Lillian Hoodes remembers the moment. It was nearly perfect.
The Boulder woman sat, in awe of the stunning beauty, in the midst of Wyoming’s Wind River Mountain Range that she’d just hiked. And then she brought the fork to her mouth. It nearly ruined everything.
“It was food that wasn’t even what I would eat in a commute in my car. It was the worst food I could imagine. If felt like it didn’t even count as food,” Hoodes says.
It was one of those dehydrated camping meals. You know, just add water to a packet of mystery and somehow that was supposed be chicken and mashed potatoes.
This couldn’t be the only way to eat while camping, she thought. There had to be a tastier, healthier way.
“It was so strange to me,” Hoodes says. “I’m a nutrition geek, and I enjoy cooking. There’s a ceremony about food for me.”
For her, food was an important part of a celebration, and this was a vacation worth celebrating. But the paleo meals she usually ate weren’t backpack-friendly; they were impractical, too heavy or needed refrigerating.
The disgusting freeze-dried chicken she ate that day didn’t fuel her health or taste buds, but it did fuel her thoughts.
“I started extensively googling and used prior knowledge and came up with stuff that I could make at home and pack that would be lightweight and easy to cook, but more of an experience. Something delightful and not disgusting,” Hoodes says.
For her next camping trip, she started experimenting in the kitchen and came up with a lightweight, packable Thai coconut beef soup with rice noodles. It worked.
And it ended up being the beginning of TrailFork, a company she launched in Boulder in 2017.
TrailFork makes travel-friendly, sustainably-sourced, dehydrated meals that come in 100 percent biodegradable packaging. It creates custom meal kits based on your dietary needs, size and length of camping trip, or you can pick from pre-made breakfast and lunch/dinner options that include gluten-free, vegan and vegetarian fare.
You can buy TrailFork meals (for typically around $8-$11 each) online or in 60 retail locations across the country. In Boulder, you can get them at Neptune Mountaineering, REI, Savory Spice and Wonder Press.
Hoodes’ favorite meal is the pizza casserole. The top seller is the Unwrapped Burrito, which is like a burrito bowl. Reviewers have said it’s tasty enough that you’d want to eat it off the trail, too.
Creative breakfasts include apricot almond couscous, peanut butter banana oats and even “paleoats” for paleo eaters like Hoodes. While pizza is popular, if you’re looking for a healthier option, there’s Loaded Veggie Hummus (with zucchini, peppers and broccoli, along with veggie “chicken” for more protein). Add boiling water and toss it in a pita.
Having enough protein and healthy fat, not just carbs like many other camping-style meals, is important to fueling your activity, Hoodes says. The other macronutrients will help keep your energy steady and sustained. Plus, food can help stoke your metabolic fire and keep you warm if temps drop.
She recalls one time she tried to climb the Grand Tetons but didn’t pack enough food. She had to bail because her blood sugar dropped, causing her to make a foolish rappelling move, she says.
“I learn the hard way, you can crash really easily. It can be dangerous if you’re not carrying enough food in the middle of nowhere, and your judgment and thinking is muddled,” Hoodes says. “It’s super important, in terms of safety, to eat enough.”
As TrailFork says, it aims to solve a pain point that many outdoor enthusiasts face: “The food I eat while backpacking and exploring the outdoors isn’t good for me, and it’s not good for the planet.”
Looking for other ways to eat healthy while camping and hiking?
Stay hydrated. Make sure you drink more water than usual. To keep water cold, freeze a few smaller bottles before you leave and enjoy them as they thaw. Bring some drink mixes with electrolytes, too.
Keep it simple. Fruits, veggies and nuts are healthy and easy to pack. Dehydrated fruit contains more calories in a smaller package.
Healthy, single-use nut butters can provide some protein and healthy fat, which digest slower. Justin’s Nut Butters are made in Boulder.
Bring oatmeal packs for breakfast. Mix in raisins, nuts, apple slices, you name it.
Check the dried foods aisle at the grocery store for healthy, just-add-water options, rather than only shopping sports stores. You can find dehydrated soups, lentils, noodles, rice, dried veggies, beans and spices to mix and match for a healthy, cheap meal.
Tuna or salmon in to-go packages instead of cans are be a protein boost that won’t go bad without refrigeration. Jerky is obvious, and there’s a wide selection of options depending on the flavor, amount of sodium and meat and cuts you want.
Protein powder and protein bars can also help fill you up and make sure you get enough fuel for your trek.
Pack more than you think you’ll need. Better to have a little more than not enough.