Tips to Create Backpacking Meals for Kids

Catering to children's whims on the trail can be tough, but Jonathan Orr has some great tips
August 15, 2014

The Meek family recently provided us with some of their favorite recipes for family food on the trail . These easy camping meals were great for an overnight adventure, but what if you’re trying to pack a little lighter or going away from civilization for a longer period of time?

If you’re thru hiking with your little ones, perishables like sandwiches or fruit may not be an option. Not to mention they can weigh down your pack. And when you’re all going out for multiple days on the trail, your kids will need to carry their own weight – literally. Therefore, here are three major considerations parents have to account for when planning backpacking meals for kids based on our experience on the trail:

1.     Make sure that they consume plenty of healthy calories.

From a parent’s perspective, we would like to make sure we emphasize the importance of healthy recipes for kids. But we also have to remember the physical demands our children are overcoming alongside us, and the calories that these ventures take. In my experience it is sometimes better to give in a bit on the healthy to make sure they are meeting their caloric needs.

Kids need to consume small amounts of food continually throughout the day to provide for their metabolic needs. We keep an assortment of easy-to-eat foods handy that the kids can snack on along the way. Minus all the refined sugar, Snickers bars are a great "energy bar" for kids, giving them both an emotional and physical boost.

As a side note: Healthy fats like peanut butter, tuna and more are important to your body for combatting inflammation. When your joints are taking a beating on the trail all day, your body, and your kids’ bodies will thank you for putting nutritional tidbit into use with your backpacking meals for kids and parents.


But when it comes to healthy recipes for kids, breakfast is the most important. You want to make sure that the day gets off to a great start and your family is provided with the nutrition they need. Breakfast backpacking meals for kids should include a high-fiber carbohydrate, lean protein, and a healthy fat. And if you’re anything like us, you’ll want to keep the meal simple so you can get out on the trail early. We start with instant oatmeal then mix in some chopped nuts or flax seed to give us the nutrients we need. Then for a little flavor, added vitamins and minerals and a sweet carb boost to start the day, we mix in dried fruit. Change it up by bringing cranberries, raisins, apricots, or break out some apple or banana chips to munch on as you strike out.

 2.    Plan food they like to eat so they look forward to meal time.

Think your kids get sick of leftovers at home? Try having noodles for the third night in a row on the trail. When planning your meals look to include a variety of their favorite items. Be creative. We usually look to our family’s standard mealtime favorites and then adapt them to make them trail friendly. Erik the Black has a great adaptation of Mac and Cheese that our kids love.

There are also many different ways to use Fettuccine Alfredo. Our kids love the Lipton brand packs with a packet of rehydrated chicken or tuna mixed in. Sprinkle a little dried parsley on top and the extra flavor goes a long way. If your kids are picky or bland food types, then keep a few baggies of dried spices to mix in your food separately.

Don't forget dessert! Instant cheesecake with some rehydrated fruit hits the spot after a long day on the trail. Instant chocolate pudding with crumbled Oreos is a favorite, too. With family favorites and variety every night, it’s easy to create camping meals for kids – even the picky ones!


 3.     Keep meal choices light enough for them to carry in their own packs.

Dehydrated meals are a backpacker’s dream since they are light and filling. Plus, you can still create healthy recipes for kids  by making them yourself at home. Whatever your meal choices are, do what you can to keep them light and encourage your children to carry their own meals – somehow the food tastes better that way.

Lunch on the trail is easy to keep light and depending on your plans, can be the most lenient nutritionally. Lunch should be protein-heavy with a quick carb boost to keep you going, especially over multi-day hikes. For this reason jerky, dried fruits and granola are a large component of our trial meals. They are lightweight and perfect for snacking. Plus, jerky is available in a variety of flavors so you never get bored, even with kids’ changing tastes! Make sure you stop by Mahogany Smoked Meats in Bishop, CA if you are in the area to stock up on jerky supplies.

For those who like to stop for a hot meal, trail pizzas made with pitas, filled with cheese, pizza sauce, and pepperoni are easy and quick to assemble. (Note on the cheese: Use pre-grated parmesan or string cheese to maximize ease during life on the trail.) The pizza pockets will warm easily on a covered skillet over your stove. However, if you’ll be out for several days this is something you’ll want to cook on day one or two to ensure the cheese stays fresh. Pitas can also be great for holding tuna fish and cranberries or peanut butter and banana chips.

Eating on the trail does not have to be boring, nor does making camping meals for kids need to be hard. Take the time to plan and try out your backpacking meals with the kids at home. There, you can test what works and still have a Plan B when things don't go as planned. This will help eliminate any meal-time surprises while on the trail. To find more tips and healthy recipes for easy camping meals for kids or the whole family, check out our nutrition section of The Pack.



Jonathan Orr

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