You’re chugging back to your campsite after a full day on the trails. Rustlin’ up dinner for a marauding familial horde is about as attractive as a rhino in leotards.
“There’s got to be an easier way” I opined to Hike Dude awhile back. “Planning the next manned mission to Mars is easier than feeding a ravenous marauding horde disguised as four teenage boys.”
There is. It’s called “advance planning.” No, really. That’s it.
How We Do It
A few weeks before our planned camping/hiking trip, we sit down and write out a menu. Grocery shop. And instead of cooking at the campsite, we do all our cooking at home, in advance.
After cooking each meal, we vacuum-seal each individual meal item in a separate pouch, one serving per person. Example: Breakfast: Scrambled eggs go in one pouch; bacon another, hash browns in another.
Organize pouches by meal. Keep dinner items with dinner items etc., with a large rubber band or other method, so you’re not digging through your cooler trying to find what goes with what when you’re back at your campsite, hungry as a bear.
Once your menu items are sealed, organized and labeled by meal, toss the sealed pouch in the freezer. Take it out and pack it in the cooler just before you hit the road for your next outdoor adventure. (The exception is produce, for obvious reasons.)
Quick and Easy
Because the vacuum-sealed pouches lie flat, they’re easily stackable in a cooler. And take up less room.
I pack meals chronologically. This means if the next meal is dinner, it’s on the top. Followed by tomorrow’s breakfast underneath, then lunch, then dinner, and so on. The last meal of our last day is on the bottom. (Fresh produce is packed separately and eaten first, to avoid spoilage.)
When it’s meal time, all you have to do is heat water in a Dutch oven or large pot – enough so that each pouch is submerged – to a rolling boil. Grab the next meal pouch(es) and toss them in. Heat for roughly 20 minutes. Use a pair of tongs to retrieve. Open the pouch. Place contents on a paper plate or eat directly from the pouch (be sure to pack a sharp knife or a pair of scissors to open the pouch). We pre-cook frozen vegetables and seal them in separate pouches, one serving per person.
Clean up is snap. Just toss the paper plate and plastic utensils or empty pouch in the nearest bear-proof receptacle. You’re done. No pots or pans or utensils to wash.
Plan on setting aside a full day for food prep, cooking and sealing. It’s a lot of work. But it’s worth it, saving you time and effort when you hit the campground. Plus, less time on food prep means more times on the trails. We call that a “win-win.”
Here are some sample menus and ideas to get you started. Since we’re usually fueling up for a day on the trails, breakfast is typically our biggest meal:
Breakfast: Scrambled eggs with cheddar cheese and red bell peppers, bacon, hash browns, orange slices, juice or milk.
Lunch: On the trail, meaning whatever can fit in a back pack. See The Cheapskate Guide to Terrific Trail Snacks.
Dinner: Ham and Cheese Skillet, frozen peas, spinach salad with craisins and mandarin oranges
Dessert: S’mores over a campfire
Breakfast: Biscuits & Gravy, blueberry muffins, apple slices, juice or milk
Lunch: On the trail
Dinner: Grandma Peggy’s Campfire Stew
Dessert: S’mores (replace graham crackers with peanut butter cookies)
Breakfast: Oatmeal with yogurt, frozen berry mix, orange marmalade scones, juice or milk. (Tip: Costco)
Lunch: On the trail
Dinner: Grilled steaks, frozen mixed vegetables, quartered red potatoes.
Dessert: S’mores (use chocolate chip cookies. Replace chocolate bars with Reese’s peanut butter cups.)
Did I mention s’mores?
What would you add?
Note: Tortillas and most oatmeals don’t do well in the freezer. They tend to disintegrate. Mashed potatoes are also iffy. (Don’t ask how I know that.) Steel-cut oats may do better if pre-cooked in a crock pot.