8 Trail Meal Mix-Ins for More Protein, Calories, and Nutrients

I bet you would agree, few joys compare to a hot hearty meal after a long day on the trail. I’ve eaten a lot of trail meals in my life, so I try hard to make sure my nutritional needs are met and my stomach is full each time I crawl into my sleeping quilt.

Sometimes I leverage the convenience of pre-made freeze dried meals, sometimes I dehydrate my own at home, and sometimes I’m buying basics from convenience stores (ramen, rice, and mac ‘n cheese for weeks) while resupplying on a long route.

In all these cases I use the same collection of bulk ingredients, my trusty trail food mix-ins, to make my meals more tasty and nutritious.

If mixing meals at home I’ll add them to each serving in advance. Otherwise I carry a stash in ziplock baggies and mix into each meal along the way. All work well with a “just add hot water” style of rehydrating meals in a pot or bowl, no actual cooking needed.

I’ve chosen my top 5 must-haves (plus a few runner-ups) for this short and sweet post. For additional ideas see my longer post on making freeze dried meals more delicious and nutritious.

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Why Bother?

Why bother with these extras? Don’t we already have enough food to carry, and enough to fuss with at mealtime?

I’m a lazy cook, but this is about basic nutrition, not gourmet cuisine. Most pre-made dry meals are a bit too carb-heavy for my liking and don’t have enough protein for long-term nutritional needs on a challenging journey (my opinion). Their servings are a bit too small for my massive hiker / biker appetite, and they usually skimp on the veggies.

This post shares how I fix all that by adding more calories, specifically protein and fat, and a bit more nutritional variety.

Collection of dried ingredients on counter
Getting ready to mix up some trail meals by combining pre-made rice and chicken with some of my favorite mix-ins.

Powdered Cream

A super-versatile mix-in that works well in almost anything, powdered cream has a good calories-to-weight ratio (45 cal per 6 g) and makes any meal more filling. Mix into dinner for extra creaminess, oatmeal or eggs for more breakfast calories, and into instant coffee, obviously.

Tip: In my experience cream powder rehydrates best in cold water, so if using in hot coffee, mix separately and pour in to avoid chunks.

My favorite: Anthony’s Heavy Cream Powder (Amazon)

For a vegan alternative or just a change of taste, Coconut Milk Powder is also fantastic.

Baggie of cream powder and camping bowl outside

Textured Vegetable Protein

Protein is so important for maintaining strength on a long hike or bike trip, yet most easy trail meals don’t provide nearly enough. TVP, basically soy flour flakes, is a simple way to add more protein to dried meals.

TVP rehydrates quickly in hot water, taking on a soft texture and the flavor of whatever it’s added to. I mostly use it for dinner, though I suppose it could work in oatmeal too (not sure I’m brave enough to try it with eggs).

My favorite: Anthony’s Textured Vegetable Protein

Close up of textured vegetable protein in spoon

Egg Powder

I personally have mixed feelings about rehydrated eggs on the trail (weird texture) but that doesn’t stop me from mixing powdered egg into my dinners for extra protein (7g protein per 15g powder).

I think it goes especially well in noodle dishes like ramen and mac ‘n cheese. I don’t notice much taste, just some extra creaminess. You can also get powdered egg yolks or whites alone, if you prefer.

My favorite: Judee’s Dried Whole Eggs

Spoon full of egg powder over bag

Freeze Dried Veggie Mix

I like to think I’m getting more vitamins, minerals, and fiber out of my meals when I mix in extra veggies. I bought this 4 pound bag a few years ago and am still working through it.

While the mix is convenient, it can also be fun to use a few separate individual veggies for a sense of variety. For that I like the brands Mother Earth Products or Harmony House.

Spoonful of freeze fried vegetables over zip lock bag

Carnation Instant Breakfast

This is the newest addition to my backcountry menu, and I’ve been digging it. These packets aren’t as healthy as the rest of this list (they do have some sugar) but they’re packed with vitamins. I use them to flavor my morning oatmeal while adding calories and micronutrients.

They can also work well as liquid calories if you’re having trouble getting solids down, perhaps in the heat or when putting in a big effort. Shake them up in a water bottle and they’ll go down easily.

Bonus: mix in some dried cream powder (see above) for more calories.

Hand holding two packets of Carnation Instant Breakfast

Honorable Mentions

Beyond those five favorites, here are a few runner-ups I don’t carry as often anymore but still recommend for certain cases.

Peanut Butter Powder: Fat has been removed so it doesn’t add many calories, but it’s a good source of protein and very tasty in oatmeal or ramen. I prefer to carry real peanut butter instead these days.

Cheese Powder: I’d rather carry a block of real cheese for lunches (with tortillas) and melt a bit into my dinners. But if that’s not an option, cheese powder is the next best thing.

Whey protein powder: I use my favorite (Bulk Supplements’ Whey Protein Isolate) at home in blended smoothies, but on the trail it gets chunky when mixed into meals. Works well if you’re mixing up a breakfast shake in a bottle, and also mixes nicely into dried mashed potato powder.

Happy trails and bon appetit!

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Hi there, I’m Alissa, founder of Exploring Wild. I’ve traveled over 20,000 miles by bike and still can’t stop planning my next ride (and helping you plan yours). Pavement and panniers or singletrack and seat bag, I love it all. On my bike I feel free. Learn more about me here.

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    Hi there, I’m Alissa, founder of Exploring Wild. I’ve had the pleasure of hiking the Arizona Trail, Colorado Trail, John Muir Trail, Tahoe Rim Trail, and countless shorter amazing trails throughout the US and abroad. I love solitude, big views, and a good lightweight gear setup. Learn more here.

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    2 thoughts on “8 Trail Meal Mix-Ins for More Protein, Calories, and Nutrients”

    1. Love reading your e-mail .. I’ve been backpacking and being outdoors all my life, now I’m into bike camping. I’m not into long distance trips but your ideas are so interesting. I’m trying to combine all the above to enjoy life with as much comfort as I can……. I’m 80 and still hiking ,riding, and enjoying….

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