Dehydrating and Lightweight Menus

By Cathy Cook

When you’re planning on a long trip, there is just no way to keep ice in your coolers to keep fresh food, fresh. Dehydrating can preserve food and rehydrate with excellent flavour and nutrition content, and it takes up a LOT less space! All meals should have proteins, carbohydrates and fats.

Drying food can be done in a regular oven, a home-made dryer, or a purchased dryer such as one made by American Harvest. If using a regular oven, meat should be dried at 145°, fruits at 140°, vegetables at 130°F. Set the temperature, leave the light on, and prop the door with a wooden spoon to allow the food to dehydrate and not just cook.

Drying times are affected by several factors: the type of dehydrator, the amount of food in the dehydrator, the size of the item being dried, even the humidity in the air. Check it regularly to either pliable or crackling doneness depending on the item.

For more info on drying, check out American Harvest’s information:

Three things to remember with dried food:

  1. You need to have fresh water to rehydrate it.
  2. If you eat a lot of dehydrated snacks, remember that your body will be rehydrating it – so drink lots and lots of water.
  3. It’s easy to keep snacking on a tasty dehydrated treat – don’t lose track of how much is actually in that little ziplock bag!


 Fruits and vegetables can be stored in plastic bags and don’t need refrigeration. Store dehydrated meats in the freezer until you pack for your trip. This is especially true of jerky, which can go rancid if left at room temperature too long.


 Cook/crumble hamburger, spread on paper towel in dehydrator (this absorbs the grease). Don’t add spices until the meat is rehydrated and used in the recipe.

 Beef (deer, moose, etc) jerky. Slice thinly across the grain (1/4 inch thick). Can be dehydrated by itself or marinated in your favourite marinade. Meat dries to ¼ its fresh weight and takes about 6 hours. When properly dried the strips should bend but not break. Good for snacks, or rehydrated for stir-frys, stroganoff, soups or stews.

Chicken: White meat doesn’t dehydrate as well as dark meat. Use boneless, skinless chicken thighs, cook, drain off fat, cut into chunks.


Breakfast suggestions

Pancakes and bacon

 Buttermilk pancake mix (just add water variety) Purchased “Ready-Bacon” Brown Sugar,  Maple flavouring.  Put desired amount of pancake mix in large ziplock bag. You’ll add water directly in the bag and won’t need to dirty a bowl at camp.  “Ready Bacon” can be put into a smaller ziplock, which is dropped into boiling water to heat.Put ½ cup brown sugar in small ziplock bag, add 1 tsp maple flavouring. To make syrup at camp, just add approximately 1/3 cup hot water, mix.  Put all bags into another large ziplock, label with instructions.

Super Scramble

½ kg Frozen hashbrowns (cubed variety); ¼ cup dehydrated onion ham; 1 cup  grated cheddar cheese (package as block, grate at camp). Dehydrate hashbrowns. Dice ham into ½” cubes and dehydrate.  Package ham in a small Ziploc, hashbrowns in large Ziploc.  The night before: add water to hash browns and ham, to cover. To cook: brown hashbrowns and ham. Salt & pepper, add cheese, stir in until melted.


Foil tuna pouches now come in a variety of flavoured oils and sauces. Great in pita or a wrap with Italian tomatoes, sliced cucumber, etc. (Long English Cucumber packs well and lasts for days without refrigeration)   Ready to serve pureed soups dehydrate very well, and rehydrate perfectly. (Campbells Gardennay have several good varieties). Rehydrate with enough water to cover, about 2 hours before lunch.    Salamis can last for days without refrigeration. Ask the deli to vacuum pack slices of your favourite type. Take along cheese with as low a fat content as possible (not cheddar, mozzarella, etc – they will go greasy in a few days). Crackers, salami and cheese with Italian tomatoes make a quick and nutritious lunch.


The sky’s the limit! Here are a couple of suggestions.


1 onion,  2 peppers,  8 boneless, skinless chicken thighs,  1 package Fajita spice mix,  Soft tortillas,  Salsa.

 Slice onion and peppers, dehydrate,  Cook chicken thighs, dice, dehydrate,  Spread salsa on solid tray, dehydrate.

 Add water at lunch time, everything will be ready to cook at dinner. Cook vegetables, add chicken (it’s already cooked so you just need to heat it). Add spices.

Italian dinner

Prepared spaghetti sauce (or make your own, meatless and chunkless)

 1 pound hamburger,  Fusili or Penne Pasta – not spaghetti as it’s difficult to strain without losing the small noodles!

 French baguette,  Butter,  Garlic powder.   Spread the spaghetti sauce on solid tray, dehydrate about 6 hours, peel off, put into small Ziploc.    Cook and crumble hamburger, spread on paper towel (to absorb grease), dehydrate.   Put into small Ziploc .

At lunchtime, add water to sauce and hamburger, separately – enough to cover . (You can add more water to the sauce as it heats).

 For French bread rounds: Slice baguette into ¾” slices, spread with butter, sprinkle with garlic powder. Toast, butter side down, in frying pan after the sauce has heated and pasta has cooked. Use the garlic toast to sop up any sauce in your bowl, it cuts down on the messy cleanup!

A bag of complete caesar salad goes well with or before this meal – just mix everything in the bag.

Super Soup

 This recipe makes a soup that is full of vitamins, carbs, fats and protein.

1/3 cup barley,  1/3 cup lentils,  1/3 cup instant potato powder, 2 beef bouillon cubes,  1 cup dried sliced vegetables (such as a tablespoon each of dried sliced,  mushrooms, onion, carrots, eggplant, turnips, cabbage, bell pepper, parsley), pinch of thyme and marjoram,  1/3 cup dry milk,  3 tablespoons butter or margarine. ¼ cup grated or cut cheese,  1 cup biscuit (i.e. Bisquick) mix.

 Put into one bag, everything except the milk, butter and optional cheese (pack them separately)  Put biscuit mix into a small Ziploc and label.


  1. Put the soup into a pot with 4 ½ cups water.  Bring to a boil, then simmer for ½ hours.
  2. During the last 5 minutes, stir in milk, butter and cheese.
  3. To make dumplings:  Add ¼ cup water to biscuit mix , mush it up in the bag.  Cut a 1” hole in the corner of the bag, drop dumplings the size of ping-pong balls into the soup, cover.  Simmer on low for 20 minutes.


Tropical Fruit Cocktail or Pizza Pineapple from Costco (2.84l can) yield 1 small ziplock each. Intense flavour from dehydrating makes this a favourite snack. 


Drain in colander, scoop onto dehydrator, dry from 8-10 hours. Fruit is done when still pliable.

Fresh fruit

Cut and pre-treat if you like, with “Fruit Fresh” or some other ascorbic acid – citric acid mixture, to preserve colour.


Dry whole or puree, strain seeds and spread to make “fruit leather”. Remove from dehydrator while still warm or it will stick! Any over-ripe fruit can be made into fruit leather. Wrap in plastic wrap to keep pliable.

Italian tomatoes

Slice tomatoes thinly, lay on dehydrator. Roma tomatoes work well for this as they aren’t full of water. Sprinkle with olive oil, seasoning salt, oregano or basil (or both). Dry for about 8 hours. These are good as a snack by themselves or in wraps for lunch.

Yogurt Drops

Drop your favourite yogurt by ¼ teaspoon onto plastic-wrapped tray. Dry at 120°F.

GORP (Good Old Raisins and Peanuts)

Chock full of protein, carbs and fat, these make a great snack that packs a punch.

  • 1 cup corn syrup
  • ¾ cup milk powder
  • ½ cup peanut butter
  • ½ cup wheat germ
  • ½ cup raising
  • 1 cup oatmeal
  • ½ cup crushed peanuts
  • ½ cup chocolate chips

Mix everything together. Take about 2 teaspoons out at a time, roll into “logs”, wrap in wax paper. Hint: It’s sticky. Cut 3” X 4” pieces of wax paper, use the paper to roll into a “candy wrapper” roll. Just twist the ends to close.


Bag salads of fresh greens require refrigeration so would need to be eaten in the first day or so while you still have ice in the cooler.

Carrot and raisin salad, or cole slaw, are good dehydrated choices and add vitamins and carbs to the meal … Peel and grate carrots, spread on solid tray, dry about 4 hours. 3 carrots makes about ½ cup dried.

Put into small bag with ¼ cup golden or dark raisins. Dehydrate already prepared cole slaw from a bag, or thinly slice your own cabbage and vegetables.

Each of these will take 20 to 30 minutes to rehydrate. Salad dressing for both: 1 teaspoon sugar, 1 teaspoon vinegar, 1 teaspoon oil, ¼ teaspoon salt.

Quick & Easy… and sources

I’m often asked about the pre-packaged meals you can get from outdoor stores. Have you looked at the sodium and preservative content? Not my choice. Dehydrating your own ensures healthy food, no preservatives, and the only sodium is the amount you choose to add. If you are looking for packaged meals, there’s a home-based group called Epicure, where you can get packaged soups, stews and chilis. Their home base is in Saanich, BC. They use all natural ingredients and no preservatives, and limit the amount of sodium.

The very best book I’ve found on the topic of dehydrating and light-weight meals, is “The Hungry Hiker’s Book of Good Cooking”. The Super Soup and Cole Slaw dressing shown in this article are from there. McHugh, Gretchen. The Hungry Hiker’s Book of Good Cooking. Toronto: Random House of Canada Limited, 1982.