With spring at its peak, a lot of folks are going to be itching to stretch their winter-stiff muscles by heading into the back country. One of the most confusing aspects of planning a multi-day excursion — especially for the person who’s relatively new to backpacking — is working out the menu. Furthermore, the commercially available backpacking foods — which, admittedly, do range in quality from excellent to decidedly mediocre — can be a bit expensive.
So to help you cut costs (at least a little) and fuel the old internal furnace with healthful whole foods, we’ve put together a sample two-person menu for a three-day warm-weather foray in moderate terrain. (As you likely know, high-altitude hiking requires special cooking considerations, and folks on cold-weather journeys need more daily calories than they would in temperate seasons.) We’re confident you’ll agree that the menus here are nutritious, tasty and practical to serve while rambling in the outdoors.
You’ll have to decide — before you even begin to pack — the method of cooking you plan to use. Because campfires are often no longer permitted in our national parks and forests, it’s best to check with the appropriate officials before starting out to determine whether permits are required, or fires even allowed, in the areas where you plan to be traveling. Odds are that you’ll find a backpacking stove an all but essential accessory (there are many compact lightweight models available).
Of course, some items can be carried as is, or fully prepared in advance and our menus include a number of these. Then, the simplest way to package foods to be cooked on site is probably to put the dry ingredients for any one recipe in a plastic bag, label it, and add the liquids in camp. (Ziploc-type sacks are airtight and don’t take up much room.) Finally, if you pack all the breakfast-menu fixings in a larger plastic bag, and do the same for your lunch and dinner menus (again, be sure to label everything), you won’t have to sort through a jumble of bundles when you’re getting ready to eat.
Our list includes seven meals: two breakfasts, three lunches, and two dinners on the assumption that most people will begin their excursions after breakfast one day and return — two days later — after lunch. Here’s the sample bill of fare for that trip.
Backpacking Meal Ideas
Lunch: High-Protein Leftovers Bread with Miso Sesame Butter Spread, Dried Fruit, Lemonade.
Dinner: Spinach Cheese Soup, High-Protein Crackers, Nutty Fruit Muffins, Tea.
Breakfast: Stewed Fruit over Granola, Tea.
Lunch: High-Protein Crackers with Garbanzo Bean Spread, Fresh Vegetable Salad with Miso Salad Dressing, Fruit Juice (from concentrate).
Dinner: One-Pot Brown Rice and Shrimp, Nutty Fruit Muffins, Tea.
Breakfast: Wheat Germ Cereal with Dates.
Lunch: Brown Rice Patties (fried up from the leftovers of the rice and shrimp dinner) with Miso Sesame Butter Spread, Dried Fruit, Fruit Juice (from concentrate).
Backpacking Meal Recipes
You’ll want to prepare the following items at home, as close as possible to your departure date.
High-Protein Bread Recipe
2-1/2 cups of whole wheat flour (or 2 cups of whole wheat and 1/2 cup of rye flour)
1/2 cup of soy flour
2 cups of leftover cooked vegetables and grains (or 1-1/2 cups cooked millet and 1/2 cup cooked carrots or other vegetable), mashed or strained
1/8 cup of oil
1 teaspoon of salt vegetable stock or water cornmeal
Mix all the ingredients completely, adding a little flour if the batter is too sticky or a little stock if it’s too dry. Knead the dough until it’s of a very even consistency and a bit springy. Then shape it to fit an oiled bread pan that’s been sprinkled with coarse cornmeal. Split the dough’s surface about 1/4 inch deep and moisten the top of the loaf with water, cover it and let the pan sit in a warm spot for 12 hours before baking the bread — at 350 degrees Fahrenheit — for one hour.
Miso Seasame-Butter Spread Recipe
1-1/2 cups of sesame butter
4 tablespoons of miso
4-6 tablespoons of boiling water grated orange peel
Brown the sesame butter and miso together in a frying pan, stirring constantly. Mix in enough water to make the concoction spreadable. Cool the sesame treat in a bowl, add orange peel to taste, and store the spread in a lidded plastic container.
8 tablespoons of lemon juice
8 teaspoons of honey
4 cups of water
Simply combine the juice, honey, and water. (You may have to use a bit of hot water first to dissolve the honey, and then add the remaining liquid.) Prepare the beverage in the morning before you leave, and put it in a lidded jar with ice cubes . . . when you arrive at your first stop, it’ll be chilled and ready for you
High-Protein Cracker Recipe
1 cup of whole wheat flour
1 cup of rye flour
1/2 cup of soy flour
1/2 cup of wheat germ flakes
1/2 cup of sesame seeds
1 tablespoon of chia seeds
1 teaspoon of coarse-ground sea salt
1/3 cup of corn germ oil cold water
Combine all the dry ingredients except the salt, and mix them well. Stir in the oil and add just enough water to produce a stiff dough, which you can then knead a little before letting it stand for a few minutes. Roll the dough out very thin, sprinkle on the salt and a few extra sesame seeds and roll it again, pushing the salt and seeds in well. Now, pierce the dough with a fork, and cut it into squares. It should make about two dozen. Bake the crackers on an ungreased cookie sheet at 300 degrees Fahrenheit until they’re golden brown and crisp (15 to 20 minutes). To help prevent breakage in the pack, place the homemade saltines between layers of wax paper.
Nutty Fruit Muffin Recipe
3/4 pound of pecans
3/4 pound of walnuts
3/4 pound of almonds
1 pound of raisins
1 pound of dates
1-1/2 pounds of assorted dried fruit
1-1/2 cups of whole wheat flour
2 teaspoons of baking powder
2/3 cup of pineapple juice
1 teaspoon of salt
2 teaspoons of vanilla
3 tablespoons of honey
Soak the dried fruit mix for a couple of hours and cut it into small pieces. Then add the raisins and dates, and coat all the bits with the flour and baking powder before combining the fruits and nuts. Next, beat the eggs with the remaining ingredients, and stir this concoction into the fruit and nut mixture. Spoon the batter into two dozen muffin cups — filling each to the 3/4 mark — and bake the desserts in a 300 degree Fahrenheit oven for 25 to 30 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center of a muffin comes out clean. (Place a pan of water in the oven during the baking process.) After the muffins have cooled, wrap each one in aluminum foil and store them in a cool place until you’re ready to pack.
Miso Salad Dressing Recipe
1 teaspoon each of miso, oil, water, and lemon juice
1 clove of garlic, sliced
1/2 teaspoon of whole oregano, thyme, or basil
Put the ingredients in a small bottle or jar with a tight lid, and shake them well.
Coconut Granola Recipe
1/4 cup of oil
1/4 cup of honey
1/4 cup of sorghum, molasses, or maple syrup
1-1/2 teaspoons of vanilla
1/8 cup of milk powder
1 tablespoon of nutritional yeast
1/2 cup of wheat germ
2-1/2 cups of rolled oats
1 cup of rolled wheat
1 cup of rolled rye
1/2 cup of unsweetened coconut shreds
1 cup of raisins or currants 1/2 cup each of cashews, almonds, pitted dates, and sunflower seeds
Heat the oil, honey, and syrup in a large pot until the liquid reaches a thin, uniform consistency. Then remove it from the heat and add the remaining ingredients — in the order they’re listed — except the fruit, nuts, and seeds. Stir the combination well after each addition. Spread the mixture on a cookie sheet and bake it, at 250 degrees Fahrenheit, for 1-1/2 to 2 hours, stirring it occasionally. Remove the sheet from the oven. Once the granola is cool, stir in the remaining ingredients. Store the mix in an airtight container. (This recipe yields about 1/2 gallon.)
Garbanzo Bean Spread Recipe
1-1/4 cups of cooked garbanzo beans
1/4 teaspoon of parsley
1/4 teaspoon of chili powder
1/8 teaspoon of cumin
1/8 teaspoon of salt a dash of garlic granules
Mash up the garbanzos — or put them through a food mill, ricer, or blender — until they make a paste. Then add the spices and stir everything well. Store the spread in an airtight heavy-plastic container.
How to Cook While on the Trail
At this point the most difficult food preparation will be out of the way, and you can look forward to unpacking and putting together the meals as you need them. However, there are three recipes among those in our menus that will have to be cooked up at your campsite.
Wheat Germ Cereal Recipe
1/2 cup of wheat germ flakes
1/2 cup of bran flakes
1/4 teaspoon of salt
2 cups of water
Combine all the ingredients and simmer the mixture for 5 minutes. Serve the cereal topped with dates.
Spinach Cheese Soup Recipe
4 tablespoons of spinach flakes
2 tablespoons of onion flakes
2 tablespoons of parsley flakes
1 teaspoon of salt
1/4 teaspoon of garlic granules
1 cup of milk powder
4 tablespoons of whole wheat flour
1 pound of cheddar cheese, grated or sliced
2 tablespoons of oil
3 cups of water a handful of toasted chopped almonds
Stir the first five ingredients and the oil into 2 cups of water, bring the mixture to a boil, and cook for 5 minutes. Meanwhile, blend the milk powder and flour with the remaining 1 cup of water. Add the thickening to the pot. Then stir in the cheese, and — without allowing the soup to boil — keep stirring until the cheese melts. Sprinkle the almonds on top just before you serve this hearty main dish.
One-Pot Brown Rice and Shrimp Recipe
2 cups of brown rice
1 6-1/2-ounce can of shrimp (or 1/2 cup freeze-dried) a large handful of freeze-dried string beans
1 tablespoon of onion flakes
1/2 teaspoon of salt
1/8 teaspoon of oregano
1/8 teaspoon of thyme
1 tablespoon of oil
5 cups of water
Bring the water and oil to a boil, then add the rice, salt, and onion. Keep the ingredients at a high simmer for 30 to 45 minutes, and — when the rice is almost done — stir in the beans and shrimp and let everything finish cooking together. (Dried shrimp and dehydrated string beans may be used in place of the canned or freeze-dried ingredients above, but should be added to the pot after about 15 minutes.)
There you have it: a tasty and nutritious menu plan that will enable you and your fellow traveler to concentrate on the important aspects of your journey — like the wildflowers and sunsets — so that you can return refreshed and full of the spirit of Mother Nature. Have fun!