Taco Bell sign and taco over green and blue background

ChristianChan/Shutterstock Sun_Lab_Design/Shutterstock Walter Cicchetti/Shutterstock @lilhtes/TikTok (Licensed) Remix by Caterina Rose

5 viral, cheap fast food hacks: Get more for less at Panera Bread, Cava, Taco Bell, and more

‘Can’t wait to try it!’


Ljeonida Mulabazi


Fast food is an integral part of many Americans’ daily lives, offering convenient and affordable options for millions. 

According to a report by the USDA’s Economic Research Service, spending on food away from home increased by 89% from 1997 to 2022, while spending on food at home went up by 53% in the same period. 

This trend suggests that, for many consumers, fast food might be more cost-effective than groceries, especially considering just how much more expensive some grocery items have become in recent years. 

However, even fast food joints aren’t immune to inflation, with prices at these formerly-cheap eateries becoming more unrecognizable by the day. 

While some consumers have called for boycotts, others are coming up with clever fast food hacks to get more for less. Below, we’ve compiled a list of the five most useful fast food hacks that the internet has to offer. Let’s dive right in. 

Panda Express Family Meal Hack

Man talking (l+r), Panda Express sign(c)
JHVEPhoto/Shutterstock @glazedepoxy/Tiktok (Licensed)

The popular TikTok couple Callie and Josh Mileham (@glazedepoxy) use their platform to share cheap, healthy, and creative ways to feed larger families—and they’ve done it again with this Panda Express hack. 

In one of their latest videos, they feed their family of six for just $24.46 at Panda Express by sharing larger meals—specifically, two plates with triple orange chicken, chow mein noodles, and rice. 

In their video, we see Callie plating the dishes at home, clearly showing there’s enough food for everyone. By the end of the preparation, she’s created six hearty plates of protein and carbs ready to be enjoyed.

In a previous conversation with the Daily Dot, Callie stated she encourages her audience to share plates at restaurants, especially when the portions are so large. “It’s a great way for larger families to eat out without spending a ton,” she said.

Cava kids’ meal hack

Woman with food(l), Cava sign(c), Woman with drink(r)
The Image Party/Shutterstock @girlwithnojobinnyc/Tiktok (Licensed)

Ordering kids’ meals is a popular method for getting the most bang for your buck.

TikTok creator Girl With No Job (@girlwithnojobnyc) recently shared one of her favorite food orders that, while meant for children, can also satisfy an adult—a Cava kid’s meal

Cava, the Mediterranean-inspired fast-food restaurant, is now being dubbed the “Chipotle rival” due to its recent explosion in growth and popularity, as reported by Eat This Not That.

In Girl With No Job’s video, we can see that a kid’s meal at Cava is generous. She gets a healthy portion of rice, a few pita chips, a sandwich with vegetables and sauce, plus a “fancy drink,” as she puts it—for just $7.60. 

Panera Bread ‘free sandwich’ hack 

Panera customer reveals trick to get free full-size sandwich
@myriamestrella8/TikTok Stan Reese/Adobe Stock (Licensed)

A Panera Bread fan, Myriam (@myriamestrella8) went viral on TikTok when she shared a hack on how you can get a free full-size sandwich at the fast casual restaurant. 

According to Myriam, when you order the “You Pick 2” deal, you can upgrade the bread to a bagel instead. This means you’ll get a full-size sandwich instead of the usual half you’d normally get with the deal, along with your main dish of choice.

The upgrade costs 50 cents—so the sandwich isn’t completely free—but according to Myriam, it’s a great deal. “Why get half a sandwich when you can get a whole sandwich for free?” she asks.

Iced Macchiato at 7-Eleven hack

In Body Image

TikTok user Franki (@breadandfranki) shared how she turned her 7-Eleven trip into a “Korean convenience store experience” by making an iced macchiato for cheap

Using the amenities of the 7-Eleven store, Franki first filled her cup with ice, then poured several caramel-flavored coffee creamers, and topped it all off with four shots of espresso. 

With coffee prices at popular chains going up to an average of almost $5 in recent months, her audience thought this was an extremely helpful trick. 

While some users stated not all locations have coffee machines—making the hack impossible for them—this trick can inspire more creative thinking next time you visit your local 7-Eleven.

Taco Bell hack

aco Bell customer shares combo deal that brings Chalupa, specialty item, side, and a drink
@rebecca.sowden/TikTok Walter Cicchetti/ShutterStock (Licensed)

TikTok user Rebecca Sowden (@rebecca.sowden) shared her favorite cheap and filling meal at Taco Bell—the $5.99 Veggies Build-Your-Own Cravings box that she says is available on the app. 

In the video, we can see exactly what Sowden got in her $5.99 box—one specialty item, one classic item, a side, and a medium drink.

According to Sowden, considering fast food prices nowadays, this is a great deal. 

“I feel like that is so reasonable for fast food right now,” she said. “Am I crazy?”

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