Hungry? 21 Go-To Family Bike Touring Foods

slurpees!Disclaimer: In general, food is a polarizing subject. Add bike touring, small town grocery options and it can get even more divisive.

I’m an omnivore. And so is my family. For those of you who don’t eat meat or processed food, just know I’m not trying to offend your food sensibilities. Same goes for those of you who can’t imagine bike touring without energy drinks, freeze-dried food and power bars. Sometimes we eat some pretty gross stuff on tours that we wouldn’t consider at home (gas station deviled eggs, 7-11 hot dogs and mystery meat burritos). If the mere idea of any of that makes you ill, you may just want to skip this post!

Kids and food

For all the parents out there: Do you agree that feeding the family is one of the most high maintenance tasks on your daily list? I like to cook but feeding a family day after day quickly turns into a chore.

A few years ago,  I was trying to figure out what to make for dinner one night when I remembered this site a friend had recommended (if you’re swear-averse, don’t click.) They said it was funny and that it would cure my dinner making blues. I ended up procrastinating for quite some time one afternoon clicking links and laughing. F-bombs and dinner resonated with me at that time in my life. It just didn’t get old.

In all seriousness, kids can be such a pain in the ass when it comes to food. They don’t {ahem} like that, or they say they like it but won’t eat it when the time comes. Or they won’t eat vegetables. Or they’ll eat only raw vegetables. Or they’ll only eat white food. The worst is when they tell you that the meal you just slaved over is gross. Ack! Help!

Add bike touring and meal planning gets more difficult

Grocery Store BBQ, YumYou think feeding two adults and two kids is hard at home? Try feeding them on a bike tour! Three times a day, for 22 days. After pedaling 50-60 miles a day, we all get hungry. And since we’re far from our favorite local organic grocery stores, we have to make do with small town stores that sometimes offend our high-brow-gourmet-food sensibilities.  We might even sink so low that we’ll {gasp} scrounge for anything remotely edible in nasty gas stations! But everyone must eat, so we roll with it.

If you’re interested in family bike touring and food, read on!

Food on the road

Way back in 2009, Kent Peterson wrote a post the dietary truths of long distance cyclists. The first time I read that post, I was long-distance-cycling ignorant. Yeah, I’d toured a bit. Weekend trips to the San Juans and one longer trip to New Zealand in the 1990′s. But even in New Zealand, daily saddle time was brief, and stores plentiful. I was never far away from the next food source.

Because of my long-distance-biking-naiveté, I’ll admit that I might have snickered about the lack of nutritional value in the food Kent described in that post. Candy bars and sugary energy drinks? Nasty! 7-11 hot dogs that roll around for hours on that spinny grill? Ewww. Who would eat that crap?

Well, as it turns out, I would. After a long day pedaling and sweating in 90 degree heat, one of those salty fatty 7-11 weenies tastes pretty good. Sugar? And candy bars? Give me more!

Day 1 lesson: leave your dogma at home

Ice Cream and Beef Jerky in LangloisThe real truth about nutrition on extended bike tours, when survival and making it to the next food source is your goal, dogma is quickly left on the side of the road.

I remembered that lesson this past summer, as each 50 mile day passed. I must admit, I thought of Kent every time I found myself in a remote gas station perusing the shelves for something to feed the family. Who cares about your values when the whole family is starving and the only available food source does more business in gas and lottery tickets than anything edible. After a sixty-five mile plus day in the saddle, I’ll eat pretty much anything. Candy bars, mystery meat and leathery crusty burritos? Questionable deviled eggs? Give me one of each. That sounds tasty.

Bike touring rules! We eat candy and drink coke before dinner!

This lesson sunk in on day two of our 22 day journey last summer. After a day pedaling in hot sun, sometimes you chuck the dogma and have a little sugar.

On that particular day, after pedaling sixty-eight miles starting in Oregon’s Willamette Valley on a hot July day, we learned not to be picky about food. We spent the day plodding up climb after hot climb and we emerged from the Nestucca River Valley around dinner time. We had planned to eat dinner and camp in Pacific City, OR. But the ride took longer than expected and our arrival time stretched beyond the dinner hour. With 8 miles to go, and an empty food pannier, we admitted a quick “food” stop was in order.

Even though the stop violated my no snacking before dinner rule, I gave in any way. The map showed a couple of towns between the valley and the coast, so we thought for sure we’d find an open store along the way. But as it goes, most of these small town stores were closed. You mean stores don’t stay open all night like they do in the big city? No, they don’t. We put all of our hopes in one last little town, and pushed forward, praying the store would still be open by the time we arrived. And we just made it, rolling up a few minutes before they closed.

One of the kids ran in with Tim while I stayed outside with the bikes. I wasn’t prepared for the scene that unfolded a few minutes later. A kid ran out, grinning from ear to ear and talking excitedly. Something along the lines of, “Dad bought candy bars! And Coke! and Dr Pepper, I can’t believe this is happening! I love bike touring“! Because when carb-averse dad buys and drinks a glug of coke, you know something weird is happening.

Carfreedays top 21 foods while bike touring

Pacific Coast Bike Tour Day 16Turns out, day 2 was just a blip on the 22 day journey. Before long we figured out how to better plan our meals. We figured out the foods everyone would eat and settled on a formula we could accept. Our touring routine included better meal planning in general: scoping out towns on the map that had grocery stores and always taking stock of what we needed before leaving a town with a real grocery store.

We also learned that small town stores can get expensive  Sometimes eating in a restaurant was cheaper than grocery shopping!

In general food had to fall within these general guidelines: lightweight, won’t spoil, minimal bulky packaging, and as fresh as possible.Pacific Coast Bike Tour Day 5

So here you go, the list of our favorite foods

  1. Beer: Bike tourists like beer at the end of the day. If we were touring by ourselves, without kids, we would probably just stop at a pub or bar for a beer at the end of the day. But pubs don’t always allow kids. So we settled for beers around the fire at the campsite. If we found groceries before heading to camp, we’d get at least one 24 oz bottle, maybe two to split between the two of us in front of the fire.
  2. Coffee: To keep our camping gear minimal, we skimped on cooking supplies. We left coffee-making supplies at home. Instead we settled for Starbucks Via packets. Easy, lightweight and don’t taste too bad.
  3. Beef Jerky: Tim and the boy like it the most, but I also think salty beef tastes good on a bike.
  4. Dark Chocolate: Tim lives on 85% to 90% chocolate, I prefer Milk but will eat dark if you twist my arm.
  5. Low-end gummy candy: Our kids are motivated by gummy candy. They’ll pedal a few more miles, or 10 if you give them a few gummy worms or sour cherries. On bike tours I say, what ever works, throw some of that junk in the cart.
  6. Macadamia Nuts: High fat nuts will get you to the next real meal, enough said.
  7. Smoked salmon: See # 2. the boy loves smoked salmon. Salty fish mmmm.
  8. Cheese: I’ve lived in France, I love cheese, the fattier the better. My family likes it too.
  9. Pistachios in the shell: Great on-bike snack.
  10. Dried cherries: See #5, just like candy.
  11. Big salads and crudites: Eat your veggies! You can make a meal out of a salad if you add enough stuff to it. Start with leafy greens and add canned beets, slivered almonds, canned tuna for any other fat and protein you like. Use your imagination  Yum. Our kids don’t like salad but will eat peppers, cucumbers and carrots for their veggie fix.
  12. Steak on the fire: If we’re lucky enough to find a good grocery right before heading to camp, we’d choose steaks every night. Most campgrounds have grills attached to the fire pits. I used to think these grills were kind of nasty. I couldn’t chase away unpleasant images of all of the various meat that has been cooked on these grills in the past. But I changed my mind the first time we went bike touring. Just get the fire really hot and heat the grill to sterilize it. Then find something in the campsite to substitute for a grill brush and go for it.
  13. Hard salami: No refrigeration needed, good on the bike and off.
  14. Annie’s Mac n Cheese: Occasional quick meal for the kids only, parents don’t ahem like it.
  15. Cocoa: Lure the kids out of the tent with promises of cocoa every morning.
  16. Heavy whipping cream: Fat is where it’s at! Sticks with you longer than carbs. Paired with Via, makes a tasty and calorie laden cup of morning coffee. Tim even drinks it straight out of the carton.
  17. Toaster pastries: For breakfast or an on-bike snack. Kids love them. Tim doesn’t eat them, but I do on occasion. Artificial sugar? Why not.
  18. Fudgecicles: Yum! You can find these at most gas stations and small town stores.
  19. Spinach/Roast Beef wraps: Tim skips the traditional wrap materials like tortillas and just wraps the roast beef up in a spinach leaf.
  20. Eggs and Bacon: Only on mornings when we made a food stop right before heading to a campground. Bacon smells are guaranteed to get the boy out of the tent.
  21. Hot Dogs: Julian introduced the kids to swirly dogs when he met us at Beverly Beach for a night and made some tasty dinner (ready when we arrived). He made us steaks, corn on the cob and swirly dogs. The kids demanded swirls with their dogs after that. btw, I actually never did eat a 7-11 hot dog. But I wouldn’t turn my nose up at one if I was hungry enough

IMAG0073One last tip: improvise a cooler with a Mylar reflective bubble wrap bag. Before we left, Tim grabbed one from our Amazon Fresh delivery and stuffed it in his pannier. It turns out, the bag fit perfectly in an Ortlib pannier. Paired with a bag of ice from the grocery store pop machine, it makes an instant cooler. Even keeps beer cold enough for a few miles.

If you’re looking for more gourmet food options, check out this post. That food looks tasty! I’m not sure I could keep up that level of perfection for an extended tour, but for a quick weekend trip, I’d definitely make some of those meals.

How about you? Have any yummy bike touring foods to suggest? Or anything that’s pretty gross, but you’ll eat it when you’re far from home? We’re always up for trying new things!

 -Anne

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10 responses to “Hungry? 21 Go-To Family Bike Touring Foods

  1. I loved this…although we don’t bike tour, Ron loves a 7-Eleven hot dog or two after when we pedal back to back centuries, myself 2 Taco Bell bean burriots..yum!

    • 7-11 hotdogs? Sure. I think I’d probably draw the line, at AM/PM hamburgers, but I think that just means I haven’t been that hungry yet. I won’t judge (says the guy who used to judge). Eat what you need to keep going! Just keep going!

  2. I’m getting the sense that bike touring could be challenging for vegetarians.

    • Actually, I don’t think it would be any more challenging than any other diet, other than the need to eat more often — which you generally have to do bike touring, anyway.

      I have two big road hurdles with my paleo/primalish diet — the lack of organic (or at least reduced nasty/non-factory) meat in small town grocery stores, and the need for refrigeration of the few things I do find worthy of bringing for another meal.

      To your advantage, I noticed a decent selection of fruits, vegetables, legumes, grains, etc at these same stores. And refrigeration (except for beer, of course) seems like it would be a non-issue.

      I’ve dabbled in periods of meat-free eating and planned a number of week+ climbing trips with little effort. Of course, I a pretty simple eater: Dried fruit, peanut butter, freeze-dried black beans, and torillas kept me going with no hassles. I don’t remember anything from the leafy-green family making those trips, but a fortunate perk of cycling over backpacking is that pretty much every town can provide the fixings for a gourmet salad! Throw some beans and nuts (and cheese if you are inclined) on a pile of greens, grab a favorite starch, and you’re good to go!

  3. This is perfect timing for me! We are attempting our first bike camping trip this weekend- Anacortes to Bayview State park and I was trying to come up with food ideas. It might not be PC but I would add a little Bourbon to the mix as well. A little warm up around the campfire! Have a good weekend!

    • Hi Charlotte — Awesome! Who cares about PC. We’re talking bourbon, here. I actually wished many times that I had a little flask of bourbon.That’s for sure going on the list for this year’s adventures.

      Have fun and let us know how the trip goes.

  4. I love bike touring for the fact you can eat tons and not gain weight. We still try and stay away from the fake sweetened drinks, but bring on the salty chips and chocolate milk!

  5. Excellent post!! We’ve eaten our share of 7-11 hot dogs and burritos in our time. Sometimes, it’s downright yummy.

    The great thing about bike touring is that you consume a lot of calories, so have free reign to eat however much you want. That said, we did find a definite correlation between the quality of food and our long-term energy. If we were eating a bunch of junk for days on end (it happened, with a total of four years of full-time bike touring) we were sluggish. Good food provided much more energy for the same amount of calories.

    Especially if you plan to be on the road for a long time, make sure most of your calories come from fresh nutritious foods, but add plenty of chocolate too!

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