Feeding Your Crew On the Road – Lessons Learned On the Road

I’m compiling some of the lessons and interesting tidbits I’ve learned with the hopes of passing along useful information to fellow wanderers. Especially families of travelers similar to ours.

I swear to Science, I feel just like Ignacio when I cook now.

Even when I look at what I’ve made, I feel like:

Because I perform multiple roles on our adventures, I don’t usually have all the time I want or need to make good meals like I could when we lived in a house. The fire always needs tending, if you can get a decent one going and provided you can glean enough standing deadwood around you to make campfire cooking possible – another one of the lessons I’ve had the pleasure of learning. Camp stoves, like our Coleman, are decent for grilling and boiling water but can’t be expected to perform tasks like bringing water to a boil and reducing it to a simmer. Even the, totally awesome, Jetboil MightyMo has its limitations when preparing food for more than 2 people.

When we first decided to venture out and experience the sweetness of the country we live in, my thoughts immediately turned to food. I had visions fresh fruits, picked ripe and in season. I dreamed of biscuits and breads cooling in the open air, next to jars of local honey, preserved fruits and hand-churned butter from a farmer’s market a few miles away from our campsite. I could smell the stews waiting to be ladled into bowls of steamed rice (we are Filipino, after all), roasting meats by the fire or on a spit and the veggie/ potato mixes their fat and juices dripped into. My Instagram feed would make mouths water and would be hearted by at least 20 of my followers!

A lovely set of daydreams but hardly the reality of cooking on the road. Maybe one day, when I cook for a company that can afford to carry and store all the provisions (spices, ingredients and “The Lord’s Chips“) properly, provide cooking equipment that will allow me to cook efficiently and can lug around all the water needed for washing, rinsing and cooking the food – not to mention washing the dishes!

Things may change in the future but even if we had a refrigerator and all the cooking gear and food storage I wanted, I still wouldn’t make meals requiring multiple cooking techniques or long cook times – unless we were stationary, totally defeating the purpose. When I worked on the BBQ Truck, I learned how difficult it is to work with food when you have a limited supply of water and fuel for fire/ heat sources. Add to that the fact that I have spent a good amount of time cooking for a living and you get a recipe for culinary disaster! Sometimes delicious disasters, too but not often enough.

As with most products, I believe the Good – Fast – Cheap equation suits food perfectly, no matter where you get it.

Unfortunately, the meals you usually eat while camping are easy to make and inexpensive but the results are poor in quality. They lack the necessary nutrition and are usually very heavy in the carbohydrate department. All of the foods I dreamed of making would require far more time, energy and money to store and process than we can afford.

There are alternatives to making certain kinds of food. If you like potatoes, you can wrap them in foil and throw them down in the coals (if you have a fire going), wait about 20 minutes for baked potatoes. You can do the same with fresh fish, raw veggies and other foods that can be cooked with little or no added liquids. A bonus to using this method is saving on the clean up, because you can eat the food right out of their foil packaging.

Lately, we’ve been enticed by the freeze-dried food packages like Mountain House, mainly because of their convenience and also because they save space. One bucket, containing 12 meals, takes up about as much space a two gallons of water. Which is great, as our current plan sees us dedicating 1/3 or more of our load out to feeding ourselves. Our stash contains your usual dried stuff (beans, rice, pasta, etc) and canned items (carrots and peas, beans, spinach, etc). Dried ingredients take longer to cook and can be more wholesome but there is no denying the call of precooked, canned fare. Imagine how much more fun (add sarcastic inflection) it would be if we had to rely on hunting, trapping or fishing for all our protein!

[Update: 07-17-18 HH] We have tried a few different approaches but have leaned more toward buying food on the way into a campsite and consuming the perishable items first. The girls are definitely fans of Mountain House, though they can be a bit pricey. There is a lot to say about how convenient they are to prepare and the varieties you can bring without stocking all the necessary ingredients to make similar dishes from scratch. We plan one major meal a day, taken around the middle of the day, and stock up on meal replacement/ nutrition bars when we’re feeling peckish. We have attempted to add fish into our diets when possible, but results have been too inconsistent for us to rely on fishing. Its a fun way to spend a few hours though.

Conclusion: As I mentioned in the previous entry on lessons I’ve learned, we haven’t quite figured out the food part yet. Yes, our family loves cooking and yes, we’d love to spend time, effort and money to make well-balance, healthy meals but that version of reality is not one we currently live in. We try to stay away from overly processed and canned foods but because we can be many, many miles from a decent grocery store, we have to use what we can bring with us. Sigh… Chinese buffet, anyone?

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