Nutrition and hiking go together like … without one, there cannot be the other! On the Appalachian Trail, I ate a mixture of homemade dehydrated meals and unbelievably delicious meals from cottage backpacking food companies.
As a foodie with a keen palate, who is a dedicated viewer of Top Chef, I did not hesitate to jump on the opportunity to bite into (and review!) Pinnacle Foods.
The idea for Pinnacle Foods started from a question that many hikers on the Appalachian Trail have asked themselves, “What if this were better?” I have pondered that often. It is frustrating making a meal and watching it cook in a bag for what seems to be an eternity, only to take that first bite and instantly regret the meal. In the wild, you are faced with two choices: to eat the unpleasant food anyway, or pack it out.
Thankfully, Pinnacle Foods is phenomenal and delivers well-seasoned, creative meals that will keep you yearning for more. Made in High Point, North Carolina, Pinnacle Foods offers chef-prepared backpacking meals using fresh and natural ingredients; and then freeze-dries the scrumptious meals, while still retaining 97% of their nutrients.
I sampled two meals: Creamy Tuscan Chicken With Penne Pasta and Roasted Chicken and White Cheddar Biscuit Dumplings. It’s okay to drool, I did too. Let’s dive in deeper!
Dry Weight: 4.5oz
Protein: 56 grams
Ingredients: Chicken • Whole Milk (Milk, Vitamin D) • Penne Pasta (Durum Wheat Semolina) • Cream • Spinach • Onions • Parmesan (Milk, Cheese Cultures, Salt, Enzymes) • Unbleached Flour (Wheat Flour, Malted Barley Flour, Niacin, Iron, Thiamine Mononitrate, Riboflavin, Folic Acid) • Garlic • Avocado Oil • Dried Tomatoes • Kosher Salt • Fresh Basil • Garlic Powder • Black Pepper • Thyme • Oregano • Fresh Rosemary
Pasta is one of my favorite meals, and when I took a bite of the Creamy Tuscan Chicken Penne with sun-dried tomatoes, spinach and fresh basil, I was in bliss. After climbing four miles on an eight-mile trail, I took a lunch break at a lookout, pulled out my meal and set up my cooking station. Carefully, I poured 1.5 cups of boiling hot water into the pouch, sealed it up and let it sit for 12 minutes, as stated on the packaging. When the time came to open the meal, it was still a little runny, and I gave it an additional 3 minutes.
What I Liked
Appearance - This dish is very colorful with a bright presentation of red sun-dried tomatoes and deep hues of forest green spinach and fresh basil. Each ingredient was easily recognizable and complimented the paleness of the penne pasta. Everything was very cohesive, the noodles looked plump and appetizing.
Taste - Every mouthful of perfectly al-dente noodles was loaded with bite-size portions of chicken and velvety spinach. The sun-dried tomatoes were on the conservative side but they balanced the meal well. The spinach stood out boldly and I could taste its goodness in every bite; however, I felt like the basil was subdued. I would have appreciated a little more flavor, but overall it wasn’t too salty or too bland.
Packaging - Pinnacle Foods offers two options when it comes to enjoying a hearty meal: standard bags that you can use as a bowl (ie a ‘cook in the bag’ meal) and omnidegradable packaging. The latter is compostable and better for the planet, but comes with the trade-off of a shorter ‘best by’ date, and is also less durable. I like that there are options depending on the individual. Note: GGG currently only sells the ‘cook in the bag’ bowl-like version of Pinnacle Meals.
What I Didn’t Like
Clearer Directions for Water Amount - The base is flavorful, however I was unable to get the ideal creamy texture because I poured too much water into the meal to cook it. Too much water means loss of flavor. I would definitely scale down the water to 1.25 cups, as stated on the Pinnacle Foods website. Their meals recommend 1.5 cups of water at maximum, but that is not a concrete number. This information is not posted on the back of the packaging.
Small-ish Portion - I found this meal incredibly satisfying but I wanted more. For pasta, it is a light dish, which left me feeling energized and ready to tackle more miles, instead of sluggish and drained. The portions are smaller and that is great! Those who have ravenous “hiker hunger” at the end of a long day may want to opt for two of these meals, or a side dish or dessert to round it out.
Dry Weight 4.3oz
Protein: 47 grams
Ingredients: Chicken • Chicken Stock (Chicken, Water, Carrots, Celery, Onions) • Whole Milk (Milk, Vitamin D) • Flour (Wheat Flour, Malted Barley Flour, Niacin, Iron, Thiamine, Riboflavin, Folic Acid) • Onion • Carrots • Green Beans • White Cheddar (Pasteurized Milk, Cheese Cultures, Salt, Enzymes) • Butter (Cream, Salt) • Celery • Parsley • Organic Cane Sugar • Garlic • Kosher Salt • Baking Powder (Sodium Acid Pyrophosphate, Sodium Bicarbonate, Cornstarch, Monocalcium Phosphate) • Avocado Oil • Black Pepper • Backing Soda • Thyme • Rosemary • Onion Powder • Paprika • Bay Leaf • Sage • Garlic Powder
Of all the delicious Pinnacle Foods I’ve tasted, this one is my absolute favorite. Bursting with southern flavors, this meal makes me feel at home. There’s something about it that makes it so comforting and familiar. Its taste resembles that of a tender pot pie straight from the oven and served fresh. This time, I added 1.25 cups of water and found the results to be flawless.
What I Liked
Taste - At first bite, I was captivated by the amount of flavor and immediately asked my partner to take a bite. Our eyes widened like an owl and we smiled at each other. This meal was one of the best that I have tried. Period. There was an abundance of tender pulled roasted chicken that seemed to melt in my mouth. The biscuits were bite sized, soft but not mushy. They still had a small crunch to them which was a nice textural change. The carrots and green beans are a beautiful light compliment to the heaviness of the dumplings and add color to the meal. Its creaminess has a chowder-like essence, perfectly balancing but not overpowering the meal. Every bite made me feel like I was at home; as if I were eating dinner on a Sunday evening on a cold winter’s day.
Filling - This meal is dense and will satisfy the needs of those who want more rather than less food. I woofed this meal down and felt good after, even with a full and happy belly. I didn’t feel overwhelmed, which can sometimes happen with heavier foods. Pinnacle Foods doesn’t use preservatives, extra additives, fillers or unnecessary starches that will weigh you down, and that’s exactly what a hiker needs. I could eat this meal nearly everyday. 10/10
The Bottom Line
These two freeze-dried meals took me to my happy place. I would highly recommend Pinnacle Foods and every single meal that I have tried. I love the flavors and depths of their meals, and how each is creatively crafted. I also appreciate the use of fresh and natural ingredients, as this had a direct impact on how I felt after eating each meal. The textures in Pinnacle Foods backpacking meals compliment each other, and are never under-seasoned or over-salted. ˇI am excited to try other meals from this company as each bite reminded me of home.
Continue Hiking with Shilletha 'Dragonsky' Curtis >>> @i_am_dragonsky