Current Retail: $14.00
570 calories, 39 g fat, 42 g protein, 9 g carbohydrates, 2 g fiber, 7 g net carbs
freeze-dried ground beef (cooked ground beef, salt, rosemary extract), freeze-dried mozzarella cheese (cultured pasteurized reduced fat milk, salt, enzymes, powdered cellulose [to prevent caking]), tomato powder, freeze-dried zucchini, granulated onion, granulated garlic, salt, italian seasoning
Next Mile Meals are made low carb for ketogenic dieters, but omnivores will appreciate them too. The Italian Meatball Dinner has a lot more than meat going for it with vegetables, cheese, and most importantly, lots of great flavor.
- Real flavors and textures
- Moderate packaging
- Premium price
- High sodium
Next Mile Meals specializes in low carb meals for the ketogenic adventurer because it grew out of one hiker's attempt to stay on the diet while hiking the Pacific Crest Trail back in 2017. The meals she made for her hike were well reviewed by other hikers along the trail mooching bites. After the hike those meals were tweaked into the products they sell today. I'll be reviewing a few of their meals over the next few weeks including a Buffalo Ranch Chicken dinner and a Denver Omelette breakfast, but today we'll dig into the Italian Meatball Dinner.
We can look at ingredients and calories later, but first let's get started making dinner. Each of the Next Mile Meals I'm testing follow the same basic routine, but the amount of water in the instructions varied. Normally I'm sort of lax about exactly how much water I use, but I made a point of noting the amount on the package before I started pouring.
In the case of the Italian Meatball dinner the instructions said to open, remove oxygen absorber and add 6 or 7 ounces of boiling water. Waiting 7 to 10 minutes before opening, stirring, and eating were suggested. My test meal was prepared in the field rather than the lab, so amounts and times were estimated. We were on the side of a windy mountain with darkness coming on and temperatures rapidly dropping, plus I was really hungry. Sorry for not using a measuring cup and stopwatch, but I think I was pretty close to the instructions. Given the wind and sub-freezing temperature I tucked the Next Mile Meal package into some insulation while it hydrated.
Normally I would post a pic of ingredients in a food review, but not give the subject its own heading. I'm doing that here because I want to emphasize just how short and simple this list actually is. This dinner really is a bag of meat, cheese, vegetables, and sauce. No mystery stuff in there.
We still have a couple of minutes before dinner is ready, so there's time to look at the fuel load in this meal. Right away you'll notice that this is not your average, balanced diet sort of meal. Carbs are avoided as much as possible in a ketogenic diet as it is based on the concept of forcing the body into a fat fueled state. That is why fat plays such a heavy role in the nutritional balance.
While I don't follow the diet, I do employ fat fueling techniques on trail. For those unfamiliar, these numbers will look pretty scary, but they make fat and protein fans smile. Do note the amount of sodium. That number needs to be taken into account when planning an overall diet on trail.
Over the years I've learned I have better luck waiting longer than instructed rather than rushing into eating a crunchy dinner. This was for science though and as I mentioned, I was really hungry, so I didn't wait long at all before deciding it was time to start sciencing this stuff with my spork. Nothing crunchy was found as everything was nicely rehydrated and I had a nice amount of sauce.
The zucchini floated to the top while the small nuggets of beef filled the majority of the bag, at least from first appearances. Once I started digging around in there I found lots of cheese with enough sauce to keep everything from sticking together. Once I started to stuff it into my face I found that it tasted as good as it smells. I grew up in an Italian family as far as the dinner table was concerned and I'm leery of most commercial attempts to recreate those flavors. The Next Mile folks have put together a nicely herbed and spiced sauce that made the few other simple ingredients into a delicious meal.
Satiety & Energy:
Since I'm not really into the keto thing I wasn't sure how I'd feel about eating a meal with virtually no carbs. Noodles, rice, tortillas and such are what my stomach sort of expects to fill up on in terms of volume. As I worked my way through the bag I could feel the hunger I'd worked up on the hike in fading away. Putting this bag of food in my face and belly left me feeling fed and happy.
Energy output is just not something I can science. Like everyone, I rely on the labels and hope for the best when putting a meal plan together. I can tell you that the next day this fat old man lugged a 57-pound pack up a mountain, so there must have been some food value in that bag.
I described the packaging as moderate earlier because I always want it to be less. Most of my meals are eaten from freezer bags so commercially packed single meals always seem bulky to me. Next Mile Meals seems to have used only what is needed to do the job. There isn't a lot of extra packaging around the edges with the exception of the bottom. They did something there that justifies the extra materials used.
Instead of a gusset that traps food, they used a raised seam across the bottom that seemed to trap less food. It lets the remaining material spread out to support the bag upright, but keeps the food closer to your hungry face. Less trapped food means carrying less in your garbage bag. I weighed the used packaging when I got home. The bag, with meal remains, but not the oxygen absorber came in at 14g or about .5oz on my scale.
The bag seemed to retain heat well enough, though as mentioned conditions dictated using insulation while it hydrated. When I picked it up again I could feel heat on the outside of the bag which tells me I made the right choice. Inside the meal remained a pleasantly warm eating temperature down to the last bite. The short bag depth was easy to plumb with my spork without getting my fingers in the bag.
The Italian Meatball dinner was eaten on a multi night winter season trip to the Pemigewasset Wilderness in New Hampshire. No laboratory science, just real world testing heh. It was cold and I was hungry, so that seems like good testing to me.
The Next Mile Meals folks are making a product for a specific niche market. Ketogentic meals are by nature extremely unbalanced to perform an intended dietetic role. Does that mean you need to be following a keto diet to appreciate and enjoy them? Absolutely not!
These meals can be used in various ways by different people. I'm pretty sure that if you added noodles or rice that a single serving would make a pretty good dinner for two. My backup plan was to make burritos if I felt I needed to. I might try that in the future, but despite being really hungry when we made camp, I found the Italian Meatball dinner to be quite satisfying on its own. I remarked to my partner that the review would contain at least one exclamation of, "That's a big bag of meat!" because I was pretty happy about the eating experience.
Nutritionally, it is important to note what your body will get out of this sort of meal. On trail it is about the balance you achieve with your overall intake and meeting the goals of your meal plan. For keto folks these meals are going to make it easy to hit your targets.
At the end of the day, especially a long trail day, those numbers on the package don't matter nearly as much as stuffing food in your face and filling your belly. As I dug through the bag my spork would at times come up with big gooey globs of cheese while other bites had small bits of cheese holding beef balls together. Each bite was not the same, boring, mushy texture. Despite starting out as freeze dried bits, it all came together into something that felt like food.
These meals are a bit of an investment, MSRP $14USD for the Italian Meatball dinner, which makes sense given the ingredients. A bag of meat is different from a bag of noodles. That and the sodium content make me think of this as something I'd add to my food bag, but perhaps not have every meal. That is a personal thing though.
Folks needing to hit a dietary target will appreciate this as a tool to help them meet that goal. For my purposes I'll go back to my previous statement, "That's a big bag of meat!" I'm seeing these Next Mile Meals dinners as something that I can use to stay on trail longer. I'm often beset by an uncontrollable cheeseburger urge after six days or so on trail. This is an untested theory, but I'm thinking a bag of meat like the Italian Meatball dinner might keep my partners safe a few days longer out there.
I'm looking forward to doing a few more tests on these Next Mile Meals and will be back with reports on the Buffalo Chicken and Denver Omelette soon.
Years of experience eating other commercially prepared trail meals as well as my own home dehydrated meals. This was my first experience with a low carb, ketogenic trail meal.
Source: received for testing via the Trailspace Review Corps
(Sample for taste testing and review provided by Next Mile Meals)