Backcountry Wok x Nada Grocery: DIY zero-waste backpacking meals
Backcountry Wok x Nada Grocery: DIY Zero-waste Backpacking Meal Workshop
A summary of some points covered in our workshop! Thanks everyone for coming!
Most outdoor products emphasize convenience over sustainability (individually packaged, single serving, grab and go). It can even be a challenge for sustainability minded folks to be zero-waste in the outdoors because it often requires some prep work.
The bright side:
Adopting zero-waste practices in the outdoors and prepping isn’t impossible. It can be a fun, nutritious and creative process! Especially when thought of as an extension of your backpacking trip.
I am the founder of Backcountry Wok – we make dehydrated Asian and vegan meals in compostable packaging. I am a marine biologist by training and former Parks Canada employee who spends weeks in the backcountry for work or fun. I began to see firsthand all the waste we accumulated on each trip and through my summer adventures. Started dehydrating my own food and adopting creative zero-waste habits on the trails. Today’s workshop is meant to share and swap tips with you.
- Thank you to Melanie Jaye, sports dietician, for her tips in crafting our recipes. This is a general summary and nutritional intake/requirements varies per individual. Consult your health professional.
- Calorie to weight ratio for backpacking meals: low weight, high calories and ideally healthy.
- Within the 500-700 calories range per meal and you’re looking for a breakdown of carbs, protein and fats. This can be complemented with snacks.
- Ideally, the breakdown is 60% carbs (grains, rice), 30% protein (animal based, eggs, oats, quinoa, lentils, nuts!), 10% fat (oils, nuts).
- If you’re dehydrating, the challenge is getting 10% fat in a dehydrated meal because fat doesn’t dehydrate well. That’s why I’m a huge fan of snacking on nuts and seeds (boost of good fats!) to complement your meal.
- Higher sodium levels are less concerning on the trails as you will be sweating.
- Use a nutrition calculator (like my Fitness Pal or Very Well Fitness) to input what you’re eating. This way you can see what your approximate daily consumptions are against the recommended nutritional intake.
- The challenge is overlapping these nutritional requirements with weight and if you’re going down the dehydrating route (incorporating ingredients that dehydrate well).
Let’s talk dehydrating
- Dehydrating vs freeze drying: Both are methods of preservation. Dehydrating removes the water by using low heat over a long period of time to dry out the ingredients. Freeze drying involves freezing the food, lowering pressure and removing moisture/the ice.
- There are some pros and cons to both methods. Dehydrating loses vitamin A, B and C (that’s why we put more of certain ingredients to compensate for this and also we get our food tested). Freeze drying equipment tends to be expensive. Additionally, it needs to be stored in airtight. That’s part of the reason why you see so many freeze dried meals in the aluminum liner.
- Tip: It’s not just what happens inside the dehydrator, but it has a lot to do with the food prep. The thickness of your cuts, the ingredient you use, even if you peel your carrots or not have a HUGE impact.
- Cook ingredients beforehand. Try steaming, microwaving, frying. Our take: we find if you peel a carrot and dehydrate it, it rehydrates better. But it creates a lot of food waste when you peel hundreds of carrots like we do for our meals. Instead what we do is we wash and scrub our carrots, and we steam it. We find that steaming it offsets the fact that we didn’t peel the carrot beforehand. So we are able to reduce food waste and still get the same effect.
- Blend ingredients together. Food processor will be your friend Our take: we blend spices together to create our own homemade paste for our Thai Green Curry. It guarantees a more even blend of spices.
- Tip: Dehydrate as a batch! At the beginning of your backpacking season. Instead of thinking of it as a chore, think of it as an extension of your backpacking trip. Make it into an activity: gather your adventure friends a week before for a night of food prep. You can prep everything then slowly dehydrate it over a week.
- Tip:Temperature is important. Check out dehydrating temperature guides. You risk either not drying or denaturing more enzymes and vitamins than necessary if the temperature is not within the range. Our take: we are required to take the temperature in our dehydrator every 4 hours when we dehydrate rice to ensure that dehydrator temperature is accurate.
- Easy ingredients to dehydrate: Mushroom, TVP, tofu
- Incorporate dried ingredients you can purchase as is: spices, seasonings, seaweed. Have fun and get creative!
- What I enjoy the most about this is the customizability. You can control exactly what you put in. Food allergy or if you just dislike a certain ingredient you have to try it.
- We love to see what you create! Want to chat more on dehydrating, share tips? I’m always happy to share dehydrating tips and lessons learned. Message us on Instagram @backcountry_wok.
Zero-waste eating tips
- Home kitchen to backcountry kitchen
As tempting as that shiny new outdoor cooking gear may be, you can often repurpose the tools in your home kitchen for backcountry cooking. Use that extra set of cutlery in your kitchen drawer or repurpose that kitchen rag for a quick, cheap and zero-waste solution (bye paper towels!) for your backcountry kitchen. Reusing and repurposing is one of the best ways to minimize our need for create more items.
- We are fans of silicon bags like Stasher Bags for rehydrating meals. They are heat-resistant (for rehydrating your dehydrated meals) and don’t melt when the temperature gets high like beeswax wraps do. We do love beeswax wraps as eco-friendly granola bar or sandwiches wrappers, as long as it’s store out of direct sunlight. We also love reusable snack bags with waterproof liners for storing berries, trail mixes and storing our compost on our hike out too. Dehydrated meal bags can be used to rehydrate you DIY meals or as trail mix pouches. Backcountry Wok’s heat-resistant and compostable pouches can be reused up to 6 times to rehydrate your meals.
- Tip: Make your own granola bars and bliss balls. One of the challenges we navigated when eating zero-waste in the outdoors are trail bars. We love trail and granola bar with their convenience and quick boost of energy, but were disappointed with their plastic and aluminum packaging. Then we discovered these easy recipe. No need to bake, ready in 15 minutes or less, then just throw in one of your snack bags. Our favourite part is getting creative with ingredients and customizing what you put in. Plus you get to control the amount of sugars and preservatives you put in these.
- Tip: Buy what you need. We love shopping at Farmers Market, our local zero-waste stores like Nada or the bulk section at grocery stores. Being able to purchase exactly the portion sizes we need for our trips makes such a big differences in reducing food waste. Plus, shopping local can often mean a lower carbon footprint (less distance travelled) and reducing product packaging from the intermediary ingredients like Farmers Markets!
- Tip: Alternatives cooking systems. As an alternative to metal canister cooking systems, liquid fuel systems like the MSR dragonfly can be a great alternative as the fuel bottle can be refilled when empty. Another alternative is the BioLite (twig burning stove), we’ve read some reviews but have yet to try it for ourselves. What are your thoughts? Let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org