OB16: Menu Planning and Meal Prep

Gourmet style meals can be had while on the trail with some menu planning and meal prep. There is no need to compromise eating well in favor of easy and terrible. The options available these days surpass just having to buy a bunch of groceries and hope things stay good. Dehydrated meals offer a quick, easy, and sometimes tasty alternative to spending money on a weekends worth of groceries.

Creating a Menu

First and foremost determining what type of meals you want to have. If you want dehydrated meals, hit up your nearest outdoors store or Amazon and pick up enough for 3 meals a day. Most of the time dehydrated meals contain enough for more than one person and can be used for two meals through the day. Be warned though, if you haven’t tried these before you may want to do some research beforehand.

Fresh Ingredients

It is absolutely possible to travel with fresh ingredients to cook with. Especially if you have a portable refrigerator on your rig. It’s doable in a cooler also, but with less of a “shelf” life. We’ve traveled with fresh ingredients and most times find what we buy for a weekend trip lasts the weekend with no issues. Longer, extended trips may require a stop to replenish some items either as they’re used or as they go bad.

Dehydrated Foods

Dehydrated meals are a good alternative to cooking fresh. It’s also a good idea to have dehydrated meals as a backup solution if your cooling solution fails or you find yourself in a situation that food isn’t readily available. Most of the meals are super easy to make. Add boiling water and let stand for 10-20 minutes. That’s it. And surprisingly they’re quite good.

Prepping Food

One solution for this is to prep some pre-cooked and pre-made freezer meals before leaving. These can be thawed at once camp is set up and cooked in a pot over a fire or on a stove within a matter of minutes. Having cut vegetables and pre-cooked meat saves time once in camp, and your belly is grumbling.

Traveling with canned foods instead of fresh foods can also mean the difference between having to stop frequently and being able to push on while out. They are also easy to just heat up and eat if it’s getting dark and time is running out for the day.

Keeping Things Cold

When planning a trip, you need to determine how much cold food you’re going to take. This can play into what size cold storage you’re going to need. There are two camps you can fall into. The first being usage of a regular cooler. The second being spending more money (potentially close to a thousand dollars) on a portable refrigerator. If you prefer dehydrated meals all weekend, skip right over this because it doesn’t apply to you.

Coolers

The options for coolers are well into the high hundreds. Ultimately you want something that can keep things cold or frozen for days at a time rather than hours. For a high functioning cooler like this, you’ll end up spending more on a good cooler. Also, it would be beneficial to find a basket that can be used to keep items up out of the ice, so they don’t get soggy.

Ideally, it might even be beneficial to have multiple coolers of the same or different designs. This allows you to keep easily contaminated items in one, drinks and other cold items that one get spoiled in another, and even one for dry goods and non-perishable items.

Good cooler prep is also essential if you’re going to be out for days at a time. Prepping a cooler for long-term usage is pretty easy to do before a trip and during a trip. Follow the steps below to ensure you’re food and drinks stay cold and good while on the trail.

  • Precool the cooler by placing ice in it for 4-6 hours prior to packing. You may even consider putting it outside overnight if the temperature is cool enough.
  • Freeze any food and drink items that can be frozen.
  • Use block ice instead of cubed ice; they won’t melt as fast.
  • Drain water on longer trips, but not on shorter ones.
  • Layer the cooler: block ice on the bottom, cover the ice with a thin layer of waterproof material, pack food items on top.
  • Repack food into Tupperware containers or Ziploc bags to prevent water leakage.
  • Add an insulating or reflective cover to the cooler.
  • Keep it closed as much as possible and organized for easy access.
  • Pack drinks in a separate cooler.

Refrigerators

While expensive, a portable refrigerator is a great alternative for keeping your food cold. Much like you’re home refrigerator, portable refrigerators come in all shapes and sizes to fit your rig and needs; tie into your vehicle’s battery system; and keep things cold consistently without having to add ice. The good thing about a portable refrigerator is that the draw on a battery is minimal it could be kept on and never shut off while traveling. The downside is they are nowhere near as large as some coolers, which could be a drawback if out on an extended trip.

Water & Storage

There are numerous ways to carry water. One of the easiest may be just to purchase a large pack of bottled water to use for cooking, drinking, and whatever else. The problem there is having to carry around the empty bottles when done.

Another option is to work in a storage solution, whether one container or multiple, to your complete rig loadout. Onboard storage can be added to any rig also. One solution is to add a tank to your rig either in a storage area or even behind a seat. The other option is to have a few portable 5-gallon jugs with a spigot that can be moved to either a water source or just to a more convenient location for usage.

Sometimes the only available options are natural sources. Having a filtration system helps eliminate any contaminants that might be in the water. This is one area you do not want to cheap out on. If you’re going g to carry a filtration system, then spend the money on a good one. Do your research on what works best and even take some training on how to properly filter water.

Cooking Methods

There are two primary methods for cooking once camped. Either you are cooking on an open fire, or you are using a stove. Regardless of the method, each has its own quirks when making a meal.

Campfire

Cooking over a fire has been a staple for thousands of years. There is some technique to building a good cooking fire and being able to cook on it successfully. Learn the differences in making a cooking campfire versus one you can just sit around. Also look into the cooking gear you will need to use.

A good piece of gear to carry if you choose to cook on an open flame is a breakdown grill. These usually come in several pieces and pack down nicely for storage. They provide a good, solid surface to place pots and pans on for cooking. If you have experience cooking at home on a regular grill, this method should be right up your alley.

Stove

Stove cooking can be accomplished using a small backpacking style stove or a multi-burner camp stove. Using one over the other probably depends on what you are cooking and how many you are cooking for. If you’re making just dehydrated meals, a backpacking stove can do the trick nicely. Having multiple people along requires the use of a two or three burner camp stove.

In either case, make sure what you are using has some level of control over the flame. Something that just burns at the highest setting is likely to burn foods very quickly, ruining any chance at a good meal. Plus, burned on food is not fun to clean up at a campsite.

Find more of this series here.

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