As much as I hate to admit it, food plays a major role in my day. (Just look at one of my earlier posts on nutrition tracking.) In order to train hard, I need to eat, and in order to recover well, I need to eat properly. This is no different when I'm in the field or on the road. But what to eat on a months-long road trip? There's quite a few criteria that go into good road trip food, including caloric content, perishability, cost, and of course, taste.
Calories and Macronutrients
While we are on the road and in the field, we'll need at least 3,000 to 4,000 calories per person per day, probably more on the ice climbing portion of the trip since we'll burn so many calories just staying warm. Typically, to maintain energy in the field, I eat a diet that is about 60% carbohydrates, 25% protein, and 15% fat. However, I also listen to my body and eat what sounds good at the time as appropriate.
What does this look like in practice? On any given day, breakfast is usually granola, oatmeal, perhaps a boiled egg, or some combination thereof. On a cold day, I'm more likely to fire up the stove and maybe even make some chai. If time is of the essence (as it can be when alpine climbing), breakfast might be consumed in small portions continually while on the move. Think bars, gels, gu, etc.
There is no such thing as lunch when I spend the day outside. However, there are many, many snacks. This could take the form of an apple, a bagel with cream cheese, a peanut butter banana wrap, a hunk of cheese, trail mix, last night's left-overs, an extra hard boiled egg from breakfast, or anything else that won't get too crushed in my pack and has a high calorie-to-weight ratio. I might even toss some Gatorade powder in the water for a few more calories.
Dinner can be broken down into three parts: a carbohydrate base, a protein-packed topping, and some kind of sauce to make things tasty. Think pasta, cheese, and pesto or rice, beans, and salsa. There are many variations on this theme, but that's the basic idea. If I've done everything properly, at the end of the day the macronutrient breakdown should come out just about right.
Portability and Perishability
Since we'll have limited car and pack space and extra weight will cost energy in either gasoline or calories burned, portability of the food is at a premium. For the same reasons, refrigeration is not much of an option either, meaning that perishability is also a concern. However, as much as possible, we also want to eat "real food" as it adds lots of nutritional benefits like vitamins, minerals, and fiber. This has a few effects on food selection.
If it does not pack well, it doesn't come along. Boxes tend to take up extra space, so nearly all food will be repackaged into plastic bags. Therefore, anything that required packaging to still resemble food is left behind. For example, I doubt we'll eat much bread or spaghetti. Both smash and break too easily. Instead, we'll have bagels, tortillas, and penne. Eggs are probably the only surprise in this category. They have too much fat and protein and keep too well to pass up. If it isn't calorie dense or weighs too much, it also gets left behind. I don't think we'll be consuming any "low fat" or "low calorie" anything on our trip.
The vagaries of food spoilage mean that there won't be much fresh meat or too many salads in our future. Vacuum-sealed chicken or tuna and jerky pretty much cover it as far as meat goes. However, there are plenty of other options in the protein department that keep much longer: beans, lentils, peanut butter, eggs, cheese, and nuts to name a few. Similarly, a week-old apple or onion will be looking a lot better than a week-old banana or avocado.
Living on the road or in the backcountry means that food needs to be simple to prepare since I anticipate wearing myself out daily while climbing. Luckily, I can just toss a two-burner stove on the tailgate of our Toyota Matrix and it's practically like having a kitchen. When we're camped a bit farther afield, the MSR Whisperlite works wonders with one-pot meals.
My usual food budget for these excursions is $5 per person per day. This will go a lot further than you might otherwise think, especially if you avoid junk food. For example, here in Tuscaloosa, the money you spend on one package of Oreos (about $3.50) will also get you one box of pasta ($0.92), one dozen eggs ($1.09), and one pound of apples ($1.19) with change to spare and about 50 more calories than the Oreos. Of course, sometimes you really need some Oreos, you know?
"The best sauce in the world is hunger." -Cervantes, in Don Quixote
While this is certainly true, that sauce is even better if it actually tastes good! So, in honor of that, I'm going to be posting some of my favorite backcountry recipes over the next few weeks. The emphasis will be on simple, tasty, cheap, portable, non-perishable meals with a healthy dose of carbs and protein. Incidentally, I've found these same recipes to work just as well in the kitchen at home, too.