Backpacking food can be really expensive if you buy commercially packaged meals and snacks. Most freeze-dried meals cost $5-8 dollars and powerbars can cost as much as $3.50 each. Your best alternative is to prepare your own meals and snacks or to find prepackaged foods that are easy to cook, lightweight and nutritious.
For example, I have an easy-to-make recipe which I call an Amish powerbar that I use as a substitute for commercial energy bars. My Amish powerbar recipe contains two pieces of whole wheat bread, two tablespoons of peanut butter, and a tablespoon of honey. Simple and extremely cost effective. I wrap each one in it’s own ziploc sandwich bag and they stay fresh for 3-4 days.
Here’s a nutritional comparison of the Amish powerbar against Probars and Honey Stinger Protein Bars, two of the most caloric energy bars you can buy today. (Cliffbars are in a completely different league since they only provide about 250 calories of energy). As you can see, the Amish powerbar is a fraction of the price of the commercial energy bars but provides comparable nutritional value. It is a bit on the heavy side and it is more perishable but it provides a excellent balance of sugars, fat, and slow burning complex carbohydrates. Tastewise, it beats Probars and Honey Stingers hands down. And from a convenience standpoint, you can eat the entire sandwich at once or save the un-eaten portion in its ziploc bag.
This comparison illustrates how little added value commercial energy bars provide beyond the fact that they have a longer shelf life and slightly more caloric density. Something to consider when you are packing your food bag.