched as the girls punched the holes using the church keys.
Station 4 – Menu planning and testing
This was my station. We had a full vagabond stove set up roaring (heating chili for Frito Pie, I think) to show the girls who had just joined our troop how it works. They also got to vote on which meal choices they wanted at this station.
Can Decoration – At Camp
When we actually went to camp, we wanted to surprise the girls with their finished cook kits. So, we got the 1/2 gallon paint cans from The Container Store, and some beautiful mehndi inspired bandanas, and some hotpads. And duct tape. 🙂 One of the activities at camp was to decorate their paint can with duct tape, and label it with their name. Then by the end of the weekend it had been used, filled, and didn’t come back to my garage!
The girls’ final cook kits contained:
- 28 oz. vagabond stove
- 2 cat can buddy burners
- bandana (to hold back their hair, or to wear bandit style if the fire gets really smoky)
- hair elastics (for the girls with long hair)
- first aid kit
One of the things my older Troop loves is Frito Pie. I mean, they LOVE it. It’s right up there with Cheesy Couscous (which is STILL one of their favorite meals!). The funny thing is, that although most of my girls grew up here in the Texan suburbs, they never ate Frito Pie until I showed it to them at a camp prep meeting. I grew up around here, too, but I remember eating it a lot in my school cafeterias, and at county fairs, and at day care in the summer, and just a lot. Because let’s face it, it’s easy, it’s cheap, and it’s fast.
Well, unless it’s being cooked on a vagabond stove. Even with two stoves going per cook, the chili was still cold by the time we were done with grace. Oh, well. The girls still enjoyed it.
“But CraftScout,” I can hear you asking, “I thought your troop had a whole bunch of vegetarians in it. What did they eat while the rest of the girls ate Frito Pie???” And of course, the more observant of you already see the answer in the pictures. Hormel makes a vegetarian canned chili which tastes exactly like regular Hormel canned chili. I can’t vouch for other canned vegetarian chilis, but seriously, I don’t think I could tell the difference if I couldn’t see the can. Which makes you wonder about regular Hormel chili, but that’s a discussion for another day . . . 😉
adapted from traditional recipe
serves 2 adults or teens, adjust accordingly for younger girls
15 oz. canned vegetarian chili
two 1 oz. bags of Fritos
1/4 c. shredded cheddar cheese
1 T. diced onion
1 c. shredded lettuce
1/4 c. fresh tomato, diced
- Heat the chili. You can do this in the can over a vagabond stove (watching carefully to make sure it doesn’t burn), or in a big pot over a propane stove or fire or charcoals. If you are doing two types of chili, make sure you don;t get them mixed up. *grins*
- While the chili is heating, prepare the chips. The traditional method is to carefully open the bag. Alternately, you can pour the chips into a bowl (which makes it easier to eat).
- When the chili is nice and hot, pour a serving over over the chips, either in the bag or in a bowl. Top with cheese, onion, lettuce, and tomato. Or have a salad on the side using the lettuce and tomato.
Note: This is how WE made OURS. YOU can adjust this to fit your Troop’s needs and tastes. You don’t have vegetarians? Then choose a different chili – with beans, without beans, all beef, turkey, homemade from scratch – the sky’s the limit! Don’t like Fritos, or you can only find multi flavor packs? Or maybe your Troop really REALLY loves Takis. Go for it! Need to have Gluten Free Corn Chips? Actually, Fritos are Gluten Free, according to FDA standards. Need to be Dairy Free? Avoid the cheese, and check the label on your chips.
Oh and those cans? Yeah, we’ll talk about those . . . 🙂
So my Cadettes are ready to upgrade from backpacking meals (that just need hot water and time) to actual cooking. Vagabond stoves, baby. Before we set the girls loose with cans and lighters, my lovely assistant Troop Leader (and mother) and I tested them thoroughly. The first time we made these, we used the standard #10 cans (Pro Tip: ask your local elementary school if they will save some for you. Chances are they will go through enough in one day to outfit your whole Troop!).
For Version 2.0, we used smaller 28 oz cans because we needed the cans to be smaller. Same technique, though. Use a church key to vent the top (don’t make these too close, or your stove turns into a jet engine!) and metal shears to cut a door for managing air flow. Then we found a tiny pan, just big enough for one egg, and started testing.
We found an intriguing recipe for breakfast sandwiches. Cook bacon in pan, then cover with an egg, and cook that until almost set, top with a piece of bread, flip to finish egg and toast bread, top with another piece of bread, and voila – breakfast sandwich!
Now for lunch possibilities. Tacos. Just pulled stuff out of the fridge to heat through: chicken, rice, onions (which got sauteed first). Mix in a little green salsa to make sure nothing dries out.
Scoop onto a cheesy tortilla which has been warming in the sun, and top with spicy guacamole. Ding, ding, ding, we have a winner!
And of course, pancakes! From a “just add water” mix, and worked just fine.
Why YOU Will Like this Meal Plan
This is another of my troop’s favorite meals. It’s like making macaroni and cheese at camp (and I have yet to meet the child that doesn’t love mac and cheese), without giving them all the extra chemicals and coloring that come in that blue box. Other things I, as a leader, love about this recipe:
- it makes a good lunch OR dinner;
- it can be assembled ahead;
- it contains mostly shelf stable ingredients, making it good for the last day of a campout;
- it can be made in individual bags, and therefore modified individually;
- it is FAST (my girls prefer to be doing stuff at camp rather than cooking for hours);
- it can be made by Daisies with only a little help from adults (directing measuring and heating water);
- it adds some whole wheat to a camp menu without freaking out the most “white bread only” girls in the troop.
How to Get Your Troop to Like This Meal Plan
The hardest thing is getting the troop to try something called “couscous”. You will likely have some girls who already have eaten couscous (my daughter had), but you are also likely to have girls who don’t eat anything new. ANYTHING. These are the girls you will have to explain exactly what couscous is: pasta. It might look like a grain – heck it is even put in the grain section of most grocery stores! – but it is actually teeny tiny balls of semolina pasta which merely needs rehydrating and heating. Once the girls wrap their heads around this fact, then describing this dish as “camping macaroni and cheese” makes it easy for them to try it. Bring a bowlful to a pre-camp meeting to let them try it – or actually teach them to make it at a meeting, if you have the facilities.
Make Cooking at Camp FUN
This recipe is not cooked in a way you would do in the average kitchen, which makes it something special for camp – like making S’mores at a fire circle. I found the original recipe on a site devoted to Trail Cooking and freezer bag cooking. Hikers and backpackers want to keep their gear as light and compact as possible. They also don’t want to waste fuel boiling pasta in water. Most backpacker meals (homemade or commercial) are made in thick reusable resealable bags: hot water is poured in the bag, the bag is then sealed and squooshed to mix contents, and finally the bag is stuck in a fleece bag to keep warm while the meal heats and rehydrates.
Since my troop is not the backpacker/hiker types yet, I use my big fleece blanket that I always bring to camp. I simply fold it so that all the individual bags will fit on it with a double layer of blanket on both top and bottom.
The Best Part
This is a “gateway” recipe. Once you can get your girls to demand it, you can start modifying it. I’m planning on getting my girls to try adding cooked broccoli to it next camping trip. We can boil the broccoli briefly (3 minutes) in the water you use to cook the couscous (this will add some vitamins to the couscous, maybe turn it a fun green color, but definitely be a lesson in using your resources wisely). Then add the broccoli to the couscous, maybe with some extra cheese (You like broccoli with cheese sauce, right? It’s like that, with pasta! *grins*). Maybe chop the broccoli so it mixes more thoroughly, or maybe leave it in big florets – I will need to ask the girls what they thing would taste better. Maybe leave some broccoli raw, and put it on the side with Ranch for the girls who think this sounds yucky.
After you get them warmed up to the idea that couscous is just pasta, and a great pasta to bring to camp – the sky is the limit! Couscous makes great cold salads (cook a double batch for dinner, save half for lunch with chopped tomatoes and mozzarella balls [bocconcini] and Italian seasoning), use it instead of spaghetti with red sauce or pesto, use it instead of rice. There are a lot of great sounding couscous recipes at Trail Cooking.
adapted from Trail Cooking
serves 1 adult, this scales perfectly although you might want to adjust portion sizes depending on the age of your girls (half it for Daisies and Brownies)
1/4 c. regular couscous
1/4 c. whole wheat couscous
1 T. dry milk
1/4 t. salt
1 stick cheddar cheese (or 1 oz. shredded)
1 c. water
- The first 4 ingredients can be assembled in quart sized freezer bags (1 per person). Keep the cheese in the cooler until you are ready to cook. When you are ready to cook, start heating water in a couple of pots over a stove or fire.
- Meanwhile, have the girls cut (with a butter knife if young) cheese sticks into a very small dice and add to bags, or measure shredded cheese into bags (1 oz. = 1/4 c.). Label any that are different (no dairy, no cheese, seasonings added, etc.)
- When the water is almost to a boil (bubbles start appearing on the bottom of the pot), start measuring out one cup portions, and adding to the bags. This is for adults to do until the girls are much older. Then make sure the bag is sealed WELL and pass to a girl to squoosh until everything is mixed, and tuck into the blanket. At this point, you will be sure you misread the recipe and added WAY too much water. You didn’t. It will look like a very thin soup. The couscous will soak it up. I promise (look at the pic of this stage on the bottom of this post).
- Once all of the bags are wrapped in the blanket, let them sit for 15 minutes to let the couscous hydrate, and the cheese melt. Use this time to get salad stuff ready, or whatever fruit or veggie you are serving with the couscous.
Feel free to spice this up! Add garlic powder, chili powder, dried minced onions, and maybe even some beef bouillon for taco couscous. Use mozarella, and add Italian seasoning, maybe some chopped pepperoni (turkey is healthier and more acceptable than pork or mystery meat) for pizza couscous. Leave out the cheese, and add raisins, nuts, and curry powder for a more traditional couscous.
In the pictures, I made a taco flavored batch using half wheat, half tricolored couscous. I only made 1/4 c. (dry), and as you can see, it fluffed up to easily a cup of pasta – a good side dish portion for an adult, or a meal for a Kindergardener. For seasonings, I used 1/2 t. chili powder, 1/8 t. garlic powder, 1/4 t. beef bouillon (no salt needed because of this), 1/2 t. dried minced onion, and 1 oz. sharp cheddar cheese. I recommend it! Also, it would be good to add some diced fresh bell pepper, black olives, and cooked pinto beans for a more complete meal. Although that might only work for more sophisticated palates. 🙂
One of the easiest and most versatile recipes for camp is Spaghetti. If you have access to a real stove (dorm style camping), cook the noodles at camp. If you don’t – cook them at home, lightly oil them (so you don’t have a block of spaghetti), and bag them. Bring in your cooler. Or wait an hour for the water to boil 2 pounds of noodles to come to a boil over a fire or propane stove.
Now, get some serious nutrition into your girls. Don’t buy a jar of spaghetti sauce – especially if you can’t pronounce the ingredient list. Buy canned crushed tomatoes and tomato paste, and season with Italian herbs, garlic powder, salt and pepper. Even Brownies can help make this sauce from “scratch”. When the girls are older and more adventurous, add sauteeing bell peppers, onions, and mushrooms to the recipe. Or add some shredded carrots or zucchini when they aren’t looking. Or add some spinach leaves – call it basil. 🙂
For a troop of 12 girls with 2-4 chaperones, you will need about 30 oz. of crushed tomatoes and 12 oz. of tomato paste. Thin with water to desired thickness.
For meat eaters of all kinds, heat a package of frozen turkey meatballs in a frypan by themselves. But if the vegetarians went home early, you can heat them up in the sauce, so they soak up the yummy flavor.
If you are cooking over a fire, toast up some garlic bread wrapped in super strength foil. Definitely serve salad – you would be surprised how girls go for a salad. For a dozen girls and chaperones, I usually get one bag of salad, a cucumber, some carrots, and cherry tomatoes. Italian and Ranch dressing. Or if you are only going to get one, Ranch. We usually have it salad bar style at the table, so each girl gets what they like. I don’t press them to eat some of everything, but I tell them I expect them to eat at least one serving of veggies – and that’s in the sauce, but I don’t tell them that! My pickiest will grab a few baby carrots and some ranch, while the rest will get a full salad.
One of the first things you notice about my troop is the diversity. It is both wonderful and a challenge to learn about all of the various cultures represented by these young girls. When we were First Year Daisies, fully half of my troop was blonde and blue eyed. These days, I only have one blonde, but I have an entire rainbow – and I love them all.
But the meal decisions – OY! A few girls are vegetarian, or semi-vegetarian. Several are omnivorous. Many do not eat pork. One has a peanut allergy. A few are so picky it is hard to get anything in them.
In our Council’s Troop Camper training, we are told that if a girl in your troop has dietary restrictions or allergies, then that girl should probably bring her own food. I think that if your troop is fairly homogenous, and you only have one girl that stands out in this way (i.e., ONE vegetarian in a troop of meat eaters, ONE girl who keeps kosher in a troop of bacon lovers, etc.) – then this solution makes sense. But too often, troops are full of a blend of girls, such as mine, which range from one end of the food spectrum to the other.
As a result, I have come up with several different meal plans that ALL of my girls love. Some are indulgent to make everyone happy(hot dog days are fun for the girls, but it involves buying 3 different packs for my troop!), some are meat optional, and some are purely vegetarian. I plan on sharing a bunch of these.
None of my girls are vegan, and I can’t imagine having a vegan in my troop. If any recipes or meal plans seem like they would be vegan, I will tag them as such. But I’m not an expert, and my label reading is more about which type of gelatin is in my marshmallows and whether there is high fructose corn syrup in my juiceboxes.