Eating on the AT: My Vegetarian and Nut-Free Ideas

I’ve been vegetarian from birth. Both my parents are, and so naturally I just stuck with it. For the most part, I see it as a good thing, because it helps me have a generally healthier diet than I would if I ate meat. However, it’s become more of a struggle while figuring out meals for the AT. Some guides to backpacking while vegetarian have been somewhat useful, but not completely. There are a few factors at play here that contribute to the struggle. One, my vegetarian diet; two, my allergy to every nut (peanuts and tree nuts); three, keeping costs down.

Most posts about vegetarian diets that I’ve seen incorporate a lot of nuts. I can’t eat any nuts, which limits me quite a lot. Most forms of trail mix and most protein bars have nuts in them, and the ones that don’t are either pretty terrible or extremely expensive. I don’t know many people that would be willing to fork over more than $2 per protein bar that has less than 300 calories in it. But a lifetime of avoiding nuts while on a vegetarian diet has led me to some options that I consider to be pretty good. Regardless of your allergies or dietary preferences, some of these ideas might help you think about new options if you’re getting sick of the same old food options.

Meal Ideas

Sunflower seed butter (like peanut butter, but made of sunflowers): I recommend trying a kind that’s sweetened a little or has a flavor. It has multiple uses, including adding to oatmeal, in tortillas, or even putting it on top of protein bars if you’re at a serious caloric deficiency. You could also put it on an apple if you happen to actually purchase fresh fruit in a town (unlikely, but I’m trying to be optimistic).

Rice: This is a pretty common one, but I think it’s worth mentioning because it’s so versatile. I like to put taco seasoning in mine, but I’m sure I’ll be coming up with far more creative things while on trail to put into rice. Beans are a good addition for some protein, and maybe think about pre-soaking everything in a container while you hike to conserve fuel while heating it up.

Bulgur wheat: I came across this when I was trying to cold soak my food (this didn’t end well and I don’t recommend it unless you’re willing to go through a lot of trial and error and wasted food). Bulgur wheat is actually supposed to be cold soaked in the “real” world anyway, so it’s a good option if you want to change up your food and conserve fuel. I put taco seasoning and some Taco Bell hot sauce packets on it and it wasn’t too bad. Maybe that’s my road trip trash taste buds talking, but I really like Taco Bell hot sauce packets.

Lentils: If you have a stove, I think this is worth trying. Maybe soaking them beforehand and then trying to cook them would make them softer. I tried cold soaking lentils and both my boyfriend and I didn’t get past a few bites.

Protein powder and oatmeal: This isn’t everyone’s thing, but I used to put protein powder in my oatmeal in high school and it worked well to absorb extra water and add protein at the same time. I personally use Vega protein powder. It’s not inexpensive, but sometimes you can find it on sale, and it’s a pretty compact way of getting your protein in. If you’re less picky about taste, there are many cheap protein powders out there. I would suggest something that has a high protein volume per ounce since you’re trying to minimize weight as well.

Tofu: This one might be a little iffy in the long term and I’m not sure how long you could keep it in your pack before it gets nasty, but especially if you’re in cold weather it’ll probably last a few days. When I say tofu, I mean get the firmest kind with the least amount of liquid in the package. You can use any flavor packet or sauce you have on tofu and it’ll just taste like that. Tofu doesn’t have that much of its own flavor and I think that can help if you just need a protein and fat kick.

Fake hot dogs: These usually come in a pack of six to eight and basically have no water in the package. I’ve taken these with me on multiple backpacking trips and ate half a package for dinner countless nights while on the road in my Subaru Forester. I can tell you that they keep well enough for about two days (or one night), but I haven’t tried them past that. They’d be good if you’re in need of protein and something that isn’t mush. I grew up on them so I’m used to them, but even my boyfriend who hasn’t even been vegetarian for two years will eat them so they can’t be that bad.

Snack Ideas

Fake jerky: This isn’t one that most meat eaters would probably try. There are certainly some terrible brands out there, but there are also some pretty good ones. I honestly can’t say I have an inexpensive option for these, but you might be able to buy in bulk. They’re almost completely made of protein and fat, which is a plus. I’m not going to recommend a brand because even within brand I find a lot of variance.

Clif Bars: I feel like this is more of a luxury item (though I basically inhale two of these everyday at school), but they’re good for me since I can’t find many bars that don’t have nuts and are relatively inexpensive. Note: Many Clif Bars have nuts, but there are some like the chocolate chip flavor that don’t. If you have a severe allergy you probably already know to avoid these.

Make your own trail mix: This could be done before trail or at each individual town stop, but you could combine a bunch of different bulk and dried foods for your own trail mix. This tends to be pretty inexpensive and is nice because you can customize it and change it up. Some of my suggestions to add in are M&Ms (I like the caramel ones), dark chocolate, pretzels, marshmallows (there are vegetarian ones), Cheez-its (I like the alphabet ones to spell things with when I’m super bored), Chex cereal, sunflower seeds, and pumpkin seeds.

These are just my thoughts, and I’d love to hear anyone else’s suggestions! I’m sure my preferences and ideas will change over the course of the trail, and this certainly isn’t an exhaustive list (I’ll still probably eat ramen like everyone else).

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Comments 2

  • Becca Downs : Oct 17th

    I literally just typed up a post on nutrition that I’ll probably share tomorrow. Great minds! Also–I’m totally stealing some of these food ideas. Thanks for sharing!

    Reply
  • Ruth Morley : Oct 18th

    I can certainly understand the challenge you face. I’ve done1900 miles so far of the AT on a dairy free of gluten and dairy, and no nuts during one of my 3 sections.

    To be honest, I’m concerned about the lack of nutrients you’ll be getting on the present diet. Backpacking demands so much of your body. A lot of folks take their time on trail as a vacation from good eating, when, in fact, you need to eat even healthier.

    I was fortunate to find backpackingchef.com. Thanks to the inspiration, information and instructions on his website, I had a delicious, varied, nutritious, lightweight diet of dehydrated fruit, veggies, jerky, granolas, one pot meals. I got even more ideas from his cookbook and other websites.

    Take a look. Your body will thank you and other backpackers will look on with envy as you dig into your delicious food.

    Reply

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