Food takes on a whole new meaning on Expedition. An evening meal cooked outdoors shared with friends is a special experience. Make sure you consider your menu carefully and ensure you have enough food to last you comfortably as well as some extras.
The need to cook a substantial meal
With the exception of the final day of the expedition, one of the conditions of a DofE Expedition is that you are required to cook and eat a “substantial hot meal on each day”. Not only is this a condition, it is also sound advice. You will be journeying for a number of hours during the day carrying your Expedition kit so you need to ensure you replace the calories you are burning.
So, what counts as a substantial meal?
- It must be cooked. This does not mean preparing a meal from scratch though. You can use boil in the bag camping meals if you want to.
- It must be hot. Pretty hard not to achieve if you are eating a cooked meal, but this does mean you should not be just eating a salad with a few warm ingredients.
- It must be nutritious and filling. The substantial meal you cook each day will be where you replenish your energy from and therefore needs to be sufficient in calories. Your menu choices need to combine to provide you with at least 3,000 calories per day, which could be more depending on your weight, sex and how far you will be walking. That rules out items such as Pot Noodles. As a guide, aim for a breakfast of around 600 kcal and dinner of around 1,000 kcal as a minimum.
Some thoughts on Expedition food
Consider the energy release of the foods you bring. Some foods, such as nuts and dried meats release energy slowly. Others, such as sweets and some dried fruits release energy quickly. You will need a mix of both. As with any mix of foods you eat, also consider the need to balance carbohydrates, proteins and fats.
Avoid food in tins or glass containers as they will be too heavy to carry. And obviously avoid any food that requires refrigeration.
Ensure that you remove all unnecessary packaging, though make a note of any cooking instructions if those are on the packaging you remove!
Just as at home, ensure you take food you like. You may not be eating what you usually do, but don’t take it if you don’t like it. You need to replenish calories and that means looking forward to your food.
And lastly, consider how long it is going to take to prepare. You only have limited fuel so long boiling times are not wise. Try to ensure your food is simple to prepare and can be done so with the limited utensils you will have with you.
Where to buy Expedition food
Most Expedition food can be obtained from a standard supermarket. Dehydrated meals can be obtained from many camping shops: check out DofE for discounts on these. Lots of dehydrated meal brands are also available online at discounted prices.
Some suggestions for Breakfast
Your breakfast should be easy to prepare and full of slow release energy that will keep you going until lunchtime. Whilst you don’t need to cook a hot breakfast a hot drink is ideal to warm you up in the morning as well as help with hydration.
- Porridge is a great option. Instant porridge sachets can be combined with dried fruit, nuts or chocolate. You can make your own porridge mix at home by adding together quick cook oats with milk powder.
- All day breakfasts are available as boil in the bag options
- Calorie rich breads such as brioche or pan au chocolate are great, but can get squashed in your pack. As an alternative ready made crepes are available in most supermarkets and can be filled with chocolate spread or jam.
- Most breakfast bars do not supply enough energy on their own so read the calorie content carefully. Flapjacks are a good alternative, as is Malt Loaf.
There is no reason why you cannot cook pasta or something similar for breakfast. Beware cooking rice and using it later as eating pre cooked rice without cooling it in a refrigerator vastly increases the risk of food poisoning. Letting rice cool at room temperature can germinate bacteria spores that cause abdominal cramps, diarrhoea or vomiting.
Some suggestions for Lunch
As you’ll be eating lunch whilst out hiking, you won’t be allowed to cook lunch so should bring lunch that does not require cooking or can be pre-cooked the night before. This means that lunches are usually carbohydrate based involving some kind of bread.
- Flat breads, pitta breads and wraps are all excellent choices for lunch
- Pack fillings that do not need to be refrigerated. Peanut butter, sandwich or chocolate spreads are all good choices. Tuna sachets also work really well
- Cold pizza can be an tasty option for the first day as long as it can be stored correctly
Some suggestions for dinner
This is your main meal of the day and well worth planning in advance. You should plan for at least two courses and ideally three.
The most common dinner is that which combines a carbohydrate base with a sauce. These can be cooked quickly and easily. Boil in the bag meals or dehydrated meals are a great option and can be eaten direct from the bag.
- Soup is a good option to start your meal and can be made quickly when you reach camp. There are a wide range of instant soups to choose from
- Pasta with sauce is a great option as too are couscous, rice or instant mash. When cooking pasta and rice you don’t need to keep the pot on the heat all the while as the pasta or rice will continue cooking in hot water. This helps if you are warming a sauce in another pot. You can add tuna, chorizo or similar items once meal has been cooked
- Some fresh vegetables are a nice addition to the meal but are not highly calorific and can be damaged easily in your rucksack. Green beans, carrots and broccoli are good options.
- Don’t forget pudding. Instant custard can be combined with cake or flapjack. Biscuits are nice to have with a cup of tea.
- Hot chocolate can be bought in sachets. Add marshmallows if you want to!
Some suggestions for Snacks
Do check on your groups allergies here as lots of the choices contain nuts. Keep your snacks easily accessible to enable you to refuel by grazing slowing during the day.
- Trail mix can be made at home beforehand. This has lots of options, but a mix of nuts, sultanas, dried fruit and some chocolate is popular.
- Energy bars are designed for outdoor and sports use and so (most) have a really good balance of nutrients.
- Sweets are great for when you need an energy boost
- Chocolate is great but can melt in warm conditions
- Bags of dried fruit are a good option and keep well
The importance of keeping yourself well hydrated cannot be stressed enough. If water is too “plain” you can add some concentrated squash.
- Tea and coffee work well. Take dried milk to add to tea. There are a good range of instant coffees in sachets that can be bought in supermarkets.
- Instant hot chocolate sachets are a great option at any time of the day