Ask Me: Tips On Food For Backpacking With Kids

Hi Michael,

I just discovered your site, The Big Outside, while looking for information on backpacking with kids. We have been car camping with our kids since they were tiny but will try our first actual backpacking trip with them (now ages 8 and 10) later this summer. Do you have any recommendations for food? I would rather not go the (dehydrated meals) route for taste and expense reasons. Ideally I would find a resource for ideas that were homemade but did not require the purchase of a food dehydrater—perhaps I am limiting my options too much?

Cupertino, CA

Hi Anne,

Thanks for writing, glad you found The Big Outside. Honestly, it’s been several years since I’ve personally been able to stomach dehydrated/packaged meals, so I never take that stuff when backpacking with my kids (now 12 and 10).

I just buy regular food that will keep for 3-5 days and that my kids eat at home or have eaten on previous backpacking trips: pasta (pesto is easy and portable), rice mix, baby carrots, mac ‘n’ cheese, oatmeal, bagels, peanut butter, blocks of cheese, crackers, pepperoni, lots of snack bars and energy bars, chocolate, instant mashed potatoes, Ramen or some instant soup mix, dried fruit, nuts, GORP mix with ingredients my kids choose, that kind of stuff. We sometimes pack in a little fresh produce (besides carrots) like apples or broccoli for the first day, but not often. Powdered drink mix helps get kids to drink more, too—especially useful on hot afternoons.

I also recently discovered and reviewed at The Big Outside a new, all-natural, nut-based spread called Trail Butter that my kids, wife, and I all like (as did another family that was backpacking with us).

Most important: Bring food they like and will eat, and preferably that has some nutritional value—though we give in and let them eat Pop-Tarts (which we never have at home, really!) because it’s important that they pack away enough calories when backpacking. And I bring a bit extra of what I know they like and that will give them some fuel—like chocolate.

Another point, which you probably already know: Feed little kids frequently. They don’t have the fat reserves (i.e., gas tank) of adults, so they need more frequent refueling than we do, often every 60-90 minutes. A grumpy kid usually just needs a short break and a snack and drink, and will then be revived and happy.

Michael Lanza

[In Ask Me, I share and respond to a reader question. Got a question about hiking, backpacking, gear, or any topic or trip I write about at The Big Outside? Send it to me at or tweet it to @MichaelALanza. I will answer the ones I can in a post, using only your first name and city, with your permission.]



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2 thoughts on “Ask Me: Tips On Food For Backpacking With Kids”

  1. I have the same issue with my son, my daughter will eat everything but my son is very picky just on a normal basis but becomes extremely picky when we are backpacking. He likes Ramen but I can get over the MSG so I make my own Ramen, ABC noodles, non-MSG Chicken Bouillon in a sandwich bag and lots of Trader Joe’s Mac and Cheese. I bring all his comfort foods (that won’t go bad) as well. My last backpacking trip with my kids, my son refused to even eat his comfort foods and only wanted his noodle soup and mini-wheats. It was rather frustrating.

    • Hey Melissa, that’s tough nut to crack. I think you just have to keep experimenting to find what he’ll like. My daughter is similar, but we’ve found the things she will eat.