I am still relatively new to the world of camping (and to the world of type 1 diabetes) and am always learning more. Every camping trip I've taken has been very therapeutic and I am falling in love with it. My diabetes management is often easier while camping, likely due to the calm environment. I actually needed less insulin on the trip compared to being home. Without the stresses of daily life, constant stimulation and flow of information from technology, the body and mind are allowed to slow down and view life from a different, more simple perspective. The serenity of the water, greenery, and wildlife sounds and sightings do wonders for taking my mind off of worrying about my diabetes. It is so empowering to experience adventures like these - surviving, no, thriving without having all of the comforts of home. I always return refreshed, renewed, and even more grateful for this beautiful life we get to experience.
If you plan your average day around your eating because of specific dietary preferences and needs like me, food prep for camping can seem overwhelming or even impossible. Fear not - there are plenty of strategies and food options to pack and bring into the wilderness with you! I recently spent 5 nights up in the beautiful Boundary Waters in northern Minnesota and brought food for low-carb, vegetarian and even some vegan and gluten-free meals and snacks. I wanted to write this post to encourage others not to let their dietary needs hold them back from camping adventures! The best advice I can give is to know how long you'll be gone so you can plan and account for each meal (and a couple extra just in case).
Freeze-dried food is among the most commonly consumed camping food because it is lightweight, compact, and usually just needs added bowling water and a utensil to eat. Fortunately, there are some good options out there for the vegetarian or vegan such as Good To-Go or Backpacker's Pantry. Unfortunately, there is often a pretty heavy carb load in these products which can be a little more challenging to manage diabetes while camping. I tend to be a little more conservative with my carbohydrate intake and stick to whole grain, complex carbs, rather than any refined or simple sugars that do a great job of spiking my blood sugar. I am also more conservative than normal with my insulin dosing while camping to reduce my risk of hypoglycemia. And thank goodness for my Dexcom sensor that tests my blood every 5 minutes and can alert me when my blood sugar is too high or too low!
We are fortunate to own a vacuum sealer for food and also brought a cooler along to store my insulin and a handful of vacuum sealed meals. Those two factors really positively affected the types of food I could bring. If you don't own one already, I recommend investing in a vacuum sealer. We have this one, and use it every time we camp. They can also be used regularly to extend the life of a food product. You'll see below that I vacuum sealed some quinoa, veggies, and beans for some meals, as well as my lunches.
We brought along a big stock pot to cook our group dinners in and as mentioned above, had a cooler (an insulated pack or bag would work too). We have a Jetboil that we used to boil water for coffee or tea and for our smaller, personal meals. Below I listed the the food I brought a long as well as some tips and ideas to add to your next camping trip! Please feel free to contact me with any additional questions.
I ate oats each morning for breakfast. I like to buy the organic, thick rolled oats from the bulk section at the store. I measured out a 1/2 cup serving of oats for each day and put it in individual bags. I also made toppings bags; 1 tablespoon each of ground flax and chia seeds, and cinnamon, of course. You could also add some slivered almonds to the toppings bag for a crunch or add a little peanut butter after making at camp. To make, boil 1 cup of water per 1/2 cup of oats, stir, then add your toppings!
You could also bring eggs to fry or scramble at camp. You could buy a container like this to prevent an egg-cracking disaster. If you have a cooler, you could bring a few hard boiled eggs from home as well!
For lunch every day, I enjoyed one of my favorite simple meals that I eat at home as well. Spaghetti squash noodles with lentils and pesto! It is vegan, gluten free and dairy free! It only contains about 30 grams of carbs per serving, but is packed with nutrients, good protein, and fiber. I pre-made this and vacuum sealed separate servings. It was an easy thing to grab and throw in my backpack for day trips while camping!
Each serving contained:
1/2 of a spaghetti squash
1/2 cup cooked lentils
spoonful of pesto
How to bake a spaghetti squash:
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Cut your spaghetti squash in half lengthwise. Scrape out all of the seeds and slimy stuff. Drizzle about 2 tablespoons of olive oil and sprinkle some salt on the inside of your squash. Place cut side down on an aluminum foil lined 9x12 pan. I like to also cover my pan with aluminum foil so the oil doesn't splatter in the oven. Bake for 45-60 minutes. You're looking for a golden brown and an easily forkable inside :-).
When we camp with a group, we divide up the dinners to take turns preparing the meals. This is where the big stock pot comes in handy. Although this is a wonderful idea and promotes camp community, the food being prepared may not fit always fit my dietary needs (something many of us are used to managing at home). I bring a few extra back-up meals and sides to make those scenarios go as smoothly as possible. I brought a few servings of vacuum sealed, pre-cooked quinoa and black beans, and a few pre-cooked veggie burgers. My sister-in-law brought some veggies and skewers to make kabobs over the fire, which I thought was brilliant!
For the group dinner my husband and I were responsible for, we made a big pot of one of our favorite quinoa dishes. It is full of flavor and your camp mates won't even realize it's vegan! We prepared the ingredients at home and vacuum sealed them as shown above. This is a simplified version of my Garam Masala Quinoa Bowl recipe you can find here!
Ingredients (for about 8 servings):
2 tablespoons of olive oil
2 1/2 cups cooked quinoa
3 cans of black beans
3 bell peppers, chopped
1 large onion, chopped
1 bundle of cilantro, chopped
jar of red salsa*
jar of salsa verde (green salsa)*
1-2 tablespoons of garam masala**
*We poured the salsa out of the jar and vacuum sealed it. We then froze it to serve as flat ice packs in the cooler!
**Garam Masala is a blend of ground spices common in India, Pakistan, and other South Asian cuisines. You shouldn't have a problem finding it in the spice aisle at your grocery store.
Heat your stock pot and then add the olive oil. Sautée the onions for 4-5 minutes and then add the peppers for another 4-5 minutes while stirring occasionally.
Add the quinoa and beans and stir. Pour in the salsas, squeeze in all of the juice from the lime, and add the cilantro and garam masala. That's it - enjoy!
A few other examples of group dinners we've shared are vegetarian chili, tacos (I made a great taco salad with freshly-caught and grilled fish!), macaroni and cheese, spaghetti, rice and beans, brats, and veggie burgers.
Snacks and Other
Don't forget about snacks!! My favorite thing to snack on while camping is nuts. Just a small handful is filling, contains protein and fiber and several vitamins and minerals, and is low on the glycemic index. Check out my recipe for Spicy Trail Nuts here! Other snacks I brought include veggies and hummus, hard boiled eggs, cheese, peanut butter, and vacuumed sealed servings of pre-cooked edamame. I've thought about bringing popcorn kernels to pop over the fire, but haven't tried that yet.
We bring a bottle of Sriracha every year and also find it easy to pack seasonings to give camp food a little extra flavor!
For my fellow diabetics, we know there is a additional list anytime a trip is involved. Below is my camping list for diabetes supplies:
Insulin (I estimate how much I'll need based on the food I pack + extra)
Blood Sugar Testing Supplies (I love my One Drop!!)
Dexcom Receiver and extra Sensor*
Sharps Container (I usually use an empty water bottle while camping)
Backup Sugar (I love these, and also bring glucose tabs and juice boxes)
Any Pump Supplies (I don't wear one so I'm no help in that category!)
Medical Alert Bracelet
*I brought a portable battery charger like this one to charge my Dexcom receiver. Don't forget the cord as well!
It is also easy to be active while camping which always helps with my diabetes management. You're on your feet a lot cleaning up camp, filling the water filters, hiking, paddling in the canoe, looking for fire wood, etc. Please feel free to contact me with any additional questions of how I managed my diabetes in the wilderness!
I am forever grateful for my husband for teaching me to camp, canoe, and cliff jump, among countless other life lessons.