About Cheap Food…

Hi and welcome to the blog!  It’s been a busy couple of weeks working and camping.  Some of the old vandwelling habits of economizing are working great as I have started work trekking.  It’s been possible to eat some terrific meals on-the-cheap – a challenge and a lot of fun, too.  It seemed like an unusual topic to present and see folks’ comments and ideas.  What works for everyone?

Eggs, potatoes, fruits and cottage cheese… For $2.69 who can complain?

Breakfast at work…  Using a cafeteria can be heaven or hell on the budget.  The company where I am working has a fantastic “serve yourself” type arrangement.  In the early morning a foam soup bowl is $2.69 and you can fill it with all the eggs, fried potatoes, or fruit you can carry.  It’s a terrific deal – the best value of the day – and keeps me from having to pack breakfasts as frequently.

Monday’s lunch… It was a very filling salad! Don’t but the heavy items like meat and dressing!


Eating extra light at the salad bar…  I like to carry my own proteins to work.  The lunch salad bar costs 40 cents per ounce.  Today I heaped a plate up with lettuce and shredded carrots, spending just $2.62 for it.  I’d brought some sliced turkey (free from the food pantry) and put about 4 ounces of meat on it.  I also keep salad dressing in the company fridge to avoid that weight, too!

One of the best apps you’ll ever find for cheap eats!

Cell phone apps…  I’ve got quite a few restaurant apps on the cell phone but by far the best one found is the McDonald’s app.  At least once or twice a week it offers sandwiches for a $1.  I get the Artisan Grilled Chicken (having my friends add bacon and cheese for free).  It should be $5.89 or so.  I get it for $1.07… and usually the former coworkers slip me a free soda pop.  If I don’t need the sandwich I often buy one and save it for later.

Restaurant specials….  On Wednesdays I camp near a BP station that has a Godfather’s brand pizza restaurant.  They offer a nice fat slice of pizza for a buck.  How can you beat that?   One is enough, paired with some fruit.

Fresh fruits and veggies…  Right now I have a couple of pears in the van to snack on.  They’re cheap and healthy as can be… Some fruits keep better than others.  My favorite fruit is definitely the avocado.   🙂

Avoid vending machines.  These things are budget killers.  Why give them $1.50 for a pack of M&Ms?  (I’ve done it out of desperation.)  With Halloween coming, you can buy a big bag of individual packets of candy a lot cheaper per serving.  (It didn’t work out well for me though… I had to give them away due to lack of will power!)

Bring your own soda… (aka “pop” in Iowa)  I’ll admit it… I’m a caffeine junkie.  The new job is very repetitive and caffeine helps a lot.  But why pay $1.75 for a 20 ounce soda when 6 of them are on sale for $2.50?  I keep quite a stash of “pop” and water in the van.  We have free cups and ice at work.

Peanut Butter…  I love the stuff and can almost always get it for free from the pantry.  At home and in the van there is a stash of abandoned jelly packets from my previous job; people used to leave them on the tables and I  hoarded them.   Sometimes I’ll eat some peanut butter and jelly on Ritz crackers for an emergency mini-meal in the van.

Pancake Breakfasts… In this rural area we have all kinds of fire department fund raiser pancake breakfasts.  They’re not weight loss or diabetic friendly but for $7 you can eat like a horse for not a lot of money.  I hit one in Wyoming, Iowa over the weekend and got filled up for the whole day.  By the way, the sausage was to die for!  A local farmer donated two hogs for the fund raiser.  The piggies were ground into sausage, seasoned, and grilled.  You won’t find that at McDonald’s!

Jenny and her bird “friend”… No, she didn’t hurt it but it was scared silly!

Jenny recommends poultry….  Just kidding.  She caught a bird Sunday night.  Then Jenny sat with her paws around the terrified avian and licked its head.  Goofy cat!  The bird was shaken but otherwise unharmed.  She’ll take her poultry from a Fancy Feast can.

Those are just a few of the cheap eats around here.  I also have been bringing some meals along each time I come to town to work a couple days.  It’s saving a LOT of money, not to mention the convenience.  We have big, underutilized fridges for the workers.  A person might as well take advantage!

I’m curious what kinds of ways readers stretch the grocery budget and come up with creative ideas for good food…

Well, that’s about all for now.  It’s getting late enough in the evening that I need to look at turning in for now.  There is “Apfel-fest” coming up on Saturday not far from here and I might just have to attend.  Apfel is German for apple.  (“Apfel” reminds me of that insurance company, Aflac)  The festival has some interesting events planned that day.  I hope to get pictures.

The following week buddy Steve and I are talking about going north to get some trout and gather up some hickory nuts.  It’s been a lot of fun having weekends off again and enjoying the later summer weather.

Take care and thanks for visiting.  Happy camping!

Brad in the van, Jenny minding the home base
Out and about in Eastern Iowa


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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"

4 Responses to About Cheap Food…

  1. Jo Harmon says:

    Hi Brad,
    I think you are eating much healthier living in your van for work. I’m glad you gave away the M&M’s I’m like you and I have no restraint when it comes to candy. Luckily we don’t get trick or treater’s here in the Park.
    And having the use of the fridges at work helps out quite a bit as long as no one starts stealing food. Sounds like your happy with this new job. Keep posting your wonderful food items

    • VanTrekker says:

      Hi Jo! The habits are fairly healthy with the shift in lifestyle. I’m doing the breakfast or salad (or both thing) throughout the week…mainly just taking the proteins to work to supplement. It’s enjoyable eating healthier on-the-cheap. I’m home tonight and made some Shake ‘n’ Bake chicken tenders for the salads the next couple days. 🙂

      I’m excited about the apple fest this coming weekend. It might not be so healthy but could still be enjoyed in moderation… Take care Jo!

  2. shadowmoss says:

    Your comments about the fast food apps is the second time I’ve run into this in 2 days. My cheap pick-me-up meal is a jr. cheesburger and a (free) jr. chocolate frosty gotten with my key tag I bought in January. Total is $1.74, and is enough to make me feel like I’ve eaten a meal. Also the Walmart Great Value frozen dinners for $1.88, 4 kinds I like Again, not a lot of food but enough to make me not feel hungry for awhile. When I was in Wendy’s a couple asked for help getting into their app to get some free thing. I may have to download at least the Micky D’s and Wendy’s apps to check them out.

    • VanTrekker says:

      A person can save a lot of money, for sure! I got a McDouble tonight for $1.07 instead of $1.81. Buddy Steve and I drove around a bit. Then I popped back in at McDonald’s and got an Artisan Grilled Chicken for just $1.07 again. The savings have already paid for the new smartphone. 🙂 🙂 I saw that using the app for Wendy’s gets you a free single with any purchase over a dollar. Sounds like a great idea. Take care! — VT