As I deal with an upcoming allergist appointment to determine some food allergies I’ve developed, I’ve started to wonder about backpacking meals and snacks for people with dietary restrictions. Whether you’re a vegan by choice or on a doctor-recommended gluten-free or low-acid diet, planning a backpacking trip suddenly becomes a little more stressful when you can’t just throw in any old Mountain House meal and go. After making a few of our own meals this summer, I’ve come up with some ideas that might help those of us without “iron stomachs” plan a better trip.
Gluten Free Meal Ideas
If you have Celiac disease you probably know that it’ll be best to just make your own meals for these trips. I can only imagine trying to work through the ingredients list on a package of Mountain House jambalaya to see if modified food starch or something has been added. However, brands like AlpineAire and Backpacker’s Pantry do offer some gluten-free options of freeze-dried meals.
Still, if you want to start from scratch just to be safe, using instant brown rice might be a good start. To that you could easily add dehydrated vegetables (either store bought or home dried), a small can of chicken or tuna, and some seasonings like lemon pepper, garlic salt, or even some cumin and chili powder.
Quinoa pasta or brown rice pasta are other good options. Find the smallest shapes of pasta that you can and you won’t even have to use extra fuel boiling the noodles. They can sit in water that just boiled and they’ll cook in about 10 minutes. Add some parmesan cheese or hard cheddar cheese and chicken and veggies and you’ve got another filling meal.
Of course if you’re like me and sometimes just don’t want to take the time, gluten-free boxed mac and cheese or dehydrated lentil soup are always easy options!
For snacks, nuts are filled with great fats, proteins, and calories, which you need when you’re backpacking. Dried fruit, sesame snaps and jerky also make good options as do gluten-free Lara Bars or KIND bars. Gluten-free oatmeal or granola is always a good breakfast option: it’s warm and filling! You can also check out Mountain House’s line of “breakfast skillets.”
Low-Acid Meal Ideas
Mornings can be tough for people on a low-acid diet. If I were still following one I’d definitely take low-acid coffee, like Kava, with me. No, it doesn’t taste as good as real French press coffee or even a strong tea, but it’s hot and has caffeine and is better than nothing.
The problem with most Mountain House or Backpacker’s Pantry meals is that many of them rely on spicy herbs or seasonings for their taste. Jambalaya, curries, chili mac… all of these might be too acidic. Fortunately, Mountain House and Backpacker’s Pantry both have lots of other options like chicken and rice, beef stroganoff, or even a cold chicken salad that’s actually pretty good!
You can also easily create simple meals of your own: a box of parmesan Near East cous cous with a package of vacuum-sealed chicken and some dehydrated veggies was one of our favorite backpacking meals on our last trip. Horizon Organic boxed macaroni and cheese with added chicken and dehydrated broccoli is also an easy, low-acid option.
Snacks and breakfasts are easier. Oatmeal is always an excellent breakfast option. It’s soothing for heartburn sufferers and still tasty and filling. Adding dried bananas and brown sugar can add even more calories while still keeping acid levels down. There are plenty of snack options out there like dried jerky, Clif bars, and granola bars that can provide a needed energy boost without citrus or chocolate too.
Vegan Meal Ideas
I started my search for Vegan freeze-dried meals on REI.com. Within a few minutes I was surprised to find almost a full page of possible dinners and in-camp snacks like Backpacker’s Pantry’s Pad Thai Noodles or Katmandu Curry and Harmony Valley’s vegetarian “ground beef” or hummus mix. I’m thinking that the hummus would be great to have at the end of a first day; get to camp early, set up and have some cocktails with hummus and a mix of raw veggies and crackers. Carrying those items for one day wouldn’t be bad and it would mean one more day with fresh vegetables on your trip!
For other ideas, plain Ramen noodles or brown rice with soy sauce and dehydrated vegetables would be easy to put together, especially if you had take-out packets of soy sauce. Instant brown rice with Mexican spices, dehydrated beans, corn, and tomatoes would be excellent too–especially with some flour tortillas to wrap it in. Dehydrated soups like lentil or tomato would be great options for cold nights, especially with some added dehydrated vegetables.
Vegan snacks like dried fruit and nuts, KIND bars, sesame snaps, and Honey Stinger chews will keep snack time interesting and still provide plenty of additional calories. A hearty and warm breakfast of oatmeal with nut butter and fruit or just brown sugar and raisins will keep you going strong for hours!
Diabetic Meal Ideas
This one was more challenging. I had to enlist the help of a diabetic friend to get some ideas on what diabetic meal options we could create for backpacking. Breakfast was actually the easiest of all because Mountain House has several dehydrated egg options, like one with ham or one with peppers and onions. You could even add your own mix of dehydrated veggies and fresh cheddar cheese (wrapped in wax paper it’ll last your whole trip) to change up the flavor.
According to my friend, jerky is a diabetic’s best friend. That and nuts like pistachios and almonds provide a lot of fiber and protein without too many carbs.
At first I thought dinners might be nearly impossible to find… quick ones, anyway. But then I remembered Mountain House’s “wraps” mixes: They have a warm chicken fajita filling that would be great and super low-carb on its own, and also the cold chicken salad that I mentioned earlier.
You could also find packets of powdered tomato soup or create your own soup with a packet of chicken, dehydrated vegetables, water, and some chicken bouillon cubes. If you wanted it thicker, a small amount of potato flakes would probably be okay, too. If you’re into dehydrating your own meals, a meat-based, beanless chili could be a good option as well.
While adventures like backpacking can be a little more difficult if you have dietary restrictions, they don’t have to be impossible. With a little planning and a good grocery store or REI nearby (you can also order online) you can know that your body and your mind will both be happy while you’re out in the wilderness.