By now, everyone’s heard the hype about eating paleo, a diet low in processed foods and sugars that’s allegedly similar to what our Paleolithic ancestors ate. Some tout the diet’s lean meats and antioxidant-rich vegetables as a route to superior metabolism and increased muscle function, while others have successfully lost weight by eating paleo. Whatever the overarching reason, it’s widely accepted that eating a diet low in processed ingredients leads to better health and fitness. But for outdoor athletes on the go, sticking to the diet can be very difficult—it’s not easy to slip a salad into a pack or jersey pocket.
Enter Denver-based startup Paleo Meals to Go.
Mother and son team Dawn Anderson and Ty Soukup started making their own freeze-dried meals in 2013 after Soukup found nothing suitable on the market to sustain a backpacking trip in Colorado’s Maroon Bells. They strive to use as few ingredients as possible and source only those of the highest quality (non-GMO whenever available). The result: a modest line of four freeze-dried meals and a pair of energy bars (not tested here), with more items in the works designed to go head-to-head with other brands entering the growing gourmet freeze-dried market, including Good To-Go, which has vegan options.
In my series of tests, I found that all of the meals, which technically can be rehydrated with cold water, both tasted and rehydrated best when I used water just below boiling. Rehydration’s quick—just six minutes for all meals tested—and complete. Bonus points for the paper packaging, which, thanks to a foil lining, did not wet out.
Final note: I’ve included hacks for each meal—some paleo friendly, some not—that can stretch a single-serving pack to feed two hungry athletes.
Palisade Pineapple Mango and Cliffside Coconut Berry
Both of these breakfast offerings start with the same base: a blend of freeze-dried coconut water, tapioca dextrose, flaxseed meal, and almond flour. They rehydrated to a creamy texture; the packaging suggests adding 1/2 to 3/4 cup of water. Palisade Pineapple Mango pairs bright pineapple with creamy bananas. Crunchy whole pecans and walnuts round out the decidedly tropical flavor profile. A dash of salt (okay by some paleo standards) perked up the flavors. Cliffside Coconut Berry was somewhat less sweet, with beautifully rehydrated blueberries and slightly mushy yet serviceable strawberries taking center stage. Shards of coconut added texture. Both flavors are free of gluten, grain, milk, soy, and nightshade.
Non-paleo tasters liked adding half a package of vanilla Instant Breakfast for a creamier mouthfeel and more sweetness. All testers happily chomped on an add-in of cubed candied ginger.
Stats for both meals:
$13, 4.5 ounces each. Calories: 680 (450 from fat). Protein: 13 grams. Carbs: 58 grams. Fiber: 14 grams. Fat: 50 grams. Sodium: 90 milligrams.
Summit Savory Chicken
The smallest dish in the line, both in serving size and calories, Summit Savory Chicken is a lighter option for athletes who struggle with eating after hard exercise, especially at high elevations. Big protein numbers balance a lower calorie count. While freeze-dried chicken often rehydrates either mushy or tough, all of this meal’s ingredients, especially the chicken, had great texture, taste, and color. Fat chunks of broccoli—florets and stems—swam in a light sauce with thick mushroom slices and asparagus spears. Spinach added micronutrients and vitamins A and C. Summit Savory Chicken is free of gluten, grain, milk, soy, and nuts.
Non-paleo hack: We added one packet of soy sauce to the package to give it a slightly Asian twist and boost up the sauce. You can easily feed two by serving this meal over one package of boil-in-bag instant rice.
$13, 2.7 ounces. Calories: 340 (140 from fat). Protein: 45 grams. Carbs: 11 grams. Fiber: 5 grams. Fat: 15 grams. Sodium: 660 milligrams.
Mountain Beef Stew
One of our testers, a veteran backcountry gourmand, called this “the best rehydrated beef I’ve seen to date.” The quarter-inch cubes retained a firm, toothsome texture and real-world beefy flavor. Carrots, celery, and mushrooms round out the dish and plumped up perfectly. Like the chicken dish, this stew is very lightly seasoned and benefitted from the addition of salt (included separately) and a packet of pepper, which we added. At 13 grams of fat per three-ounce package, this meal will appeal to backpacking gram counters—it’s tough to beat that fat-to-weight ratio in a prepared meal. The only complaint? A high 1,390 milligrams of sodium. This meal is free of gluten, grain, milk, soy, nuts, and nightshade.
One packet of Mountain Beef Stew easily fed two—and was reminiscent of shepherd’s pie—when we served it as a topper over a four-ounce package of Idahoan mashed potatoes, available in most grocery stores.
$13, 2.89 ounces. Calories: 300 (120 from fat). Protein: 37 grams. Carbs: 14 grams. Fiber: 2 grams. Fat: 13 grams. Sodium: 1,390 milligrams.
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