I didn't always like camping. I much preferred hotels or motels with maid service and a restaurant and clean towels.
And then I had kids. Don't get me wrong, I still love maid service and clean towels, but I hate spending lots of money and I hate having to get kids to sit still and have "restaurant behavior" when we are on a long trip. A few days here and there is absolutely fine, but sometimes you really just want a grilled cheese sandwich or a bowl of naked pasta and don't want to wait around in a booth at Applebees.
And I want my kids to be unplugged as much as possible, and I have got to admit the first thing I do when checking into a hotel or motel is to flip around and see "what kind of cable channels does this place have?"
I also want my kids to not be fearful of the outdoors and I like watching them dig with sticks and climb trees and just BE TOGETHER -- it forces all of us to work together to set up and break down camp and that kind of stuff warms my suburban soccer mom heart.
So I've embraced the dirt (thank you baby wipes!) and the sand (thank you dust buster!) and the laundry (dear help me, the laundry is just insane when we get home) and the chaos camping brings and now I can honestly say that I really really like being outdoors and pretty much all that camping has to offer.
And I bring along a slow cooker (or two).
Since we car camp and usually stick to a pretty family-friendly campground (mostly KOAs), we have electricity when we camp. Although we did recently decide to get a tiny pop-up tent trailer, I did use the slow cooker when we tent camped.
Just like at home, the kids are hungry and tired after a long day, and knowing that dinner is hot and ready after spending the day outside playing in the water or after a day touring around is just wonderful.
If you are tent-camping, I'd recommend having a long extension cord with you, and using one of the lockable-lid slow cookers. Obviously this isn't a way to cook if you are in bear country ---- I'm not going to even pretend to know how to bear proof a crockpot -- so don't do that!
If you've got a travel trailer or motorhome, you are already used to cooking in it, and I know a slow cooker is a mainstay in many RV kitchens already. Just like at home, I'd highly recommend a programmable slow cooker that will turn off when the cooking time has elapsed, so your food stays hot and safe to eat until you return back "home" for the day.
These are the cookers I happen to use and recommend, and you can usually find them at Bed Bath and Beyond or Kohls at a deep discount right now since the holidays are over.
I know that I'm terribly biased, but I do like the Ninja a lot for camping because having the stovetop and oven setting is pretty darn cool when away from home.
This is what I do to make camping and food-prep easier with the slow cooker:
1) do as much prep at home as possible. I like to chop all my veggies at home and separate our meals into Ziplock baggies and write on the outside of the bag what it all is (everything looks the same when it's frozen solid!) and then I freeze the bags at home to stack into the cooler.
2) if you are planning a chili or taco soup, brown the ground beef/turkey at home, and I'd suggest opening all the cans at home and then freezing in a zippered bag.
3) plan on lazy cooking --- which for us is usually a hunk of meat (or boneless chicken thighs) and a bottle of your favorite something sauce (bbq, simmer sauce, pasta sauce, etc.) Instead of bringing the jar or bottle, put the meat in a freezer bag and then put the sauce on it at home and freeze at home, so in the morning all you have to do is dump the contents into the cooker.
4) we usually do a sausage and vegetable medley -- which is super easy and all I do is make sure to have a 5-lb bag of potatoes with us and I do wash and cut those on the campground, then put in the bottom of a slow cooker with sliced chicken and apple sausage, and a bit of chicken broth (or white wine). If I've got a bag of baby carrots (which I usually do) I throw those in and any other random veggies I've got (bell peppers, brocolli).
5) save the leftovers from your sausage and veggie medley to do breakfast-for-dinner the next night (and any leftover hotdogs you might have). Scramble up 6-10 eggs or so with some milk then pour over the leftover potatoes and sausage and cook the next day.
6) baked potatoes or corn on the cob work great in the slow cooker, or you can do a layered dinner with meat and your potatoes and corn. My kids are super happy with a loaded baked potato for dinner, and since we usually have bacon for breakfast, I keep some for dinner time toppings. We always have a variety of cheeses with us, too.
7) planning ahead this way actually works in flexibility! I am not a slow cooker purist by any stretch of the imagination --- I also bring the pancake griddle which works great for quesadillas and grilled cheese sandwiches (and pancakes ;-) .). The kids still like to cook hotdogs on sticks, and we have a dutch oven that Adam uses over coals. If for some reason we have no power or are in a position where we don't feel safe leaving a crockpot plugged in, any of the prepared plastic bags can be dumped into a dutch oven or large pot to be cooked with propane, over coals, etc.
8) If you are on a roadtrip, see if your van or truck has an outlet in it. This way you can actually cook while you are driving. Lots of mini vans have outlets in the back and this works great to cook a large roast for pulled sandwiches or something not-too-soupy for eating on the road. If you've got an RV, you already know way more about this sort of thing than I do!
UPDATED: [please see the comment selection below for further information on cooking-while-you-drive. You most likely need an adapter to make this option work for you.]
I'm sure you already know this, but it bears repeating that this will drain your car battery if you are not actively driving. I wouldn't leave it plugged in your car if you plan on touring a museum for a long period of time, etc.
9) UPDATED: I've gotten a few emails about thermo slow cooking. I haven't personally tried this out yet, abut plan on it this summer. There are two well-reviewed companies that make these, and I think they'd be absolutely fantastic for camping.
Wonderbag and Thermal Cook both ship world wide, and both companies have reached out and are run by wonderful people. When I have the opportunity to recipe test using these products, I will certainly write a thorough review. If you have had experience cooking in a thermal device, please share your feedback!
I hope this helps a bit! Happy Camping!!
If you've got other suggestions or menu ideas, please let me know, I know I've got an awful lot to learn. Especially since one of my dreams is to travel cross-country and see EVERYTHING! :-)