At the risk of sounding like a broken record, I’ll say it: Iceland is CRAZY expensive for food. Don’t let that deter you from visiting though! Here are my tips for making food costs in Iceland (and other expensive countries) super affordable.
What We Brought With Us:
You can bring 3kg of food to Iceland with you (no dairy, meat or fish though).
Coffee & Tea: If you’re a chronic hot beverage drinker like myself, make sure to bring a thermos, some tea bags and/or instant coffee. Even just drip coffee from a cafe will cost at least 295 ISK, but usually it’ll be more like 350-400 ISK ($4-5 CAD).
Spices: Make all your food so much better by bringing spices you already have at home. My spice kit usually has cinnamon, chilli powder, curry powder, pepper, garlic and onion powder, and salt. Don’t bring them in the original container (that’d take up too much space and some airports have limits on the amount of powder you can carry-on). I put mine in plastic bags and have never had an issue. Bonus: You can also bring some shredded coconut, powdered peanut butter and brown sugar for oatmeal.
Energy Bars and Trail Mix: I found these especially helpful for either late-morning or late-afternoon snacks when lunch/dinner was going to be a little late due to exploring!
Textured Vegetable Protein: Found at bulk food stores, this stuff takes on the appearance of ground beef in pastas and shepard’s pie dishes to made your meal more filling and get you lot’s of protein (although we didn’t bring any to Iceland because my travel partner has Celiac and can’t eat anything from bulk food stores).
Oatmeal: I packed 1 kg of oatmeal in my carry-on! This was because most oatmeal is at risk of gluten contamination so we had to buy gluten-free oats ahead of time (plus it was super on sale when I was grocery shopping before the trip). It lasted us exactly 10 meals each.
Dehydrated Vegetables: When I talk about dehydrating food, I usually get the response “that’s more trouble than it’s worth”. But this isn’t true at all and it can save you so much money. Here are some things I regularly dehydrate, but get creative and try out others if you’re interested:
- Onions, mushrooms and peppers
- Carrots, sweet potatoes, zucchini
- Spinach, kale
- Bananas, peaches, pineapple
- Strawberries, blueberries, apple
- Salsa, pasta sauce, apple sauce (add cinnamon to make fruit leather), humus
Here are the steps to dehydrating fruits and veggies:
- Set your oven to bake on the lowest setting (when I’m working this is normally 150 F, but at my home my oven only goes down to 170 F – don’t go above 190/200 F otherwise you’ll start cooking, not dehydrating).
- Cut fruits and veggies into small pieces (not super small, just however you’d cut them if you were about to cook with them). This part seems like a lot of work – but it just means you won’t have to chop them later on.
- Lay them flat on a baking sheet with parchment paper, NOT wax paper (I have made this mistake before). Do not add any nonstick spray or oil, you only need to use parchment paper. Tip: Fruit, carrots, potatoes and zucchini should be placed down to ensure there isn’t any overlap, but onions, peppers and spinach can be tossed on in large quantities.
- Let them bake for 4-8 hours. If you’re new to this, check in at 4 hours and then periodically until they’re ready (see below). The time required depends on the water content and the heat (the hotter the oven, the less time needed. Fruits need longer because they have more water than say, onions). With practice you’ll get used to knowing exactly how long each type of fruit/veggie needs in your specific over.
- How to know they’re ready: The fruits/veggies shouldn’t be soft or squishy at all (a sign there is still water in them), they should be crispy/crunchy. Better to over cook than under cook (remaining water can make them go bad).
For sauces, salsa and humus:
Follow the above steps, but instead of slicing veggies/fruits, pour some sauce onto the parchment paper directly and spread it evenly with a spatula (a thickness of about 1 cm). When it’s ready, peel bits of it off the parchment paper and place it in a bag.
When it’s time to rehydrate:
- Fruits: I actually don’t rehydrate fruits, I either eat them as they are or I add them to oatmeal.
- Veggies: place them in a sauce pan or pot with a small amount of water over medium heat. As they absorb the water, add a little more. If you add too much water, just strain it out. For the easiest rehydration: just add them to uncooked rice and let it all cook at the same time. Warning: when they rehydrate, they won’t be their full, plump original selves, so I don’t recommend rehydrating, frying and then eating them on their own. Add them to pasta, rice, noodles, mashed potatoes, etc.
- Note: most veggies can be added in all at once, however exceptions are sweet potatoes and carrots – they need extra time, so start with them and then add other veggies once the potatoes/carrots are halfway done.
- Sauces: Similar to veggies, heat sauce bits while adding water periodically. No need to heat the humus, just add water and stir. Fruit leather can be eaten as it is.
What we did buy in Iceland:
- Cans of tuna – cheap and easy to add to a stir fry, rice or pasta dish
- Rice and pasta – these will be pricier than at home, but the money you’d save isn’t worth the extra weight in your bag
- Vegetable oil
- Skyr yogurt – not too expensive and great for protein and calcium
- Sweet chilli sauce and pesto sauce
- Salami and cheese – these were the priciest things we bought, but good for the occasional picnic lunch
- Baby potatoes
- Rice cakes, potato chips and chocolate covered raisons (we’re both snackers)
- I ate several hotdogs – they are so good there and usually 400 ISK ($5 CAD) each
At the end of the day, we estimate that we spent a little under 15,000 ISK ($180 CAD) on groceries for 11 days plus about $120 in Canada for food to bring with us (spices and tea aren’t included because we already had those at home). This translates to about $14 each, per day. Considering a sandwich on its own is usually $20 CAD in Iceland, this was a serious win.
Note: We did eat out once, and caved and bought good coffee a few times (needed a break from that instant stuff), so this isn’t included in the total above.
I really hope this helps you make an expensive country like Iceland more affordable! As always, feel free to reach out with any questions or comments!