When bicycling through towns it is quite easy to grab an evening meal at a restaurant or pick up special food items to fix at the campsite. Unfortunately, when the route is scheduled for 3,4, 5 or more days between towns, carrying food for a nutritious and filling dinner becomes somewhat problematic.
What food do you carry that won’t go bad, how can you limit the amount of weight and space on board, and which food items can be quickly prepared are just a few of the questions to be answered.
Freeze Dried Meals:
- I prefer the freeze dried dinner and desert meals from companies such as Mountain House and Backpacker’s Pantry. Most of the pouches weigh 4-5 ounces, serve 2-3 people, and require 1-2 cups of boiling water. The cost per serving is not all that expensive: about $2.50. Unfortunately, after bicycling all day, a 250 calorie meal doesn’t cut it, soooo, after eating all (or almost all) of a freeze dried dinner pouch the cost is up to $5-$7.00, and if you throw in a desert the cost is now around $10.
- I’ll be the first to admit that freeze dried meals are not as cost effective as assembling your own ingredients, but they do have their advantages: light weight, cooked in a pouch for easy cleanup, a wide menu selection, and minimal preparation time. And, the most important part, most of the meals taste pretty good.
- To further reduce the storage space requirements I open the meals and put them in 1 quart freezer bags because excess air can be removed more easily, and they can be easily rolled up thus taking up less space. I also cut the name and preparation instructions from the original pouch and put those, along with any desiccant, in the freezer bag.
When freeze dried meals are not available (or the expense is exorbitant) and a grocery store is the only option I look for packaged foods that meet the basic criteria outlined above: light weight, require minimal storage space, easy to fix, and nutritious.
- First and foremost, I look for packaged foods that require only water (many require additional purchased items such as butter, milk, ingredient packages, meat, vegetables, etc).
- To conserve fuel I look for foods that do not require long cook times. After some experimentation I discovered that packaged foods with statements such as ‘add to boiling water and simmer for X minutes’ seemed to work just fine by altering the process slightly. I add the quantity of food to a freezer bag, add the required amount of boiling water, then place the freezer bag in the cozy and let ‘simmer’ in it’s own juices. Sometimes the ‘simmer’ time took a little longer than recommended, but the food cooked nicely, and only required 2-3 minutes of fuel.
- Since the items were not cooked on a stove for the full ‘simmer’ time there was little to no loss of water through evaporation, thus, I found that a little less water was required else some items were left ‘soupy’.
Some food items that work well for me include:
- The more expensive soup mixes, such as Harmony House or Bearcreek, had more body when cooked. I felt that the inexpensive brands, such as Lipton, lacked substance.
- Macaroni and cheese meals, particularly the ones with seasoning packets, worked well, however, I found the simmer time to be about twenty minutes. Once the excess water was drained off the macaroni I add the cheese (and any seasonings), stir, and then add packaged tuna fish to make a casserole.
- Ramen noodles work well, and after cooking the noodles I add some salmon, tuna, or Spam. Ramen noodles don’t offer a lot of calories but are quite filling.
- There seem to be more dried meals in cups and bowls, unfortunately I found that many of these meals contained exteremely high salt content, plus, you may need more than one of these items to get the calorie count up. Taking these items out of their plastic box or Styrofoam container and placing them in a freezer bag will definitely save space.
- Mashed potato flakes, such as the Idahoan brand, are very easy to fix, and the ones such as ‘loaded’ or ‘cheesy’ or ‘garlic & herb’ are really good. After the potatoes are cooked you can add some cut up Spam for additional flavor; I didn’t care for fish in the potatoes. The calorie count for the mashed potatoes is fairly low (~100 calories per serving) but they can sure be filling.
- I found the 2 serving packages of salmon and tuna to be very good and quite versatile as far as using them with other food items.
- Meat, other than Spam, can be difficult since there doesn’t seem to be any ‘packaged’ choices outside of dried beef jerky, which seems to get soggy when re-hydrated.
- One alternate suggestion for meat is a dried beef substitute made by Harmony House Foods that is often found in the vegetarian section of grocery stores.
- In any case, I felt that the overall taste of the meal was better when the ‘meat/fish’ was added after the food was cooked, rather than add the ‘meat/fish’ at the same time as the boiling water.
Disclaimer #1: Everyone has their own taste buds and how yours responds may not be the same as mine. These recipes and ideas work well for me; I might not order them in a restaurant, but on the road, in the middle of nowhere, they will work just fine.
Disclaimer #2: The recipes covered are a balance between getting decent nutrition, saving as much weight/space as possible, and limiting the amount of cooking time. The weight savings comes from several places: the amount of fuel canisters needed for cooking, the amount of water carried while pedaling, the weight of packaging, and spoilage of fresh food. The cooking time has been reduced to 2-3 minutes for boiling water and 10-15 minutes of re-hydration time.