I like to cook fresh and from scratch as much as possible. I feel it gives me more control over the ingredients and allows more flexibility when working with allergies and other dietary restrictions.
However, for my younger cooks, I understand that going with pre-packaged foods can make it easier for them to get a meal onto the picnic table when we are camping. And, unlike me, they come to camp to play and not to cook. Pre-packaged foods are great ways to cut corners and allow you to get a meal on the picnic table much faster.
Using things like refrigerated biscuits, bread, and pizza dough are great shortcuts.
Pre-packaged pasta dishes and rice dishes are self-contained entrees and/or side dishes. In addition, many of these work well for backpacking because they are dehydrated and, for the most part, just need water.
But just because it comes out of a box or a pouch doesn’t mean you are limited to the contents of the container. You need to think outside the box or the pouch.
For example, let’s take the classic boxed macaroni and cheese. You could make the macaroni and cheese according to the directions on the box, but why stop there? You could add a protein to it like diced ham or hot dog, bacon, cooked diced chicken, cooked ground beef or sausage. You could add fresh vegetables to it like a diced white or yellow onion, a diced red or green bell pepper, peas, broccoli, cauliflower, and zucchini. By doing this, you add bulk to the dish so it will feed more, you add freshness and more nutrition, and you have a full blown main dish.
There is a pre-packaged Spanish rice side dish that we like. You could make your favorite brand of Spanish rice according to the directions on the package, but then you could add cooked chicken or beef, a can of black beans, corn, diced green chilies, and some cheese. You could serve it in a bowl, on a plate over a pile of tortilla chips, or rolled up in a tortilla burrito-style. Top it with some shredded lettuce, guacamole, and/or some sour cream and you have a great, simple meal.
Pre-packaged foods can make great bases to start from. Instead of pasta sauce from scratch, start with a jar of your favorite sauce and add fresh herbs and vegetables like tomatoes, peppers, and onion.
So, the next time you’re looking to make cooking in camp a little easier or if you need to get a meal on the table a little faster, start with a pre-packaged food, but don’t just settle for what’s in the box or the pouch. Add to it, add some protein, add some freshness in the way of fresh herbs and vegetables, and you’ll take what might have been just okay to whole new level.
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