Bill and I have been tripping for decades. We each started out with our parents in the 70’s with short weekend canoe trips, lots of fresh food (hot dogs!), cans (corned beef hash!), no portages. By the time we met up in university our goals had shifted to longer trips and wanting to get away from the crowds a bit more. Adding some portages, going out for longer, going into less travelled wilderness. So beautiful! So peaceful!
As our skills grew we assessed our gear and our food for weight and compactness. There is nothing better than finding that sweet spot of what you’re comfortable carrying on the portage and eating healthy, yummy meals.
We find that we can pretty much eat what we enjoy at home with some adjustments for weight and cooking outside. So read on for tips and tricks around menu planning, organizing the food, and cooking in camp. I’m sure there’s something in here for everyone!
Eating healthy food and balanced meals on a canoe trip ensures you’ve got good mental and physical energy for the day. It is especially important for kids … and parents.
Some people can live on protein bars, but there is something to be said for how food and cooking connects people on any outdoor adventure trip. Whether it’s teaching your kids how to light a fire, or enjoying cocktails during food prep.
Your menu, and how much you want to fuss over your evening meal is totally up to you.Our foodie friends go the extra mile in their camp cuisine. (And we love it!) But we’re more inclined to keep things simple so we can spend more time fishing or painting. Especially if it’s just the two of us.
Planning for Campsite Cuisine
As expected, the start of great campsite cuisine is in the planning. Obviously, it ensures you have enough food, but it also helps make sure that everything fits in your barrel or pack and mealtimes run smoothly. (Especially important with kids.)
Having said that, I think the most important benefit of good planning is that you come back with nothing but your emergency meal. That is the perfect indication that you’ve found that sweet spot between energy, good food and weight.
To that end, consider these questions when putting together your menu:
Are there any campsite regulations or restrictions?
Can and bottle bans are common in wilderness parks
Fire bans - Oh my goodness! As I write this (June 2023) I think parks, crown land and BLM lands in Ontario, Quebec, Alberta and Northern Minnesota are all on a fire ban. And the summer of 2022 was bad as well.
How many hours paddling each day? How much portaging?
The answer to these questions will determine how much fresh food to bring (weight factor.) How many desserts! (more weight) How much prep is needed in camp (time factor.) And whether [pancakes!] a cooked breakfast every day makes sense (more time.)
If you’re heading out for more than 2 weeks, it might make sense to adopt more of a pantry-style approach to menu planning where you bring ingredients and supplies to cook certain meals.
Are you solo? Just you and a buddy? Small group? Big group?
If you’re paddling with a group you can decide who’s responsible for what. If we paddle in a small group we tend to bring our own breakfasts and lunches and then split up the dinners. It often makes sense to plan communal breakfasts and lunches with a larger group.
Any food allergies or sensitivities?
I’m surprised my friends still invite me on canoe trips. I’m allergic to this…I don’t like that…However, my dietary needs are easily accommodated by my bringing my special cheese, or granola (porridge makes me gag.) Or taking out my portion from the pot before mixing in ingredients I can’t eat. While it may sound complicated, it’s easy to plan for at the time of menu planning. And people like me really appreciate the accommodation.
Canoe Tripping with kids?
This is the time to get your kids involved. Research fun canoe tripping foods. Ask them what they want to eat. And plan on a menu of foods that they love to eat.
Canoe Trip Menu Planning Tips
Once you know how much weight you’re willing to carry, and how much time you’re going to spend in the morning and with supper prep, you can put together a menu. You can make decisions on fresh vs dehydrated foods, and quick and easy vs more complex meals. (Keep reading for tasty recipes.)
Make a chart with each day and each meal plus snacks. Handwriting is more fun. But typing up a template makes it easy for next time.
Don’t forget the coffee!! Our niece ended up with a 3 day migraine (with 4 kids) when she forgot the coffee (that only happened once…) Bill’s go-to breakfast is peameal bacon and english muffins. Mine is granola. My friends love porridge with dried fruit. We bring loaves made ahead of time if there’s room. I know people that scramble up eggs in a watertight container for their first breakfast. (Powdered eggs are also really good!)
Our lunches tend to be quick and easy since we’re often paddling or portaging. A mix of pitas, wraps, bagels, croissants, pepperettes, kielbasa, cucumber, and fresh hummus for the first few days. Then a transition to cheese, crackers, peanut butter, dehydrated hummus or black bean dip later on. This is where it’s so fun with a large group because you can literally lay out a smorgasbord so people can eat what they love, from peanut butter to stinky cheese!
We often plan the first 3 days of fresh meat and veggies for suppers - Marinated chicken, then steak, and then a processed meat like sausages or ham. Veggies, potatoes, and bread work as fresh side dishes. Our vegetarian friends plan on meals like portobello mushrooms, avocados, beans and lentils. Then dehydrated meals after that.
If you’re going to fish, be sure to bring whatever you need to cook them up. We love a good fish fry and always have enough oil.
It’s all about the GORP (Good Ol’ Raisins & Peanuts - aka Trail Mix)! For kids, and me too, there is nothing more fun than going to the bulk food store and choosing snacks for your GORP. Granola bars, protein bars and fruit bars/fruit leather are also amazing. Bill always has a Mars bar handy. Make sure you’ve got something that can give you a burst of energy if you need it on the water or the portage.
There’s no reason you can’t keep your hot drink routine on a canoe camping trip. Hot coffee in the morning, herbal tea after supper, etc. Your kids may not have a routine at home, so be sure to plan something hot and yummy at breakfast and perhaps after supper. It helps with hydration. As well, bringing cup-a-soup or powdered soup mix for quick warmth on a rainy day makes everyone feel better. It’s also great for an end of day salty rehydrating appetizer.
Don’t forget whatever you need to purify your water (water filter, tablets, UV-stick.) Waterborne illness is not fun. Then bring whatever you need to make sure you and your kids “love” drinking water so you stay rehydrated. If the weather is hot, and you’re working steady, then it also makes sense to bring powdered electrolytes, especially if you’re prone to cramping.
Fresh fruit and vegetables
This can be a constant debate between those who love a little “crunch” at lunch and supper, and those who don’t want the weight (or bulk) of carrying an apple a day to keep the doctor away. In reality, dried fruit and vegetables are just as nutritious. Having said that…we often bring a small cabbage and shred it up with a homemade oil and vinegar dressing. Fabulous on days 4, 6 and 8! As well, it’s ok to bring 1 apple for 4 people just to get that burst of juiciness. Again - the length of your trip and portages will help you decide.
Think about your meals and bring the spices you need.
Although I have friends that would say martinis are a much more efficient use of space and weight. Cocktails are just as amazing while camping as they are at home. If you can make the room and the weight…why not.
If you want to go light and fast…deserts will weigh you down. However, there is something to be said about loading up on carbs for the next day. Even on easy trips, we’re still moving much more than in town. Camp deserts can be as easy as S’mores or brownies from home.
My friend brings fresh bananas for Banana Boats for that first night. There is nothing yummier than bananas and chocolate chips wrapped in tin foil and baked on the fire.
There is nothing worse than being in the throes of packing food and realizing you don’t have something. Systematically go through your menu and make a list, including quantities of each food item.
This is how I organize our shopping list(s).
- Food that needs to be dehydrated (because I need to buy this well in advance)
- Fresh food, meat, bread/wraps/pita (which gets bought a day or two before so it can go in the fridge or freezer.)
- Other non-perishable foods that can be bought anytime.
- Dehydrated meals or foods from an outdoor store. (done well in advance if ordering online)
- Bulk food store (done at the last minute so I don’t eat all my gorp before the trip!)
The goal of packing your food up is to reduce the time rummaging around in the food barrel or food pack for the next meal…or the sugar for your coffee! There are at least 2 schools of thought.
The first is to organize by day. So 1 bag or stuff sac per day with smaller bags for breakfast, snacks, lunch, supper, and dessert. Our friend does this for her family and it helps ensure variety and minimizes fussing around.
The second way is to organize by meal, and then have the menu handy. It looks like this.
Each supper is in its own mesh bag or stuff sack. On longer trips, suppers for later on are just thrown in the bottom of the barrel. Earlier suppers are together in a bag closer to the top. This maximizes space.
Lunch foods are in a bag, and the day’s lunch is always at the top of the barrel for easy access.
Breakfasts are in a bag. And hot drinks are in a separate bag for easy access anytime during the day. Afternoon coffee anyone?
Snacks are in a bag and everyone can take what they need for the day. For bear safety, don’t forget to put all snacks back in the food barrel or food pack for the night.
The second goal is to not forget anything. Consider an itemized list for each ingredient in each meal. Here’s a photo of how I keep track of our suppers, and the list keeps going for breakfast, lunch, hot drinks and pantry items.
We’ve already talked about breakfast and lunch ideas. Here is our famous “Pineapple Beef Stir Fry” recipe. Followed by a delicious fry pan quesadilla.
🍍Pineapple Beef Stir Fry 🍍
(Quantities will depend on the group you’re feeding.)
Beef Jerky – any soy sauce-based marinade with garlic and/or ginger
Oil for frying
- Rehydrate the beef, veggies and pineapple by putting in a pot with just enough water to cover – bring to boil, remove from heat, and let sit for about an hour while you set up your tent.
- Drain the water into a bowl. Make the sauce by adding soy sauce, and brown sugar to taste.
- Fry up the rehydrated ingredients, sprinkling with the garlic and ginger. (Smells so good!)
- Add the sauce.
- Mix up cornstarch in cold water and add to the pot. Do a taste test and add more spices, soy sauce or sugar. Bring to a boil and stir til it thickens.
- Serve over rice vermicelli noodles or rice.
This is a great meal for kids and picky eaters...because everyone makes their own. Decide what you’re going to have “on your pizza” and dehydrate those ahead of time or bring fresh. Think pizza sauce, cheese, pepperoni, peppers, mushrooms, olives, onions, pineapple.
As you can see, the base is a flour tortilla (and our gluten-free friend has found coconut tortillas). Simply load up ½. Fold over the tortilla. Cook one side on low to medium heat and flip when browned. A lid helps but is not necessary. Enjoy!
If you want to freshen up your menu and learn about dehydrating meals, then check out Kevin Ride’s Backcountry Eats book and youtube channel. He is a wealth of information for newbies and seasoned canoe trippers alike.
It is super easy to plan flavourful, nutritious meals on canoe trips that fill the belly and feed the soul. Take the time to plan ahead and adjust the menu to your people and your route.
Definitely take the time to make lists - first the grocery list - then the packing list - so you don’t forget the coffee!!!
Anne & Bill