Camp Oatmeal and Toppings Bar for a Crowd

For our last camping trip of the summer, we went to Yosemite with a large group — roughly 40 people. Breakfasts and dinners were group affairs, divvied up so that each family basically only had to cook part of one meal. We teamed up with a couple other families to put on the first breakfast: oatmeal with an elaborate toppings bar, plus sausages (pork and veggie) and scrambled eggs on the side.

I spent a long time thinking (OK, obsessing) about the best way to prepare oatmeal for a crowd in a camping environment. Steel cut oats? Overnight oats? Old fashioned rolled oats? Quick cooking oats? Precook or make on site? There are a few challenges to consider:

  • Cooler space is limited, so it might be hard to fit a large quantity of precooked oatmeal.
  • Cooked oatmeal tends to thicken over time, so reheated texture might be unpredictable.
  • There’s no telling how much oatmeal people will actually eat, so if you precook a large batch, you might end up with too much left over.
  • Temperature control on a camp stove is notoriously difficult. Our burners seem to have three settings: full blast, almost full blast, and oops it went out. That makes it hard to simmer a large pot of oatmeal for very long without starting to burn on the bottom.

For all of those reasons, I decided to bring uncooked quick oats and make them in medium-size batches on site. Quick oats only take a minute or so to cook, so by the time you bring them to a boil, they’re pretty much done already. Doing them in batches helped minimize leftovers because I could cook more as needed. And while the texture of quick oats is certainly not as nice as traditional oats, a well appointed toppings bar more than makes up for it.

Speaking of toppings: In general, 1-2 cups of each was plenty for our group. Some double as good camping snacks (e.g., blueberries, dried cranberries, granola), and many need no refrigeration, so having leftovers is not so bad. The most popular topping was probably the whipped cream, so I’d call that one a must-have.

And here’s a surprising fact: While oatmeal is made from oats, which contain no gluten, it is not necessarily gluten free! Many oats are processed in the same facility as other grains such as wheat, barley and rye, which means they can be contaminated by gluten-containing particles. That’s particularly important when cooking for a large group with various food restrictions. Bob’s Red Mill makes all sorts of gluten free oats (quick cooking, old fashioned rolled, steel cut, etc.) that have been processed in a dedicated gluten free facility and tested to ensure they are safe for people with celiac disease or gluten intolerance. (Not a promotion, just a trusted brand that seems relatively easy to find in stores.)

Serves 30-40


28-ounce package quick cooking oats (If you are serving oatmeal with other breakfast items, like sausage, bacon or eggs, 28 ounces is sufficient. If oatmeal is the only element of the meal, you may want to double it.)
18 cups water
1 tsp salt

Topping ideas

toasted pecan pieces
slivered almonds
dried cranberries
freeze-dried strawberries
mini chocolate chips
rainbow sprinkles
shredded coconut
fresh berries
brown sugar
ground cinnamon
maple syrup
apple sauce
whipped cream
soy milk
almond milk

Cook oatmeal in batches (4-5 cups of oats at a time) according to package directions (1 part oats to 2 parts water, pinch of salt per serving). Set out toppings in bowls with serving spoons (as needed). Serve immediately.

Pictured: Corelle Butterfly Gold Bowls

Oatmeal-fueled kids enjoying the Merced River in beautiful Yosemite Valley

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