When it comes to planning meals for your children, happy family memories created on the tramp are more important than balanced nutritious meals.
In my twenty-plus years of tramping with kids, I’ve come to the conclusion that in the outdoors creating happy family memories is more important than creating balanced nutritious meals.
Cooking a sausage over an open fire while being chased by smoke, or burning your tongue on a burnt toasted marshmallow are rites of passage for most young Kiwi trampers. Dunking half-stale bread into a cup of soup at lunchtime on a winter’s day can feel like a feast. Perfecting the art of slurping your milo through a Tim Tam, and learning the precise moment when to stuff the soggy biscuit into your mouth before it drops into your cup, can really only be mastered as a kid.
Food can be a fun and joyous affair in the hills and the memories you create while sharing it together as a family will be everlasting.
Catering for a family can be as simple or as complicated as you wish to make it, but here are a few important things to remember when planning the food for your next family adventure.
Treats as bribery and reward
Nothing turns a bad tramping moment around for a kid like pulling out a treat from your pack. While food shouldn’t be used regularly as a reward, a bribe or for comfort, it’s a brave parent who ventures into the hills without at least some special food for when morale needs boosting.
Good nutrition is about what we consume over the course of a week, or a month or a year. What we eat during the odd weekend, or even week-long tramp, won’t matter. Calling a stop for chocolate wondrously solves most problems, peeling the layers off a Licorice Allsort will improve any child’s mood, and finding the odd jellybean along the track, supposedly dropped by forest goblins, will help any young child up a long hill.
Be flexible with what your kids eat
Who said breakfast needs to be oat porridge or muesli? Millions of people around the world eat rice for breakfast, others eat cheese and meat, while some lucky people eat pastries. The aim of breakfast is to provide your kids with energy that will sustain them until second breakfast, morning tea or first lunch. It doesn’t actually matter what they eat.
If your kids don’t like porridge or muesli, give them a muesli bar, some crackers and a peanut butter slug; or a piece of bread, a chunk of cheese and a handful of scroggin. Add a couple of gingernuts to dunk in their morning milo and chances are you’ll be starting your day with a happy tramper rather than a food fight.
Let the kids choose
Give them options and ownership over some of the food, even if it’s something as simple as picking the chocolate or muesli bar flavour. Involve them in the decision making at home – is the evening meal going to be pasta, potato or noodle-based? Let them carry a few treats of their own and let them decide when to eat them. During the younger years, the five lollies per day they have in their private stash might only last the first 30-minutes but, if given the chance, they will eventually learn to ration them throughout the day.
Don’t let them get hangry
I’m not very nice to tramp with when I’m hungry and I’m an adult with supposedly superior emotional regulation skills. Kids burn a lot of energy tramping – you will know your own child’s hunger cues so take note of them rather than letting the time on your watch dictate food stops.
Balancing weight, cost and variety
Commercially made freeze-dri meals are very light but, at approximately $8-10 per serve, won’t be an option for all families. While dehydrating meals at home is possible, it’s also time-consuming. For cheap and light evening meals, dried mashed spud, noodles or pasta are a great base. Dried sauce mixes, or curry pastes, provide flavour. Add some veges (dried or fresh), then add a protein source. Freeze-dri meat, tuna (in foil packets), lentils, cheese, salami or nuts all work well.
Lunch food is harder to get light, but needn’t be fancy. There’s nothing wrong with cheese and vegemite sandwiches. Wraps, peanut butter slugs, crackers, cheese, salami and biscuits add variety. Soups and instant noodles at lunchtime are nice in winter, especially if you have time to make a fire.