Just because you're taking a trip into the backcountry doesn't mean you're diet has to be trail mix and granola; plan to eat hearty.
For the recent filming of Episode 4, we had to map out a meal plan for 7 people. As the designated camp chef, I had some work to do to prep for a three day weekend in the woods and on the road. Here are some tips that might prove useful for meal planning on your next adventure.
Tip 1. Cooking gear.
First off, consider what you will be cooking on and with. If you're backpacking, you have to travel light and obviously wouldn't want to bring cast iron, but we're overlanding - so pack it and load it. Even though there's extra room in the truck, think hard about what you'll use and what you won't.
Tip 2. Your guests.
Make sure you know how many you're cooking for and identify any dietary restrictions. Once I had the details, I built a menu and sent it to the group for approval.
Tip 3. Building a menu.
When working up menu, be sure you can alter your meals in the field. If you're in a rush, getting hammered with rain or the group suddenly decides that they could eat a horse; you'll need to make some adjustments.
As I built a menu, I used my resources on the internet; there are a ton of good backcountry cooking websites out there. Here are a few of my favorites - The Dirty Gourmet, The Kitchn, allrecipes.com and Jen Reviews.
Ok, here's the menu that I opted for -
- Dinner - Grilled chicken quesadillas with onions and peppers
- Breakfast - Bacon, eggs and toast/precooked biscuits
- Lunch - Greek herb roasted chicken pitas with feta, Kalamata olives, hummus and marinated artichoke hearts; served cold
- Dinner - Fire ready hobo (foil) pockets with smoked sausge, potatoes, onions, peppers, carrots and cabbalge; seasoned with EVOO, salt, pepper and butter.
- Breakfast - precooked Sausage biscuits; just heat 'em up.
Tip 4. Purchasing and packing.
Break the menu down into an ingredients list so that you can plan the purchase of everything at once. Keep the list handy for packing up prior to the trip; it'll help you remember how to pack and you can make sure you've remembered everything.
Precook what you can, it'll make life much easier. Also, leave the meat separate in case you've got an vegetarians on board.
Tip 5. Healthy eating habits.
Make sure that you have a well-rounded variety of food such as meat, veggies, fruits, and carbs. You'll want to keep the group energy levels up throughout the day as overland travel can be quite rigorous.
Tip 6. Food storage.
Keep food storage in mind as you pack. Mostly likely you'll be relying on a cooler unless you're fortunate enough to have a travel fridge/freezer on board. Store foods that may spoil first at the bottom of cooler, where it tends to be coldest. Freeze large blocks of ice a week in advance and use them in your cooler; they melt much slower than bag ice.
Tip 7. Back up plan.
I like to have a back up plan. I planned to cook some of the meals on the stove and some on the fire. And if we couldn't have a fire, I could always cook it on the stove.
For example, Saturday's dinner menu called for hobo pockets. A quick and easy meal in a fire pit, but if rain rolled in, I could easily cook it on the stove.
Tip 8. Happy campers.
In the end, if the campers are happy and nobody's hungry, you've officially knocked it out of the park!
You can make plans; sometimes they go smoothly and sometimes they don’t, but remember this - as long as nobody is starving you did a great job and hopefully you learned something along the way.
Tip 9. Lessons learned.
There will always be something you could have done better and there's always something that you forgot. At times it can be hectic and slightly rushed - so rest easy and enjoy the moment!
Enjoy the people that surround you and have a cold one for dinner; most important - don't forget to have a good time. Wasn't fun your motivator to begin with?