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Planning a Multi-Day River Trip - Post 4 - Feeding the Crew

In previous posts I covered advice on gear and how to be safe and comfortable with kids on a river. Now I'll talk about how to feed them. At the end I'll tell a few stories about the things I've gotten wrong over the years, and what I learned from them.

Meal Planning

I think meal planning is one of the hardest parts of planning a trip. It's hard to predict exactly how much each person will need, and it's easy to over-pack food and snacks for fear of hangry children. But, a well-timed bag of M&Ms can turn a cranky kid around.

For adult-only trips we tend to do more one-pot quinoa and rice dishes, but with kids we make it a bit more elaborate. If space is tight, however, your family will survive just fine on pasta and baby carrots for a few nights. As a general rule I suggest keeping breakfast quick and simple, lunch a bit more involved, and a dinner as elaborate as you'd like.

When planning meals I look at my recipes and think about a few criteria:

  • Meal needs a minimum of equipment to make

  • Meal uses few ingredients

  • Meal includes only ingredients that travel well

  • Meal needs little refrigeration (space in the cooler is tighter than space in the box)

  • Meal can mostly be prepped at home

  • Can standard ingredients be replaced with travel-friendly ingredients (e.g. store-bought guacamole cups instead of homemade)

  • Meal should end up with very little food waste

Prep and Packing

I do a good amount of work in advance to make sure things are organized and easy on the river.

  • Pre-chop veggies if it makes sense. Keep in mind, cut food usually needs to stay cold, where a whole veg can sometimes be stored at an outside temp.

  • Remove all extra packaging. If the outside box has directions I need, I'll tear it out and tape it to the interior bag.

  • All the dry food gets separated into individual grocery bags. Each dinner gets its own bag, so all I have to do is pull out that one bag and have everything I need for that meal. Usually all breakfast food goes in one bag, lunch in another. Same with snacks and desserts.

  • Food bags get layered into the dry box, with the later meals on the bottom

  • For the cooler, most things just get loosely grouped together, with later meal items on the bottom. Lunch stuff all goes into a grocery bag on the top layer, so when we stop river-side I can easily grab the one bag from the cooler and the one from the bin.

  • Don't forget the supporting cast, like cooking oil, butter, and single malt Scotch

Below, I'll post the meal plan I used for a 4-day 3-night trip with 5 people. If it's all just too much to figure out, throw a few boxes of Annie's mac and cheese into the bin and get going.

Sample 4-Day, 3-Night Meal Plan (with notes)


Monday 11th

Tuesday 12th

Wednesday 13th

Thursday 14th 

Blog Notes



Grilled bagels, PB, cream cheese, grapes, oatmeal

Grilled bagels, PB, cream cheese, grapes, oatmeal

Pancakes, syrup grapes, oatmeal

We save the more elaborate pancakes meal for the last day when we don't have to think about getting to our next campsite.


Wraps, ham, turkey, tomato, lettuce, mayo, mustard, carrots, hummus, chips

Wraps, ham, turkey, tomato, lettuce, mayo, mustard, carrots, hummus, chips

Wraps, ham, turkey, tomato, lettuce, mayo, mustard, carrots, hummus, chips

Triscuits, tuna, sliced cheese, salami, leftovers

1/3 lb cold cuts per person per day, wraps pack smaller than bread


Burgers, buns, cheese, ketchup, mustard, lettuce, tomato, asparagus

Fajitas: chicken strips, peppers, onions, beans, cheese, guac, tortillas

Pasta, red sauce, pesto, sausage, zucchini & squash


Fajita chicken gets cut and packed in ziploc with marinade. Sometimes pre-slice veggies, sometimes do it at camp.


chips and guac

Feta dip and pita chips

chips and salsa


Feta dip: Block of feta topped with tomato paste, garlic, chopped tomatoes, red onion, capers, basil, oregano, and olive oil. Make ahead, double wrap in foil, warm in fire coals until gooey. 


granola bars x 10, PB crackers x 10, trail mix x 10, apples & oranges x 10, fruit snacks x 10, candy (M&Ms, snickers) x 10




3 snacks per person, per day, individual serving packs


Ginger snaps, mint milanos




Occasionally a fancier dessert for a b-day

The Rest

Salt, pepper, Pam, butter, olive oil, coffee, milk for coffee, tea, Scotch, hot chocolate






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