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Field-Tested Favorites: Mealtime Experiences and Recipes from WTA Outdoor Leadership Training Leaders

Posted by Erin McQuin at Jul 18, 2022 03:03 PM |

Two leaders from WTA's Outdoor Leadership Training program, Christine Zarker Primomo and Harper McFadden, share their experiences cooking with youth in the outdoors, and their favorite backpacking recipes from their trips.

Cooking in the outdoors is a great way for youth to learn a new skill and demonstrate leadership in the outdoors. When I worked with youth, I always enjoyed mealtime on camping trips. When they had control of the menu, it was always amazing to see what recipes they created. Plus, eating a shared meal while camping always brought friendships and community as we ate, laughed and told stories around the picnic table. 

I recently connected with two leaders from WTA's Outdoor Leadership Training (OLT) program about their experiences cooking with youth in the outdoors. These leaders, Christine Zarker Primomo with Lake Washington Girls Middle School and Harper McFadden with Wild Society, also shared their favorite backpacking recipes from their trips for you to try! 

Lake Washington Girls Middle School

This summer, Lake Washington Girls Middle School is going on its first outing in two years. Their upcoming trip will have 23 students, kayaking and camping in the San Juan Islands. For Christine, the best part of backcountry cooking with students is sharing a delicious meal. 

“Students can't believe the power of ‘trail spice’ or that it is the same ramen they have been having at home,” she said. 

On their trips, students are divided into teams and assigned cooking group roles, which include a safety manager, chef and sous chef. One teacher leads the group in cooking, asking students to read the instructions and come up with a plan of action for the meal; the other teacher prepares food for the adults.

Cooking is a new experience for many of Christine's students, both at camp and in general.

“Many students have never cooked before so when they help prepare a meal for their peers, they feel a huge sense of accomplishment, lean into some vulnerability and discover a new side of themselves. Students who have experienced cooking take on leadership roles and their peers see them in a new light,” Christine said.

One meal has become a tradition on their backpacking trips: Salt and Pepper Quesadillas. This recipe was originally shared by a student and their family. 

“(It’s) the perfect combination of cheesy and crunchy,” Christine said. “The students love this meal because they can make it without much assistance and it is ready in a jiffy!” 

She recommends serving them with hot sauce or sauteing some vegetables for a side. 

Salt and Pepper Quesadillas

A Lake Washington Girls Middle School backpacking tradition

Ingredients

  • 1 bag of crinkle-cut salt and pepper potato chips
  • Flour tortillas
  • Shredded cheddar cheese or Mexican cheese blend
  • Optional: thinly sliced zucchini or broccoli for a side saute 

Directions

  1. In a pan, heat about a teaspoon of oil.
  2. Lay down the tortilla and sprinkle about a ¼ cup of cheese.
  3. Gently crush the potato chips and sprinkle them on top of the cheese. If adding zucchini, add a thin layer now.
  4. Add another tortilla on the top and wait for the cheese to melt.
  5. Enjoy!

Students from Lake Washington Girls Middle school cooking a meal on a camping trip. Photo by Christine Zarker Primomo.
Students from Lake Washington Girls Middle school cooking a meal on a camping trip. Photo by Christine Zarker Primomo.

Wild Society

Wild Society leads backpacking summer camps for middle- and high-school youth. This summer, they are leading nine separate trips in the Olympic mountains. For Harper, mealtimes are for joining together as a community. 

“Meals are a time for the whole group to come together and be grounded together,” said Harper. “Sitting all together, eating a meal that your teammates have prepared for you, are some of the greatest bonding moments on trips.” 

During their backpacking trips, Wild Society assigns their campers different jobs each day, including the main chef. All the campers help choose the meals, organize ingredients and prepare meals. 

Backpacking trips are busy with long days and many miles traveled. Eating together outside can be a way to form connections and strengthen relationships in a group.

“(Meals are) a time to try new foods, a time to laugh, a time to reflect on the day, and so much more. It can be really amazing to see everyone sit down in a circle with a bowl of hot food and visibly see them take a deep breath, slow down and be present,” said Harper.

On their backpacking trips, there is one meal that stands out: Stuffing and Mash. 

“(The recipe is) warm, easy to eat, and filling comfort food… very filling but a very light pack-weight meal!” Harper said.

They also mentioned how helpful that the ingredients in this recipe are easily found at the grocery store.  

Stuffing and Mash

A Wild Society favorite 

Ingredients

  • 3⁄4 cup stuffing mix per person
  • 1⁄2 cup instant mashed potatoes per person
  • 1 packet of gravy mix

Toppings (as many as you would like!)

  • bacon bits
  • dried cranberries
  • turkey or chicken in a pouch
  • dried veggies such as carrots, peas, corn, spinach

Directions

  1. Boil 1⁄2 cup of water per person. (If you are using dried veggies add them into the water before boiling.) Once boiling, remove from stove and add in potatoes. Season with salt.
  2. Follow gravy packet directions. (Typically, directions are to boil 1-2 cups of water and mix in the gravy packet.)
  3. Boil 1⁄4 cup of water per person. Remove from heat and stir in stuffing.
  4. Let both potatoes and stuffing sit for at least 5 minutes.
  5. Serve and top with bacon bits, dried cranberries, chicken or whatever other toppings!

Wild Society campers share a meal on their 6-day backpacking trip to the Elwha River Valley. Photo by Harper McFadden.
Wild Society campers share a meal on their 6-day backpacking trip to the Elwha River Valley. Photo by Harper McFadden.  

Camping Workshops

If you are interested in learning more about cooking with youth outside and organizing camping trips, the OLT program has an upcoming camping workshop. The workshop is designed to equip teachers or other youth leaders with skills to confidently take youth camping.

The workshop costs $40 and will be at Dash Point State Park on Saturday, August 27, from 9:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. Registration is online. Reduced fee scholarships are available based on need, and awarded based on the applicant's ability to use workshop skills to facilitate an outdoor experience for youth.

Those who attend an OLT camping workshop will also have an opportunity to cook our famous 3-bean chili recipe! 

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