Winter Food Planning
The secret is simplifying , preparation and cooking
If there’s one thing I’ve learned while winter camping at Algonquin Provincial Park, it’s that I want to spend as little time as possible with my gloves off freezing my hands and fingers while I prepare food to eat!
Thankfully, there are many ways to simplify food planning, preparation, and cooking to avoid frozen fingers and an unpleasant trip:
- Pre-cook meals at home and re-heat them at camp;
- Bring meals that don’t need to be cooked;
- Bring meals that take as few steps as possible to make; and
- Replace meals (such as lunch) with frequent snacks.
For more information on each of these options, keep reading!
Pre-cook meals at home and re-heat them at camp
Imagine that you’ve spent the day hiking or snowshoeing, and you’ve just returned to your campsite after a long day. It’s getting late, it’s cold out, and you’re hungry for dinner. At this point, you’re probably not interested in sautéing onions, stir-frying beef and vegetables, adding tomatoes, beans and chili powder to your pot, and then sitting around while your chili cooks. Good thing you made the chili at home, portioned out servings for you and your camping partners, and froze it in a container slightly smaller in diameter than your cooking pot. All you have to do now is to light your stove, put the chili in the pot, and heat it up!
Think soups, stews, pasta and veggies, chicken and couscous, stir fried beef and veggies with rice, macaroni and cheese, omelettes and more! Essentially, whatever you eat at home can be frozen and then re-heated while camping. Remember to follow safe food handling practices – when you cook your food at home, promptly freeze it so that it doesn’t sit in the “danger zone” (i.e. the temperature range at which food-borne bacteria can grow). Make sure it stays frozen or at fridge temperature (below 4 degrees Celsius or 40 degrees Fahrenheit) during your winter camping trip – if the forecast for your trip includes warmer temperatures, plan your food accordingly!
Bring food that doesn’t need to be cooked
I usually bring no-cook lunches when I’m camping (in spring, summer, fall and winter), so that I can eat while out exploring on foot or by canoe or kayak. Depending on the temperature during your trip, you may need to thaw things out at breakfast time by warming food up on your stove – for example, thawing out bagels for lunch. Don’t heat up your lunch if it has meat or eggs or dairy in it – remember the food safety tips above! You could also put your lunch into an inside pocket of your jacket and hope it defrosts in time. During a recent winter snowshoe backcountry camping trip along the Highland Trail, my carrot/pepper/raisin/peanut wrap hadn’t quite thawed by lunchtime, so I ended up eating it partially frozen. Not so nice on a cold day! Next time, I might heat it up slightly in my pot to start the thawing process.
In addition to wraps of all kinds (think sunflower seed butter or nut butter with dried fruit and nuts, or chicken and veggie, or rehydrated beans and veggie), you could bring:
- bread or crackers with pepperettes and cheese;
- muffins or energy bars and dehydrated fruit;
- dehydrated hummus and dehydrated veggies with crackers; and
- jerky, flatbread and dehydrated fruit.
Bring food that takes as few steps as possible to make
When I’m winter camping, I want a hot breakfast to warm me up, but I really don’t feel like making an omelette or flipping pancakes in the cold. Instead, I simply boil water and add it to a bowl of oatmeal with nuts, dried fruits like raisins or dates, and dehydrated fruits like bananas or strawberries. I put a lid on it, wait 5 minutes or so, and eat! I use a variety of grains, from oats to rice to couscous – anything that doesn’t actually require cooking over heat.
Winter is the time for 1-pot meals! Here are some ideas:
- wieners and beans (no cans in the backcountry at Ontario Parks, so open your can of beans at home and freeze them in a bag or container);
- rice and beans (cook the rice, then add the beans);
- pasta and tomato sauce (cook the pasta, drain the water, then throw in some frozen tomato sauce and cheese);
- pre-packed dehydrated meals such as chicken and rice, or spicy pasta; and
- pre-packed sides such as mashed potatoes or noodles or rice, to which you add water and cook – eat with pepperettes or cheese or jerky or pre-cooked bacon that simply needs to be heated up.
Replace meals (such as lunch) with frequent snacks
You don’t need to bring foods that you traditionally consider to be “lunch” foods. Instead, consider bringing lots of snacks, and eating smaller amounts more frequently. Ideas include:
- crackers and cheese
- trail mix with nuts, seeds, dried fruits, chocolate, fishy crackers, etc.
- our all time favourite, jerky
- dehydrated fruit such as apples, bananas, pears, mango, peaches or strawberries
- granola bars or energy bars (homemade or store bought)
- cheese sticks
Simplify your “kitchen”
If you follow my tips and pre-cook your food at home, or cook very simple foods at camp, you don’t need much in the way of cooking supplies! On a winter trip, all I need is my MSR Dragonfly stove, a bottle of fuel, a 2 Litre pot and lid, a pot lifter, a “pot cosy” (pot parka) to speed up cooking, a bowl, a spoon, a Swiss army knife, a mug, and some matches. That’s it! I don’t even bring dish soap, which freezes anyway. I simply use the snow to wash out my pot, bowl, mug and spoon.
Don’t let frozen fingers during meal preparation hold you back from winter camping!
Other Useful Links
- Winter in Algonquin Park - The Friends of Algonquin Park
- Winter in the Wild Festival - The Friends of Algonquin Park
- Cross Country Ski Rentals - Algonquin Outfitters
- Snowshoe Rentals - Algonquin Outfitters
- 10 reasons to explore Algonquin Provincial Park THIS winter