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Mary contacted me recently and laid down a challenge which I was happy to accept:

Hi, I have read both of your excellent posts on food for backpacking but I want to challenge you to go further.  My son is going to be completing his Gold DoE expedition in the Lake District later this year and my daughter is going to be doing her Bronze expedition.  When my son did both the bronze and silver expeditions I really struggled with ideas for breakfasts, lunch and dinner that didn’t require refrigeration, were lightweight and compact but were also filling and tasty.  What I really would have found useful was a two/three and four day menu for all three meals and snacks to make shopping and packing much easier – so how about it?  I would love to read a post with some ideas for simple meals that can be cooked by non cooks.

 

This is a great idea which is not just relevant to young people carrying out their Duke of Edinburgh expeditions but to anyone going on a multi-day backpack.

What I’ve aimed to do is provide some ideas and options.  I don’t expect that my suggestions will suit your tastes perfectly but hopefully they provide a good starting point so at least it makes the job of planning multi day meals just a little bit easier.

First, as Mary points out, let’s start by thinking about some key considerations for expedition food:

  • what we’re looking for are foods that are high in energy but lightweight and compact
  • they need to be quick to cook (saving time and fuel) and easy enough to cook on a camp stove
  • apart from Day 1, when you can get away with taking refrigerated food, everything else needs to be safe to take without needing to be chilled
  • we’re after balanced meals: high in sugar, carbs and fat for maximum energy but with some protein too
  • packaging provides unnecessary bulk and weight, and may tempt you to take a full packet rather than a smaller quantity.  So we should think about leaving as much packaging at home as possible and perhaps repackaging food in other containers (eg Ziploc bags) – since everything you carry into the outdoors needs to go back out with you
  • you should be aiming to eat 3 – 4,000 calories a day – much more than you would normally eat (compare the kcal / 100g amount on food labels to get an idea of the energy content of different foods/snacks)
  • don’t forget fluid intake – you should drink at least 2 litres a day
  • assuming you’re walking with a group, check for allergies and make sure you take this into account in your meal planning by avoiding any sensitive foods
  • make sure you plan your food with your walking group so you’re making meals you all want to eat and cook together
  • you might want to pack food for each day together so you can keep that day’s food handy
  • … and last but not least … make sure you have some tasty, filling food on the menu that you’re really going to look forward to cooking and eating at the end of a hard-earned day.

For first-time backpackers (particularly young DofE’ers) I know from experience that food is simply a means to an end.  It ‘fills a hole’ and is just a way to achieve the ultimate objective: to survive the expedition !  However, once you’ve had Super Noodles for breakfast, lunch and dinner for days on end, the novelty of cooking in the outdoors starts to wear thin.  Even teenagers yearn for something more tasty and creative.

So why not think about your camp cooking being part of your DofE ‘aim’ ?  (Every DofE group needs to have an aim to achieve during its expedition).  While you could get by on boiling powdered and dried food in water for 10-15 mins each meal time, this isn’t really cooking is it ?  So instead, make something that’s going to be more nourishing and filling.  I would also go further.  While you can buy ready-made expedition meals that you heat up in boiling water, not only is this unimaginative but at £4 – £6 a packet it’s also pretty expensive.

So my challenge to you is to aim to cook real food in the outdoors.  Not only will it be healthier and more tasty, it will also be cheaper.  It doesn’t need to be elaborate; just nourishing meals that you’ll want to eat.  You’ll also be wearing a ‘Ready Brek’ glow** for the whole of the expedition, knowing that you’ve cooked real food while others around you have just eaten out of packets !

(** Don’t know what a ‘Ready Brek’ glow is?  Ask your parents … or search YouTube)

Finally, it’s worth highlighting a few foods that you probably shouldn’t take.  Obviously anything that doesn’t fit the ‘rules’ above shouldn’t be on your menus.  This includes food that needs refrigerated (except for the first day), high volume/low energy snacks such as crisps and pot noodles, and food that’s likely to get crushed and be unappetising such as bananas, noodles and spaghetti.

 

Camp cooking

Day 1

Breakfast:

  • You’ll be starting off from home so make sure you have a substantial breakfast before you leave.  A last chance for a bacon roll !

Lunch:

  • Sandwiches are a good option since bread will get squashed or go off after your first day.  Take a filling that needs to be refrigerated (such as ham, cheese or tuna mayonnaise) to give variety.
  • Cereal bar or flapjack
  • Apple
  • Water (perhaps add a diluting juice pouch)

Dinner:

  • Pasta Bolognese (see recipe below)
  • Mug of tea

Snacks:

  • Trail mix
  • Dried fruit
  • Kendal mint cake (available from outdoor shops)

 


 

Day 2

Breakfast:

  • Tattie scones, fried in a small amount of olive oil (in a screw-top plastic container)
  • Tea or coffee

Lunch:

  • Wraps with grated cheese (remember to take a small grater).  You could either have this cold or make quesadillas – ie heat one wrap up in your Trangia frying pan, grate the cheese on (making sure the heat is low so the wrap doesn’t burn), then put a second wrap on the top before turning it over in the pan to heat up the other side.
  • Cup a soup – with pitta break to dunk in
  • Cereal bar or flapjack
  • Baby Bel cheese
  • Water (perhaps add a diluting juice pouch)

Dinner:

  • Chorizo and parmesan pasta (see recipe below)
  • Jaffa cakes and custard
  • Mug of tea

Snacks:

  • Jelly
  • Chocolate bars

 


 

Day 3

Breakfast:

  • Muesli (with added dried fruit).  Eat each portion directly out of a zip-loc bag.  Add powdered milk at home so all you need to do is add the right amount of water at camp (it’s a good idea to test out the quantities you’ll need at home first)
  • Tea or coffee

Lunch:

  • Oatcakes and cheese (many supermarkets do pick-and-mix small cheeses to give you a variety).  A tube of primula spread is a good alternative on oatcakes
  • Cereal bar or flapjack
  • Baby Bel cheese
  • Water (perhaps add a diluting juice pouch)

Dinner:

  • Sicilian Sardinian pasta (see recipe below)
  • Ginger loaf (or Soreen malt loaf) and custard
  • Hot chocolate

Snacks:

  • Nuts
  • Haribos
  • Jelly babies

 


 

Day 4

Breakfast:

  • Porridge (packet variety – just add water and powdered milk).  You could also add raisins or other dried fruit.  Experiment at home first to get the quantities right.  Making porridge from scratch takes too long and leaves a very messy pan to clean afterwards !
  • Tea or coffee

Lunch:

  • Pepparami or beef jerky
  • Cup a soup
  • Cereal bar or flapjack
  • Baby Bel cheese

Dinner:

  • Hopefully a nice home-cooked meal !

Snacks:

  • Wine gums
  • Raisins
  • Chocolate

 

Emergency rations: [Keep these ‘just in case’.  They need to give you a quick energy burst]

  • Mars bars
  • Snickers bars
  • Fig rolls

 


I’ve previously provided a much larger range of  backpacking recipes here and here in case you prefer something different.

Pasta bolognese

A rich, filling meal that benefits from a ready-made Bolognese sauce mix.

Ingredients:

  • Bolognese sauce mix (eg Colmans, Schwartz)
  • Pasta
  • 25g dried vegetables (eg Whitworths)
  • Packet of bacon lardons (optional)
  • ½ onion, finely chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • Freeze-dried herbs
  • Parmesan

Directions:

  1. At home, chop the onion and garlic and store in a Ziploc bag together with the olive oil.
  2. Cook the pasta and dried vegetables together for 10-15 minutes. Drain, set aside and keep warm.  Reserve a cup of the cooking water and set aside separately.
  3. Fry the onion and garlic, and bacon bits/lardon (optional).
  4. Mix the pasta back into the pot with the onion, garlic and bacon. Add the Bolognese sauce mix together with some freeze-dried herbs.  Add the cup of water the pasta was cooked in.
  5. Top with grated/shaved parmesan and enjoy.

 

Chorizo and parmesan pasta

The chorizo really gives bags of flavour to this simple, tasty meal.  The ingredients will last a few days out of the fridge and don’t require any pre-preparation at home.

Ingredients (adjust quantities to suit the number eating):

  • Packet of passata
  • Chorizo sausage (sliced)
  • courgette
  • 1 clove garlic
  • Grated parmesan cheese

Directions:

  1. Fry the sliced chorizo in its own oil (which should come out after a few minutes) until it becomes crispy. Meanwhile, slice the courgette and a garlic clove and fry these for 5 minutes before adding a packet of passata and heating through.
  2. Cook your pasta, then drain and mix with the sauce. You could add some grated parmesan if you have a knife or other ingenious implement.

 

Sicilian sardine pasta

A simplified recipe using tinned sardines in tomato sauce rather than fresh sardines – but with loads of flavour.

Ingredients:

  • Pasta
  • 120g tin of sardines in tomato sauce per person
  • Fennel seeds
  • Dried chilli flakes

Directions:

  1. Cook your pasta
  2. Add one 120g tin of sardines in tomato sauce per person
  3. Add fennel seeds and chilli flakes to taste then enjoy.  [Note: sardines are very smelly so make sure you take away your waste in a sealed container !  This is why this is a last-day recipe].

 


 

5 Comments on “Planning Multi-day Backpacking Meals

  1. Thank you, thank you, thank you! There are some fantastic ideas there that we will definitely use. Getting some variety into the food is something I have always struggled with but you have addressed that brilliantly. Not sure my two will go for the sardines in tomato sauce but everything else will be a winner! I really appreciate the time and thought you have put into the challenge.

    Mary x

  2. Hi Mary,

    Glad you like these ideas. Remember they’re just suggestions so feel free to swap things about and add your own ideas. I agree, sardines can be an acquired taste (oily fish is good though) but you could always substitute these for tuna and passata.

    Hopefully your two will find these of use when their expeditions come around. I’ll also be referring to these menu ideas for my own backpacking – and maybe my daughter and some of her DofE pals might borrow some ideas.

  3. Pingback: Vote for me – 2016 Trespass Blog Awards | Wild about Scotland

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