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Old 08-18-2011   #1
 
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Raft Trip Food Planning, Shopping, & Packing

The discussion regarding Coleman vs Igloo ice chests has led into the discussion of how different groups take care of planning meals, shopping, and packing. I'm sure that there are as many ways of doing it as there are groups. I won't try to tell anyone that my way is best, but it works well for me, and maybe some aspects of it would work for others. Equally, there are others out there who have good ideas to share. So here it goes.

Twenty-some years ago, when I bought a well-established rafting business, I learned very quickly that food was my second-largest expense, following only payroll. On some of my early river trips with my newly-acquired company, I observed three things about our menu system: (1) we threw away about a third of all the food we prepared; (2) our shopping trips were hugely time-consuming, disorganized, and put all of the pressure on the lead guides; and (3) despite the guides' best efforts, we always had to improvise once or twice during every trip because of errors and omissions made during shopping.

Our menu system consisted of a stack of matrix sheets, one sheet for each meal, that listed the ingredients in rows and the number of people in columns, in increments of five. So you could shop for 10, 15, 20, 25 or 30 people. What if you had 16? The guides certainly didn't want to run short, so they'd go to the next column and shop for 20. And they tended to add their personal "fudge factor" on top of that. Hence, vast over-shopping.

Then, because the matrix sheets included only the major ingredients, all of the little things were left to the lead guide's memory. It was the trip where the lead guide forgot to buy coffee that pushed me to address the situation.

I tried for several months to find software that would do this job for me. I tried a couple of different food-service programs, but they couldn't do what I needed. So during the off-season, I entered the data from all of our matrix sheets into a spreadsheet (originally MS Multiplan, later converted to Quattro, and finally converted to Excel). I added all of the "incidental" items (spices, drinks, etc.); and for every entry there was a formula that calculated a quantity based on the number of people.

The lead guide would (as always) select the meals for the trip. With that input, the office staff would enter the meal selections and the number of people into the spreadsheet. We could then print a sheet for each meal that listed everything that had to be brought up from the rafts (and also included the preparation instructions for the benefit of rookie guides), plus, of course, the overall shopping lists. It would take the office worker about 45 minutes to run the menus for a raft trip, and then we'd FAX the sheets to the lead guides, wherever they happened to be.

This cut my food bills nearly in half. It virtually eliminated forgotten items. And it cut the guides' pre-trip shopping time from four hours down to 90 minutes. It relieved the lead guides of the stress of being responsible for remembering all of the things that weren't documented, and it enabled even raw rookies to be able to make a full contribution to the shopping effort.

So when I sold the company, I kept the program and have used it ever since in my private boating--with consistently good results. I have a list of about 35 breakfasts, 25 lunches, 45 dinners, and 25 desserts. I add new meals and delete unpopular ones regularly.

We divide our group into two-person "cook teams" (most often couples who share a raft and a tent). The cook teams choose from the master list the meals they want to cook. I then run the program exactly as we did for our commercial trips. It calculates everything from apples to zucchini, including propane, spices, toilet paper and toothpicks. We almost never find ourselves out on the river without something we are supposed to have.

As to how we organize our shopping and packing, that depends on the trip. For anything less than two weeks (which, of course, covers nearly everything we do) each cook team does its own shopping and packing. That works out well, because every team then knows where to find what they need and what they're looking for.

Of course, there are some items that go into the master kitchen box--things like spices, condiments, and other things that would be expensively redundant if everyone bought them individually. These items are printed-out on a separate sheet of trip supplies.

For the really long trips (specifically, Grand Canyon), we organize the food differently. It's all done on the computer. The shopping for the non-perishable items is handled the same way, by the individual cook teams. But the perishable foods are sorted chronologically according to when they are to be used.

We number the ice chests accordingly. The shopping for the perishables is done by the entire group at a time as close to the launch as possible. I print a separate shopping list for each cooler, and we keep the groceries separated, cooler by cooler, from the store shelf to the parking lot, where the groceries from each list are packed into the corresponding cooler. Sounds complex when I write it out, but in practice, it is quite easy and doesn't require much thinking (the system was designed for river guides, after all).

I mentioned this system in the thread about ice chests, and someone commented that it seemed like a lot of work just to stretch the ice for a few more days. Maybe. It depends entirely on your willingness to eat no-ice meals. For me, having fresh foods throughout a three-week trip is well worth the extra time it takes to organize the shopping lists for sequential use of the ice chests.

And here's why it works. The two things that deplete your ice fastest are (1) putting your beverages on ice; and (2) opening the cooler. Each of those things require your ice to absorb the heat that you introduce into the cooler, and absorbing the heat means melting the ice.

Here's a common scenario when each person is in charge of his own cooler: On day six of your 21-day trip, Joe tells you that he's almost out of ice. That doesn't seem right, because he has the same kind of cooler as everyone else, and started with the same amout of ice. But since none of the coolers were sealed, Joe found it convenient to slip a couple of beers into his every day. Probably more like six a day. Those 36 warm cans melted a lot of ice, as did the 42 extra introductions of hot air into the cooler as the beers were put in and taken out. So Joe had cold beers for a week, and the rest of the group has to carry Joe's food, resulting in depletion of their ice. If your group has two "Joes," you may well find yourself running out of ice (and thus, food) before the end of the trip.

That does not foster good relations on a river trip! We avoid that by allowing only one cooler at a time to be un-taped. When that cooler has done its job, the surplus food and ice goes into the next cooler in sequence. We found that we usually had more ice than would fit into the next cooler, so we used the surplus ice for beverages. We had a cold beer or two for everyone nearly every night.

So that, in many words, is what we do and why.

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Old 08-18-2011   #2
 
Silverthorne, Colorado
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Thanks for posting this...It is very helpful! Would you be willing to share your spreadsheets???
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Old 08-18-2011   #3
 
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The spreadsheets sound great! I would also be interested in the spreadsheet. Sharing or thinking about publishing the spreadsheet?
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Old 08-18-2011   #4
 
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RIGHT! You have sold us on the spreadsheets! Post the file! THEN when you have given us the file and we are free to use it, you should take that and make a program out of it and sell it!!! Your software idea will be a hit because no one else is writting software for it!!!
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Old 08-18-2011   #5
 
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Thanks Mogur- That explains where you are coming from. For my first Grand Canyon trip, I did the menu planning, 3-4 other people did the shopping, then about 4 of us did the packing. It ended up being a huge burden on us (I think I spent 40 hours ahead of time planning and tweaking and people still whined), and it still was a bit of a cluster [email protected]#$ on the river with other people trying to figure out what was where (when the ones that knew were out hiking or such). I swore I'd never do that again, and like that now we are each responsible for our own meals. If anyone ever let their food go bad, they'd not only be strung up on the trip, they'd never be invited back on a trip with this pretty closely knit group. I really can't imagine that happening, what total assholes! Everyone knows what is expected of them, and has proven that they do in the past.
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Old 08-18-2011   #6
 
SLC, Utah
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If you post your food spreadsheets or algorithms I'd be willing to code/program in a food planner on riverbrain.com that anyone could use and store to their profiles.
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Old 08-18-2011   #7
 
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I just want to be clear that I do not intend to dis your method at all even though my experience has led me to a different solution. I too would appreciate the spreadsheets as template for my own menu items. Although I seem to make the same thing over and over it's always for a different # of people and I am always reinventing it. Plus with trips with few people I do have to think outside my comfort zone when I have to make a lot more meals.
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Old 08-18-2011   #8
 
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My work life is heavily dependent on computers and spreadsheets.
I try to keep computers out of my river life (except checking flows and chatting with all you fine folks).

Learned on my first GC trip: KISS!

16 days and 16 people seems easy: each person gets one day (dinner, breakfast and lunch). You have day #7, you plan menu, purchase groceries, carry on your boat, fix 3 meals, carry all leftovers and garbage from your 3 meals and then you are done!

If you want to share the work, you can team with someone else or many others and do less work on more days.

If you have a passenger they would have day #8 so you can coordinate cooler storage. If you are solo you can coordinate cooler management with the people with days #6 or #8.

All grocery receipts are split by the whole group, so no advantage to bring P&J and no penalty to bring lobster. BTW we eat VERY well!

Any thing shorter than a GC trip, we make lunch BYO. All beverages but coffee are BYO.

All our trips are people who own their own boats. If you invite passengers, their gear and their food is on your boat. Typical GC trip would be 10 plus boats. Last MFS trip was 8 people/eight boats.

All group gear is split evenly by the number of boats.
If your boat is overloaded, you brought too many people, too much gear or too small of a boat, either way, its your problem, not mine.

KISS / YMMV
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Old 08-18-2011   #9
 
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Quote:
Originally Posted by tylermacguire View Post
Thanks for posting this...It is very helpful! Would you be willing to share your spreadsheets???
There seems to be a demand here, and I'm a capitalist at heart. I'll have to think about what's the best way to market this. If I merely send out the spreadsheet, I'd have no way to prevent instant world-wide distribution, so that won't work. I'm thinking that I could offer the service for a fee based on the number of meals or days on a river trip. In any case, if I were to do that, I'd become a sponsoring advertiser on this site.

What would be a fair price? I'd send you the list of meals for you to choose from. You'd send me your selections. I'd return PDF files containing your individual meal sheets, plus shopping lists sorted according to the way you want to shop and pack.

Attached is a sample from a recent trip. We had six cook teams on that trip, so there were six sets of data like these, plus the general trip supplies list. Would your group be willing to pay something like $10-15 per river day for this kind of service? If so, I'll get to work and make it happen.
Attached Files
File Type: pdf Team 3 Menu & Shopping List.pdf (24.8 KB, 1571 views)
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Old 08-18-2011   #10
 
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Quote:
Originally Posted by lhowemt View Post
For my first Grand Canyon trip, I did the menu planning, 3-4 other people did the shopping, then about 4 of us did the packing. It ended up being a huge burden on us. I think I spent 40 hours ahead of time planning and tweaking and people still whined, and it still was a bit of a cluster [email protected]#$ on the river with other people trying to figure out what was where.
Yep. You hit the nail squarely on the head. Not to mention having to recalculate all of the quantities because one couple dropped out at the last minute. Been there, done that!

No whining here, because they picked the meals. No disproportionate workload, no clusterforking on the river.
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