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Small Bites for Paddlers

by Anne Desjardins

More and more athletes like to eat small meals 5 to 6 times a day for optimal performance. For paddlers, it is certainly a good way to ensure that they get a constant supply of food, which translates into the best fuel (or energy) for their inner engine. But this doesn't mean you have to go bland, and limit yourself to GORP or peanut butter sandwiches. Here are a few suggestions to make those mini meals more enjoyable.

I know, I know: most of us have been raised believing that eating three square meals a day is the optimal way to nourish your body. But in the last decade, an amazing amount of research has shown that, for very active people, for athletes (either professional or just plain sport aficionados) and for people who wish to lose weight more efficiently, eating 5 to 6 "mini-meals" a day is even better. The reasons for this choice are numerous: when very active, your body will crave for a more balanced distribution of calories (made up of proteins, carbohydrates and fat) throughout the day, allowing for a steadier supply of energy, fewer hunger pangs, muscle cramps and less fatigue. When you exercise for a long period of time, such as in canoeing, paddle-boarding or sea kayaking, you need a constant supply of food in order to function properly because your metabolism is constantly revving up, as an optimal calorie burner. But the more calories you burn, the more you need to eat on a consistent basis. And three big meals won't cut it.

Constant fuel for constant energy 

This way of eating doesn't mean you have to go bland, regularly wolfing down GORP or granola bars all day to satisfy your need for fuel. Here are a few suggestions to make those mini meals more enjoyable. But first, a few pieces of advice. You need to understand the importance of balancing the calories equally between proteins, carbs and fat supplies (ie: meat or cheese, bread, cereals or fruits, mayonnaise, butter or oil). This will keep you full longer without feeling sluggish or tired. Another thing to consider: when I paddle-travel, I like to prepare these mini-meals before leaving for the day, in the comfort of my kitchen or my camp kitchen. It takes no more than 30 minutes to prepare the snacks, which will make the rest of your day much easier and enjoyable. You will also notice that several suggestions call for mayonnaise. Since it doesn't keep safely at room temperature, I like to buy the individual pouches. You can often find them in restaurant supply stores or order them, online.

A sample of a three-day, 6-mini-meals menus to use during a paddling trip:

Day one: Morning: Bacon* "cups" filled with scrambled eggs, piece of bread, orange Mid-morning: mini pita breads filled with peanut butter and apple slices Lunch: smoked salmon with cream cheese on rye bread with cucumber and mini-carrots Mid-afternoon snack: medjool dates filled with blue cheese and chopped pistachios, celery sticks Early dinner: black bean soup and pieces of melon  Late dinner: Graham crackers with marshmallow on the grill, hot chocolate and roasted almonds

* To make bacon cups: before leaving for a paddling trip, cut 2 slices of bacon 2 and interlace them on a mini-muffin mold turned upside down to make a mini cup. Proceed that way until you get as many bacon cups as you need. Cover with another mini-muffin mold turned upside down and place on a cookie sheet covered with parchment paper. Cook for 15-20 minutes at 350 °F. Let cool 15 minutes and remove the upper mold. Remove each bacon cup carefully and place on paper towels. Will keep for 3-4 days in an airtight container. Don't reheat them before use.

Day two Morning: baked beans, piece of bread, apple Mid-morning snack: carrot, celery stalks and bell peppers with hummus and mini-pita breads Lunch: devilled eggs wrapped in lettuce, ginger snap cookies Mid-afternoon snack: grapes with mini-cheese (wrapped in wax, such as mini Babybel) and pretzels Early dinner: vegetarian meatballs and broccoli with Asian dipping sauce* Late dinner: dried apricots, chocolate soy pudding, oatmeal cookie

Day 3 Morning: porridge cooked in soy milk with nuts and dried cranberries, maple sugar Mid-morning: croutons with cheddar and apple slices sprinkled with cinnamon Lunch: dried sausage with mustard on dark rye and cucumber Mid-afternoon snack: corn chips cups filled with pinto beans, corn and salsa Dinner: mushroom caps stuffed with rice, crab, capers, onion and mayonnaise Late dinner: mini brownies with soy milk chai tea

Cocktail party based on mini-meals 

Let's say you organize a paddling expedition for 6 or 8 people for the 4th of July or a friend's birthday. Why not organize a cocktail party at night, when camp is set, with a sampling of those small bites you plan to serve as mini meals during the trip? Nothing could be easier and this out of ordinary menu will add pizzazz to your next paddling adventure. Here's how to proceed:

For a nice cocktail party, calculate 12 small bites for each member of the party. Then, decide what you will serve in bite-size portions. It's easy. Just make sure that certain items can keep long enough and that the meal doesn't take too much time to assemble. This means that not too much preparation should be required and not too many perishable food will be served. Here is my suggestion for a nice cocktail party:

  1. Allow for a nice, festive drink: panaché made with ginger ale or cranberry juice and beer, for instance, or white wine and spritzer. Simple sangria made with red wine, spritzer, orange juice and a few pieces of fruit works well too. You can buy wine in collapsible jugs, which is very easy to carry around (don't forget to bring unbreakable glasses!)
  2. Chose 5 to 6 different small bites to assemble and make 2 for each for your guests to eat; but keep things simple: you don't want to prepare 12 different varieties of cocktail bites in the great outdoors on your collapsible cutting board!
  3. Assemble the small bites that contain perishable food (such as fish or meat) at the very last minute.
  4. Make sure that you have an interesting balance of vegetables (to serve with a dip), carbs and proteins so that your guests won't go ravenous because the menu is too light after a long day spent paddling.

A simple menu for a campers' cocktail party 

• mini carrots, bell peppers, celery and crackers with cream cheese, lemon and clam dip 

• mini sausages (either regular - during the first 2 days of the trip - or veggie) with mustard on toothpicks 

• endives stuffed with small (canned) shrimps, scallions, celery and mayonnaise 

• medjool dates filled with real bacon bits, blue cheese and chopped pistachios (must be wrapped in foil and heated on the grill or in a skillet for 5-10 minutes) 

• dry sausage and chicken liver pâté with onion or fig jam on croutons 

• rice crackers with smoked oysters and hummus 

• kebobs made with cherry tomatoes, dried sausage and smoked cheese 

• celery sticks or mini bell peppers filled with ham or chicken salad (made with canned meat)

Enjoy your party!