What should I eat??? Help me if you can!

This is a general call for advice. I need to dial in my systems for what I buy and how I eat while touring. It’s all well and good to live on Snicker’s bars (they really do satisfy at certain times), Ramen and Pop Tarts while touring for a few months, but I may be out here for quite a while longer, and need to learn how to solve the puzzle of eating, or at least improve my current approach.

Whatever I buy and cook must meet the following parameters:

— Extremely cheap

— Extremely high in calories for it’s size and especially weight

— Very simple/easy preparation

— Available in smaller towns with little selection.

— As healthy as possible


So given these constraints, I’m opening the feedback box and taking in whatever ideas you all have. And to avoid reinventing the wheel, here’s what I’ve got so far by meal type:

Breakfast: I typically buy a box of maple syrup oatmeal packets and cook 2-3 each morning. I use a little extra water and make coffee with pre-packaged Folger’s Crystals servings (ghetto Via for those Starbucks fans). If I’m near a Safeway at breakfast time, they make a great sausage breakfast burrito for $3 which has eggs and meat, good protein source, or go out to breakfast once in a while if I can restrain myself. If I can get to an outdoor store, I’ll buy Mountain House freeze dried breakfasts which typically cost about $5-7 (pricey) but are a good ultralight break from oatmeal when out of towns.

Lunch: This is a toughie. I have an attitude that lunch should not be cooked as getting the stove fired up mid-day feels cumbersome. I often will carry a package of tortillas and either a block of cheese with a roll of salami for wraps, or plastic jars of PB and J. All this is quite heavy to carry food for more than a few days, so I could really use some improvements here.

Dinner: My staples are Ramen noodles, Idahoan packages of powdered mashed potatoes, tasty sides packages of noodle dishes (adding albacore tuna to them for protein when possible), and of course Mountain House freeze dried dinners (again, pricey but good).

Snacks: This is embarrassing, but I am so far reliant on a lot of cheap candies because of their high caloric value to low price and low weight. If I could get Clif to send me 1 box of bars at a time (can’t carry more) I would, but they can’t do that! When available, I will buy trail mix with almonds, raisins, and chocolate. I’m also a big fan of Pop-Tarts as snacks for some reason. The point here is to have something that is refreshing, gives a small burst of energy, and something I can eat a little of throughout the day.

The trick here is highest calories and healthiness, lowest cost and weight. I need to eat about 5000 or more calories a day to keep up with what I’m burning on this behemoth of a bike and the distances I’m riding. Not an easy task I tell you!

So tell me: What do YOU eat when you go for long backpacking trips, bike tours, or other trips when you only have access to a tiny stove (limited fuel) and are trying to save cash??

11 Responses

  1. Nancy
    | Reply

    Thanks for the shout-out in your blog, Scott — and the cookies and brownies!

    Thoughts on food. Hmmm. Well, at the tiniest convenience stores, the best options for lunches and snacks that are cheap, healthy, and powerful are often nuts. You can often find single-serve peanuts 2 for a dollar, in various flavors (spicy, honey roasted, etc.) Trail mixes with nuts and fruit are usually available too. You wouldn’t want to carry milk or yogurt with you, but they are good choices to chug on the spot, when stopping at tiny stores, and if you have some granola in your panniers, you could have some cereal with milk; this keeps me going way more than straight carbs.

    With that in mind, at larger stores you could get some milk powder. It doesn’t taste like real milk, but you can add extra-thick milk to lots of meals (oatmeal, creamy instant soups, mac and cheese, pasta with creamy sauces) to boost the protein and calcium. The powder is cheap and light. You can also use it to make extra-milky instant pudding — just shake water, pudding mix, and milk powder up in a quart water bottle… if you are going to be able to clean the bottle afterward! It tastes darned good after a lot of dry food. Mostly, desserts are easy. Cookies, candy — lots of cheap calories there!

    Dinners. The basic strategy of using a quick-cooking starch as a base and then adding to it seems to work well. Instant rice, couscous, instant potatoes, ramen. Instant soup mixes add some veggie content and flavor, and cheese and nuts add calories, fat, and protein. I’m a vegetarian, but dry sausage is also a popular add-in — or canned chicken, maybe? Or deli turkey/ham/beef? Instant beans are good, too — available in big supermarkets. Hard cheeses like Parmesan get less gross in hot weather. Or get powdered Parm and put it in a Ziploc. Adding olive oil can up your healthy calories if needed.

    As for fruits and veggies, the fresh stuff — eating as you go, when you can, is often the best you can do. It’s easier on a bike than when backpacking. It’s summer! Fresh fruit stands!

    Good luck and happy trails.

    • Scott Pauker
      | Reply

      Wow! Thanks for the thoughtful response, Nancy!!! I am a big fan of the packaged nuts from gas stations too. I’m gonna try the powdered milk idea for a shake. I think your concept of scarfing as many healthy foods on the spot when available is a good reminder. So far all I’ve found is non-fat milk powder at the little grocery in Tok. I’ll see what Whitehorse has to offer… and cheese… parmesan… yes!

  2. Chris
    | Reply

    Scott, The TDA was as you know a supported Tour and so I didn’t have the additional factors of cooking, cost, and weight that you have. That said, imho you need to go as far towards healthy as possible, and favor that over cost, etc. or you will pay down the road when you’re feeling like crap and your energy runs down. You do have the luxury of setting your own schedule and so can take time off if you’re depleted.
    The TDA diet is very carb-heavy, with protein rare for breakfast. Since I was near Paleo before the ride, I quickly had to abandon those concerns and just chow down to get the calories for the day.
    Breakfast was always either oatmeal or porridge, or cereal (meusli type, weetabix) with syrups, jams, PB to add on, and bananas, always. My standard was a large bowl of oatmeal or cereal with milk, and a banana on top smothered with jam or Nutella. Bread was always available and a lot of us would make a PB sandwich for on the road snacks
    Lunch was always bread and fillings: some meat usually like some pretty weird local salami/bologna, and regional variations like avocados etc, cheese, and fruit always. Plus PB, Nutella etc
    Dinner was good, with protein nearly always: lamb stew, potato stew, sausage grill, chicken, with a starch side like pasta or mac and cheese.
    We always had a hot soup waiting on arrival in camp, heavy on salts.
    You need protein for muscle recovery and repair and carbs for the fuel during the day. I was amazed how much we consumed, and still lost weight.
    So with what you’re doing: try and get adequate protein despite the cost or weight. Avoid heavily processed foods if possible (sorry that includes Pop Tarts), try cooking real rice and pasta if your fuel allows in lieu of processed packets. I know that may be impossible at times and so be it.
    I hadn’t had a Coke in thirty years but in 98 degree heat if a village appeared that had sodas, I’d guzzle a couple. I also started buying some candy bars as we went south and they became available. But that was on top of otherwise healthy food. And I knew we were burning it off right away.
    Good luck….

  3. Nicholas Carman
    | Reply

    Scott, You will figure it out on your own, for sure. Unfortunately, some of the least inspiring cuisine of your entire trip exists between Deadhorse and Banff, or Mexico. I think it makes sense to use whole foods as a cheap substitute for the packaged variety. I certainly see the value of packaged oatmeal, potatoes, and grains, but buying packages of rice, oatmeal, and real coffee may help both your budget and your pace, even if it require a bit more time and fuel. Cooking for yourself is one of the greatest things you can do in a day to promote personal wellness.

    Then, you can buy bulk sweeteners and spices, like salt, cinnamon, Sriracha, cumin, or chili powder. You can add meat, vegetables, and cheese. Doesn’t that make you feel like you’ve made a home for yourself on the road? Good. Get cooking. Welcome home.

    • Scott Pauker
      | Reply

      Thanks Nick! I agree. I think it’s a slow shift from the temporary backpacker’s mentality toward a lifestyle of being on a bike and making it a home. Thanks for calling attention to it. Imunna meditate/ponder that idea for a while. I hope you and Lael have a great trip overseas!!! Looking forward to reading about it someday.

  4. Brian
    | Reply

    You can pick up some variation on protein powder in most Safeway-type supermarkets.

    • Scott Pauker
      | Reply

      Yep, protein powder is a good thing… perhaps I’ll give it a shot.. often it comes in a HUGE tub and I don’t wanna carry that much at a time. But we’ll see what I can find out there.

  5. tucker
    | Reply

    buy a can of tuna, then walk into (preferably) a Jack in the box or whatever fast food joint you come across—grocery/convenience store is fine, too. You’re after the free condiments, and I say jack in the box because they also have soy sauce for added salt. mix into that can of tuna: some mayo, mustard, hot sauce and soy sauce if available. try some relish for variety. eat it with a fork. protein bomb with some free added calories from the squeeze packet condiments!

  6. Andy
    | Reply

    Hey Scott,

    without having read all the other comments, here’s what I do. But first, let’s assess the 3 different basic situations you are likely to find yourself in:

    1. Expensive country, proximity of towns
    2. Inexpensive country, proximity of towns
    3. Both sort of countries, outback

    1. Go for supermarkets, grocery stores, farmer’s stores, buy and eat fresh as much as possible
    2. Go for streetfood. Cheaper and more wholesome than buying from shops and making your own
    3. Take dry staples in order to save weight: pasta (spaghetti take the least amount of time cooking), rice, milk powder, sugar, instant coffee, oatmeal, cream of wheat, stock cubes, concentrated tomato, spices, etc.

    In general, I wouldn’t care too much about the health aspect – your body will tell you what it needs, by craving for it. Plus, after you’ve left the comforts and convenience of your kitchen closet at home, it is more or less a survival thing. You will have times where it will be mostly about calorie intake. Make up for that by eating fresh whenever you have the chance to. In the same way avoid snickers bars and other junk food as much as possible though they do make good emergency food when running out of energy.

    The downside of 3. is, you need a stove of some kind. A meth/beer can stove is lightweight and good for heating water, but not really for cooking extended amounts of time. A wood fuel stove is a waste of money in my mind, better light a campfire. The best stoves for long camping tours are white gas/kerosene stoves such as the MSR Whisperlite or stoves based on gas canisters. Some of them can handle all/multiple fuel types, called multi- or omnifuel.

    Carrying kitchen stuff adds weight and bulk and can be a burden. But then, if you use it frequently it adds to your comfort and independence. These are the limits of bikepacking and where panniers come in. In the end you have to weigh it and eventually adjust your touring style…

    Another option is eating cold if you have to – you can mix instant coffee and/or milkpowder, sugar and oatmeal or ramen (without the seasoning of course) and eat cold… In the end it all boils down to the level of (dis-) comfort you’re willing to take in order to have max freedom and independence, and cold food is way better as no food 🙂

    Some advice on cooking regular food such as pasta and rice (should you go doen that road):
    – you don’t do it like at home with a rice cooker or plenty of water (although in China you will find bike tourers who carry an electric rice cooker!)

    – Rice: use one cup of rice and 1.5 cups of water. Bring it to boil and wait till ALMOST ALL water is gone – not all! Take it off the stove and let it sit for 15 minutes or so, so that the rice will soak up the rest of the water. If you leave it too long on the stove it will burn to the pot once the water is gone.

    – Pasta: usually the package states that you have to use several litres and bring it to boil. However it does work with a lot less, and therefore doesn’t require a big pot. I manage to get a 500g package in a 1.5 litre pot. the trick is, when the water is boiling take zthe spaghetti with both hands. stcik them in the pot vertically and this habds in opposite directions giving the pasta bundle a shape resembling a sand clock. Then let go, like starting a game of mikado. By doing this, the noodles align around the rim of the pot, so you can subsequently shove them into the water from the side!

    Depending on the water remaining, pour some away if too much. Then add concentrated tomato, salt, pepper. Or add a stock cube to the boiling water before for it to properly resolve to add some extra taste.

    That’s about the easiest and most tasty one pot meal. We lived on this for weeks when we crossed Australia’s outback North – South. Our other staple were chocolate and peanut butter sandwiches due to the extremely steep prices there…

    I also made good experiences performance-wise with soda pops like coke, lemonades and other fizzy drinks and icecream. You can get by on them the whole day without eating solid food. Now the downside might be that fructose (and they’re pretty much all high in fructose) are not exactly healthy in the long run (metabolic syndrome), but I’m too little of a nutrition scientist to judge whether fructose does harm when instantly burnt…

    Hope it helps.


    • Scott Pauker
      | Reply

      Hi Andy! Totally helpful, even if a few months after the fact!

Leave a Reply