Healthy eating on expeditions
Careful planning and packing the right foods can mean the difference between enjoying your expedition and feeling like you are dragging yourself around your route, whether it’s walking, canoeing, cycling or sailing.
Here are some great tips for healthy eating on expeditions to share with DofE participants, by Nutritionist Jane McClenaghan.
What you'll need
You can burn 3,000-5,000kcals a day on an expedition, so it is essential for you to pack enough of the right foods to fuel yourself well to keep your energy levels up. The amount of food you need to carry will depend on the length of the expedition. You will need proper food – as well as snacks or light meals, and don’t forget the emergency rations.
Some simple rules
- Keep well hydrated.
- Don’t run on empty. Always eat breakfast, even if you don’t feel like it. This will set you up well for the day and give your energy levels a little kickstart.
- Make lunch a proper meal, not a snack, to fuel your afternoon activity and keep your energy levels up.
- Pack foods that are ‘squashable’, so they can fit into small spaces in your rucksack. Just avoid perishables like salads that will burst in your rucksack.
- Eat little and often to help keep your energy levels up. Pack snacks like bars, biscuits and jellies that will perk you up and keep you going.
- Pack lightweight, non-perishable foods that will taste ok even if they do get squashed in your rucksack. No perishables such as milk or fresh meat.
- Pack things you know that you like to eat. Don’t use the expedition as a time to try new foods.
- Plan, prepare and cook as a group and divide the cost and weight of food among your group.
- Look after each other. Make sure the rest of your group are eating enough to keep them well fuelled and energised.
- Remember that you will be carrying your rubbish home, so avoid packing cans or tinned foods and remove excess packaging from items of food before leaving – can any items be stored together in one bag? (e.g. empty the contents of any packets of sweets into one bag.)
- Your food is your fuel, so make sure you eat enough.
- Set yourself up well for the day by eating a healthy breakfast. Have something warm to heat you up and give you a kickstart first thing – porridge, a cup of tea or coffee, or some hot chocolate will do the trick.
- Instant porridge sachets are lightweight and easy to carry. Pimp your porridge before you go by adding some dried fruit like raisins or apricots and nuts or seeds for extra calories and a super energy boosting breakfast. Add some milk powder for additional protein, then stir in hot water for a quick and warming breakfast.
- Weetabix, for example, is lightweight and packed with fibre for slow release energy, make up with powdered milk and add a little sugar or sliced banana (in a plastic tub) for extra energy.
- Granola is easy to carry. Divide into portion sizes and carry in a zip lock bag.
- Brioche rolls are great for breakfast too, as they are easy to carry and won’t go stale. Have these instead of toast with your porridge or cereal.
Lunch should be a picnic style meal that will replenish your energy levels after your morning expedition and set you up well for the afternoon. Have a cold lunch that is quick to eat. Don’t use your stove until later in the day when you have more time.
- On the first day of your expedition, bring some sandwiches with you that you have made up at home.
On the other days, make sandwiches from:
- Your choice of wraps or pitta pockets that won’t get squashed in your rucksack and are easier to carry than bread.
- Protein from tuna sachets, preserved meat (like Pepperami, U-shaped sausage, chorizo, or beef jerky), Babybel or Primula cheese or individual sachets of peanut butter (as long as no-one in your group has a peanut allergy!). add a couple of biscuits or a cereal bar or energy bar like Kind, Eat Natural or fig rolls.
- …and a drink.
Dinner and dessert ideas
Reward yourself with a nourishing, warming and tasty meal at the end of a hard day.
For the first night of your expedition:
- If possible, bring something from home for the first night, like stew, chilli or curry. Store it in a ‘pour and store’ or ziplock bag like a ‘baco bag’ that you can just boil in the bag to save having to wash up a dirty stove and pans.
- Pasta with packet sauce and a handful of cashew nuts is a well balanced and easy meal to nourish you after a hard day on expedition. (Just check that none of your group have nut allergies.)
- Prepared fajitas wrapped in foil and stored in an airtight bag.
For the second and third nights:
Good quality dried or pouch meals from camping shops are the best option for the second and third nights on Gold and Silver expeditions as they do not have to be kept cool and are easy to carry. The DofE recommends certain pouch meals.
- Angel Delight
- Jamaican ginger cake with instant custard
- Biscuits or chocolate
Snacks are really important to refuel your energy levels and give you a little treat when you are on an expedition. Pack something salty like salted nuts or processed (non refrigerated) cheese as you will lose a lot of salt as you sweat. Some salt will help to reduce muscle cramps.
- GoGos – these are lightweight and non-perishable cheese snacks, with crackers, flapjacks or pretzels.
- Biscuits like fig rolls that are okay even if they get a bit squashed.
- Cereal bars or granola bars like Eat Natural, Kind, Nature Valley
- Trail mix
- Dried fruit
- Yoghurt coated nuts
- Cheese like Babybel
- Nutella Go – snack pots with breadsticks
- Jelly sweets
- Oatcakes or crackers with individual sachets of peanut butter
- Instant hot chocolate
- Soreen malt loaf
- Snack pack – make your own energy mix by mixing chocolate with nuts and dried fruit.
Hydrate, Hydrate, Hydrate
Make sure you drink enough water on your expeditions. Dehydration is very dangerous and can mean a quick end to your expedition, with serious health consequences.
Symptoms of dehydration include:
- feeling thirsty
- dark yellow and strong smelling urine
- feeling dizzy or lightheaded
- feeling tired
- dry mouth, lips and eyes
- peeing little, and fewer than four times a day
As far as drinks go water is best, with the option of adding additional electrolytes to replace minerals lost in sweat during the day.
- Drink water in the morning before you start your expedition as you will be dehydrated after sleep.
- Carry two litres of water with you when you are on expedition.
- Take small sips of water throughout your expedition.
- Drink enough so that your pee is a pale clear colour.
- Drink water in the evening when you arrive at your camp site.