Figuring out what to eat on a camping, hiking, or backpacking trip can be a real headache, especially for beginners, as there’s everything else to plan. Here’s your perfect guide to the rescue on backpacking lunch ideas with no cooking so that you can get back to hiking full of energy.
Those with no Time to prep or plan a Lunch
All of the “real food” lunch ideas take some planning and preparation beforehand. When you don’t even have that, here are some Hail Mary passes at rescuing your game.
The meal replacement industry has gotten huge, with many different options out there, from meal replacement bars to weight loss shakes. There’s even healthy, filling vegetable juices, and juicing has taken off as well. The downside is that they can be difficult to obtain last minute, but if you have them already, go ahead and take them.
I want to put a warning here that “juicing” as meal replacements may not be a great idea for inexperienced families. Because “juiced” shakes and the like are already chopped up, that means there’s no work for your tummy to break down the food gradually.
Instead, it needs to intake a massive amount of nutrients all at once. This can make you feel very tired, so if you do go this route, be sure to rest after eating, or to only drink your shake in small amounts, gradually over time.
Here is a list of some of the general meal replacements out there, as well as some of the larger brands and products:
- Meal replacement shakes
- Protein shakes
- Meal replacement bars
- Energy bars
- Vegetable juice drinks
- Healthy vegetable and fruit smoothies
- MRE (Meal Ready to Eat)
Last minute store trips
You can always visit a grocery or convenience store along the way. They may have premade sandwiches, fruits, vegetables, and all manner of snacks. Larger stores usually have ready to buy party platters, such as Charcuterie meat platters, fruit platters, or vegetable platters. They’ll also usually have sections of pre-packaged, already cooked food, such as soups, pasta, salads, and more.
Or, you could always gather up what you might need to put together a quick meal. Say, disposable eating utensils, plates, peanut butter, jam, bread, for example, could be put together at your backpacking location to make peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.
The trouble with these types of items is that store platters tend to be wide and bulky and difficult to store in traditional camping food storage systems like ice coolers. For hot food, it can be difficult to reheat or keep hot along the trip, and this can cause food safety and bacteria concerns.
Here is a list of ideas for the last minute trip to the store:
- Party platters: vegetables, meats, fruits, sandwiches, tortilla wraps
- Pre-made cold foods & food bars: Salads with leafy greens, salads without leafy greens – such as potato salads, pasta, cooked eggs, cooked beans and lentils, hummus, cold soups
- Assemble yourself, no-cook meal ideas: peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, or rice/bean bowls with canned meats and freshly chopped produce, fresh salads
Take-out or fast food
This isn’t a great choice, but they are healthier choices at most restaurants and fast food joints. Some of the menu options can even be kept cold in a travel icebox for a few days, but you probably wouldn’t want to try reheating anything, so keeping fed this way can be more of a challenge than it’s worth.
For those with a little time to prep and plan
Oh boy, there are a lot of meal ideas for families who have a little bit of time to prep and plan. Here, I’ll try to focus on backpacking lunch ideas with no cooking that don’t require any cooking or reheating when it’s time to eat, so it’s all cold recipes for food safety.
If you only have a little time to plan, you will want to focus on meal ideas for things that you already have the ingredients and leftovers for. For example, if you don’t make your own sushi often you probably won’t have sushi-grade fish on hand to assemble your own California rolls for a backpacking trip.
So you would want to concentrate your efforts on something that you can put together quickly.
- Sandwiches: a tortilla wrapped, lettuce wrapped, pita-stuffed, or traditional
- Salads: salad greens, chicken salad, potato salad, egg salad, pasta salad, tuna salad, taco salad, orzo salad, macaroni salad
- Burritos: cold burritos like chickpea burritos
- Mason jar meals: cold salads, soups, and more stored in mason jars
- Bowls: sometimes called “Buddha bowls” – cold noodle, zucchini “zoodle” noodles, rice, or bean bowls with toppings
- Cold soups: gazpacho, avocado soup, yogurt soup, ajoblanco
- Sushi: such as California rolls or sashimi
- Lettuce wraps: cold chicken, tofu, tuna, or tacos
For those who can have a little time, can reheat, but don’t have time to much else
This category of “not-cooking” is the most flexible, as a wide range of foods become available, as long as they have been pre-assembled at home.
- Foil packet meals: potatoes, fish, veggies, fajitas, chicken, roast beef
- Mason jar meals: soups, salads, burrito bowls, “casseroles”, pasta
- Easily assembled meals such as nachos, or hotdogs, kabobs, chili
- Skewer meals: kebabs, vegetables, or meats cooked on a stick
- Meal in a can: such as soups, chili, and a few others
- One pot / one skillet meals: nachos, hash, pasta, grilled cheese
- Dehydrated meals: just add water types of dried soups or meals
Backpacking Lunch Ideas with no Cooking
I hope that you found the perfect meal ideas for your family’s next big backpacking trip through beautiful, wild country. Always remember to be safe with your food, such as washing hands, keeping food closed, and keeping food cold, hot, or put away. If you’re not sure, it’s better to be safe than sorry on a physical, body-exerting trip.