It’s that time of year again – the sun is shining, the temperature is warm, the trees and flowers are blooming and we are all itching to get to the campsite with our family and friends for a weekend of fun in the wilderness!
Our lovely campsite at Bruce Peninsula National Park near Tobermory.
As much fun as ditching the luxuries of life such as electricity and refrigeration, in favour of a rustic, earthly experience can be, this can pose big challenges when it comes to healthy food and meal preparation. Camping can be especially anxiety provoking for those who are on special, strict diets, such as those who are gluten or dairy intolerant, or have diabetes.
If you’ve ever read the labels on some of those “camp food” meals they sell at the outdoor store, you’ll see that many of those ingredients are less than desirable, such as autolyzed yeast extract (which can cause reactions in those sensitive to MSG), corn syrup solids (which is another form of refined sugar), and hydrogenated oils which are dangerous fats that can cause inflammation and compromise the immune system(1).
The most obvious solution to avoiding these harmful substances is to eat fresh food made from scratch. While this is easier to accomplish in the comfort of your own kitchen with all the food preparation tools you need at your disposal, most of us do not have these luxuries when camping. As you know, fresh fruits, vegetables and animal products are impossible to keep without adequate refrigeration.
The good news is there are more and more healthier pre-packaged options available to us everyday that are especially useful for camping.
Live, Raw Food
So fresh fruits and vegetables are out of the question (except for maybe your first day of camping when you are bringing these foods from home!), but fresh fruits, nuts, seeds, and vegetables are so important for providing us an abundant amount of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and enzymes which are essential to the proper functioning of every body system.
A great alternative for getting these nutrients is to head to your health food store’s “Raw foods” section where you can find raw crackers, cookies, dried fruits and vegetables that do not require refrigeration.
“Raw foods” are prepared or heated at a temperature less than 46 degrees Celcius, if they are heated at all (2). This maintains all those wonderful nutrients that are otherwise lost in the normal cooking process.
Tutta Raw is a new small company that makes delicious raw meals and snacks. Their crackers are ideal for camping, and come in a variety of flavours. They’re made with such ingredients as flax and chia seeds, which are loaded with Essential Fatty Acids. They’re also gluten, preservative free and vegan. I highly recommend the “Mediterraneao Flax C-raw-kers” which have a nice pizza flavour.
If you have a sweet tooth, they also make cookies called “Tutta Bites Bucky Nuts” which are gluten free and oh-so-yummy!
Nud Fud (pronounced ‘nude food’) is also a small company started by a fellow holistic nutritionist selling delicious raw, gluten, preservative free and vegan crackers that come in re-sealable bags, which make them especially convenient for the great outdoors. My favourite flavour is the “Vanilla Chai Energy”. The banana gives it a great sweet taste. There is no sugar, gluten, dairy, nuts, or preservatives and is perfect for those with intolerances or blood sugar problems like diabetes.
Have you ever tried kale chips? If the thought of eating dried up greens turns you off, you are missing out on something wonderful. Not only are kale chips delicious, they are very nutrient dense. Leafy kale is turned into a crispy, crunchy snack through dehydration. There are many different types of kale chips on the market out there, and my favourite would have to be Rhythm Superfoods’ line. The Nacho and Texas BBQ have a lot of flavor, are free of preservatives, and are dairy, vegan, and gluten free.
There is nothing like fresh fruit on a warm summer’s day, but, as we already know, access to fresh food is nearly impossible on a camping trip. The next best thing is good ol’ dried fruit. You want to look for a brand that dehydrates their fruit under 46 Celcius to ensure that it is still raw and that you are getting all those beneficial enzymes and nutrients. I love the line of dried organic fruits from Made in Nature. They have apricots, plums, grapes, mangoes, cranberries and my favourite – pineapple, amongst others. These are a great substitute for candy and since they have no added sugars, colours, or preservatives, they are a lot better for you, too.
Just Add Water
For those chilly summer nights, there is nothing like a hot meal cooking on an open fire. Pastas, rice, quinoa, and other grains are excellent camping foods. Check out the organic section of your grocery store for delicious, nutritious bottled sauces that you can add to your pastas and grains for a quick and easy meal. Organicville makes a great line of organic pasta sauces that are gluten and preservative free, the “Tomato Basil” being exceptionally tasty.
GoGo Quinoa makes some fabulous products that are perfect for camping. For a warm breakfast, try their “Amaranth & Kaniwa Cream” hot cereal. Just boil a cup of milk of your choice, such as rice or almond (which don’t have to be refrigerated before opening) and add the dried cereal. It is gluten free, vegan, and has no added sugar.
For a healthy instant soup, try their “Quinoa & Vegetable” that, unlike most pre-packaged dehydrated soups contains no added preservatives or artificial flavourings and colours. Quinoa is a fantastic grain because it contains all nine essential amino acids, which makes it a complete protein. This soup has no added sugar and is also gluten free and vegan.
Can I or Can’t I?
Canned foods are a staple of campfire cooking. Unfortunately, we now all know about an undesirable chemical that is found in the lining of most canned foods called bisphenol-A (BPA). BPA has been found to act as a hormone disruptor in the body. Animal studies have shown this chemical may be linked to obesity, infertility, and insulin resistance in rodents (3).
The good news is that many companies have started to take action to use safer alternatives in their packaging. In fact, one particular company was ahead of the game and has been using BPA-free cans for more than a decade now. Eden Organic has an excellent line of nutritious canned foods that are campfire favourites, such as their delicious “Baked Beans with Sorghum and Mustard”, or their “Mexican Rice & Beans” made with whole-grain brown rice. Both products don’t contain artificial flavours or preservatives and are gluten free.
On the Trail
Camping and hiking go hand in hand, and if you are the adventurous type, your hikes may be strenuous and last a good part of the day. If that’s the case, it’s really important to have a portable, healthy snack with you so that you can refuel as you go along.
A favourite amongst the athletic types are bars for their portability and convenience. Not all bars are made equal, of course, so it’s important you always read the ingredients carefully to make sure you are getting a nutritious snack rather than another junky candy bar.
I am really loving Earthling Organics line of yummy, nutritious bars that come in a variety of flavours, are gluten free, organic, refined sugar free, and as an added bonus, are all raw! That means that all those wonderful fats contained in the nuts and seeds (like Omega 3’s, which are crucial for healthy skin, brain, and circulatory system, and may increase energy levels) are kept in tact and are not damaged by roasting. They contain high-energy coconut, and are low glycemic, ensuring that your blood sugar is stable throughout your outdoor adventure. All their flavours are great- “Matcha” (green tea), “Heirloom Cacao”, “Yogi” (complete with anti-inflammatory turmeric- great for preventing achy joints on your hike!), “Vanilla Bean”, and “Goji”.
Read, read, read!
Whether you are trying to stick to a special diet, or you just want to maintain your healthy lifestyle no matter where you go, there are now so many food options available for us to do so! This list of products is nowhere near exhaustive, and there are so many clean and nutritious camping-appropriate foods to choose from at your local health food and grocery store. Always remember- read those ingredients on every single packaged food product you buy. Just because a product is in the organic section of the grocery store, does not necessarily mean it is healthful or right for you. This is especially important if you have a food allergy or intolerance.
While it is ideal for us to eat fresh, home-prepared foods as much as possible, certain situations, like camping, make it very difficult or impossible for us to do so. With an increasing amount of more nutritious pre-made food that doesn’t contain artificial preservatives or colours, and that are even free from common food allergens, everyone can enjoy the great outdoors without the worry of not having enough health-promoting food to eat! That means more time and energy to spend with family and friends in the beauty of nature. Happy camping!
Made in Nature
(1) Rowland, David W. The Nutritional Bypass – Reverse Atherosclerosis Without Surgery. Rowland Publications, 2006. Pg. 14
(2)Hacket, Jolinda. What Are Raw Foods? What is the Raw Foods Diet? About Raw and Living Foods. About.com Guide,http://vegetarian.about.com/od/vegetarianlifestyle/f/rawfoods.htm
(3) Bisphenol A. CBC News- Health, http://www.cbc.ca/news/health/story/2009/01/28/f-health-bisphenol.html