Updated: Apr 10
Prepare camping meals that are SO TASTY you will eat them AT HOME!
You are exerting MORE energy in the backcountry. Shouldn’t your meals be BETTER than what you eat after a sedentary day in the office?
With the exceptions of loggers, farmers, construction workers, firemen and other people doing hard, manual labor, most of us do “work” that only exercises our typing and talking muscles.
And yet, most of us eat more and better food at home than in the field. We tolerate substandard food quality, variety, and preparation in order to take part in overnight adventures. How many nutritionally imbalanced meals have you consumed while camping? Have you suffered through gritty pancakes, undercooked noodles and burnt bacon?
I can still remember the very first campout that I went on as a new “Tenderfoot” Boy Scout. My buddy and I had just joined the troop in September. Our mothers helped organize enough food for us to survive the first weekend on our own. Meals were cooked on a smoldering fire, and we managed to roast hotdogs, heat up cans of soup and boil water for instant oatmeal and hot chocolate.
After several more camping trips, I began to dread the poor meals and hunger that persisted. So, at the ripe old age of twelve, I became committed to quality and quantity in my menus. As I learned how to build and manage a proper cooking fire, the meals improved steadily – even if I was still relying on canned foods at times. Gradually, my meals became more and more like good home-cooking. Mealtimes became one of the highlights of each day. Of course, campsite cooking always includes more grilling than most home menus. I also gradually added Dutch oven cooking to the repertoire for stews, pizzas and especially dessert cobblers!
The objective was to eat filling and satisfying meals in consideration of the temperatures, fresh air, and active pursuits. Nothing has changed.
That’s not to say that I haven’t eaten more than my share of prepackaged “camping meals”. I have logged many thousands of miles by bicycle, motorcycle, and canoe. My Wife and I have also logged thousands of additional miles camping in our minivan, full-size van conversion, and cargo trailer camper. There were many nights when the quick and easy option was to slice open a prepackaged meal and add boiling water. But the quick and easy option is neither the healthy nor economical option.
I bet you have never been tempted to heat up a “backpacking meal” at home? Of course not! Many brands are marketed as “survival meals”, to be stored until an emergency! So why do we subject ourselves to this deprivation in The Great Out There?
Today my food plan for camping trips matches my favorite meals at home. I use fresh food for weekend trips and the first days into the backcountry – space permitting. Most of my meals on multi-day adventures rely on dehydrated and freeze-dried foods. We don’t eat canned vegetables at home or in the field. At home, after the growing season, we eat some frozen vegetables. But self-propelled adventures always necessitate minimizing weight and bulk. Dried, preserved foods eliminate the need for refrigeration when coolers are simply not feasible.
Incorporating dehydrated and freeze-dried foods not only allows for meals that are comparable to home-cooking, but you can literally eat the SAME meals you enjoy at home!
Stop and think about this for a minute. Why plan different meals for camping? You typically need larger portions, but also easy preparation. Why settle for less? Take your favorite home-cooked recipe. With a few exceptions, you can substitute a dried ingredient for everything in the recipe. (Freeze-dried fruits and vegetables may actually have MORE nutrition than the pretty, “fresh” produce from your local store. More about this later.) Even campfire cookery allows you to prepare almost anything you can cook at home.
You need to think beyond the prepackaged freeze-dried meals you buy in foil packets. Have you read the ingredients? Most are overloaded with salt and preservatives, then the portions are underestimated while the price is highly inflated. The finished meals are OK, at best. After a few days, many people complain about digestion issues.
It is possible to prepare BETTER meals, with LARGER servings, seasoned exactly the way YOU like it. In the process, you will slash your food costs in half – or MORE. Win-Win-Win-Win!
Most dehydrated meals and freeze-dried ingredients are rehydrated by simply covering them with boiling water. Sometimes you allow the meal to simmer for 10 minutes. Not only is meal preparation fast, yielding an exact replica of the same meal prepared at home, but it also minimizes the fuel required – either in the campfire or portable stove. Cleanup is fast and easy, using the least amount of fuel and water since, most of the time, I gravitate to one-pot meals, perhaps adding a side dish or Bannock.
When you start incorporating dried foods in your menus, you will discover that the meal possibilities are nearly endless. This style of camp cooking allows you to duplicate almost any home-cooked recipe. The only exception is the lack of refrigeration for big slabs of meat when boondocking or portaging into distant lakes beyond the first day. Still, there are numerous options for cured and freeze-dried meats for satisfying menus.
For overlanding, bikepacking, backpacking, canoe tripping, and motorcycle camping and ALL other categories of camping, dried meals and ingredients help you overcome the limitations of weight and space. You will also lessen - or eliminate - your reliance on coolers and refrigeration. Cooking with dehydrated and freeze-dried foods will enable you to create and enjoy the same meals at home and in the desert, mountains, or forest.
Wait! Did you catch that I eat dehydrated and freeze-dried foods at home? We will continue this topic in Part 2 of this article series. For now, let’s agree that it is possible to eat better and save money by rethinking your camp menus to include dried foods. In the next article I hope to convince you to never buy those overpriced, prepackaged meals again!