EC Eats

Cooking on a budget with gas station supplies

Liam Flake

More stories from Liam Flake


When people think of Wisconsin, the first thing that comes to mind for most is not gas station food. However, Kwik Trip holds a special place in the landscape of Wisconsin for many, offering surprisingly fresh food and several hearty options.

According to the chain’s website, the brand is based in La Crosse and has over 800 stores across the Upper Midwest. They offer standard gas station fares, but also a variety of hot food, take-home meals, produce and more groceries.

For a college student, this option opens up a pleasant opportunity for home-cooked food on a budget. Kwik Trips are widespread enough in Eau Claire and close enough to campus to allow easy accessibility to an array of ingredients for more complex meals.

Since moving into my own apartment last August, I have attempted to take advantage of my own kitchen and teach myself some easy meals. This has come with mixed successes, leading to both occasional tasty food and occasional kitchen fires.

Thus, when I found myself snowed in last Christmas Eve, I decided to do what I could to cook a proper Christmas feast. With my car out of commission, my meal was limited to whatever I could prepare with ingredients from an errand to Kwik Trip.

As such, I settled on a beef casserole from a church cookbook from my grandmother. The recipe was simple, and I only had to combine seven ingredients in a bowl and cook it in a casserole pan for a half hour. Fortunately, each component was available at Kwik Trip:

  • Elbow macaroni
  • Hard-boiled eggs
  • Canned mushroom soup
  • Milk
  • Mayonnaise
  • Shredded cheddar cheese
  • Ground beef (this, admittedly is a substitute for dried beef, which I could not find.)

The result may not have been a Michelin-star meal, but for the circumstances, it felt magnificent. Furthermore, the fact that I could cook a half-decent dish from only a trip to the gas station felt empowering, making cooking feel approachable and affordable.

This recipe is one of many options when cooking from Kwik Trip. On top of their pre-prepared meals—-their mashed potatoes make an easy side to any home-cooked dish—-the possibilities when faced with their meat and produce selection are formidable.

For example, one could prepare a simple beef stroganoff with their steaks, which are as cheap as $2.99, ramen noodles—-without the seasoning—- cream of mushroom soup, sauteed white mushrooms and sour cream.

Or, to branch into Asian cuisine, one could turn to orange chicken by sauteeing a combination of orange juice, vinegar, chopped garlic, sugar and soy sauce (this last ingredient alone may have to be obtained elsewhere) before tossing in and cooking a chicken breast.

On top of that, any student could easily make loaded baked potatoes with potatoes, cheese, bacon and sour cream. For those without easy access to a kitchen, this dish could even be prepared in a microwave.

I have found cooking my own meals to be the most intimidating transition to adulthood. In spite of the temptation to live entirely on instant ramen and breakfast cereal, an ongoing search for easy recipes makes hearty and healthy cuisine more accessible. 

A local gas station chain with fresh ingredients only makes this easier.

Flake can be reached at [email protected].