Summertime. It is the traditional season for vacations, and more people appear to be getting back to the great outdoors. Forbes magazine recently reported a significant uptick in people seeking wilderness escapes,  especially for millennials who appear to be hiking, camping and exploring nature in droves to fill up their “experience tank”. This reconnection with nature may have many positive effects on well-being, allowing a rescue from the typical stressors of life and the permission to disengage from all things digital.

Opportunities for mindfulness are available, so that both body and soul can slow down and focus, rather than be in constant hyperdrive from multi-tasking.

Another beneficial aspect of visiting the wilderness? Cooking is typically performed in a new way…or perhaps a better phrase is “in an old way.” Whether backpacking, campfire camping or staying in an “off-the-grid” cabin, cooking in these settings often affects meal preparation and food choices. The obvious perks? There is no wondering if restaurants will have vegan options, nor paying inflated prices for sub-par food, because, well, creating the dining experience rests entirely on the individual.

Think like Henry David Thoreau…simplify, simplify, simplify! Mumble this mantra when preparing for such a trip and specifically when organizing meals. Menu planning is a major key to the success of a pleasurable eating experience when cooking in “the great outdoors.”

A person won’t (or sure shouldn’t) have access to a food processor or high-speed blender, so choose dishes that are easily prepared with a simple cutting board and knife and cooking pans that can be used on a campfire grill grate, a portable gas grill, or on top of a woodstove. Pack a “camp kitchen,” which can be as simple as a plastic tub or box that holds all the essential kitchen equipment. Opt for meals that are filling, since higher-energy activities are often undertaken, such as hiking, mountain biking, and swimming. Finally, the majority of the foods that make up the meals should be portable and not require a freezer. Think simple, yet hearty. Satiating but not stressful to prepare.

Just like in the vegan pantry at home, stock basic essentials when packing your “outdoor” food: canned beans, bags of oatmeal and brown rice, boxes of pasta and seed crackers, along with jars of tomato sauce and pickled veggies. Soy curls and shelf-stable tofu are nice entrée staples. A menu list with daily meals is essential to keep organized and makes shopping for groceries efficient. Keep this list on hand for future excursions to avoid “reinventing the wheel” (or the “meals” in this matter). Consider preparing dishes that use less perishable vegetables, such as sweet potatoes, carrots, beets, red cabbage, squashes, peppers, corn, and avocados. Dried fruits, along with nuts and seeds, are also wonderful for adding taste and texture variety, while doing double-duty as snacks for hiking. Plant-based milks are nice to have on hand, and many brands can be easily stored outside the fridge until opened. Prepare in advance containers of hummus, seed butters and nut butters for quick energy sources that can be slathered on tortillas or bread when a quick bite is needed.

Spices are your friend in all matters of cooking, but they are essential for the yumminess factor to heighten food au naturel. Think basil, chili powder, cumin, oregano, paprika, and turmeric along with spice blends such as Italian Seasoning, Za’atar and garam masala. Olives, diced green chilies, roasted red peppers along with Dijon mustard and favorite vinegars can be used in varied combinations to create tasty dishes, spreads and salad dressings. Don’t forget cinnamon and ginger to go with that turmeric in the morning when topping a bowl of oats or wheat berries. Two sweeteners to pack in small quantities are molasses and maple syrup, since they work well in main dishes, salad dressings, breakfasts, and desserts.

Finally, use this time of “outdoor” cooking and eating in mindful ways. Cutting veggies by hand is therapeutic. Enlist the help of others to enjoy social camaraderie while stirring chili or flipping vegetable shish kabobs on the grill. Relax and eat slowly when consuming the “veggies of labor”. Even the act of washing and drying the dishes can be pleasurable in this setting. Feel free to reminisce about the day or look forward to tomorrow’s next adventure. More importantly, just be in the moment. Remember, it is a vacation…so don’t hurry a thing. Because the simplified days of summertime will soon be vacation memories.

Chris Kalinich has her B.S. in Education and is a Main Street Vegan Academy Vegan Lifestyle Coach and Educator, a vegan culinary instructor, and a board member of Healthy World Sedona. As the owner of Plant 2 Platter, she provides personalized cooking classes in a health-focused, boutique-style format that allows her students to discover the joy of whole food, plant-based cooking. She provides presentations and cooking demos in her local community and enjoys teaching and motivating others on FacebookYouTube & Instagram. Chris is a wife, mom and vegan outdoor enthusiast who loves living in two beautiful locations: Sedona, Arizona and Santa Barbara, California. Every summer, she and her husband escape to their off-the-grid cabin in southwestern Colorado.


  1. Veronica Stephens

    Chris – i so enjoyed this and while i
    Am not camper by nature your enthusiasm and suggestions for “off the grid” yuminess is enough to make me consider a trip to the woods!
    Even if i don’t spend the night in the wilderness i might just whip up one of your meal suggestions and have a picnic in the woods!!
    Great article
    Loved it

    1. Yes, I so enjoy escaping reality for a while. I actually am consciously trying to incorporate more simplicity into my every day life. Simple is SO good! Thanks for the comment, Carol!

    1. Susan, I admit I didn’t start out liking this type of living. Now I absolutely love it. After 15 years of touching nature in this way, I am a changed gal. Thanks for commenting. Much appreciated.

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