How to Meal Plan for Outdoor Adventures Like a Pro

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Ready to become an expert at meal planning for outdoor adventures? It’s time to pack up those culinary skills and take them to the wilderness! Don’t worry – meal prep can be fun if you put a little creativity into it. No more boring canned food or stale granola bars! With some clever planning, you can whip up a five-star meal in the middle of nowhere. Start by picking your favorite recipes (yes, even the fancy ones) and then get creative with your packing methods.  And don’t forget the spices, my friend. A little paprika can go a long way! So, grab your camp stove and your culinary confidence, and let’s make some magic happen in the wilderness.

Meal planning can be one of the trickiest parts of preparing for an outdoor adventure. In addition to being unsure on what to cook, it’s easy to over pack – which is not only wasteful, but makes travelling more difficult. Or, on the other hand, you can find yourself under packing, causing regret and vengeful hunger. Making a proper meal plan is the best way to plan and prepare for your trip, while helping you save money, reduce waste, and pack more efficiently. 

This 3 step process – with a little modification to suit your needs – works for any outdoor adventure. 

Step 1: Create a table based on how many days/nights your trip should take you.

Include rows for each meal and snack you anticipate eating.

Either template works great! They share the same purpose - simply use your preferred style

Step 2: Fill in the chart or list with appropriate snacks and meals

Now the real question: what to bring? But hey, no need to stress over it! Planning meals can seem daunting, but we’ve got your back! Are you car camping or hiking in? Do you have all the fancy gear, or are you roughing it? And what kind of activities do you have in store? So many factors to consider, but no worries. Take a deep breath, sit back, and let us guide you through this delicious meal journey!

Maintain a good balance of macronutrients

Macronutrients (a.k.a. carbs, fat and protein) help keep you fuelled and energized throughout the day. Ideal daily macronutrient distribution is:

  • 45 – 65% carbs
  • 20 – 35% fat
  • 10 – 35% protein 

Learn more about macronutrients in our post: Macronutrients in Your Meal Plan

Make note of how many calories you're going to need

This may be less of a concern if you’re car camping to have a relaxing getaway, for example, because you can basically eat as you normally would at home. But if you’re planning a trip that’s going to burn some calories, you gotta pack some serious snacks! Don’t know how many calories you need? No problem! Check our post here: How to Calculate How Many Calories You Need

Otherwise, as a general tip, choose higher calorie meals and snacks on more active days. 

Recognize the weight and compactability of your food

If you’re planning on car camping or canoeing, for example, you’ve got plenty of space to play with but if you’re backpacking or bikepacking, weight and space are your BFFs. So, make sure to pack smartly and avoid those heavy and bulky food items that will weigh you down. Check out some practical ideas in this article: How to Meal Plan & Pack Your Food Like a Pro: Backcountry Edition

Consider the equipment you'll be using

What you plan to cook depends on the gear you have. Are you cooking on a BBQ? Or on camp stovetop? Are you hoping to roast some grub over the fire? What other tools do you have or need?

Besides cooking equipment, what about storage? Are you able to bring a cooler?

One more important factor to keep in mind is fuel. To make sure your trip goes smoothly, take a look at our guide to get that perfect balance of fuel to pack: Knowing How Much Fuel to Pack

Be mindful of the weather

Who knew Mother Nature had such an impact on our meal planning, right? It’s like she’s playing a game with us! If it’s hot outside, we gotta be careful our food doesn’t spoil. And if it’s too cold, our meals could freeze! Yikes! But fear not, this is only really an issue if we’re roughing it without a trusty cooler.

And let’s not forget about wind and rain! They can really put a damper on our cooking over an open flame. So let’s keep an eye on the forecast and make sure we’re ready to tackle any weather curveball thrown our way.

Embrace some repetition

While adding some variety to your meals is always nice, repeating certain meals can take a lot of pressure off of you in terms of meal planning and grocery costs. Not to mention that leftovers can be a great way to prevent food waste and save time in the kitchen. So let’s stand together and proudly declare our love for leftovers!  

Be mindful of salts - especially heading into backcountry

When we consume salt, our bodies react by holding on to water to balance out the sodium levels. This can lead to dehydration if we don’t drink enough water to compensate. So, when we are planning outdoor activities, it’s important to consider the amount of salt we are consuming and how that will affect our hydration levels. The more dehydrated we become, the more difficult it is for our bodies to function properly. We then have to either carry more water with us, which can be heavy and inconvenient, or find sources of water along the way and treat it for consumption (which can be a hassle at times). Therefore, it’s essential to stay mindful of our salt intake and ensure that we stay properly hydrated to have a safe and enjoyable outdoor experience.

Taking these guidelines into account, you can ultimately create an extremely effective and successful meal plan. Take pride in your planning and make sure it fits your unique dietary needs and preferences. Remember, you are in control of what you put in your body, and a well-planned meal itinerary can give you the energy and nourishment you need to have a fantastic day out exploring.

Sample meal plan for a 4 night backpacking trip
Note: greyed out boxes are meals that occur before/after travel to trailhead

Looking for more backcountry meal-planning related tips? We got you covered: How to Meal Plan and Pack Your Food Like a Pro: Backcountry Edition

Step 3: Stick a copy of your meal plan in your food bag.

In addition to ensuring you’ve packed enough food for your trip, keeping a copy of your meal plan in your food bag helps keep you organized and on track with your food supply each day.

Additional Tips:

Consider packing an extra snack - or even a meal.

I recommend this for the following reasons:

  1. You may find yourself needing an extra boost on a more strenuous or active day 
  2. Someone in your group, or someone you come across may be in need of food
  3. In case your time unexpectedly gets extended due to weather, injury, etc.  
  4. Sometimes you get the munchies…

Prepare what you can at home

For example:

  • Cook potatoes or pasta at home so that it only needs to be reheated – saves you prep time and fuel! 
  • Marinate meats or veggies at home to avoid packing a ton of condiments 
  • Slice raw meats (if needed) at home to ease clean-up and avoid cross contamination concerns

Avoid solely relying on a campfire to cook your food

  • Wet wood, heavy rain, and other weather could make starting – or maintaining a fire – near impossible
  • Fire bans can be initiated at anytime
  • Even though a campfire is an iconic camp experience, is it ideal to always cook over the fire when other sustainable methods are also available? Is it necessary to have a fire going all day, or even when it’s hot out? Reduce smoke emission and wood consumption when you can
If you do find yourself cooking over a fire though, check out How to Cook Over the Campfire Like a Master Chef

Looking for more backcountry meal-planning related tips? We got you covered: How to Meal Plan and Pack Your Food Like a Pro: Backcountry Edition

Planning meals for your outdoor escapades is crucial for your body to keep up with all the fun! Don’t just grab any snack on the way; a balanced diet with all the nutrients your body needs will keep you going strong. Think of it as giving your body its power-up! Good fuel equals more outdoor playtime, which is always great! You wouldn’t want fatigue and hunger pangs to cramp your style, would you? Plan ahead and have enough food to keep you going. With all the nourishment you need, you can hike, bike, climb, and explore all day long without any worries. So, what’s on your outdoor menu? Let’s get cooking!

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