I like to eat. This mostly has to do with my active lifestyle; I burn calories fast when I’m running, climbing, or paddling. Because I’m on the go constantly, I have to pack healthy food to avoid eating convenience-store crap or restaurant food. The problem is keeping the food cold and yummy while I’m working or playing.
Sometimes my stash is left waiting in the car, sitting in a boat, or at the base of a climb. In 100°+ heat, that’s brutal. Add the fact that my gear gets knocked around, tipped over, and sometimes takes a swim and you have a challenge! No Styrofoam coolers here. Not even the cheap red and white ones…you know… Nope, I need a cooler and container combination that’s both rugged and organized.
Finding the Right Storage System
My first step was purchasing a “lunch box” set of stacking containers. This included blue ice packs that nest with the boxes. This way there is no wasted space.
Next I needed to keep all of my newly organized food cool. I’m sorry, but I refuse to eat PB&J all summer to avoid food poisoning! I want real, nutritious, meals – to go.
Enter my new best friend, a Stanley cooler. Seriously, I thought all coolers were pretty much the same, either disposable, or featuring marginal latches, and a lousy seal. All this time I’ve assumed that they would pop open if dropped and had to be stowed in the shade. When I pulled the 16-quart Stanley Adventure Cooler out of the box and opened the lid, the first thing I noticed was the gasket seal and solidly locking hinges. This cooler, plus the containers, form the core of my food-on-the-go system.
Planning Your Menu
Once you have the tools you need, it’s time to plan some healthy meals. Things to consider are:
Durability – Can the food be jostled around and not be a pile of mush? This is why I choose hardy salads, thin soups, sandwiches, and firm snacks for my menus.
Ease of Preparation – For the most part, I pack food in the container it will be eaten from. With soups, I reheat them using a small backpacking stove and Stanley camp cook set then serve it in the nesting mugs rather than bowls that require more room, a spoon, and dexterity (which can be questionable when I’ve been climbing). Because thick soups and stews can scorch, I’ve found packing thin soups works better. Of course you could simply be diligent about stirring…I’m not.
Healthy – When you demand a lot from your body, you must fuel it well. What does this mean? For me it means choosing clean foods that offer the most nutrition per calorie. I also need to keep my energy high without a crash. To meet this goal, I opt for complex carbs like whole grains and vegetables and skip candy, chips or sugary drinks.
Here are examples that pack well:
Salads – Spicy bean and vegetable salad (recipe below), broccoli slaw, mixed veggie salad with dried fruit and nuts, curried chicken salad, hummus and roasted veggie wraps.
Soups – Spicy cilantro-lime broth, miso veggie, Mexican bean. Usually these pair with something else to create a full meal.
Sandwiches – Smoked turkey with avocado, micro-greens, and Dijonnaise on Ezekiel bread; hummus, arugula and marinated roasted peppers on Ezekiel bread; grilled chicken, cucumbers, tomatoes, greens and tzatziki sauce in a whole-wheat wrap.
Drinks – I mostly drink water when I’m active, but sometimes I want more flavor, or need some electrolytes. One of my favorite things to pack is lemon water, if I’m feeling indulgent, I’ll add sliced strawberries as well, yum! If I’m active for hours, I’ll grab a sports drink and cut it half and half with water. You can also make your own natural sports drink.
So what is my next adventure? Next month I’m paddling the San Juan Islands. I’m super excited about seeing this spectacular part of the country! Until then I’ll keep running, climbing, and hiking with my cooler of yummy food and drinks close-by.
Quick and Healthy Vegetable Bean Salad
This versatile salad takes just 20 minutes to prepare and travels well in my cooler. An added bonus, it’s vegan and high-protein (20 grams per serving) plus it has a lot of vitamin and iron. It tastes even better as it sits, so it only gets better throughout the day. This recipe is one of my most popular meal creations, enjoy!
- 1 (15 oz) can black beans, drained well
- 1 (15 oz) can garbanzo beans, drained well
- 1 (15 oz) can cannellini beans, drained well
- 1 cup shelled edamame or a (15 oz) can beans of your choice, drained well
- 1 bunch green onions, chopped
- 1 Tbsp finely chopped fresh jalapeño (adjust to your taste)
- 1 red or yellow bell pepper, chopped bite-size
- 1 cup bite-size chopped broccoli or cauliflower
- 1 cup bite-size chopped raw green beans
- 2 cloves garlic, chopped or crushed
- Juice of 1/2 to a whole lime (depending on your taste)
- 2 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
- 2 Tbsp balsamic vinegar
- 1/4 cup Braggs Amino Acids or substitute low-sodium soy sauce (Braggs tastes better, you can find it at a health-food store.)
- 1/2 tsp chili powder (the seasoning blend, not ground chili pepper)
- 1/2 tsp smoked paprika (optional)
- 1 tsp sea salt or to taste
- In a large bowl, combine all ingredients and stir well
- Serve over crisp salad greens or eat alone
Nice additions: Preserved mayer lemon (so yummy!), chopped cilantro, chopped celery, and diced tomato. Have fun adding any other vegetable, pickle, or bean you like…this salad is ultra versatile!
Serving size: 1.5 cups Calories: 283 Fat: 7 g Protein: 20 g Carbohydrates: 36 g Fiber: 12 g
All of the specs and details for my Stanley cooler and camp cook set can be found on REI’s website.