How to Prepare Food for Friends on Multi-Day Treks

Cara Rensing

I'm going on a six day trek with three others and took on the task of preparing ALL the food. From scratch! Read what to consider, what to remember, and my 6 day meal plan.

My partner, my sister, my brother-in-law, and I, are tackling the West Coast Trail in only 10 days! So I took on the task of preparing high energy meals for four people, for 6 days. All healthy, hearty, and using whole food ingredients. The meals have to be light-weight, compact, non-perishable, quick and easy to prepare, and of course they need to be tasty and satisfying. And I've never done this before. You might think this is an absurd challenge to take on and it is much easier to purchase pre-made dehydrated or freeze-dried meals from your local outdoor store, but I can't bring myself to buy them let alone eat them (It's true, I have never actually tried them but I haven't heard good things). 

Mountain House Lasagna with Meat Sauce contains "calcium caseinate, corn oil, partially hydrogenated soybean oil, sodium caseinate, glucono-delta-lactone, maltodextrin, sodium aluminum phosphate". 


Also, I am totally into this stuff. With my love for cooking and outdoor adventuring, combined with my background in nutrition, this is exactly the challenge I live for.

Our camp overlooking the Howe Sound. Howe Sound Crest Trail, September 2016

So, what factors are important to consider?

  1. Allergies or Sensitivities - Luckily no one in the group, aside from my own dairy sensitivity, has any restrictions.
  2. Preferences - One member in the group has been known to be a very picky eater. But, when asked what he absolutely won't eat, his answer was just mushrooms. Though they do dehydrate and re-hydrate very well, we can work around mushrooms.
  3. Light-Weight and Compact- We are hiking 75 km in 6 days. This means every ounce counts so the food needs to be light! While freeze drying is the bees-knees, no body owns a freeze-dryer (unless you are a hard-core dooms-day prepper with lots of extra space and money...). Therefore, everything must be dehydrated. As for compact-ability, you'd be surprised how compact food becomes when dehydrated. Check out some outdoor recipe creators online when measuring dried ingredients for meals. 
  4. Non-perishable - This means no fresh produce, no cream for your coffee, and no left-overs (what you don't finish, the bears will - and you don't want bears!). Dehydration is great for preservation. With lots of research you can find ways to dehydrate meat and other foods so it won't go bad and, when re-hydrated, actually tastes good! 
  5. Quick and Easy to Prepare - This means one pot meals that only require adding water. Think soups, stews, pastas, stir-fries, scrambles and porridge. Ingredients may mush together, but you're on the trail - you can't be too picky (and trust me, you will be so hungry you probably won't even care).
  6.  Tasty and Satisfying - Well, tasty is up to the individual but, in my opinion; go for high quality ingredients, add tons of flavor and spice, and indulge in those more expensive additions if they are going to make your meal a masterpiece. Satisfying means enough to fill you up so you aren't starving. This is tricky as everyone is different and your appetite is usually much larger when you're adventuring the outdoors. Consider how much food you usually eat, factor in how filling the type of food you will be eating, and remember this; going a few days with a bit of hunger after meals will not kill you - your body is intelligent and will access energy stores it may need (and almost all of us have plenty stores to spare). Also, what you pack in you must pack out so any uneaten meals is just unnecessary weight.
  7. High-Energy - If you're packing meals for outdoor wilderness adventures, chances are you're going to be burning A LOT of calories. And, since you need you're meals to be light-weight and compact, there is no space for empty calories or fillers. We need nutrient dense foods for muscle recovery and mental alertness, as well as slow burning calories so we don't burn out. Think fat, protein, and complex carbs.

Since high-fat foods don't dehydrate well (or often fats are removed for foods to dehydrate), I like to bring ghee (a form of clarified butter) or coconut oil to add to my meals. Both are loaded with good fats and won't go bad on the trail. 

Good protein options are quality protein powders (great to add to porridge or homemade protein bars), dehydrated eggs or meat (tuna, salmon, ground beef), nuts and seeds, lentils or other beans. 

Complex carbs - like beans, starchy vegetables, squashes, whole-grain pasta, brown or wild rice, quinoa, oats, and other whole grains - all take longer to digest in the body compared to simple carbs like refined and processed grains and starches. Complex carbs provide more nutrients and give the body a steady feed of energy.

One-pot Chickpea Masala

Helpful tips:

  1. Don't start last minute. Dehydrating takes time and there will likely be some mishaps. Give yourself a few weeks to start the process. The beauty of dehydrated food is it lasts for weeks, months, and sometimes years. 
  2. Do research. Lots and lots of research. Like I said before, this is all very new to me. I started experimenting with making dehydrated meals a couple years ago, but nothing on this scale and never for this many people. There are a few do's and don'ts when it comes to dehydrating and meal prepping. Some resources I found helpful are; 

If you have any other valuable resources or tips please share!

Me cooking some chick pea masala on the Elk River Trail, June 2017.

What's on our menu?

Things are still in the works (this is all taking me over a month to plan and prepare), but here is what the menu will look like:

Breakfasts:

  • Egg Scramble (3 days). With eggs, peppers, onion, tomato, cheese, bacon, and sweet potato hash browns.
  • Apple Cinnamon Porridge (2 days). With oats, apples, spices, peanut butter, flax, hemp, dates, salt, and protein powder.
  • Chocolate Cherry Porridge (1 day). With oats, cherries, raw cacao, hemp, flax, sat, protein powder, coconut oil.

Lunch/Snacks:

  • Pecan Pie Protein Bars (2 days). With pecans, dates, collagen, and spices.
  • Carrot Cake Protein Bars (2 days). With walnuts, dates, collagen, carrots, coconut, raisins, and spices.
  • Almond Butter Cookies (3 days). Almond butter, maple syrup, egg, spices, protein powder, and chocolate chunks.
  • Cured Sausage and Beef Jerky (every day). (not homemade)
  • Trail Mix (every day). Nuts, seeds, candy pieces, dried legumes, chocolate, dried fruit.
  • Electrolyte Mix (every day). Coconut water crystals and a greens super-food blend.

Dinners:

  • Pesto Pasta with Sausage (2 nights). Kaslo Hemp Pasta, cured sausage, sun dried tomato, pesto powder, zucchini, onion, peppers, ghee.
  • Mexican Rice Bowl (2 nights). Wild/brown rice blend, spices, zucchini, onion, peppers, tomato, corn, beans, ground beef, cheese, ghee.
  • Broccoli Alfredo (2 nights). Kaslo Buckwheat Pasta, Alfredo powder, broccoli, ghee.

My girl Shelagh enjoying some post dinner wine. Elk River Trail, June 2017

Well, wish me luck and stay tuned for pictures of our adventure!

If you'd like to follow along closer, and see the preparation process as I go, you can find me on Instagram @healthandwilderness, or check out my website www.healthandwilderness.com.

Published: June 20, 2017

Cara Rensing

Adventurist, Nutritionist, Health Coach, Trail Foodie, Recipe Creator, and Blogger. I like to combine my love for the outdoors with my passion for cooking and my education in health and wellness.

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