We went camping! We've been nervous about maintaining a low sodium diet while camping so this was a major milestone. With my husband's Meniere's Disease, it's important to keep sodium levels consistent with every meal and avoid any peaks and valleys. His sodium restricted diet isn't the kind that allows him to let loose for a few days (or even a single meal) and make up for it later. That makes meals away from home tricky. If you have a big car with room for a cooler and a lot of time to plan out meals, it wouldn't be so bad. But we've stubbornly held off on getting a bigger car after having kids and we're still driving around in my 2010 Prius. Between the tent and other necessary supplies, there was absolutely no space left for a cooler. So we dehydrated meals and got creative about shelf-stable, low sodium foods.
It’s a lot of work, I won’t lie. I probably spent two weeks cooking and planning for a 4-day camping trip and I’m still unpacking things weeks later. But this trip was a gentle reminder that we can still get out and do the things we love, even with Meniere’s Disease. For now at least!
Read on for ideas, tips, and recipes for low sodium camping.
1) Freeze meals for the first day/night
We had about a 4 hour drive to our campsite so for the first day, I had to plan for lunch on the road (low sodium peanut butter and jelly sandwiches) and a very easy dinner (low sodium calzones) at the campsite.
For the PBJ sandwiches, I opted to use a loaf of my low sodium crusty boule bread rather than my low sodium sandwich bread because it's heartier and won't get as soggy as the sandwich bread. Obviously sandwich bread would work fine, also. Make the loaf the night before, and prepare and pack the sandwiches in the morning before leaving.
Here I am preparing PBJ sandwiches in the morning, and then eating them at a park where we stopped to eat lunch.
We got to the campsite around 4 pm and had to set up the tent before sunset so had
calzones for dinner. I made them a few days before our trip with a little cheese, vegetables, and low sodium sausage, wrapped them in foil and froze them. We packed them in the morning before leaving and by the time dinner rolled around, they were defrosted but still cold. I warmed them up on our cast iron skillet over the propane stove. You could do this with any cooked meat--freeze it and let it defrost throughout the day so it's ready to eat by dinner at the campsite--but I like that the calzone is a meal in itself. You can even use the foil it's wrapped in as a dish and avoid having to do any dishes your first night.
2) Dehydrate meals
Dehydrating our meals saved a ton of car space, and also made for really delicious hot meals that required very little cooking at the campsite. We made two different meals--a ground beef pasta and a chicken and rice dish. It's a bit of work on the front end because you basically cook the whole meal and then dehydrate it. But once you're out camping, rehydrating is as easy as adding water and boiling/simmering to rehydrate. I'm excited for these meals because they open the door to more adventurous backcountry camping one day! Find the full recipes here.
We also brought low sodium beef jerky and dehydrated bacon bits that I made about a week before we left. My beef jerky recipe is here. For the bacon, I used the recipe from Ultralowsodium.com but modified it as follows: 1 pound sliced pork belly, 2 tablespoon liquid smoke, 2 tablespoon maple syrup, 1 teaspoon each of onion powder, garlic powder, and paprika. Then black pepper to taste. Cook accordingly to the original recipe then cut it into bits, and put the cooked bacon bits in the dehydrator. Bacon is a little tough to dehydrate because there's so much fat. The best you can do is get it so that it's dry, but still a little bit oily. If the weather is mild and it won't be sitting in the sun, it should keep without refrigeration for at least 3 days.
Finally, this isn't exactly a dehydrated meal, but we made our own low-sodium "instant" pancakes by modifying my pancake recipe so that we only needed to add oil and water once we got to the campsite. Here's the recipe:
1 cup all purpose flour
2 teaspoons Hain's salt-free baking powder (4 teaspoons if using Ener-G)
2 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon ground flax seeds
1 tablespoon powdered milk
Mix all the ingredients together and store in a ziplock bag. At the campsite, add 2 tablespoons oil, 3/4 cup of water, and 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract (optional). Let the batter sit for 10 minutes and then cook on pan or griddle. Remember to bring a bowl to mix the batter, and measuring spoons for the oil and water! This was a hit with the kids. Pancakes are already a "special treat," but eating pancakes outside is even better. For the original recipe, go here.
2) Bring lots of shelf-stable snacks
We brought enough snacks to fill us up for the entire trip, just in case we couldn't cook. Lundberg rice cakes have 0 sodium, and make good toast substitutes. The cinnamon sugar ones are great with peanut butter, and the plain brown rice are really good with avocados and everything bagel seasoning (minus the salt). You could throw some canned tuna or bacon bits on top of the avocado, too. Low sodium beef jerky is a must for me. Unsalted Kettle chips are our favorite so we packed THREE bags. Not very space efficient but we love these chips. I also made and froze some low sodium pumpkin muffins to bring along. They are good for about two days and after that they can get a little sad. Unsalted nuts and dried fruit are a great idea. A variety of canned tuna is always a good quick low sodium meal. And don't forget fruits and vegetables that don't need to be refrigerated for a couple days: oranges, bananas, avocados, apples, lemons or limes, onions . . . you'll need to consider the weather but these are some options.
3) Bring shelf-stable spices and sauces
We brought lots of dried herbs and spices and whatever sauces we could to boost the
flavor in our food. My favorites: dried red pepper flakes, dried oregano, dried minced garlic, Lawry's seasoned pepper (I LOVE this stuff), everything bagel mix without the salt (equal parts minced onion, minced garlic, poppy seeds, black sesame seeds, and white sesame seeds). We also brought some cooking oil (and oil for the pancakes), balsamic vinegar, maple syrup for pancakes, low sodium ketchup. Some of these are technically supposed to be refrigerated but it wasn't too warm and we kept the food out of the sun.
4) Have something ready to eat when you get home
Camping is a lot of work and coming home is so exhausting. But you'll still need to eat, so consider making something you can freeze and defrost quickly when you get home. I usually keep par-baked pizza crusts in the freezer. Low sodium meatballs also freeze really well and defrost quickly. Pair either of those with low sodium jarred marinara sauce and pasta and you can feed everybody pretty quickly.
5) Final notes...
It's been almost two weeks since we went on this trip and I am still tired from it. It's a lot of planning, packing, and cleanup. But it was all worth it. One thing I've heard over and over from people living with Meniere's is that they live in a state of constant anxiety. When will the next attack come? How bad will it be? How long will it last? Is it safe to do x, y, z...? I know my husband was a little bit anxious about this trip for so many reasons. We did the best we could to prepare and weren't so far away from a very lovely town if we needed to pack it all up and stay indoors or just drive back home. But we made it and everybody had a great time! Each trip is going to be different, but this one pushed us out of our comfort zone and gave us a little more confidence that we can keep doing the things we love. If you're reading this and you're living with Meniere's, perhaps it will give you some hope and inspire you to keep doing the things you love, too! Here's to more adventures!