An unexpected side effect of not being a glutton anymore is that it is easier to
eat simply and appropriately for special circumstances.
Let me give you an example. Our family went on a day hike yesterday at Afton State Park. We planned to eat lunch on the trail.
Once upon a time, such a day would have been all about the picnic lunch. I would have planned it on my grocery list several days earlier. I would have made fancy sandwiches -- pressed Italian hoagies; or brie and ham on baguette; or roast beef, red pepper, and smokey cheddar on onion kaiser rolls. I would have brought baby carrots and celery. Fresh fruit, possibly cherries or strawberries. Maybe pasta salad. A cooler would probably be involved. Fresh-squeezed lemonade.
And of course, since we have to keep our strength up, there would be trail mix and jerky and granola bars.
You should have seen what I brought for a weekend camping.
Nowadays my thought process is a little different. Rather than the hike being an excuse for a fantastic picnic lunch, the hike is... the point. And instead of "Ooh goody, a picnic! What kind of fun picnic food do I want to eat?" I am thinking, "What's convenient to carry in a pack on a hot day, won't spoil, provides enough calories for the hike, and can be eaten with minimal fuss and not much to pack out, so we can get back to hiking?"
Obviously it has to appeal to the kids, but other than that, those are the main requirements.
So what is hiking food now?
- Little red-waxed cheese wheels.
- Possibly apples. (If there's room.)
All you need is a knife.
Instead of trail mix, we now pack peanut M&Ms. (No more eating the chocolate and leaving the nuts!)
If we want to give the kids another choice besides cheese and crackers, we might make a few peanut butter sandwiches. Unlike the fancy sandwiches I used to make, there's no concern about them going bad in the heat. And I don't know about you, but a PB&J (or PB&H) that's slightly squashed at the bottom of a pack tastes pretty good when you've been hiking all morning.
This isn't to disparage the families who came to the park ready to have a traditional Memorial Day barbecue. On our way out we passed a man and a woman each gripping one handle of a heavy picnic cooler. A man with a bulging paper grocery bag in one hand and a big sack of charcoal briquets up on his shoulder. A woman carrying the baby while her older teens pushed a stroller laden with food and soda and lawn chairs. True, an appetizing aroma of cooking meat drifted through the park. Condensation formed on cans of ice-cold soda as they were pulled out of coolers and passed around. Even the bags of baby carrots and cauliflower chunks looked pretty good after a day of hiking (the tubs of stagnant ranch dressing, not so much).
The picnics I used to make were, objectively speaking, "healthier" than the trail food I pack now. They were balanced. They contained fresh fruit and vegetables. Usually it was all homemade, with few processed-food items.
They were also enormous, a lot more trouble, and the biggest problem? They were the center of my attention.
Sometimes, an objectively "less healthy" food experience is mentally healthier. For all the tsk-tsking about our grab-it-and-go culture, occasionally grabbing and going makes a lot of sense. There's more time to sit down and enjoy the simple food we've brought, out under the sky, if we spend less time fussing about it back in the kitchen.