Happy Meals: 6 Tasty Recipes Easy Enough For Backpacking With Kids

Easy enough for kids. Tasty enough for adults.

By: Jess Curren
March 8, 2016

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Any outdoor activity with kids takes effort and patience, and backpacking is no exception. Its also an exercise in simplicity. While I may love to plan, prep, carry, and cook a gourmet backcountry meal when there’s just two of us on the trail, with kids I just want to get them fed. We look for meals that are simple, filling, and easy to clean up. With those specific requirements, much of our backcountry breakfasts and dinners are what’s called Freezer Bag Cooking.

Similar to Mountain House or other prepackaged meals, the basic premise is to buy ingredients that will reconstitute quickly with just h hot water. Freeze dried chicken, vegetables, and fruit are pretty common, as are quick cooking pasta, instant rice and instant potatoes. The downside is that ingredients can be a little pricier, and sometimes you don’t have all the ingredients on hand. If you plan to backpack quite a bit, buying a #10 can of freeze dried chicken can save you money in the long run. Overall if you put together your own meals it’ll be cheaper than buying anything pre-packaged, and it will taste so much better.

Once you have all your ingredients assembled, measure and then put them together in meals in Ziploc Freezer Bags. Don’t cheap out on these and get the wimpy generic brand ones. You want to make sure that hot water is not going to burn right through your plastic. We also write with a sharpie on the bag what the meal is and how much water we’ll need to add.

I will have my kids help me prep meals the night before we leave. We make it fun and do a bit of an assembly line. Our kids feel empowered that they are helping with something important and it’s less work for me!

Backpack the Coastal Hiking Trail in Pukaskwa NP | Photo: Jess Curren

When you are ready to cook, you just boil water and then pour into the bag. Stir around with a spoon making sure you get all the edges. Squeeze all the air out, zip the top and let it sit for 5 minutes.

My husband made awesome cozies to put our meals in while they sit. We actually leave the bags in there while we eat and it keeps us from burning our hands! You can check out a tutorial by Backwoods Press on how to make them. We have a set with Hawaiian print duct tape, so you can definitely get creative and make them interesting!

Easy enough, right? We each have a colored spork which we lick clean, wipe on our shirt and call it done. The ziploc bags get folded up and packed out in our garbage.

Once you know what to look for, finding Freezer Bag Meals is pretty easy. We typically will do oatmeal for breakfast (I could easily eat it every morning), an easy, on-the-go lunch, and then a Freezer Bag Meal for dinner. There are plenty of recipes out on the internet, but here are some of our favorites tested and approved by our three kids.

Backpack the Coastal Hiking Trail in Pukaskwa NP | Photo: Jess Curren

1. Breakfast: Freezer Bag Chocolate, Protein Oatmeal

Servings: 2 adults, or 3 kids under 12

  • 2 cups old fashioned oats
  • 4 Tbsp instant dry milk
  • 2 Tbsp chia seeds
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 2 tsp cinnamon
  • 3 Tbsp brown sugar
  • 1 Tbsp ground flax seed
  • 1 Tbsp PB2 peanut butter
  • ½ cup freeze dried fruit (we love raspberries or bananas the best!)
  • ¾ scoop Chocolate protein powder

Add all ingredients to freezer bag and shake to mix. Once camping, boil 3.5 cups of water and add to freezer bag. Seal up, and let sit for 5 minutes before eating.

2. Lunch: BBQ Chicken Wraps

Serves: 5

  • 6 medium flour tortillas,
  • (2) 12.5 oz cans premium chunk chicken breast mixed with a little mayo
  • 12 string cheese, any kind
  • 1 cup French Fried Onions,
  • 1 small bottle shelf stable BBQ sauce - check to make sure the bottle does NOT say “refrigerate after opening.”
  • Baby carrots

This is usually our first lunch since the cheese and chicken needs to be eaten before it goes bad. We typically set out on our backpacking trips 2-3 hours before lunch, so the timing works out well. Our five year old refuses to add the French Fried Onions, but everyone else loves them as they add an amazing crunch! Dad usually ends up with the extra tortillas, and we’ll just eat any chicken left over with a spoon and munch on the carrots right out of the bag.

3. Lunch: Homemade Lunchables

Serves 5

  • 7 oz salami (we took 2 and only ate 1). I’ve also found hard salami packaged like pepperoni at certain grocery stores. It was cheaper than buying a tube of hard salami so we went for it. We consumed both a turkey pepperoni and a salami in one sitting. Kids voted salami was the favorite.
  • 2 boxes Milton’s multi-grain crackers (8.3 oz). Or any crackers that won’t turn to crumbs in your pack.
  • 1 cucumber
  • 2 containers Laughing Cow cheese (16 wedges)

What kid doesn't love Lunchables? Cucumbers pack very well and can last a few days if you make sure they are at the top of your pack. Theoretically, Laughing Cow is shelf stable so this is usually our second day lunch. Nice to have something other than trail mix.

4. Dinner: Freezer Bag Cheesy Bacon Onion Mashers

Serves: 2 adults or 3 kids

Camp on Stockton Island | Photo: Jess Curren

  • 1 Family size packet Idahoan Instant Baby Reds Mashed Potatoes (8.2 oz)
  • 4 tbsp dry milk
  • 1 tbsp dried onion
  • 1/4 tsp black pepper
  • 6 tbsp shelf stable bacon (I pre-cooked turkey bacon, chopped it up and took that packaged separately. Or buy bacon bits if you are feeling lazy!)
  • 3 wedges light swiss laughing cow (packaged separately)
  • 4 cups boiling water Add boiling water to ziploc bag, stir, seal the bag and let sit for 5 minutes before eating. Stir in bacon, and laughing cow cheese and enjoy!

5. Dinner: Freezer Bag Chicken, Veggies & Rice

Serves: 2 adults or 3 kids

Camp on Stockton Island | Photo: Jess Curren

  • 2 cups instant white rice (make sure it is instant, not minute and brown rice doesn’t work. I tried.)
  • 4-6 tbsp dry vegetable soup mix
  • 4 tbsp freeze dried chicken
  • 2 tbsp freeze dried celery
  • 4 tbsp freeze dried mixed veggies (I used the Just Veggies Mix from Amazon)
  • 1-2 tsp dried garlic powder depending on taste. I vote the more garlic the better!
  • ½ tsp salt
  • 2 tbsp olive oil (add in after the water)
  • 2.5 cups boiling water

Add boiling water to freezer bag inside your cozy and stir. Close the bag and let sit for 5 minutes. Stir in olive oil just before eating!

6. Dinner: Freezer Bag Chicken Thanksgiving Dinner

Serves: 2 adults or 3 kids

  • 4 tsp chicken gravy (about ½ a packet)
  • 1 ½ cups dry chicken stuffing
  • 4.1 ounce packet Instant Baby Red & Garlic Idaho potatoes
  • ½ cup freeze dried chicken
  • ¼ cup freeze dried veggie mix
  • 3.5 cups boiling water
  • ¼ cup dried craisins (packaged separately)

Add boiling water to freezer bag inside your cozy and stir. Close the bag and let sit for 5 minutes. Top with dried craisins.

Bonus Dessert: Whole Grain Chocolate Chip Cookie Bars

Camp on Stockton Island | Photo: Jess Curren

Bake before you go!

  • 1 cup whole wheat flour
  • 1 1/4 cups white flour
  • 1 1/2 Tbsp ground flaxseed
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp sea salt
  • 1 cup unsalted butter, softened
  • 3/4 cup packed brown sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tbsp vanilla
  • 1 cups semi-sweet or dark chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 375 degrees and spray or grease a 9x13 pan. In a medium bowl, cream butter, then add sugars and mix until creamy. Mix in eggs and vanilla. Gradually stir in flours, baking soda, and salt until completely mixed. Really you should mix these all separately first, but I always just mix the soda and salt in the measuring cup with the flour after dumping a little in the bowl to make room. Call me lazy. Or just efficient.

Add chocolate chips until just mixed in.

Spread mixture evenly in prepared pan. Bake for 20-25 minutes or until golden brown. Cool in pan, cut into bars. These are easy to wrap individually and take hiking or backpacking, or cover and store in a cool, dry place.

They also make a great replacement for graham crackers in a S’more. Just sayin.

Cover photo: Jess Curren

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Please respect the places you find on The Outbound.

Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures. Be aware of local regulations and don't damage these amazing places for the sake of a photograph.