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Pack Healthy Trail Meals

Yes, that's our attempt at a food pyramid. Photo by Mary Reed and Attila Horvath.

Vitamins, minerals, protein, carbs, fat – can you really get all the nutrition you need when packing your meals for an active weekend (or longer) outing? Yes, says Christine Gerbstadt, MD, RD, who is a spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association. “Don’t let these excursions be an excuse to get lazy and have a heyday free-for-all with the diet,” she says. “In fact, it should be a reason to eat healthier because you need to give your body the nutrients to be active.” Here’s how.

Start with an intake. Christine suggests starting with a food recall – track the food you’ve eaten over the past few days to see what your starting point is. “Be honest, be objective, do an inventory, be aware of where the deficits are, be aware of where the surpluses are, and fine tune it in a reasonable way,” she says. In her experience, foods most commonly skimped on in the field include fruits and vegetables as well as dairy. Go to or to do your intake; you’ll also get your suggested calories/day based on height, weight, age and activity level.

Make it at home. Plan your meals before you go shopping and get ready to do some simple preparations at home. “I personally just like making my own trail mix because then it’s exactly what I want. I don’t need a bar, I can put it in a baggie,” Christine says. She prefers good old-fashioned gorp and points out that it doesn’t have to mean strictly raisins and peanuts – experiment with nuts and dried fruits. She warns against salted nuts. “Even active people don’t need as much sodium as we (Americans) eat.”

Rely on the standbys. Fresh fruit is easy to bring on a day trip – you can throw an apple or orange in your bag. If you’re watching your weight – pack weight, that is – bring dried fruit. Carrots and cucumbers are easy veggies to pack and it’s getting easier to find dried vegetables at the store, too. Tuna comes in single-serving packs for your protein, and if you’re vegetarian (or not) try hard-boiled eggs. The most versatile option for dairy is powdered milk.

Search out healthy prepared foods. If you’re more likely to eat vegetables when you can simply buy a bag of them prewashed and precut, go for it, Christine says. More and more energy bars are made from whole, raw ingredients too, like Larabar and KIND bars. Laughing Cow makes real cheese wedges that don’t have to be refrigerated before opening. Read the label on a dried soup mix for dinner to make sure it has a variety of vegetables and not too much sodium.

Practice moderation. “The more variety and moderation – being portion control – the better your diet will be,” Christine says. Smaller amounts of different foods will help you get the various vitamins and minerals you need. “Think of it like Thanksgiving dinner, but you’re not eating huge portions of everything.”

Understand it’s a work in progress. Go easy on yourself if you’re not hitting all your dietary needs and goals at once. “No one can be perfect all the time,” Christine says. “Some people say the 90/10 rule – I’m a little too human for that – if I can do my best at 80 percent of the time (and) 20 percent of the time I cannot, well, stress and guilt are just as unhealthy as not eating right.”

Try these sample menus
Increase portions or add healthy foods to increase calories as needed
Day 1 Breakfast: 1 cup of coffee; powdered milk, 1 cup when reconstituted; 3/4 cup of rolled oats, cooked (then add the milk); 1 banana; 1 tablespoon of honey • Lunch: 1 3-ounce can of tuna, packed in water; 10 baby carrots; 12 whole wheat crackers with 3 Laughing Cow skim swiss wedges • Snack: 1 cup of gorp • Dinner: store-bought or homemade chana masala on instant brown rice • Dessert: small dark chocolate bar [1,700 calories]

Day 2 Breakfast: 1 cup of coffee, 1 whole wheat bagel, 2 Laughing Cow skim swiss wedges; 1 orange • Lunch: fresh or rehydrated hummus with ½ cup of spinach and 1 chopped shallot wrapped in a whole-wheat tortilla; 8 whole grain crackers, 10 baby carrots • Snack: 1 cup of gorp • Dinner: angel hair pasta with rehydrated or fresh pesto • Dessert: instant hot chocolate in reconstituted skim milk [2,000 calories]