As your stomach starts to grumble late into a grueling day of driving, you reach into your cooler for a snack, only to come up empty. You’ve exhausted your whole supply of healthy food. There’s no Walmart for another 200 miles, and you’re about to reach the end of your daily allotted hours. What’s a healthy truck driver to do? You guessed it. You’ll have to stop for dinner at dun, dun, DUNNNNN… an overpriced, unhealthy truck stop. You only have $7 in your wallet, but you still want to grab something that’s not completely artery-clogging. Is it possible? Check out this video where our health guru Eric Banter finds an entire healthy meal at a truck stop for a relatively reasonable price, and keep reading for some tips on picking healthy truck stop meals that are budget friendly to boot!
Become familiar with what’s available.
The first thing you should do when you’re trying to find a healthy, affordable meal at a truck stop is get to know the products in the convenience store. Take your time and look around. Check out the nutritional information on things and figure out what the healthier and affordable options are. If the nutritional information isn’t plastered right there on the packaging, ask! There’s nothing that says you’ve got to get in and out of there in five minutes. You can spare an extra 5-10 minutes to look for something healthy. Learning the pricing and nutritional value of what’s available in truck stops will make your next stop quicker anyway, as most stops carry the same general products for around the same price.
Make a meal budget.
Decide how much you want to spend on each item of your lunch or dinner. If you just go barreling into the truck stop and pick your meal out all willy nilly, you probably won’t save any money. For example, before you go in to pick out your meal, decide something like, “OK. I’m going to spend no more than $3 on my entrée, no more than $1.50 to $2 on one side, and no more than $2 on a drink.” This will keep you from overspending as well as overeating because you won’t buy food you don’t need if you can’t afford it!
Cut unnecessary expenses.
One of the cheapest ways to cut your truck stop food bill is by nixing unnecessary expenses. The easiest way to do this is by drinking water at meals! This way, you won’t have to purchase a drink and you’ll be able to get more bang for your buck. Do you really need that 22 oz Diet Coke? Get a nice gallon-sized water cooler and refill it as you need to. Voila – water all day, and you don’t have to pay the 4,000% markup price (yes, seriously) for bottled water!
Sometimes truck stops and convenience stores will have products marked down if they’re reaching their expiration date. This is another way to save money, but don’t buy something just because it’s cheap. If it’s 50 cents but has 800 calories in it, you might as well bypass it for a healthier, albeit pricier option.
You can also consider using rewards points on food in truck stops. Most loyalty programs give you a point (worth one cent) for every gallon of fuel you purchase. As you can imagine, sometimes it can take a while to build up value on your card, but when you consider how many gallons of fuel your tank holds and how often you’ll need to fill up, the points quickly add up.
Many stations also print off coupons for free drinks or coffee when you purchase x gallons of diesel (usually at least 50). Using these when you buy your truck stop meals will save you money as well.
Truck stops are definitely not the cheapest place to dine – that’s old news. But if you’re in a pinch and need sustenance now, you can find a healthy, budget-friendly meal with a little effort. Bypass the pepperoni pizza, cheese fries, and Coke, and instead look for options like tuna salad (high in protein), fruits and vegetables, and low calorie, low sodium, and low sugar side items. Drink tap water to stretch your dollar a little further.
What tips do you have for getting an inexpensive meal at a truck stop? Share with us in the comments!