Trail Kitchen: No-Mess Meals

Scrape, scrape, scrape. . . That’s normally how the end of any freeze-dried dinner went for me, my spork scratching the inside of my aluminum mug, desperately trying to remove the caked bits of my meal so that my hot chocolate or tea would not taste of chicken, beef, or vegetables. All in vain, too. Until a little trial, error, and to be honest, laziness, helped me realize a simple fix: freezer Ziploc bags.

 

Delicious! But clean up was no fun. . .

|| How I Used to Package Freeze-Dried Dinners ||

Since I started packaging my own freeze-dried dinners for the John Muir Trail back in 2017, my father had me hooked on vacuum sealing my dinners and breakfasts with a FoodSaver vacuum sealer. The meals packed down small, minimized volume in my pack, and never went bad. The vacuum sealer was expensive, and so were the vacuum sealer bags, but I was willing to eat the cost in hopes of making meals that I could store for years at a time, which I was able to do.

 

When it was time to gear up for the trail, I’d dig into my stash of freeze-dried meals, grab, and go. Come dinner time on the trail, I’d light my stove, boil up some water, and dump the contents of my meal into my mug, ready to be rehydrated. YUM! But the clean up was always the worst part, not necessarily for me (I always felt scraping my mug for the last morsels of food was an adventure), but rather, for my campmates, who had to listen to me scraping away for minutes after their meals were happily in their stomachs.

|| An Accidental Surprise: The Freezer Ziploc Bag ||

I will preface this by saying that what I am about to share is no groundbreaking discovery in any way, shape or form. I admit, it’s very simple, but nonetheless I am still excited to share it because it changed my world.

During a recent round of freeze-dried meal prep, I was away from my typical FoodSaver vacuum sealer, without my normal “tool.” I had to improvise. Instead of my normal vacuum sealed packages, all I had were Ziploc bags, both freezer-grade and non-freezer grade (made with a thinner membrane). At first, they seemed like second-tier options to my normal choice, but it was the best I had, so I went ahead and decided to test out an idea I had:

“Would a freezer grade Ziploc bag be able to hold boiling water? What about a non-freezer grade bag? Would they leak? Deform? What about the plastic? Would the chemicals seep into my food?”

First, I set out to test my newfound hypotheses, and the results were easy. I turned on my stove at home, boiled up a pot of water, and dumped the scalding contents into two bags: one freezer grade, another non-freezer grade. The results were quick:

  • The freezer grade bag held the water perfectly well. Sure, the bag was hot, but no leaking or melting.
  • The non-freezer bag did not fare as well. There were small leaks that developed in the bottom of the bag, particularly near the corners.
Rehydrating my meal in a freezer-grade Ziploc bag.

Second, I began to scour the internet, searching for if people had tried these before. And they had, to no surprise of mine, with the same results: the freezer-grade bags worked well for holding hot water. In my research I also found another promising result: that the freezer-grade Ziploc bags were “food-grade”, meaning that the plastic would not leak its chemicals into my food if exposed to boiling water.

 

Freeze-dried chicken with rice and refried beans, ziploc version. This one was packaged in a non-freezer grade bag, which I transferred to a previously used freezer-grade bag.

I HAD to try this out in the field. After all my experimenting, I loaded up some freeze-dried dinners and breakfasts into freezer-grade Ziploc bags and hit the trail, but this time, I was determined to have no mess, no clean up. Instead of dumping my food OUT of the bags during meals, I would leave the food in the Ziploc bags and rehydrate the meals INSIDE the bags. I would use my mug as a container, so that I was not just holding a Ziploc bag (which I have now become totally okay with), and eat as normal.

My meal rehydrating in my mug.

|| The Results ||

Easy, no-mess meal. Delicious. What more could I ask for? I was extremely pleased with my “field test.” For a week I tried the Ziploc bag version of my freeze-dried meals: none of the Ziploc bags broke in transit or in my pack; not once did any of the bags leak when rehydrating with boiling water; no scraping at the end of any meals; the food morsels did not stick to the bag at the end of the meal, allowing me to get every last crumb.

 

No mess. I’ll take that any day.

I’m sold. No more expensive vacuum sealing for me. I’ll take less clean up over longer shelf-life for now on. What about you? Comment with your thoughts, ideas, or experience with either messy meal clean up, or how you make your own no-clean up trail meals.

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