Monday, February 17, 2014

101 Tips: What to Do When You Are Hungry and Have No Food

Quite a while back I wrote this blog post about what to do when you were hungry and needed food.  I figured it's about time that I update this post with both more tips and newer information.  Here's what to do if you are hungry and need food:

  1. Apply for SNAP (otherwise known as food stamps) if you qualify.  While the processing may take a bit of time, you may be able to get emergency SNAP benefits until your regular benefits come through.
  2. Apply for WIC if you qualify.
  3. Call 211 and find out what food resources are available in your community.  You can find the service online here.
  4. Visit your local food bank or food pantry to acquire needed (free) food.
  5. Find out where the hot meals are served in your community (these are usually for homeless and others in need and are often hosted at various places like churches and community centers around the community).
  6.  Ask at your local church to find out what food programs they have available (this can range from food pantries to gift cards or vouchers for use at local grocery stores).
  7.  Visit your local Salvation Army.  This organization often combines a hot meal program with a food pantry and other food services for those in need.
  8. Check out your local Goodwill.  Not only is this a great place to shop for clothes and household items, but sometimes they sell highly discounted food items and some even have a food bank for those in need.
  9.  Shop at your local $1 store or 99 cent store for frozen, dry, and perishable foods.
  10. See if your town has a bakery thrift store which sells day old and over run bakery items for cheap.
  11. Shop your local farmer’s market at the end of the day when you are most likely to get good prices on produce and other items the farmer doesn't want to pack up and haul home.
  12. Shop loss leaders at your local grocery stores (these are highly discounted items that are meant to draw shoppers into the stores).
  13. Pay attention to when your local store has “case lot” sales.  Often you can buy cases of items you use (canned tomatoes, etc) for very cheaply this way.
  14. Buy less processed versions of the items you use as these are usually cheaper (ie: a bag of dried beans is cheaper than a can of beans, a bag of rice is cheaper than Minute Rice, etc).
  15. Cruise by the discount areas of your grocery store for good deals (there is usually a discount bakery rack on the far side of the store from the bakery, there may be a produce rack with slightly blemished produce, etc).
  16. Buy generic or store brands if they are cheaper.  Most are usually just as good as the popular, much-advertised items but are priced lower.
  17. Spend you limited money on items that give you the most “bang for the buck”.  Eggs, beans, peanut butter, bananas…basically cheaper foods that are reasonably healthy, reasonably, cheap, and reasonably filling.
  18. Shop with coupons and peruse the sale ads (by combining coupons with sales you can sometimes get items for free!).
  19. Pay attention to unit pricing when shopping, sometimes the biggest box is more expensive than buying a couple of smaller boxes if you break the cost down by ounces or pounds.
  20. Make a price book.  Each time you grocery shop, record the prices of each item you buy.  This way you can tell when an item is really on sale and you can notice trends (either upward or downward) in pricing.
  21. Shop ethnic grocery stores where you can usually find many popular staples for very little money compared to a regular grocery store.
  22. Check out the prices in the bulk bin area of your store.  Often you can buy grains and other foods in bulk this way and save money over buying the item in a package.
  23. Try dumpster diving.  This is popular in some areas and local divers can tell you where to find the best dumpsters (usually food is thrown out just because it has reached its expiry date but it is still good).  Also, there is a lot of information on this topic online.
  24. Grow your own fruit, vegetables, and nuts.  For the cost of seeds and a bit of soil you can end up with pounds and pounds of fruit and vegetables.
  25. If you don’t have your own land to grow food on, see if your community has a P-Patch.  These are community agriculture programs that give people a low cost space (and often the tools, water, etc) to grow their own food.
  26. If you have the space and ability, consider growing your own animals for consumption.  Chickens and rabbits are relatively easy, pigs a bit more difficult, and cows more so but this is an excellent way to fill up your freezer each year.
  27. Pick wild foods when they are in season.  Many areas have blackberries, mushrooms, nuts, wild apple trees, and other produce available on public land just for the taking.
  28. Forage for other, less common, wild edibles such as dandelion greens, cat tails, etc. Find info online for how to do this.
  29. Consider fishing.  Once the cost of the license and gear is figured in, you can still come out ahead if you have the time and skill to fish often. Note that for this and other licenses needed below you should ask if you can get a discount if you are a youth, senior, disabled person, veteran, etc.
  30. Consider shell fishing.  If you live near the ocean, oysters, clams, and crabs are easy to catch.  Lobsters and shrimp are a bit more difficult but with diligent effort you will come out ahead over buying these items at retail.  This will also require a license in most cases.
  31. Consider hunting.  This is another sport/hobby which will incur some expense to start but over time will repay you in spades.  This will also require a license in most cases.
  32. Learn how to process your own food: freezing items for a long shelf life, smoking meat, canning fruits and vegetables, making jellies and preserves, etc.
  33. Ask local farmers if you can glean their fields after the harvest.  There is usually plenty of produce left on the vine even after a farm has been harvested.
  34. Try u-picking fruit and vegetables at a local farm.
  35. See if your community has a CSA (community supported agriculture program) which will give you loads of produce for little money.  You can find local CSAs here.
  36. Skip restaurants.  For the price of one meal out at a middling restaurant, you can buy groceries for a week.
  37. If you do eat out, consider splitting a meal (with the huge troughs of food they serve in restaurants these days neither of you will go hungry). 
  38. A couple of other rules for eating out: skip the beverages and drink water instead, skip desserts as well since these tend to be really over-priced, and consider if you really need an appetizer as the meal itself is usually pretty big.
  39. Before you head out to spend money at a restaurant of any kind, check online for coupons and discounts (Google the restaurant name and coupons and see what comes up).
  40. Check your receipt to see if you can take a survey and get some free food (on the other hand, if you have no money, pick up receipts—usually at fast food places in the garbage—call and do the survey, put down the coupon code, and score some free food).
  41. Hit up up the $1 menu at a fast food place.  It isn’t great food but it will keep you from going hungry for very little money.
  42. Pay attention to fast food place specials to stretch your money even more ($5 Subway special, two pieces of Chicken at Popeye’s on Tuesdays for 99 cents, three tacos for $1 at Del Taco on Thursdays, etc).
  43. Do some internet research and see how others have managed to feed themselves on very little money (examples here, here, and here).
  44. Visit reddit and see what resources they have (this ranges from good info on cheap cooking to assistance to random acts ofpizza).
  45. Cook from scratch.  This stretches your dollars much further than buying pre-made, heavily packaged food.
  46. If you have very little food to use to cook from scratch, make soup.  This stretches even very little food even further.
  47. Don’t let food go to waste, eat all of your leftovers (leftover dinners usually make a particularly nutritious breakfast or lunch).
  48. Let your friends and family know that you would be happy to take any food items they don’t want (from leftovers to excess garden produce, etc).  Eventually you will be the person they think of when they have extra or come across a great sale at the store.
  49. When fruit gets old, don’t toss it out.  Over ripe bananas make great banana bread, old apples make great applesauce, etc.
  50. Shop seasonally for food for the best prices—watermelon in late summer is much cheaper than an imported watermelon in January (ditto for strawberries, etc).
  51. Shop after holidays for the best prices on some items (like a very cheap turkey after Christmas, candy after Valentine’s Day, etc).
  52. When you are cooking, use all parts of the fruit/vegetable/animal.  In Chinese cooking you will see every part of the pig used for food—from the snout to tail.  Most old-time cooks will use all parts of a plant—sliced steamed beets then beet tops in stews, etc.
  53. Trade work for food.  Offer to sweep the parking lot or clean the windows of a restaurant in exchange for food.
  54. Get a job—even a part time job—that offers a free meal on each day that you work (like at a restaurant, coffee shop, nursing home, etc)
  55. Get a Costco or Sam’s Club card and travel around the food section of these stores eating samples; a couple of rounds will nearly make a meal.
  56. Look for free food samples at grocery stores, mall stores, and at community events.
  57. Attend events where free food is provided—weddings, community meetings, church socials, parties, funerals, etc.
  58. Check out Freecycle, Freegans, and the free section of CraigsList and see if there are food items someone is giving away (note you can also collect up free or found items, fix them up, then resell them for money to buy food).
  59. Visit friends and family who will offer you a free meal (grandma’s and aunties are great for this!).
  60. Panhandle.  Yes this is socially stigmatized but if you have absolutely no money and no food and you have kids to feed, this may be the quickest way to drum up some fast cash.
  61. If you have served any time at all in the military, contact your local Veteran’s organization and see what free food resources they offer (this includes the VA, state veteran's office, VFW halls, DAV, etc).
  62. If you are a senior citizen see what meal programs you qualify for in your community (this can range from Meals on Wheels delivered to your home to free lunches at the senior center).
  63. If you are a tribal member, see what food resources are available to you (your tribe’s social service office can help with this).
  64. If you are an immigrant, check to see if your local immigrant center offers free meals (this is particularly common at Chinese community centers, etc).
  65. If you have children, sign them up for free or reduced meals at school.
  66. Check to see if you children’s school has a summer or weekend meal program (these programs give kids either hot meals or food to take home with them when school isn't in session).
  67. Google for ideas.  People are continually coming up with new and interesting ways to stretch a dollar when it comes to food.
  68. Write to food manufacturers if you like their product.  Manufactures like to receive feedback like this and usually respond with a nice letter and loads of coupons or even free samples.
  69. On the other hand, be sure to rant about a food product if you have just cause (this works when corresponding with food companies as well as at restaurants). Usually the company wants to make it right and will reward your efforts with free products, coupons, etc.
  70. Find free sample places online (example here) and sign up to receive free food and household goods samples.
  71. Sign up for free birthday meals.  Granted this only comes around once a year but by signing up you will get an inbox full of coupons for freebies on your birthday.
  72. Take advantage of other freebies as they come available such as Ben and Jerry’s free cone day, free meals for veteran’s on Veteran’s day, etc.
  73. Stretch your meager meals by hosting a potluck with friends.  If everyone brings a dish to share you will have a wide range of dishes to eat for very little money on your part.
  74. Cook things from scratch that most people think need to be store bought (yogurt is so simple and cheap to make that buying store-bought is ridiculous.  Ditto for bread (depending on the price in your local area), etc.
  75. Look at your daily habits and change them.  If you buy coffee each day at Starbucks, make it at home instead.  If you eat out for lunch every day, bring your own lunch from home.  If you have a junk food habit, make your own junk food at home instead of stopping by the store.
  76. Make space in your home to set up a storage pantry so you will have a place to store items you buy on sale or in bulk (this doesn't have to be in the kitchen, it can be in the garage, basement, a bedroom closet, etc.).
  77. Consider buying a freezer (you don't have to buy it at retail, you can often find good deals for these on CraigsList).  This way you can store food that you buy on sale for a longer time.
  78. Volunteer somewhere where, in addition to doing good for others, you can get a free meal for yourself (like at a soup kitchen, homeless shelter, etc).
  79. Take a multi-vitamin. A bottle of vitamins will cost around $10 for a month. This will help make up for any nutritional deficiencies you may have when eating so cheaply.
  80. Think attitude and presentation. My Depression-era grandmother could feed the family a simple plate of beans and rice and we would think we were feasting. Mostly it was her positive attitude ("look at the wonderful meal I cooked just for you") and the presentation (beautiful plates, multiple "courses" like we were eating in a fancy restaurant when we were actually eating bean soup, beans and tortillas, beans and hocks, etc).
  81. Look for cheaper alternatives. If you were used to eating T Bones steaks, find a much cheaper cut of beef and roast it for hours until it is tender. If you were used to getting skinless, boneless chicken breasts for dinner, buy a whole chicken on sale and use every part of it.
  82. Learn to barter. You can trade just about anything (ie: friend shoots a deer, you offer to butcher it for him and keep part of the animal) and with enough practice as well as contacts with other barterers, you could very well end up with much more than you started with.
  83. Consider ways to “win” free food (for example, playing free online poker can win you gift certificates for restaurants).
  84. If someone is going to buy you a gift, tactfully let them know that a gift certificate to Walmart or a grocery store would be much appreciated.  On the flip side, if you are making a gift to a friend or college student consider these same gift certificates as it is a great way to provide them food in a “gifty” sort of way.
  85. If you are a college student, check with student services to see if they have free food resources that you can take advantage of.  With so many needy students attending college these days, schools often have food pantries set up just for their students.
  86. Become a secret shopper, a restaurant reviewer, or otherwise “employed” in a way that will net you free food.
  87. Although the days of the lofty expense account are (mostly) long gone, be aware of your employer’s policy regarding meals.  Often times if you are away from the office working during lunch you may be compensated or reimbursed for your meals.
  88. Check the prices on raw chicken at the grocery store versus a cooked chicken in the deli.  Often the deli chickens are cheaper and you can stretch these birds for three or four meals (roast chicken, chicken tacos, chicken pot pie, and chicken soup).
  89. See what “freebie” food is available as you do your daily errands.  Many grocery stores offer free coffee in the morning.  Some tire companies are famous for their free popcorn for customers.
  90. When you are on vacation, look at all of your options for meals.  Generally the most convenient spot—right in the middle of the tourist area or attraction—is the most expensive.  Taking a detour outside of the tourist area can net you some big savings if you eat where the locals eat.
  91. As long as you are on vacation, throw in a couple of food factory/winery/brewery tours.  These are usually free, interesting, and provide free samples at the end.  
  92. If you are out of town and staying at a hotel, make your first stop the local $1 store where you can pick up snacks and beverages to keep in your room.  This is a much cheaper option than buying from room service or the mini bar when you are hungry.
  93. Eat less.  I’m not sure where the mantra to eat five meals a day came from but the majority of Americans (where obesity rates are heading towards 40%) don’t need to eat 3000-4000 calories a day.  People can get by perfectly fine on two solid meals a day, or two solid meals and soup for dinner each day, and still be perfectly healthy.
  94. If you have some sort of membership that allows you to buy food (everything from a Costco membership to being a military member and shopping at the commissary) take advantage of this if and when the cost of shopping at these places is less than you would pay at a regular store.
  95. Drink tap water.  The majority of the world would be thrilled to be able to drink safe, healthy water out of their tap.  This is easily available in the US and is a far cry better for you than soda, juice, etc.
  96. Cut back (or reduce completely) your food addictions.  Whether it is soda or junk food or Starbucks or whatever your food/beverage addiction is, you will be better off (and have more money in your pocket) if you cut these out.
  97. If you are going to be gone for the day—whether to school, work, or just hanging out—carry food made at home with you even if you don’t think you will need it.  This will keep you from running to a restaurant or store to pick up something when you are starving.
  98. Try to avoid specialized food if at all possible.  You don’t need highly processed freeze dried meals for backpacking when you can make the same stuff yourself at home.  You don’t need fad diet bars and drinks when common sense eating will work better (and cheaper. And healthier).
  99. Find out if your local cooking school or culinary institute offers very cheap meals (students get to practice this way and the public gets good, low cost meals).
  100. Call the National Hunger Hotline for food resources in your area.
  101. And finally the most loathed idea from my last post on this topic yet anthropologically consistent with human behavior since the dawn of time—go on a date for a free meal!

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