Food is Fuel- Dehydrated Meals
Food is Fuel
My family has coined me as the plant-powered backpacker and gluten-free gallivanter. I am a vegan and was diagnosed with celiac disease over a decade ago. Following my decision to attempt the PCT, I knew that I would have to do extensive research and preparation to ensure proper nutrition on the trail… food is fuel! Most hikers choose to resupply in towns and may send a few boxes along the way. I would need to do the opposite; prepare resupply food boxes and only be able to resupply in a handful of towns. As a result, I decided to dehydrate my own meals for the majority of my hike with the intent of having healthy options, good flavor, lightweight, and caloric, all while not draining my bank account.
Vegan and Gluten Free Dehydrated Meals:
Dehydrators and rice cookers and crockpots! Oh my! For months, the kitchen was dehydrator central. Hours on end were filled with the hums of two dehydrators, beeping from the rice cooker, and bubbling noises from crockpots. My research led me to many great resources that provide recipes and tips. I followed some of the recipes but also developed several simple recipes on my own. My sister and I created the recipes listed below. These combinations were then used as guides for additional meals. Using different bases (protein, grain, and vegetables) and being creative with spices, I developed different recipe options with a variety of flavors. All of the recipes indicate the amount of dehydrated ingredients.
Burrito Filling: 5.2 oz and 445 calories
- 2/3 cup of refried beans
- 1/16 cup of corn
- 1/16 cup of tomatoes
- 1 teaspoon chili powder
- ½ teaspoons cumin, onion powder, tajin, and cilantro
Moroccan Chickpeas:4.3 oz and 544 calories
- 1/4 cup of chickpeas
- 1/4 cup of slivered almonds
- 1/4 cup of peas
- 1/16 cup tomatoes
- ½ teaspoons of turmeric, cumin, ginger, cinnamon, and cilantro
Cajun Beans and Rice: 3.8 oz and 532 calories
- 1/4 cup kidney beans
- 1/4 cup of rice (cooked and then dehydrated)
- 1/16 cup tomatoes
- 1 teaspoon cumin
- ½ teaspoon paprika, cumin, coriander, oregano, and garlic salt
Indian Lentils: 4.3 oz and 460 calories
- 1/2 cup of lentils
- 1/8 cup of rice (cooked and then dehydrated)
- 1/16 cup of broccoli
- 1 teaspoon cumin
- ½ teaspoon onion powder, coriander, paprika, salt, turmeric, ginger, and garam masala
During the process of dehydrating meals, there were many batches of ingredients that I failed miserably with. Many times, the food did not dehydrate the way it should, took significantly longer to dehydrate than the internet said it would, or that when I attempted to rehydrate remained hard as a rock. I have identified tips based on my failed attempts and what worked/didn’t work for me.
- Spread the food items evenly on the trays. If food is not spread out evenly you will end up with squishy rice alongside perfectly dehydrated rice.
- Cut the food items as close in size as possible. Again, doing this ensures that everything is done dehydrating at the same time.
- Shop around— do not always pick up items based on a recipe. Look for food on sale, dehydrate, and then create your own recipe and meals. I shopped at grocery stores, Amish vegetable stands in northern Minnesota, discount grocery stores and grew some vegetables. As a result of a discount grocery store, I made 25 pounds of dehydrated banana chips for $9.99.
- As you have food items that are about to go bad, dehydrate them quickly. They can be used in some meals! I did this many times with vegetables.
- Fresh or frozen fruits take significantly longer than what most directions tell you. I am convinced I could have grown an entire apple tree quicker than it took to dehydrate apple chips.
- Tofu takes longer than expected as well. Always freeze and thaw tofu first. It will help the tofu to rehydrate better.
- Always add broth to grains or rice. This adds a lot of flavor!
- Always double seal your bag. When sealing the bag with a Foodsaver, apply the seal setting twice on each end. This will help create a tighter seal and keep air out.
- Label the bag with the meal in the package. I have found that dehydrated meals all look the same. The label will allow you to put a variety of meals in each box. Dehydrated chili mac is awesome, but I do not think I would want to eat it for a week straight twice a day. Variety will be much appreciated after a long day of postholing in the Sierras!
- Don’t wait to vacuum seal the meals. Seal as they are dehydrated and conditioned. This is a time-consuming process, and it helps to only have to seal a few meals at a time.
The Judges Verdict!
There seems to be a set of predictable questions that all people ask when they hear someone is attempting a thru hike. “What will you eat?” Being a vegan, people assume tree bark, dandelions, and a side of wild mushrooms. After telling people I was dehydrating meals, they became very curious. I had family and friends (vegan and non-vegans alike) taste some of the meals. During our annual family lefse day and New Years eve, I rehydrated the 4 recipes my sister and I concocted in my Jetboil for them to try. To have some fun and laughs, they scored each meal based on appearance, taste, texture, and then overall. Some people even provided feedback they believed would be important. Here is what they said (some chose to remain anonymous on their score sheets due to their low scores!)
Cajun Beans and Rice:
- “Bland, needs more spices.”
- “A little too soupy, kind of like eating hot baby food.”
- “I was nervous to try this, but I would actually eat it.”
- “Such a lovely texture.”
- “Spices in this one are great. It’s better than Taco Bell.”
- “Additional points when wrapped in lefse. This would be so good on a tortilla.”
- “It smelled like my favorite school lunch.”
- “I was hoping my eyes would water from too much cumin.”
- “Nice texture to this one”
- “Meh. I do not think I would eat this one again.”
- “Nice colors. Visually it is great. Taste too.”
- “Nice variety of textures. The crunch was nice.”
- “Kinda earthy tasting. I would assume that from a vegan meal.”
Hands down the favorite meals were the burrito filling and Cajun beans and rice! Both received an average of 4/5 for the overall score and taste!
I have had a lot of fun taking on this task. I am no expert! However, I am confident that I will not go hungry! I will definitely be reporting on this during my thru-hike!
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