The price of eating on the road

| January 17, 2013

The high cost of food on the road has some drivers running in empty — or very close to it.

I was standing at McDonald’s inside Love’s somewhere in Illinois listening to two drivers talk about how much it costs them to eat on the road. One remarked that the old lady didn’t believe he was sometimes spending $300 a week to eat. I thought that sounded like a lot, too.

I was siding with the old lady in my mind as I started to add up what it costs George and I to eat on the road. When I thought about it, I realized I felt the same way she did before I actually came out. I had no idea how expensive the mark-up on some items could  be. Let’s face it, if the only Happy Meal you can get to costs $6 instead of $3, you’re gonna buy it regardless.

There are three ways to approach the food dilemma on the road. You can do the minimalist thing, old-timer style, and buy a loaf of bread, pound of bologna and sack of Fritos and haul ass. This obviously requires a cooler or refrigeration of some kind, as no one wants to eat hot Fritos. There are people who do fine with this and run like hell on it.

It’s a good bet they don’t have their wives with them and they’re probably not in top physical condition, but they’re making the most money out there and more power to them. A pound of bologna is about $4; sack of Fritos: $3; loaf of bread: $2. They’re spending the least amount to sustain life you possibly can.

The most sensible thing — and probably what most over-the-road drivers do — is to make the upgrade from minimalist and add a few groceries to the list. A cooler with enough room for drinks, cheese and yogurt. Crackers, nuts, beef jerky and pudding cups added to the pantry with the bread and Fritos give a nice variety without breaking the budget. It’s never a bad idea to have a few MRE’s on board, just in case you really are stuck somewhere for a few days.

The cost of feeding someone on the road like this varies and depends on where you decide to buy groceries. Over-the-road drivers have the unique ability to price shop the entire country. Five pounds of beef jerky may cost $20 in Texas, but $35 in Illinois. You can almost do the price comparison by using your daily fuel prices — where fuel is high, groceries will be too.

The third way to eat is to stop three times a day at restaurants and buy food. I’ve heard of people who do this – they’re called tourists. I personally have no knowledge of drivers who actually do it, but I’m told it happens. I can only imagine it’s prohibitively expensive.

We use a combination of methods two and three, mostly to keep me from whining a lot about having to eat bologna sandwiches while not going food-broke on the road. We buy one meal a day, and usually sit down in the establishment for it. This is on good days when we have time to eat like human beings. We spend between $18 and $25, depending on whether or not it’s fast food or Denny’s (or Iron Skillet, or Country Kitchen, or whatever Denny’s-like restaurant it happens to be).

We stock a cooler and a small pantry in the truck. With drinks, not including coffee, we spend between $75 and $100 a week. We don’t go hungry, but we certainly don’t eat three meals a day; there’s a lot of grazing and snacking going on. Coffee is an added expense and definite necessity. We can’t seem to find a coffee maker for the truck we can’t kill in about a week, so we spend between $35 and $50 a week on coffee.

Doing the math I came to a grand total of about $300 a week for two people, so I’m going to have to side with the wife on this one and say if he’s by himself and spending that much, he’s either eating a lot or at really expensive places. If he’s not by himself, she’s got more reason to be mad at him than for spending a lot on food and I’ve got not comment for that.

The $300 a week we spend is pretty bare bones, it doesn’t include smokes and other incidentals. Money is like water out here, every stop is peeling off $50 bills, even if you don’t fuel. The mark-up is completely stupid in some places. You pay outrageous prices for the weirdest things, but it’s always things you need and can’t get anywhere else at the moment. (This may be a vague reference to female personal products, but as I wouldn’t want to make anyone uncomfortable I’ll not make a direct statement to such).

The key to saving money on the road is coming out prepared. Having a plan and a budget and the tools you need to make both work cuts down on a lot of stress and also helps keep things profitable.

  • Jerry

    I get most of my coffee free, most places I travel to gives you free coffee when you fuel up.

  • Craig Vecellio

    Here’s how I manage my menu, assuming you have an APU and inverter. My appliances include my own coffee pot, small microwave, and 12V thermoelectric cooler. My groceries as follows, starting at the house where I prep a LOT.

    2 servings of whole grain cereal..I like Cheerios, which comes in several flavors for the summer, and instant oatmeal packs for the winter. 1/2 can of canned fruit.
    Lunch: 2 sandwiches, with whole grain bread, deli meat, real cheese, mayo and mustard.
    Dinner:precook, pack, and freeze 1quart bowls with lids equal parts meat, starch, vegetable. I pack 8.


    15 gallons drinking water, I like to wash and reuse the bottle out of the faucet. Free water>$4 per bottle for water.
    Packs of 2quart sugar free drink mix, usually 2-10packs will do.

    1 large can coffee, 1 bag sugar or Splenda (they mix the same, Splenda will help with calorie control if it’s an issue), 1 large jar of creamer.
    1 quart milk, and dry mix to refill
    3 boxes of cereal or instant oatmeal packs.
    10 cans of fruit. That covers breakfast for 3 weeks.

    2 loaves whole wheat bread
    2 1/2 pounds deli meat
    2 1/2pounds real cheese. One pound of meat and cheese will actually make sandwiches for 8 days, maybe 9. I premix mayo and brown mustard for a squeezable combination that easily fits in the cooler with the meat and cheese. Along the way I may have to buy a loaf of bread. That covers lunch for 3 weeks.

    I start with frozen prepared dinners. The ice block helps keep the other perishables fresher longer. I also pack about 12 or so cans of hearty soup.

    This provides 3 square meals per day, including coffee and drinks, for about 3 weeks. Cost is about $25-$30 per week per person. Only works well driving solo due to space limitations. I actually lost weight without being hungry eating this way, it’s VERY well balanced nutritionally and not as boring as it sounds on paper. Unfortunately since I havent been OTR for over a year, I gained it all back lol. Fracking means you eat out of mini marts, and you have 15 minutes for 30 people to get food for the day at the start. If you’re lucky you’ll get something as healthy as potato chips.

  • Mike Jones

    Yea..a rise in driver wages wouldnt hurt either…food costs have gone up 100% at truckstops over the last 10 years but driver pay has gone in reverse.

  • Mike Jones

    It costs a fortune to eat in truckstops..and alot of guys dont have refrigerators and all these cooking devices…these trucks are for Sleeping..not cooking and doing dishes…the costs fro food are outrageous as a percentage of weekly pay….after taxes alot of these major carriers only pay $300-500 for regional drivers..mileagecan be 1500- 2000 miles on a regular .33 cpm or so………..with INFLATION the company driver takes home BOY money….the amount a good paper route would provide…….little piddling nothing for pay…..too hilarious…not a paycheck a REAL MAN would be proud of thats for sure…guys at HOME are talkin $1200 per week..MAN PAY..that just laugh at trucker pay…Boy Money…….something a little kid would earn……..LOL

  • Mike Jones

    Cops rip the driver off for the REST of that piddling paycheck too..treat all drivers like Criminals, Students, and Children…too hilarious what the trucking industry has become…….smart to AVOID a silly job like trucking…rediculous…

  • Marlaina


  • Mike Jones

    Yep..the ‘eat in yer truck’ food is a crappy diet and you will die young….frozen food dinners cause cancer..look at the ingredients. Bolony and cheeze for 8 days..ya got to end up in the hospital one day..while they remove stuff…..LOL…Average age of a Trucker is 61…….wonder why?

  • Mike Jones

    Make that the age when truckers DIE is 61…………….not a healthy lifestyle…a sleeper box for a “kitchen” has got to push ya to an early grave…..

  • Craig Vecellio

    I’ve had several encounters with cops, no problems. They were actually helpful. The trick is to stop before you cause a real problem and give yourself a chance to work out a plan to correct the problem. If your problem is the result of an unpreventable situation, such as faulty signs, you’ll get through it with a good attitude. Compared to my years before driving truck, I actually gained respect for cops as a trucker. Even in my personal vehicle, I get verbal warnings for things I used to get tickets for now that they see “CDL” on my license. When I hear people complain about what they were cited for on the CB, I chuckle because the citation was completely justified, and the driver thinks he should have been let off because he was only speeding a little, or the light turned red while he was in the intersection, etc. The hang up is than a truck can cause a lot more damage for the same mistake, for example speeding a little can cause a major disaster because of the necessary stopping distance. I get passed all the time BY OTHER TRUCKS because I leave appropriate following distance. Because of this, cops have to adopt a harder line when something is being done wrong.

  • Craig Vecellio

    Yep, I’ve enjoyed that perk too. I just made my own cuz I’m picky about my coffee. strives to maintain an open forum for reader opinions. Click here to read our comment policy.