Backpacking Mac and Cheese Recipes

Backpacking Mac and Cheese Recipes: Ham & Cheese, Taco Mac, Tuna Mac, and Kickin Veggie.

Photos of backpacking mac and cheese recipes (clockwise from top left): Ham & Cheese, Taco Mac & Cheese, Tuna Mac & Cheese, and Kickin’ Veggie Mac & Cheese.

Mac & cheese recipes on this page:

These mac and cheese recipes call for using macaroni straight from a box of mac and cheese. When macaroni meals are cooked in a pot, and a boil is maintained for 2 minutes, followed by insulating the meal in a pot cozy for 10 to 15 minutes, the macaroni turns out fine. Macaroni from boxed mac and cheese is fairly thin, so it cooks quickly.

For other types of trail meal preparation, such as freezer-bag cooking or cold soaking, you should precook and dehydrate the macaroni. You can use standard-sized macaroni; it is not necessary to use macaroni from a box of mac and cheese.

Precooked-and-dried macaroni rehydrates well when boiled water is added to it in a freezer bag, as long as you insulate the meal in a pouch cozy for 20 minutes. When dried macaroni is cooked in a pot, you no longer have to maintain a boil for 2 minutes—1 minute will do.

For making cold pasta salads, precooked-and-dried macaroni rehydrates well with cold water. However, a soak time of more than 1 hour is required. A thermos food jar works great for this. Add the dried ingredients and cold water in the morning; enjoy the meal for lunch. Macaroni straight from the box does not work for cold-soak backpacking meals; only precooked-and-dried macaroni will do.


Ham & Cheese Macaroni

Serves 1

Ingredients:

  • ½ cup macaroni
  • ¼ cup dried deli ham
  • ¼ cup dried mixed vegetables; try corn, carrots, peas, and green beans
  • 1⅓ Tbsp cheddar cheese powder
  • 1 Tbsp powdered milk   
  • 1¼ cup water to rehydrate

At Home:

Combine and pack cheese and milk powders in a small plastic bag. Enclose with other ingredients in plastic bag.

Variation: Try any other combination of dried vegetables.

On the Trail:

Combine all ingredients except cheese and milk powders with water in pot and soak five minutes. Light stove, bring to boil, and cook for two more minutes. Remove from stove, stir in cheese and milk powders. Insulate pot and wait ten minutes.


Kickin’ Veggie Mac & Cheese

Serves 1

Ingredients:

  • ½ cup macaroni
  • ¼ cup dried cherry tomato slices
  • ¼ cup dried mixed vegetables; try dried bell peppers, onions, mushrooms
  • 1⅓ Tbsp cheddar cheese powder
  • 1 Tbsp powdered milk
  • ½ tsp taco seasoning    
  • 1¼ cup water to rehydrate
  • 1-2 slices dried jalapeño pepper, optional
  • 1¼ cup water to rehydrate

At Home:

Use store-bought packets of taco seasoning or make your own by combining 1 Tbsp. chili powder, 1½ tsp ground cumin, ¼ tsp garlic powder, ¼ tsp crushed red pepper, ¼ tsp dried oregano, and ¼ tsp salt. Makes 5½ teaspoons.

Combine and pack cheese, milk, and taco powders in a small plastic bag. Enclose with other ingredients in plastic bag.

Variation: For a higher protein vegetarian meal, replace some of the vegetables with dried black beans.

On the Trail:

Combine all ingredients except cheese, milk, and taco powders with water in pot and soak five minutes. Light stove, bring to boil, and cook for two more minutes. Remove from stove, stir in cheese, milk, and taco powders. Insulate pot, wait ten minutes.


Taco Mac & Cheese

Taco Mac & Cheese is the same recipe as Kickin’ Veggie Mac & Cheese, but it tastes like a completely different meal with dried ground beef or chicken substituted for cherry tomatoes.

Servings 1

Ingredients:

  • ½ cup macaroni
  • ¼ cup dried ground beef
  • ¼ cup dried mixed vegetables; try bell peppers, onions, mushrooms, tomatoes
  • 1⅓ Tbsp cheddar cheese powder
  • 1 Tbsp powdered milk
  • ½ tsp taco seasoning    
  • 1¼ cup water to rehydrate
  • 1-2 slices dried jalapeño pepper, optional
  • 1¼ cup water to rehydrate

At Home:

Use store-bought packets of taco seasoning or make your own by combining 1 Tbsp. chili powder, 1½ tsp ground cumin, ¼ tsp garlic powder, ¼ tsp crushed red pepper, ¼ tsp dried oregano, and ¼ tsp salt. Makes 5½ teaspoons.

Combine and pack cheese, milk, and taco powders in a small plastic bag. Enclose with other ingredients in plastic bag.

Variation: Substitute dried chicken for ground beef.

On the Trail:

Combine all ingredients except cheese, milk, and taco powders with water in pot and soak five minutes. Light stove, bring to boil, and cook for two more minutes. Remove from stove, stir in cheese, milk, and taco powders. Insulate pot, wait ten minutes.


Tuna Mac & Cheese

This backpacking mac and cheese recipe combines your favorite vegetables with tuna in a white cheddar cheese sauce. My favorite vegetable mix for this recipe is sliced cherry tomatoes, onions, bell peppers, and mushrooms. Change it up with mixed vegetables: corn, carrots, peas, and green beans.

It's best to dehydrate solid white Albacore Tuna packed in water. If you dehydrate dark tuna or tuna packed in oil, fat remains in the food and may cause premature spoilage.

I use cheese powder from a box of Back to Nature brand Spirals & White Cheddar and NIDO brand whole milk powder for this recipe. Annie's Homegrown also makes a few varieties of mac & cheese with white cheddar cheese powder.

Pouched Tuna or Salmon Variation: If you don't mind carrying a little extra weight, you can pack a pouch of tuna or salmon instead of dehydrated tuna. You can find either one in 7-ounce pouches.

Serves 1

Ingredients:

  • ½ cup macaroni
  • ¼ cup dried tuna
  • ¼ cup dried vegetables- try a mix of tomatoes, onions, peppers, mushrooms
  • 1 Tbsp + 1 tsp white cheddar cheese powder
  • 1 Tbsp powdered milk
  • 1¼ cups water to rehydrate

Large Serving:

The recipe above has 397 calories. To make a larger portion with 576 calories, use ⅓ cup tuna, ⅓ cup vegetables, ¾ cup macaroni, 2 Tbsp cheddar cheese powder, 1½ Tbsp powdered milk and 1¾ cups water to rehydrate.

At Home:

Combine cheese and milk powders in a small plastic bag and enclose with other ingredients in a plastic bag.

On the Trail:

Place all ingredients except the cheese and milk powders in your pot with water and soak for five minutes. Light stove, bring to a boil, and continue cooking for two minutes. Remove pot from stove and stir in cheese and milk powders. Place covered pot inside insulating cozy for ten minutes.


More Backpacking Mac and Cheese Recipes

Using the four backpacking mac and cheese recipes on this page as guides, you can create dozens more cheesy meals simply by substituting different dried meats and vegetables. For example, use dried chicken instead of ground beef in the Taco Mac & Cheese recipe and maybe toss in some dried black beans with the vegetables.

Backpacking Mac and Cheese recipes are in Recipes for Adventure.

Find more backpacking mac and cheese recipes in Recipes for Adventure: Healthy, Hearty & Homemade Backpacking Recipes. Shown in photo below: Chili Mac and Pasta & Cheesy Tomato Sauce.

Chili Mac and Macaroni with Cheesy Tomato Sauce

Dehydrating Macaroni

How to Precook and Dehydrate Macaroni

For each cup of macaroni (100 g) to be cooked, add 1 teaspoon of salt to a quart or liter of water and bring it to a rapid boil. Add the macaroni, and reduce heat to maintain a gentle boil.

Slightly undercook the macaroni. If the instructions on the box say to boil the macaroni for 8 minutes, strain off the water at 7 minutes.

Immediately rinse the macaroni in cold water to stop the cooking. Rinsing also ensures that the macaroni will not stick together on the dehydrator tray.

Cooked and rinsed macaroni on dehydrator tray before drying.

Photo above: Cooked and rinsed macaroni on dehydrator tray before drying.

Spread the cooked macaroni out on dehydrator trays in 1 layer. There is no need to use a nonstick sheet, as that would only slow down dehydration.

Dehydrate at 135°F (57°C) for 4–6 hours or until macaroni is hard.

Dehydrated macaroni on left, rehydrated on right.

Photo above: ½ cup dried macaroni (47 g) on left. On right, what it looks like after rehydration with ¼ cup boiled water (59 ml) in a thermos for 10 minutes. Surprisingly little water was required to bring the macaroni back to its original al dente texture.

Tips for Rehydrating Precooked-and-Dried Macaroni Meals:

Pot Cooking: Add macaroni with other dried ingredients to pot with required water for recipe. Soak 5 minutes, then bring to a boil for 1 minute. Transfer pot to insulating cozy for 15 minutes. For easier cleanup, stir in milk and cheese powders after you take the pot off the stove.

Freezer-Bag Cooking: Add boiled water to ingredients in freezer bag. A bag with a gusseted bottom is easier to work with. Transfer bag to insulating pouch cozy for 20 minutes.

Cold Soak: Add cold water to the dried ingredients, and wait at least an hour, but 2 to 3 hours is better. If you prepare the meal in the morning to eat later for lunch, a thermos food jar will keep it cold.

Thermos Cooking: Add boiled water to ingredients in thermos. Wait 20 minutes, up to several hours. If preparing the meal in the morning to eat later for lunch, add an extra ¼ cup water since the dried ingredients will have more time to absorb it.

When soaked in boiled water for several hours, macaroni will get soft. It still tastes good, and it is convenient to add all the dried ingredients at the same time. If you want perfect al dente texture, wait until 30 minutes before serving to add the macaroni to the thermos.

Chili Mac backpacking meal rehydrated in thermos food jar.

Photo above: (left) Chili mac cooked in thermos for 3 hours; (right) chili mac cooked for 3 hours, but the mac was added 30 minutes before serving. The mac on the right was perfect al dente; on the left, it was softer.

In Recipes for Adventure II: The Best of Trail Bytes, you’ll find the instructions for precooking and dehydrating macaroni, plus how to dehydrate olives and San Marzano tomatoes for the Tuna & Macaroni San Marzano recipe shown below. In addition to this cold-soak backpacking recipes, the book also includes directions for dehydrating linguine for meals like Shrimp Linguine.

Tuna & Macaroni San Marzano is in Recipes for Adventure II.

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