I love to eat while camping outdoors, so meal planning is truly a labor of love. While estimating my needs for an Appalachian Trail thru-hike, I determined that I would be eating about 170 dinners. Of those 170 dinners, around 60 of them will be hot meals purchased along the way, and 40 will be Mountain House freeze dried meals. So now I will show you how I created and dehydrated the remaining 70 dinners that are going to be mailed to me at various locations along the trail.
The featured picture shows the result of a month or so worth of dehydrating to create the ingredients for backpacking meals. From left to right, you see the results of dehydrating 8 lbs. of rice, 4 lbs. of macaroni, 23 lbs. of canned chicken, 8 lbs. of ground beef, 4 lbs. of frozen carrots, 8 lbs. of bell peppers, 4 lbs. of mushrooms, 36 chopped tomatoes, and 10 jars of marinara sauce. The dried onions, cheddar powder, and powdered milk are purchased commercially.
You might ask, “Why dehydrate rice and pasta when you can buy instant rice or just boil the pasta?” Well, instant rice has very little nutritional value and pasta requires a lot of fuel to boil until al dente. By cooking it in advance (the rice is made savory by cooking it in chicken stock) and drying it myself, in the field I can add boiling water to the rice/pasta, wait 20 minutes, and enjoy delicious rice/pasta while maintaining its full nutritional value.
Over the past year or so, I have read several books and experimented with dozens of recipes using dried foods to find the combinations that I like enough to eat repeatedly. I even recruited my family to taste these meals and provide their own unbiased feedback. In the end, I have selected four recipes that pass muster enough to accompany me on the A.T. Three of the recipes are adapted from my favorite cookbook “Recipes for Adventure” by Chef Glenn McAllister (highly recommended) which also provides excellent tips and techniques on dehydration.
Here are the meals I am making to enjoy on the trail:
Pasta & Cheesy Tomato Sauce – Macaroni and ground beef with dried bell peppers, onions, mushrooms, and tomatoes, cheddar cheese powder, and powdered milk.
Curry Chicken & Rice – Rice and chicken with dried carrots, bell peppers, and onions, powdered milk, curry powder, and chili powder.
Chicken and Rice Cacciatore – Rice and chicken with dried mushrooms, onions, and tomatoes, garlic powder, Italian herbs, and crushed red pepper.
Cheesy Chicken Veggie Rice – Rice and chicken with dried mixed vegetables, cheddar cheese powder, and powdered milk.
The ground beef and chicken have a shorter shelf life (about 2 months) than the other ingredients, so to ensure food safety, meal sized portions of these items are individually vacuum sealed and frozen until time for shipment. The rest of the ingredients are packaged in quart freezer bags and are vacuum sealed for freshness.
On the trail, I will add the meat to the freezer bag, then add 2 cups of boiling water and place the freezer bag in an insulated cozy. After about 20 minutes, the meal will be ready to eat directly from the bag with no mess or clean-up other than properly disposing of the bag. Bon appetit!