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What’s the real cost of the camp food you’re eating?

Before starting this blog I asked around for what people’s biggest gripes about camp cooking were. I received many varied responses, but one of the most frequent was cost. Understandably, cost can be a major concern for many climbers, especially those of us on long road trips or who are simply trying to cut costs. I am a graduate of a farm-to-table culinary program and have long held the notion that not only is it less costly from a dollars and cents perspective to eat whole foods, but also from a health cost. But, I have seen so many climbers open a box of some dried food mix, add it to a pot of water, and have a meal. It seemed like a good way to go on the cheap, so I decided to test this theory out by comparing Rice-a-Roni Spanish Rice mix, with my recipe for Spanish Rice. I wasn’t really sure which way this was going to end up and the results even surprised me.

First let me say that I did make the Rice-A-Roni per the instructions by adding ground beef and canned tomatoes, which most closely emulated my recipe. Let’s assume for this experiment that the climbers have a cooler, water and capacity to carry a can of tomatoes (and a can opener!). I bought the mix on sale and used the sale price in my calculations.

Off to the store I went this morning to purchase the Spanish Rice mix and to get prices on ground beef, canned tomatoes, rice, green peppers and onion. Then I went to work comparing the packaged versus homemade meal. Surprisingly, these two meals take the same amount of time to prepare (20-30 minutes).

recipe for cheap rock climbers

The table above clearly shows that, if purely concerned about cost, you might do well to make your own. In fact, you could add a can of beans to the homemade version for another $0.99 and the cost per serving would be $1.03, still less than the premixed version. And, do you think the homemade version is more filling and nutritious? You betcha! Take a look at the nutritional comparison below:

Nutrition information for rock climber recipe

The above numbers are based on 1 cup servings. It’s important to note that the Rice-A-Roni meal makes 4 cups, and the homemade ends up with 6 cups, thus more food.  As a whole, however, you will see that the homemade Spanish Rice, has fewer calories, fat, sodium, sugars, & carbohydrates. It would appear to be the healthier, and more cost effective option. We did a blind taste test and the homemade version won, hands down! Downsides are that prep time is a bit longer and there will be 2 more dishes to clean (your knife and cutting board). You can save time by mixing the seasoning and pre-chopping your veggies at home before your trip.

Until next time, just some food for thought!

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5 Responses to What’s the real cost of the camp food you’re eating?

  1. Jay March 23, 2014 at 8:51 am #

    Cool site and nice post! Although when looking at the comparison’s of the two meals, I would opt for the Rice-a-Roni spanish rice because it has twice the caloric/protein content of the homemade rice. Counting calories may be a good thing sitting at a desk all week, but when I’m on a climbing trip I’m trying to get as much bang for the buck as I can; and as many calories, carbs and proteins as I can!

    • Sylvia McGrath April 9, 2014 at 1:46 pm #

      I do agree with you on the protein part. The numbers for that were off because I used the same amount of ground beef, while the fresh version ended up with more food. I would double up on the ground beef if looking for more protein on the homemade. Thanks for your feedback!

    • Sylvia McGrath April 10, 2014 at 8:30 am #

      Thanks for the feedback. I get what you are saying. It’s good for me to get out of my own head and hear what others are thinking!

  2. Alan March 23, 2014 at 10:35 am #

    Great comparison/article! I always wonder just how much worse the pre-packaged stuff is for us–and you didn’t even touch on the issue of the food processing, chemical preservatives, etc. that no doubt go into the packaged version.
    With that being said, depending on the climb and what else you’ve taken in during the day, the extra calories, carbs, cholesterol, and protein may actually be preferable.
    But I doubt there’s any beating the taste of your rice by the San Francisco Treat!

    • Sylvia McGrath April 9, 2014 at 1:51 pm #

      Thank you for your feedback. I tended to want to stay away from that issue, thinking it might be “controversial” and a very personal preference. But, in looking at responses there was a preference, like yours for the extra calories, carbs, cholesterol in the packaged mix. Maybe that is OK since I was hoping to have folks make their own decision (although I was surprised by it!). In any case, thanks to your comment I plan to do a post on health cons of the pre-packaged stuff. Thanks for your interest!

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