This blog is updated in 2020
This post is a bit of a departure for me. I am ordinarily an only-fresh-ingredients-everything-from-scratch kinda girl. However, my man is an active backpacker who often needs to take food on the trail that requires only boiling water to make a meal. So, I set out to create some instant backpacking meals for King-Man that used prepared ingredients that were as nutritious as possible. Flavor, nutrition, and portability were my major goals. These slow cooker recipes are also applicable to the best instant food college.
Lightweight for backpacking. After several experimenting, I came up with these six easy dinner ideas. They all use lightweight dried and freeze-dried ingredients. None of them are wet ingredients or heavy cans. These 6 air fryer recipes are tried-and-true on the trail. King-Man, who is a very picky eater (argh…), admire him after a week-long backpacking trip in the Colorado Rockies. He liked them all so much that he couldn’t pick a bias.
Also for meals at the office, in dorm & hotel rooms, and to stock for emergencies. These instant backpacking meals can be used at any time you need fast and instant food. All you need is the availability of boiling water. I’m not saying they’re a daily alternative for meals prepared with fresh ingredients. But for a simple occasional meal, they’re portable to have around and way more nutritious than ramen noodles and cup-of-soup type instant meals.
Simply add boiling water, wait a few minutes, and eat. Here they are:
Ready-made freeze-dried meals for the trail. Here’s an example of one that is available to purchase. They taste extremely good (Let’s face it, after a long day of backpacking, pretty much anything is delicious!), and they are absolutely convenient. King-Man specifically likes the Mountain House brand. But, he likes the instant backpacking meals I made for him better, so I can’t imagine we’ll ever go back to the store-bought “healthy meals supermarket”.
- View on Amazon: main course Mountain House freeze-dried meals, breakfast Mountain House freeze-dried meals
Here’s the nutritional breakdown of my 6 instant meals. Each recipe makes 2 servings, the actual serving size changes from person to person depending on their appetite. A starving backpacker is likely to eat the full 2 servings. (Note: I used caloriecount.com for nutritional calculations and have no way of absolute accuracy.)
- Cous Cous with Chicken & Veggies (per 1 cup serving): 177 calories, 1.8g fat, 736mg sodium, 153mg potassium, 28g carbs, 6.5g fiber, 2.3 g sugars, 12g protein. Notable nutrients: calcium, vitamin C, iron
- Thai Peanut Noodles with Chicken & Veggies (per 3/4 cup serving): 211 calories, 11.2g fat, 715mg sodium, 247mg potassium, 16.4g carbs, 4.2g fiber, 1.3g sugars, 14.7g protein. Notable nutrients: calcium, vitamin C, iron
- Fiesta Rice with Chicken & Corn (per 1 cup serving): 310 calories, 3.5g fat, 620mg sodium, 368g potassium, 57.9g carbs, 4.3g fiber, 1.5g sugars, 13.2g protein. Notable nutrients: vitamin A & C, calcium, iron
- Cous Cous with Apricots, Macadamia Nuts & Chicken (per 1 cup serving): 312 calories, 17.1g fat, 653g sodium, 134mg potassium, 28.7g carbs, 6.6g fiber, 5.2g sugars, 12.8g protein. Notable nutrients: vitamins A & C, calcium, iron.
- Creamy Alfredo Noodles with Mushrooms & Pine Nuts (per 3/4 cup serving). 291 calories, 17.5g fat, 456g sodium, 227mg potassium, 21.8g carbs, 1.3g fiber, 2g sugars, 14.7g protein. Notable nutrients: vitamins A & C, calcium, iron.
- Curry Rice with Chicken & Cashews (per 1 cup serving): 378 calories, 10.9g fat, 377mg sodium, 386mg potassium, 58.2g carbs, 4.9g fiber, 1.2g sugars, 13.4g protein. Notable nutrients: vitamin C, calcium, iron.
Not diet food. These 6 instant meals are nutritious but are not low in calories, although some of them considerably figure-friendly. They are healthy in terms of nutrients like protein, fiber, vitamins, and iron; but they aren’t surely low in carbs, calories, or sodium. After a long day of hiking, backpackers need calories, carbs, & sodium in their food. So, these meals are designed to provide nourishment for replenishing energy; they’re not necessarily for those concerned with weight loss to incorporate in a regular diet. But, they can be nice as an occasional convenience for non-hikers and healthier than ready meals which have lots of instant food disadvantages.
Photo tutorial for making
6 Instant Meals-On-The-Go
First I’ll explain the types of ingredients used in these air fryer recipes followed by what is used in each of the separate 6 recipes. They all use the exact same prep and cooking procedure.
All 6 instant meals use either brown rice, whole-wheat couscous, or pasta. These can be changed in any of the recipes if you prefer one over the other. They all worked well and tasted amazing. However, couscous is the fastest to rehydrate when mixed with boiling water. It was King-Man’s favorite.
- Rice and Cous Cous. For better nutrition, I suggest brown rice over white and whole wheat couscous. One of the things I like about making my own boiled water foods is that I can use whole grains if possible–something missing from the store-bought instant boiled water foods. It’s essential to use instant rice (same as Minute rice) rather than regular since it softens more quickly in boiling water making it ready to eat without extra cooking. White Minute rice softens in half the time of brown Minute rice, so you may use it for backpacking meals.
- Pasta. Two of the recipes use noodles. Check the package directions and look for noodles that usually cook in 4 minutes or less on a stovetop (like angel hair or artisan pasta); longer cooking pasta won’t soften enough when soaked in boiling water. I like Al Dente brand artisan pasta that cooks in 3 minutes. (NOTE: If you’re taking these instant meals on the trail, angel hair pasta isn’t a good choice. It is so fine and “spiky” that the sharp pasta pieces may poke through the bag and create holes. I use the flat artisan pasta for King-Man’s backpacking meals.)
View on Amazon: Al Dente artisan pasta
- Freeze-dried veggies rehydrate instantly in boiling water and taste serendipitously fresh. They have NO additives–100% natural and pure. I found these at my local grocery store. The Just Veggies brand is also available at Whole Foods and on Amazon. (These also make a delicious, healthy snack without rehydrating them–I snack on the crunchy mixed veggies straight out of the bag.) I used the mixed vegetables, corn, and tomato bits in these instant meal recipes; they’re the simplest way I could find to add a range of veggies & nutrients to the 6 different instant meals.
- Freeze-dried herbs taste amazingly close to fresh herbs. It’s good to use the ordinary dried version that may already be in your pantry; but if you don’t mind the price, you can’t beat the flavor of the freeze-dried variety. I bought these Lighthouse herbs at my grocery store. Amazon also has a good selection.
- Dried spices. These are some of the extra dried herbs and spices I used in my 6 instant meals. I’m a fan of Penzey’s, can you tell?
- Vogue Cuisine VegeBase or Chicken Base is added to all 6 recipes. I did a lot of shopping around to find a flavor enhancer similar to boullion but without chemicals, MSG, and mystery ingredients. The Vogue Cuisine brand uses true, natural, gluten-free ingredients and it does a lot to improve the flavor of the 6 instant meal recipes. I highly recommend it. I added the Chicken Base one to all of my instant recipes since I was already using freeze-dried chicken meat, but the VegeBase is a delicious flavor enhancer if you prefer a vegetarian meal. I bought mine on Amazon. They have a Beef Base but I haven’t tried it.
- Chia Seeds. If you follow my blog, you know that I’m a big chia seed fan. (See my Refrigerator Oatmeal post for details about the advantages of chia seeds.) I add them to lots of recipes for a neutral-tasting nutrition boost. They completely dissolve into these 6 recipe mixes.
- Nuts are added to 4 of the 6 instant meal recipes. They add protein, healthy fat, and other nutrients. If you don’t like nuts, feel free to omit them.
- Freeze-dried chicken or beef. (If you’re vegetarian, of course, you can ignore the meat.) You’ll notice that I only used chicken in my 6 recipes. That’s because King-Man loves chicken over beef, and it saves more money to buy a big can of freeze-dried chicken rather than smaller packet portions for more meat variety. It’s surprisingly tasty once it’s rehydrated with boiling water, and it includes all of the nutrition of fresh meat. I bought my can of chicken on Amazon.
All the content in this blog is the property of aninspiring. Kindly refrain from plagiarising the content of this blog.
IMPORTANT TO KNOW: These sealed cans and packets of freeze-dried meat are supposed to store for many years (the can packaging says 25 years); but they only last that long if they’re unopened. Once the can or packet is opened and exposed to mist, it begins to decay and bacteria can form. The meat should be rehydrated and eaten within a week or two. To extend its shelf life, you can store any leftover freeze-dried meat in the freezer for future use. If you have a Foodsaver, vacuum sealing can extend the freezer store life for up to 1 year. I divide the unused freeze-dried chicken into 1-2 cup portions before vacuum sealing it for future use.
View on Amazon: Foodsaver Vacuum Sealer
Additional ingredients used in the instant recipes:
- Powdered milk or buttermilk — either of these adds creaminess to the Alfredo noodles along with protein and calcium
- PB2 powdered peanut butter — this adds peatiness to the Thai Peanut Noodles along with protein
- Dried apricots — one of the most nutritious dried fruits; high in vitamins A & C and iron
- Dried Parmesan cheese (not freshly grated) — I stay away from this dried, canned cheese for home cooking, but fresh cheese isn’t preferred for these instant dried meals. Look for a good quality canned variety to add cheesy flavor to the Alfredo Noodles. I like Mama Francesca’s brand.
HOW TO MAKE THE 6 INSTANT DRY MIXES:
- First label plastic bags for each mix. I used freezer (not storage) quart Ziploc bags because they are a thicker plastic and less likely to break. (They are BPA-free.) This is particularly important for backpackers who just add boiling water directly to the bag. Label each bag with the type of meal, how much boiling water to add, and how long to let the meal soak before eating.
- I use Baggy Racks to hold my bags open as I fill them. It’s like having extra sets of hands.
- Just measure and add each recipe ingredient to the bag. Done! Your meal-in-a-bag is ready to take on the trail…….or anywhere.
“COOKING” THE INSTANT MEALS
Method 1: In the plastic bag. If you use freezer bags, they are strong enough to pour the boiling water directly into the bag. (Ziplocs are BPA-free.) Give it a stir, seal the bag, and let it rest for 9 or 10 minutes. I recommend placing the bag on a plate or bowl to give it a base (and also as a safeguard in case your bag springs a leak). Turn the bag upside down after a couple of minutes to mix the ingredients as is soaks. Open, stir, and eat. Easy!
Method 2: In a covered bowl. The first time King-Man brought these homemade instant meals backpacking, he mixed them with water in the bags as shown above. It worked okay, but he thought it would be easier to use a covered bowl for his next trip. Pictured below is one we found that is an insulated nesting bowl, mug, and lid. It is lightweight and made specifically for backpacking. It was freezing where he was hiking, so those features help keep the meal warm while the ingredients soaked in the hot water.
View on Amazon: insulated nesting bowl and mug
Here is the backpacking pot & stove system that King-Man recommends for heating water on the trail:
- View on Amazon: 1-liter pot/stove system
Method 3. In microwave-safe soup mugs. They are not for the trail but are good options if you are making these microwavable lunches for work or instant meals for college or instant food items for traveling in a hotel room. You can add the instant ingredients to the mugs along with the water and microwave them until they cook, cover them, and let them rest until the ingredients have all softened. Or, boil the water respectively and pour it into the mug with the instant ingredients; stir and let rest for 9 or 10 minutes. I have used both of the soup mugs linked below; both worked well.
Here are photos, ingredients, and printable recipe links for the 6 instant meals:
The weight of each recipe is included since backpackers like to know that kind of thing.
1. Cous Cous with Chicken and Vegetables.
- Ingredients: couscous, freeze-dried chicken, freeze-dried mixed veggies & spring onions, poultry seasoning, garlic powder, chicken base powder, chia seeds, salt, pepper
- Weight of full recipe in the bag: 3.9 oz.
2. Thai Peanut Noodles with Chicken and Vegetables
- Ingredients: noodles, freeze-dried chicken, freeze-dried mixed veggies, PB2 powdered peanut butter, chopped peanuts, dried cilantro, cayenne, ginger powder, garlic powder, chicken base powder, chia seeds, salt, pepper
- Weight of full recipe in the bag: 5.4 oz.
3. Fiesta Rice with Corn and Chicken
- Ingredients: instant brown rice, freeze-dried chicken, freeze-dried corn, tomato bits & spring onions, ground cumin, chili powder, dried oregano (Mexican preferred), garlic powder, chicken base powder, chia seeds, salt, pepper
- Weight of full recipe in the bag: 5.5 oz.
4. Cous Cous with Chicken, Apricots, and Macadamia Nuts
(other preferred dried fruit may be substituted for the apricots)
- Ingredients: couscous, freeze-dried chicken, freeze-dried spring onions, chopped dried apricots, chopped macadamia nuts, dried thyme, garlic powder, chicken base powder, chia seeds, salt, pepper
- Weight of full recipe in the bag: 6.6 oz.
5. Creamy Alfredo Noodles with Chicken, Mushrooms & Pine Nuts
- Ingredients: noodles, freeze-dried chicken, freeze-dried mushrooms, pine nuts, dried Italian seasoning, cayenne pepper, dried Parmesan cheese, corn starch, garlic powder, chicken base powder, chia seeds, salt, pepper
- Weight of full recipe in the bag: 6.1 oz.
6. Curry Rice with Chicken & Cashews
- Ingredients: instant brown rice, freeze-dried chicken, freeze-dried mixed vegetables & spring onions, chopped cashews, curry powder, garlic powder, chicken base powder, chia seeds, salt, pepper
- Weight of full recipe in the bag: 6.0 oz.
What is the store life of these instant meals? It’s hard to know actually how long–it varies depending on the ingredients and the place they’re stored. They keep longer at cooler temperatures and unexposed to moisture. With freeze-dried meat included, these instant meals are fine for 1-2 weeks at room temperature. Without meat, they will be great for several months. I’ve made some in advance without the meat, kept the meat vacuum sealed in the freezer, and added the meat later as I needed the instant meals. If you vacuum seals the meat or entire meal with a Foodsaver, it should at least increase the shelf life at room temperature. Vacuum sealed and stored in the freezer, they are good for up to 1 year.
Humidity and moisture are enemies! Don’t attempt to add any moist or wet ingredients to these instant packets unless you’re ready to eat them right away. I carefully designed these recipes to have all the dry ingredients. Once moisture is introduced into the mix, bacteria will form, and the contents are never shelf-stable. The safest way to add wet ingredients is if you freeze them right away rather than storing them at room temperature.
Alternatives? Go for it!
You can use my recipes as instructions and get creative by changing the ingredients to your list. Ignore ingredients you don’t like, add different seasonings to your taste–these recipes are all personalized.
- Vegetarian or vegan? Omit the meat and use the Vegebase in place of Chicken Base. Add more nuts, if desired, to replace the protein from the meat. Pass the powdered milk and cheese in the Alfredo Noodles.
- Gluten-free? Use instant brown rice in every recipe, rather than pasta or couscous.
- Nut allergies? Leave them out. Omit the PB2 from the Thai Noodles.
- Like it spicy? Add one or two of cayenne pepper.
- On a low sodium diet? Skip the salt.
- Prefer more veggies and fewer carbs? Skip equal amounts of veggies for the pasta, rice, or couscous.
- Stocking these for emergencies? Leave out the meat to extend their shelf life, vacuum seal, and store them in a cool place. They are likely to be good for a year or longer.
A trial run at home. Before King-Man took these instant recipes backpacking for the first time, we had a few quick grocery store dinners at home first. It was quite fun. And, that way he could sample them and make sure they tasted good and digested well. I made a few tweaks to the seasonings after our tasting dinners, so hopefully, they will all taste good to you, too.
More food for the trail. You can read about all of the food I prepared for a week-long backpacking trip–breakfast, lunch, dinner, snacks–in this post: A Week of Lightweight Nutritious Backpacking Food. Here are three more posts with recipes for nutritious on-the-go food.
However or wherever you may try out these instant meals, I hope you enjoy them. Happy trails to you!
All the content in this blog is the property of aninspiring. Kindly refrain from plagiarising the content of this blog.