The anatomy of effective snacks: fuel, reward, and ritual

The better my selection of food on a hike the better the experience. On half-day hikes this may include a lunch, but typically my hikes are shorter (2 to 3 hours) so I’m planning snacks. When the snacks I bring aren’t just right, my daughter transforms from a happy explorer to a wicked witch-like creature sans flying monkeys. I’ve discovered balancing three food-selection strategies helps make effective snacks for hiking.

A drop in blood sugar levels, being hungry, not only reduces my preschoolers ability to keep chugging it also drives her mood into the dirt. Besides having high-energy foods, it is also helpful to have something that fills her tummy up. Because what my daughter “feels like” tends to drift day-after-day, I like having a diverse selection of foods in case something isn’t striking her fancy that particular day.

Favorite foods are a terrific motivator. There’s a lot of healthy sweets (dried mango is one of our top choices) that are perfect treats for making it to the next big rock, lake, summit, or just making it out there. It’s fun to prepare for hikes with my daughter, filling our backpacks with the rewards that we’ll enjoy together later on the trail. Because fun is our primary goal, we wind up reaching our milestones every hike and earn our rewards.

I like having one type of food that is our family’s special thing we do when we go hiking. For us, this is beef jerky. Beef jerky is perfect for the trail: you can eat it on the move, it has a salty quality to it that reminds you to hydrate, and it is packed full of protein. I’ve been preparing beef jerky at home for decades and recently solicited my daughter’s help with this. This makes for a nice bonding ritual both on the trail and off.

Sample snack list (short hike with no lunch)
Beef Jerky
Almonds / Pistachios
Dried Mango / Raisins
Chocolate Chips (dark chocolate)
Granola Bar
Crackers / Pretzels / Fishes
Dried Seaweed
Cheese Stick

My Homemade Beef Jerky

2 lbs Beef Boneless Top Round Roast
1 cup red wine
1/2 cup white wine vinegar
1/4 cup Worcestershire sauce
1/4 cup soy sauce
2 tablespoon brown sugar
1/2 tablespoon salt
2 teaspoon ground pepper
1/4 teaspoon thyme
2 bay leaves
1 teaspoon onion powder
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon paprika
Hickory chips

Slice meat 40 millimeters or desired thickness (the butcher slices this for me, although if you slightly freeze the meat you can slice it at home yourself). Combine meat and all ingredients except the hickory chips into a glass bowl. Cover and place in refrigerator for 12 to 36 hours, stirring about every 6 to 12 hours. Remove and rinse meat in cool water, place on paper towels to dry for 1 hour.

If smoking
Smoke (I use Mini Chief) with 2 batches of hickory chips for 4 to 12 hours. Time will vary based on smoking device setting, thickness of meat, and desired dryness.

If cooking in oven
Bake at 150 to 200 degrees on baking sheets covered with aluminium foil for 1 to 3 hours. Time will vary based on oven type, thickness of meat, and desired dryness.

2 lbs of meat makes far less beef jerky than an enthusiast might want. Be careful in sharing with friends and your preschooler – it goes quick!

This is part of a series of Hiking with Preschoolers.

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