Last year we took our longest trip: to Glacier National Park from Colorado. That might not seem like a feat, we have a travel trailer after all. And it’s not, but our preference is to maximize our time and minimize the time spent doing routine tasks, like shopping for food. We have some food sensitivities so shopping can sometimes be challenging, and you are likely familiar that National Parks are somewhat isolated..meaning that it can be a day out of your travels to find groceries!
We also have 2 growing teens; much of my day revolves around food.
I don’t remember where this journey started or what the impetus was, but I bought a dehydrator, and quickly learned that nearly everything could be dehydrated (not dairy or fats. Some people dh (dehydrate) meat, but that’s not my preference). Everything. From normal things like peppers and carrots, but then things I wouldn’t have thought about, like cantaloupe and cabbage. Literally everything. So I would dehydrate things that came out of my garden, things that were on sale, or marked down. I had a nice little stash of dh food.
Next came learning about rehydrating, which isn’t as tricky as it sounds…I heat up water, and pour enough over the dry ingredients and let them rehydrate. That worked some of the time, but some things take longer to rehydrate: broccoli and celery, for example. But I’m in a committed relationship with my Instant Pot, and I’d add a few tomatoes here and there. You’d never know they had been previously dried! My mom gave me a meal in a jar for Christmas, and my mind was blown. Of course! I could combine ingredients, and put them in a jar or baggie and have an easy meal. This was a game changer to everything, including and especially meal planning. You don’t know this, but I’m really terrible at meal planning. I know how, I just get to the end of the day and I have no creativity left for a meal. But I could combine a few dry ingredients, like rice, dried veggies, herbs and spices, then put the instructions on the jar for how to cook, and on the busy nights: voila! Dinner is served.
You don’t need special recipes by the way, you just need to change the way you look at recipes. Before I move on, the other game changer was dehydrating beans. I used to make a pot of beans, and freeze them for future use, but they rehydrate really well (they crack and aren’t as pretty, but they are fine in “one pot” dishes). About this time, I joined a million dehydrator groups, and in one a lady shared that she used predominantly dh ingredients. Mind blown again. I didn’t realize there were so many dry ingredients! Even liquids like vinegar were dh (I’ll spare you a science experiment. It didn’t work to dh vinegar at home. I think it’s freeze dried, which is a different process and machine altogether) I dove in deep and found great substitutions for dry liquids. I love True Lime and Lemon. A company called Azure Standard (an organic food co-op) has broth powder from Frontier Foods.
So I started to combine dh ingredients in zip top baggies or mason jars, put the name, how much water I needed to add (you’ll need to experiment with this, but if you use and IP, I’ve found that covering the dry ingredients with water is typically enough. And if you use frozen chicken, they will release their juices and you’ll need less liquid). Presto. Meal is ready. I can combine the ingredients into several meals while I make dinner.
You’re likely already familiar with using dry ingredients, like minced onions, spinach dip, and spices. So this is just on a larger scale. But the beauty of this is dh food takes up FAR LESS space compared to when it has all the liquid in it. Before we went to Glacier, I spent months testing recipes we normally used liquid ingredients (diced tomatoes, tomato sauce, etc) using dry ingredients (dried tomatoes and tomato powder). No one could tell the difference between the two.
So just short of 3 weeks of food fit in a sweater box! Minus meat and condiments. Kid you not! Mind blown again.
I make a meal plan for our trips out of necessity. But I realized I have a huge amount of decision fatigue as it relates to food. We make so many decisions about EVERYTHING that it is draining. I was not giving my best to my family. I have a friend whose husband has Parkinson’s. He likes to help cook, but decision fatigue is huge for them. She works from home running a marketing agency…the last thing she wants to do is figure out what to make for dinner. So she created an online board with links to their favorite meals that they have staple ingredients for. I applied that idea to our family meals. I prefer to print out my recipes and keep them in a binder. So over several weeks, I asked my family what their favorite meals were, and added them to a note on my phone. There are about 20 meals we like to rotate through.
Here are some meals we enjoy on our trips:
IP Lime Cilantro Chicken – dh ingredients: True Lime (1tsp), black beans, corn (my addition for more veggies), broth powder, dh 505 chile sauce (holy moly this is delish! I get this at Costco and dh it on a parchment sheet), seasonings. Sometimes I add dh kale (YUM)
Spaghetti: dh ingredients: tomato powder (I use 6 large spoonfuls to equal tomato sauce), onions, seasonings. Non dh: wine (not required, but a lovely additional flavor). You could use canned spaghetti, but make sure it doesn’t have oil in it. And the sugar content makes the end product more like a fruit leather. I also make this in one pot so I don’t have to dirty more dishes. The basic process: cook meat, add water, seasonings, tomato powder, and noodles, and cook until done. You might need to add more water, but since I don’t strain the water off, I don’t add as much water as I would if I was just cooking pasta. For 12 oz of pasta and a family of 4, I use 5 cups of water, if that helps give you an idea.
Tikka Masala: GAME CHANGER! I love the Two Sleevers IP Indian recipes. I use fresh ingredients anywhere I can. 1 can of diced tomatoes equals about 1 lb of fresh. When I make this, I combine about 1 lb of tomatoes, and an onion and the other fresh ingredients in a blender, pulverize, and pour onto parchment lined dh tray. I don’t worry about what is the marinade, and what is the main part. It all goes in the main part to be dehydrated. I put one meal’s worth on each tray so I don’t have to figure out how much should go in each baggie when it’s done drying. To prepare: use frozen chicken, the Tikka Masala mix, and about 1/4c of water to keep the pot from scorching. Put the lid on and cook for 10 min high pressure, and NPR for 10 min. Then add coconut milk. Dinner is served!
You can do the same thing with Vindaloo.
Chicken Parm in the IP: I make a large batch of marinara sauce then divide into individual meals. A jar of marinara sauce is about 24 oz, which is about a pint and a half. I measure out one control portion so I can weigh it later (it works out to be 63g per meal). DH the rest in large amounts. For traveling, I measure out 63g, and put it in a baggie. To cook in the IP: put frozen chicken in the IP, and however much your portion weighs out to be, and a little water (there is more sugar so it is more likely to burn), tuck the dh marinara around the chicken, but not on top, and not all on the bottom). Put the lid on and cook for 10 min high pressure, and NPR for 10 min. Add some cheese, and presto! Dinner is ready!
“Taco Spaghetti”: You will see this has a different name, but we call it taco spaghetti. I use dh tomatoes instead of diced, broth powder, and the other dry ingredients. I would add a bit extra liquid to make up for the dry ingredients.
Egg Roll in a Bowl: (turns out I can’t find the recipe). I don’t have the sauces as powders, so we travel with these, but everything else can be combined in advance. Cabbage becomes quite small when dehydrated, so don’t be surprised by this!
Soups are really easy, especially minestrone soup. For this, I’d probably use Better Than Bouillon to cut down on space.
Pizza is another really easy one, even on the road. Dough: combine the dry ingredients in a bag (and instructions on how much water to add). I prefer long ferment/no knead doughs. You can use tomato powder and seasonings for the sauce, and of course all the toppings dehydrated! I would put all these things in separate bags instead of melding them all together. To rehydrate the veggies, boil water, and pour over until covered. You don’t want to make soup…you want to rehydrate. I like to cover the veggies to trap the heat. Make the pizza sauce with the seasonings and tomato powder; you’ll want to experiment with how much powder to water for your preferences.
Then make pizza as normal! We have a cast aluminum griddle that works perfectly for this, but you could also use a dutch oven.
As you look through your family favorite recipes, ask yourself what ingredients could be dried. Then combine them for easy one pot meals.
I like to try recipes out before we are on the road so everything is dialed in and well tested.
If you have a little stash of these meals at home, they make really easy dinners on busy (or lazy) nights, or around the holidays. My goal is to make these meals easier than ordering Chipotle for dinner!
Other considerations. The first year we used this method, I used gallon zip top bags – they worked well…but this year, I put oatmeal next to something with garlic, and the garlic permeated the bags. Gross. So now I use Wallaby quart mylar bags – you can find these on Amazon.
You don’t need a really fancy dehydrator. I have an Excalibur 9 tray. I really like the dehydrator route vs freeze drier (FD) for MANY reasons: I don’t have space for a FD’er, it’s not in my budget, the food doesn’t compress (the mass is the same as before it was dried), I don’t buy the argument that FD food is healthier – the only nutrient that diminishes is vitamin c, a dehydrator is more economical to run compared to a FD’er. The only things that I would use a FD’er for would be meat (which some take 24 hours to rehydrate, and we have already seen that I don’t plan well ;P), eggs, and dairy.
I use dry and dh interchangeably, but they really mean different things. I don’t make pasta and rice in advance and dh them. You can, and they take less time to rehydrate. I just don’t. When I talk about beans I do mean cooked then dehydrated, not in the raw, uncooked form.
If you deep dive into learning about dehydrated food, some people use a cold soak method for rehydrating food. I haven’t had great success with this. I prefer to heat the water first, then rehydrate.
If you don’t have a dehydrator (oh, mine lives permanently in the garage. Our house is relatively small, so it has to be somewhere else), you can purchase lots of dry ingredients. I like buying in bulk from Azure Standard. Some simple favorites: bell peppers, spinach dip (the ingredients for this are practically the same as “Pasta Roni”), Frontier broth powders, carrots, tomato flakes (this is great to use in lieu of diced tomatoes!), tomato powder.
I hope this is really helpful for you to plan your future travels so you can spend more time exploring and less time cooking, and when you are home, more time to be creative!!
– Create a list of your favorite meals
– Think about whether the ingredients could be dehydrated (no fats, oils or dairy)
– Purchase or dehydrate ingredients
– Put dry ingredients together in a bag with instructions on how to prepare
– Enjoy on a busy night, or on your travels