Getting your food and cooking right can really make a big difference to how much you enjoy your DofE expedition. It is one of the best team activities of your Expedition section and is an opportunity to think creatively and impress your Assessor.
Planning and teamwork is everything. You have to cook as a team so it’s usually best to share meals, but you can also take turns to cook individual meals. You’ll get much more out of cooking from scratch or preparing meals at home first, but you are allowed to use light weight ready-made expedition meals. Whatever you do, you’ll need to agree your menu and cooking plan as a team, spend your budget and then cook together as a group.
The key principles of expedition food:
You’ll need to design a menu which does the following:
- Keep your menu balanced, particularly for longer expeditions.
- Packs in as much energy (or calories) into the least weight and volume as possible. Depending on the length of your expedition and how big you are you’ll need to get through between three, four or even five thousand calories every day. Choose foods high in sugars, carbohydrates and fats.
- Choose food you like! Food is both energy for physical endurance and team morale!
- Keep meals easy and quick to cook (you might need to do some preparation at home first) and that will keep until you plan to eat it, even in hot weather. Dried, cured, smoked or vegetarian foods will usually all last well.
- Keep the weight and litter down by removing its packaging and cooking as a team.
- Make sure you keep your food in something waterproof like a plastic bag. You could also put it all into a lightweight container so it will stand up to the inevitable squashing into rucksacks, being sat on and being dropped...
- Try to pack the food for each day/meal together in one place so it is easy to find.
Start the day with a substantial breakfast and a hot drink. This can include cereals, muesli, porridge, noodles or even a full English with tea, coffee or hot chocolate.
Tip: Make up your own porridge before you go with oats, nuts, fruit and muesli, then add milk powder. Once on expedition simply add hot water to make quick porridge.
Lunch (up to around 30 minutes)
There are many options but most people go for picnic or larder style foods that don’t need to be heated or kept chilled. A lunch break might consist of a hot drink with sandwiches, pitta bread or wraps with other high energy foods like flapjacks, cereal bars, nuts, dried fruit, biscuits, chocolate bars, dried sweets, jelly, mint cake and so on. Some teams prefer to have only a short 15 minute rest and ‘drip feed’ high energy snacks continuously whilst journeying, it’s up to you to decide as a team.
Tip: Lunches need to be made from things that will not deteriorate over the course of the expedition. Things such as oatcakes or flapjacks are better than bread.
Almost every team chooses to cook and eat their substantial daily meal in the evening at the campsite as you have more time. With practice and planning, even on one stove, you can quite easily produce a hot three-course meal in a short amount of time. Soup, curry, stews, pasta, bangers and smash or noodle stir-fry are all great expedition meals and you can follow them up with a hot or cold pudding like hot chocolate cake or crumble and custard.
Tip: As a team, boil a pan of water and use it to make soup as the starter or a hot drink, then use the rest to cook a boil in the bag pudding. Don’t throw the leftover water away as this can be used to do the washing up.
Every participant needs emergency rations. It does not have to be much (particularly at Bronze) but it is an essential part of participants thinking about risk management and preparing for their expedition.
A good ration pack should include a favourite high energy snack (Snickers and Mars bars work well or, in hot weather, Kendal Mint Cake), sweets (such as Haribo, wine gums, fruit pastilles, raw jelly cubes etc.), energy drink powder/hot chocolate sachets and a substantial filling snack like a flapjack. Keep it all in a waterproof bag or container.
Tip: Emergency rations can be a treat at the end of an expedition, but to save money reuse the one from the practice expeditions for the qualifying expedition.
Think differently! Be creative!
Cooking on your expedition can be a great challenge and a way to make your expedition stand out. Think about your favourite foods and how you could adapt them so you can have them during your expedition. Some teams who want a more project focused expedition have made cooking their aim and then prepare elaborate three course meals for lunch and a posh afternoon tea break; the Assessor being the food critic; (you’ll still need to have a full evening meal too though).
Breakfast on day two of a Silver DofE expedition, during the spring, in the New Forest... it doesn’t have to be soup or noodles, but have a good scouring pad for the washing up!
Tip: Ask for packets of mustard, mayonnaise, ketchup, salt and pepper etc. from a local cafe or take away. They keep really well and make meals taste better. On longer trips a little pot of garlic or chilli powder can spice up otherwise monotonous food. Keep them in a small plastic container or cleaned out small pill pot to stop them splitting if squashed.
Outdoor Eating App
The DofE has produced a great Outdoor Eating app for iPhones. It’s full of great food ideas for cooking in the outdoors, for both expedition teams and DofE Leaders. As it is on your phone it’s easy to see what you need to buy while in the supermarket. See here for more info.
Beyond the Beaten Track
If you want to use ready-made expedition food, the DofE recommends Beyond the beaten track. They have a wide range of homely meals and are designed to be high in energy to keep you going when in the outdoors. Light weight and quickly heated in any weather they are a great motivator. As a DofE participant you can get 16% off these meals. Find out more...
Menu planning flash cards
DofE AAP Lupine Adventure has produced a great series of flash cards to help participants plan expedition menus in a fun way. These cards have been developed to help teach expedition menu planning. There are over 50 cards with different common food types taken on expeditions. Students can use the cards to compare the benefits of different foods and lay them out to make a menu for the day. The cards are numbered and colour coded between 'Breakfast Only', 'Breakfast / Lunch / Snack' and 'Evening Meal' so you can concentrate on one meal if you wish. There are blank cards at the end if you wish to add your own. Download the pack here.
Here's a handy website from one of our Approved Activity Providers, Indie Outdoors, offering guidance on what food to take on expeditions.