I recently went on what was going to be a week long self supported hike (I injured myself and bailed after 4 days but that’s another story). For this trip I had to carry all of my food for the whole week, and I picked up a few tricks which I’m finding relevant in my daily life.
Make it Easy
When you’re hiking you don’t want food to be difficult to prepare. You’ll be cooking on a camp stove. You don’t want to fuss about. So this means packet food and freeze dried things mainly (it also has to be light weight obviously but that doesn’t matter in your home kitchen). It occurred to me while I diligently cooked my food for three evenings in a row that perhaps I set the bar too high for myself in daily life, given my lack of experience at cooking every day. Maybe by intending to cook a fully from scratch meal I’m setting myself up to give up on the effort and head out to the nearby restaurants (or eat something terrible like a packet of chips).
I’m now trying to have a few more simple semi-instant meals lying about. Probably better still would be to prepare large serves on the weekend and heat up leftovers during the week.
Dress It Up
When you’re out hiking all day for days in a row food is important. You need to eat enough calories, and you also want it to be as nutritious and tasty as you can manage. I’ve completely lost my appetite on a long bike tour before because I didn’t find the food we were eating very appetising (I’ll never look at a bowl of quinoa the same way again). So I’ve found you want to start with a base that’s interesting – instant packet food that has a strong flavour. Say for example instant rice or mashed potato flakes with garlic. Then you add whatever vegetable matter you can mange – dried peas and dried mushrooms were what I brought on my hiking trip. Throw them in and instantly you have something more interesting and perhaps more nutritious too.
I also brought canned corn kernels on my trip but I ate those as snacks at lunch time it turns out. Anyway – at home you don’t need to limit yourself to dehydrated things, you can use tinned or frozen instead which greatly increases the available variety.
Fried Shallots and Other Flavours
Fried shallots make everything delicious. This is a trick I learnt on that bike tour (it wasn’t all bad!) – obviously these are easy to carry while on a hiking/cycling trip, but they’re also easy to throw in your cupboard. Sprinkle them on anything bland that would benefit from onion-like flavour and some crunchiness.
At home I also have fresh herbs growing on my balcony that I can chop up and add to zhuzh up anything a bit bland or packet-flavoured (you know what I mean).
Other flavoursome tricks – pepper, obviously, can be added to any pasta dishes. A small spoon of seeded mustard works magic on mac and cheese (especially if it’s mac and cheese I bought pre-made from the supermarket). I’m guessing that this is also where meat eaters would add bacon or bits of saussage.
Planning is Key
For my trip I had planned out my entire week of meals, and divided everything up into portions in ziplock bags. In fact after having used my system for a few days I have a few tweaks in mind. In future I intend to divide my foods by day rather than sorting them by type, like an army ration pack. That way I can have that day’s food bag at the top of my pack and ignore the rest (and not keep losing my snacks…).
What interests me is that I’m capable of that level of organisation when hiking, but can’t bring myself to consistently pick an evening meal in daily life. Partly I think it’s that planning hiking food is special and high stakes (running out a day’s walk or more from anywhere would be pretty grim). Also I simply had no choice – if you’re going to carry a weeks worth of food you have to plan it fairly carefully.
Also, you have no choice but to stick to the plan, other than perhaps swapping the days around, because that’s the food you have and you have to eat it or starve.
But, it turns out that it made day to day cooking and eating easy. I think in an attempt to get back on the wagon of cooking properly I should try planning weekly menus.
So there we go. I think I will set myself a January challenge of planning my meals for the whole week ahead, and making sure they’re as easy and achievable as possible.