Salad Bars – A Favorite Choice When Urban Vancamping

In recent days, I have been partaking of salad bars at the local grocery stores.  They offer a variety of cheap foods and a high degree of convenience for those who crave fresh food and have little storage or refrigeration capability.  I wanted to share some thoughts as to why salad bars are more than just a little rabbit food and how versatile they really are. 

My hope is that before anyone converts a van into a dwelling, he or she first considers what he/she will be eating and what really needs to be cooked in the van.  If I had done that it would have saved some money and work.

Here is why I love salad bars:

1) Cost and Convenience. Unless a person is of extremely slim means, the salad bar is reasonably priced, particularly at a grocery store.  One of our local stores offers a small price of $3.99 for a one trip plate or a carryout for $4.99 per pound. Even when I was living paycheck to paycheck, I could usually scrounge up enough for a four dollar salad. For a vandweller, it’s cheap eating and there is no cleanup!  You can also consume a wide variety of foods that it would not be feasible to purchase separately.  Best yet, if you are getting the cold salad bar items to go, you can pay with a food assistance card.

2) Veggies and Fruits.  Of course, this is the first thing we think of when we envision a salad bar.  With all the produce items it is so much healthier than a McCombo.  You can easily nail five or more servings of fruits/veggies in one meal.  The produce used for salad bars is often very ripe – perhaps a bit overripe – but I’ve never had any problems.  The variety of colors, textures, and flavors are visually appealing and quite satisfying.

3)  Proteins.  As a diabetic, I need to limit the fruits a bit and load up on veggies and protein.  Our local grocery stores stock imitation crab, ham, turkey, roast beef, and chicken strips on the salad bar. Blood sugars repeatedly show that if I behave and avoid the sugary stuff (even though I love that green fluffy salad), the salad bar is is the best meal choice for blood sugar management.

4) Casseroles.  Tonight I gathered onions, a variety of colors of peppers, ham cubes, bacon bits, and cheese.  It went into the lunchbox cooker along with a container of egg substitute.  Breakfast cooked in the van will be tasty and it took just a minute or two to assemble.  It wouldn’t be eggs without some dashes of hot sauce.  Next time a few croutons in the bottom might add a strata taste…  It’s fun to experiment.

5)  Pizza or Sandwich Toppings.  Last week I showed Dad how for a couple of bucks worth of salad bar ingredients we topped a pizza that saved us a lot of money and was loaded to the hilt.  You can also really dress up a cheap sub with lots of marinated peppers and other ingredients from the salad bar.

6) Simplify Your Life.  Take a minute and think “Do I really want to do much cooking in my van?”  I thought I did and bought a microwave, a butane stove, a toaster oven and a lunchbox cooker.  Just two appliances get used very often:  the toaster oven and microwave.  If you reside in your van you are going to be or are living in tight quarters.  Cooking can be messy, inconvenient, and could blow your cover when the people parking next to you smell a pot of chili cooking.  Eating a plate of salad in the car is stealthy and healthy.

7)  Food Assistance  I know this is not a popular subject but there are plenty of vandwellers or van campers who use food assistance.  Our local stores will permit SNAP (food stamp) benefits to be used for cold salad bar items.  I think you can judiciously use these benefits to “eat out” and enjoy healthy food.  I do the flat-rate, one-price thing (using cash) rather than paying by the pound if wanting to eat a meal.  The money goes much further that way.  If it’s to go, Uncle Sam helps with the bill.

There has been a fair amount of discussion about visiting farmers markets and organic grocery stores.  We have many of those here (in Iowa) as well.  In fact, I like to hit the health food store’s salad bar (expen$ive) occasionally.  But for those who don’t mind non-organic foods, the local grocery store might be just the ticket for an urban dweller who is looking for something inexpensive and portion controlled.

Does anyone else also make extensive use of salad bars?

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About VanTrekker

I am a former vandweller in Eastern Iowa who, for several years (off and on), lived in a 2007 Chevy cargo van. I still travel around Iowa with my tortoise shell cat, Jennifer Stefanie. Our favorite place to explore is the Country Heritage Community, the four far northeastern counties of Iowa (Clayton, Winneshiek, Allamakee, and Fayette). Ride along as we fish in pristine trout streams, enjoy fine home cooked camping meals, and meet new people. It's all possible on a shoestring budget. Happy travels always! --- Brad, the "Van Trekker"

One Response to Salad Bars – A Favorite Choice When Urban Vancamping

  1. Pat says:

    Try going to the farmers market at the end of the day. You might get a great deal on all the leftovers. The farmer doesn’t want to haul it all back to the farm.