Living with food allergies and food sensitivities means eliminating many prepared meals and spending lots of time combing through ingredient lists for items such as gluten, dairy, soy, peanuts (legumes) and tree nuts. The same extends to dehydrated or freeze-dried meals, snacks and energy bars geared for those who want lightweight, nutrient- and calorie-dense foods geared toward athletes and backcountry enthusiasts.
Such was our experience this summer as we prepared for a 10-day backpacking trip. While most of our crew were able to eat any of the backpacking foods, including favorites like spaghetti, lasagna and beef stroganoff, a food-elimination diet forced my son, Jonah, to eat foods that were dairy- and gluten-free. Other crew members with allergies to tree nuts and peanuts made us look closely at ingredients to avoid a more serious anaphylactic reaction far from medical help.
But we found that eliminating allergens does not mean sacrificing taste. On the contrary, many of the crew members were begging Jonah for a sample of his food and wishing his entrees were theirs.
Mountain House is a leader in dehydrated meals and widely available in local stores and online, but few of their entrees are allergen-free. Even their Rice & Chicken entrée contains wheat and soy. And in searching their website, we found only three products that were gluten-free.
One gluten- and dairy-free Mountain House product that we did find was their Italian Style Pepper Steak with Rice and Tomatoes. We found the meal to be delicious with large chunks of meat, but at $11 the entrée is among the pricier in the company’s lineup.
Backpacker’s Pantry is another brand that is easy to find locally. Large symbols on the front of their packaging indicate certain allergens, preparation methods (boil in bag or cooking required) and vegan options. Pad Thai, Pad Thai Chicken and the Sweet and Sour Chicken and Rice entrees were among our favorites, although those with peanut allergies should avoid Pad Thai meals.
Minnesota-based Trailtopia is product line that we found through online-retailers Backcountry.com and Moosejaw.com. and they have become one of our new favorites. Their website features a filter where you can search only gluten-free meals. Check out the Cajun Smack Chicken, Ginger Chicken Stir Fry and four flavors of Gluten-Free Ramen Noodles.
It’s not just entrees that can contain allergens. Trail snacks, energy and protein bars can also contain many of these allergens.
Lärabar is an energy bar widely available in grocery stores. Made with a minimal amount of ingredients, all of their products are gluten-free and almost all are dairy-free, including ones made with chocolate. Their website features easy filters where you can search allergen-free, vegan and kosher options.
ProBar meal-replacement bars, available locally at REI, were another favorite for our entire crew, especially the Banana Nut Bread flavor. At 360-390 calories, these dense, gluten- and dairy-free bars provided a great start to our day.
Looking for a pick-me-up when your energy is running low? Check out the flavor-packed organic energy chews from Honey Stinger and ProBar. As hard our crew members tried, they could not get anyone to swap for these bits of trail gold.
And if you are looking for gluten-free snacks without having to pay the outfitter prices check out the Glutino snacks and cookies available at WalMart and other grocery stores. Their creme-filled chocolate cookies are great alternative to Oreos.