Food Jabber – Budget, Time, and Health Friendly Meal Prep

Food is fuel and while many can get away with Pop Tarts, Snickers and Top Ramen as their primary nutrition, it doesn’t work for me. Others have big wallets and live on Mountain House meals. The majority of hikers though find themselves somewhere in between. I’ve experimented a lot over the years and this is what I’ve found works for my current lifestyle.

Breakfast

At home, I eat low carb, high protein. I’ve never been able to tolerate sweets in the morning. If I don’t start my day with protein, I bonk. I’ve created my own cereal mix which can be eaten hot or cold. It has sufficient calories and protein to keep me climbing hills while also keeping my taste buds satisfied.

Pick your ingredients and customize to match your personal palate. You can easily increase the protein by adding nuts, milk or quinoa.

For this batch I started with a multigrain cereal (rye, barley, oats and wheat). Then added steel cut oats, regular oats, flax, chia and hemp seeds, bran, dried fruit, cinnamon, brown sugar and the secret ingredient, egg white protein powder which has 16 grams of protein per 1/4 cup, is tasteless and dissolves easily. Buying in the bulk food bins makes this even more economical. This large bowl made 45 servings (heaping 1/2 cup dry). I didn’t price out the ingredients so not really sure of cost per serving but I’m sure a fraction of prepackaged cereal.

Tip: use a wide-mouth funnel to fill bags to keep crumbs out of zip track. 

Another option I’ve discovered is crackers combined with a protein-rich spread. Each of these makes a 400 calorie meals with 10 grams of protein. 

As part of my second breakfast, I like to have cold coffee with chia seeds (60 calories per tablespoon and 3 grams of protein). SmartWater bottle + vanilla coffee + chia seeds = YUM! Tip: use a funnel to fill the pill bag. Cut the corner of the bag to pour into bottle (avoid spillage in wilderness especially near water supply). Tip: leave bottle on side while seeds are absorbing water, shake frequently, otherwise you’ll have an undrinkable glob at bottom of bottle.

Lunch and/or Dinner:

Although I much prefer homemade meals, they are time consuming to create and dehydrate, plus they tend to have a shorter shelf life and are sensitive to heat. Thus, I choose to take the easy, but less delicious route. My meals need to work with hot or cold water since I frequently hike stoveless. I don’t like packaged meat such as tuna, chicken, spam, etc. so I use soy (TVP) as my protein instead. I’ve not had success rehydrating regular pasta with cold water but have found bean-based products by Explore Cuisine work great and are a perfect substitute.

Base ingredients:

  • Instant rice
  • Instant potatoes
  • Rice sides
  • Bean noodles
  • Couscous
  • Quinoa

Primary sources of protein:

Flavorings:

  • Seasoning packets (i.e. taco, spaghetti, stew, pesto)
  • Bouillon
  • Powdered cheese
  • Red pepper flakes
  • Olive oil

Sample Meals:

  • Instant rice + TVP + refried beans + taco seasoning
  • Instant potatoes + TVP + powdered cheese + red pepper flakes
  • Edamame noodles + TVP + bouillon seasoning
  • Adzuki noodles + TVP + spaghetti sauce seasoning
  • Stuffing mix + couscous + TVP

Within a few hours, I packaged up nearly 70 meals. My portion size is about 1/2 cup dry.

Snacks:

I prefer savory to sweet. My base ingredients tend to be nut based, then I add various flavors to different bags so I don’t get the same mix daily. 

Bars are my least favorite snack, especially protein bars. I seem to carry them around more than I ever eat them . . . My motto is keep trying new things and have a nice assortment to choose from. The Trader Joe Sweet and Salty granola bar was my latest purchase. In the future I’ll buy my sweet items at resupply stops.

All packed up and ready to hit the trails. 

Amazon Shopping Links:

Jan’s Long-Distance Hiking Jabber Link

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Backpacking Skills – Preparing Your Resupply Boxes

As a methodical person, always looking for ways to be more efficient, I’ve found the below steps help me hike more and toil in prep-land less.

1. Resupply Locations

Determine the recommended places to send your packages. Verify addresses and shipping method, this is not a time you want your package returned for bad address. Consider reasons you may use one location over another. For example, the post office may have limited hours, the resort may charge a fee, one location requires a long hitch, the other a short walk. If shipping through USPS, priority mail flat rate boxes usually are the most economical, plus they can be tracked; regional flat rates are even better.

2. Days between Locations

This is a learning process and invariably includes a bit of guess work. It’s the most stressful part for me as I don’t want to end up with not enough or too much food.

My current method is to determine mileage between locations and divide that by a conservative daily hiking rate and again by a goal rate. I then average those rates to determine number of days for that resupply.

Example: A 100 mile section at 12 miles per day would take 8.3 days, and at 15 miles per day 6.7 days, or an average of 7.5 days.

For this example, I’d probably carry 7 days of food, plus throw in an extra breakfast. You’ll often have an opportunity to buy additional food at the resupply location and dig through a hiker’s box if you find you’ve been extra hungry or are anticipating challenging terrain that’ll slow you down.

I use a simple spreadsheet to help with this task (and update it along the way as part of the learning process).

3. Prepping Food Bags

  • Gather and organize food, repackage when appropriate
  • Create a spreadsheet to manage calories, nutrition, weight and categories of food
  • Number inexpensive one gallon clear plastic bags (one for each day on trail)
  • Fill bags on a rotational system
    • Breakfasts – I usually have two options
    • Dinners – I have about a dozen options
    • Snacks – I divide these into salty, sweet, bars, bites, etc. then rotate among them
  • My bags are prepped for about 2,000 calories and weigh about 1 pound per day. (I’ll detail in a future post.)

4. Prepping Miscellaneous Bag

  • Gather and organize toiletries, etc. It helps to have a checklist. (I’ll detail in a future post.)
  • Town chore items – I include about 1/2 cup of powdered unscented OxiClean to presoak my socks and use as laundry soap. I also include either a denture tablets to sterilize my water containers, drinking tube, filter, toothbrush, spoon, etc. I’ve just started including quarters for laundry.
  • Town luxuries – consider sending yourself shampoo, conditioner, lotion, q-tips, etc. especially if you have perfume or skin sensitivities.
  • Town food prep – include a few various size plastic bags to repackage town food or replace worn bags in pack. I also have the gallon size bags I packed my food in that can be used for other purposes or donated to the hiker box if not needed.

5. Prepping Map Bag

  • Take photos of critical information in case your box is lost (i.e. water waypoints, town guides)
  • Place maps for the next section in a gallon size bag. Consider including a replacement pen at least monthly (I use a Sharpie extra fine point to guard against water smears which inevitably happen).

6. Other Stuff

  • Will you need different gear for the next section such as microspikes, mosquito repellent? headnet?
  • Will be sending stuff home, include your pre-addressed label. Consider including a self-addressed stamped envelope for sending maps or notes home.
  • Is there a box holding fee? I like knowing the right change is available to quickly retrieve my box.

7. Prepping the Box

  • External Label include your real name, what trail you’re hiking and your ETA date (you can use range)
  • Internal Label – same as exterior
  • Other ID – write your name on the sides of your boxes
  • Special ID – use colorful tape or stickers or writing to make your box immediately identifiable

 

Tips:

  • Document what worked and didn’t so you can make adjustments when prepping for your next trip.
  • Save your lists to Google Docs (or something similar) and make them available to your phone offline so you can update and make notes while on trail (i.e. didn’t like, it didn’t rehydrate well, it didn’t hold up well).
  • USPS regional flat rate is an option ONLY if
    • the address you are sending TO is in the same zone as the one you are sending FROM (zone/zip map)
    • you preorder boxes (Regional Box B1 works for my resupplies)
    • you purchase the labels via the USPS mail and ship option
      • Use Internet Explorer (Chrome doesn’t work)
      • Under package details, enter an estimated weight (Box B can be used up to 20lbs). DO NOT USE SELECT THE FLAT RATE Option (I know doesn’t make sense).usps1
      • Package value – enter $50 as included in the price
      • Type of service – select Priority Mail Regional Box B (if the options don’t populate, scroll to the top to find a red message)usps2

Do you have other tips?

Link to my other posts on Hiking and Backpacking Skills