Peeples is a married mom of three who is always looking for the best ways to get quality food for the lowest price possible.
What to Eat When You're Hungry and Broke
Okay, so most of us who have been really poor have hit the moment when there's nothing to eat. Well, here are some ideas for how to get full.
I know when you have only $3 left to your name, and you are hungry, it can be very easy to pull up to that dollar menu and get a quick fix. That is fine as long as you don't have electricity or running water. If you do, however, have bills to pay and mouths to feed, think in terms of the long run, not a quick fix, and go to the grocery store.
35 Cheap Foods to Eat When You're Broke
- Bread (full loaf under $2 in most places)
- Sliced cheese (not Kraft)
- Noodles (5 packs $1 Dollar Tree)
- Rice ($1 or less for a bag in many places)
- Vienna sausages
- Peanut butter
- Beans or lentils
- Pork 'n' beans
- Canned chili
- Carrots (great with ranch dressing)
- Cucumbers (great with Italian dressing: $1 at Dollar Tree)
- Potatoes (sweet or regular)
- Frozen vegetables
- Eggs (mmmm protein)
- Canned salmon (add an egg and some bread crumbs to make cheap salmon patty burgers)
- Yogurt (3 for $1 at my local Walmart)
- Spaghetti (a 16 oz. box of noodles and $2 can of sauce is enough to feed a family)
- Onions (add flavor)
- Garlic (add flavor)
- Tomatoes (better price if you buy local)
- Protein bars
- Cereal ($1 at Dollar Tree)
- Pecans (in season, you can find trees that drop these in public places, meaning free!)
Most Filling Foods
When looking for the cheapest foods, you will also want to consider the foods that will fill you up the most. Foods high in satiety, or the feeling of fullness after a meal, are the ones you want to focus in on. Fortunately, many of the cheap foods that you can buy have high levels of satiety, such as potatoes and beans.
Another thing to consider is the protein content of the food. Protein is the most satiating macronutrient, meaning you can feel full eating less of a high-protein food.
Foods High in Protein:
- Greek Yogurt (especially 0% fat)
- Lean Meat
- Cottage Cheese
According to the US Department of Agriculture's annual hunger report, more than 17 million American households don’t have enough food for an active, healthy life.
Grocery Stores Are Cheaper Than Drive-Thrus
Yes, it's true, you can get a cheap meal at McDonalds, but it's sometimes cheaper and always healthier to cook yourself.
And most grocery stores sell good ole meat, right? What's better than a good steak or a nice hamburger? (Good luck finding a cheap vegetarian meal at McDonald's.) If you are just feeding yourself or you and one other person, then go to the meat market. They will cut or weigh out exactly how much you want. If ground beef is on sale for $2.99 a pound, get 1/2 a pound and grab some $1 buns. Or you can buy a $1 pack of hot dogs and a $1 pack of buns along with a cheap can of chili. There are so many cheap options at the grocery store that will feed you for longer than that tiny burger at the drive through would. Remember these guidelines:
- Always look at the house brand, which is usually cheaper.
- Compare the unit price to see if buying in bulk is cheaper.
- Watch for items that are on sale!
Free Stuff at the Grocery Store
If you live near a Whole Foods Market you need to make a trip in there. Not to buy food (they are notoriously overpriced) but because they have enough samples to fill anyone. Take several tasting tours around the store if you need to. Most grocery stores offer free cookies near the bakery. If you happen to have children, make a snack time trip to every grocery store around your town. If you have an Ingles in your area, they have free popcorn for kids at the movie department.
Do you only eat healthy food? Good for you. Bags of carrots, kiwis, potatoes, and other fruits and veggies are affordable. A bag of dried beans can feed a family for days.
Below, you'll find a shopping list of cheap foods. Not all of us only eat perfectly healthy food, so I have included many options, including some healthy ones, on this list.
I've also included some cheap meal ideas that are great to use for breakfast, lunch, or dinner.
Cheapest Foods to Live on
Here are some meal ideas that are cheap, healthy, and filling. Many of these meals consist of foods I already listed above. If you really want to cut down on the cost of food, try buying wholesale or in bulk. You can check around your local area and see if there are any wholesale grocery stores or stores that sell things in bulk. Making your own meals with this in mind will cut down costs.
Cheap Breakfast: Oatmeal With Banana
This is a breakfast staple for a reason: oatmeal has high fiber content, and it is one of the most filling foods out there. Try to avoid instant oatmeal and get your own oats. Adding a banana adds some extra nutritional value as well.
Cheap Lunch: PB&J Sandwich
Another classic that is both cheap and filling. Considering you can get whole grain bread for relatively cheap, this is a great lunch option, particularly if you are packing lunches for yourself and your family. The high fiber content of the bread and the protein from the peanut butter make for a winning combination.
Cheap Dinner: Rice and Beans With Eggs or Lean Meat
With rice and beans as the foundation, you can add some lean protein on top for a super filling meal. You can also utilize some spices as well to make the whole thing a bit tastier. With the high fiber and protein content of the meal, you can make some hearty servings for cheap and still have plenty of leftovers.
8 Cheap and Healthy Meals for When You're Broke
- Lentil Soup: Buy a big bag of lentils and slow cook them, adding in various veggies and spices. The cooked lentils are very filling and you can make enough to last you several days.
- Chili: Get a bag of beans, soak them for a couple of days, and then make your own chili. Add in some cheap ground beef and veggies along with some spices for a tasty meal.
- Mac and Cheese: An old classic that never disappoints. Grab a bunch of pasta and a bunch of cheese. I suggest adding some spices to the mix as well just to open the flavor up a bit.
- Breakfast Burrito: Get some cheap tortillas, scramble some eggs, cook some beans, and throw some cheese in and you'll have a tasty burrito that will fill you up.
- Baked Potato With Cheese and Veggies: Cook a potato, cut it open, and throw some cheese and cooked vegetables in it. Broccoli and cauliflower work quite well here but you can try some more exotic veggies if you want.
- Ramen With Egg: Instead of feeling sad eating some cheap instant ramen, throw a cooked egg and some spices on top. The egg will make you more full and help add some flavor along with whatever type of spice you want to put over all of it.
- Grilled Cheese: While it may seem simple, it takes some skill to get everything just right. I suggest using a firmer bread and turning the stove temperature down on the stove. Throw in some cheese and some veggies and you'll have a tasty meal ready to go in no time. Adding in tomatoes or jalapenos is a good idea if you want to change things up.
- Bagel With Cheese and Eggs: Toast the bagel and then slap on some scrambled eggs with cheese. The crunchiness of the bagel works well with the smooth texture of the eggs and cheese.
I Need Food but I Don't Have Any Money, What Are My Options?
If you're struggling to make ends meet and you don't have any funds (or very limited), there are a couple of options out there for you.
I am an avid couponer! I can walk in a store and buy $150 worth of food for $35-$50! Get into couponing! It is so worth the time and effort. Stack store coupons with manufacturer coupons to get the best deals. If you have a printer at home, you can print all types of coupons to get yourself started. We feed a family of 5 for $50 a week. It takes work, but it can be done!
Going to a Food Bank
Your next option is the food bank. Usually, every town has at least one. You can dial 211 from any phone and ask them where the local food bank is. I know, I know, no one wants to stand in a line for two hours to get a bunch of rice and beans. But if you are broke and hungry, suck it up! Sometimes you luck up and get something good. Anything free is better than nothing.
Also you can go to multiple food banks. This way you may be able to get more to last you and you won't have to go again too soon. This also gives you a chance to check out multiple food banks to figure out which ones give out the best food.
Is Dumpster Diving a Healthy Option?
Dumpster diving, also known as Freeganism, has been gaining popularity. In fact, it's not just for poor people anymore. Many people go out late at night to check the dumpsters behind their favorite stores to see what there is. Stores throw away all kinds of edible, delicious, fresh, healthy food and other usable items. Yes, it might be embarrassing if someone catches you, but it's better than starving or stealing.
While the video above may be jarring for some of you, the amount of food that is wasted in the US is quite staggering. According to the USDA, the amount of food waste is around 30-40% of the total food supply in the country. This is due to the amount of commercial food that is thrown out due to blemishes and imperfections at retail outlets. The vast majority of the food that these retailers throw out is perfectly safe to eat, and most of it does not get donated to a local food bank, it merely gets tossed in the dumpster at the end of the day.
Is It Okay to Steal Food If You're Hungry?
Refrain from stealing food: the fact that you were hungry won't reduce your jail time if you are caught. Stores have gotten much smarter these days. They are putting theft sensors in meat packs and all sorts of other containers now. Jail will feed you well though, so if you really are desperate, I guess that could be a good idea for you.
Do you know of other ways to get cheap food? Comment and let us know!
© 2010 Peeples
Tomsmomanddad on January 15, 2019:
The food banks/pantries are for anyone that needs food. They are not only for homeless people. Places like the Salvation Army and some churches do hot meals for the homeless people and they know what time and what days they can come to get a cooked meal. The food at the banks/pantries usually are foods that need cooking or heating up. That would require you to have a way of cooking.
Ruby on January 14, 2018:
What do u do iff u have 2 small children and u have no cash at all.
Angel on January 05, 2018:
Tenzim, tax is legit 9 cents at Dollar tree. And I don't think they have 8 packs of hot dogs but they have a bunch of other stuff.
Luddite Steve on November 30, 2017:
Bar S hotdogs sell for $1.00 at Stop & Shop. Eight dogs in a 12oz package.
Tenzim on November 17, 2017:
I'm sorry but there is no way you can buy 8 hotdogs for $1 or buns even dollarstores have tax. People don't care they just simply don't. Cynical really. They are starving us all for corporate agenda.
Yea on September 05, 2017:
On library computer
Manon on August 20, 2017:
I don't have any money to pay foods
Anon on July 30, 2017:
I see so many hungry people on here i have a tip its shady but when you have a kid to feed who cares right! Call restaurants any but mcdonalds are the easiest tell them you spoke to someone earlier on the phone about a problem you had with your meal ( a hair in the burger etc ) and they said youe name is on a list for a replacement its a 50/50 shot but if you call 3 or 4 places 1 is bound to say okay and let you get a "replacement meal" they hardly ever actually put names on the list they just say that. Another option is to call the grocers tell them you left your bag of food at check out its best if you have a recipt for the food ( check parking lot ground ) i hated using these tips and no longer do but it kept my kids from being hungry a time or two and hopefully no one has to do this but its an morally questionable option for the most desperate situation that isn't straight out stealing and won't get you arrested
Nikki on July 20, 2017:
Selling the device they are on, could be more of a hinderance in the long run, how will they be able to hear if they have got a job, interview ect?
Amy on June 27, 2017:
Your not suppose to use the food bank im sure you have a little of food at home you can cook or find something to make a meal out of at home...The food banks are for the homeless people...
Kat on May 28, 2017:
Those who ar broke on this page , sell the device you are using to view this. Keep you lasting for a month at most
alex on May 24, 2017:
The comment about stealing is just insensitive and judgmental
unknown_______________ on April 18, 2017:
This really helped I fried up some onions with garlic powder olive oil and harvest specialty vinegar!
Pasha Spencer on April 12, 2017:
If you're like me, you've probably had to work demonstration jobs in grocery stores...and if you did, you'd have noticed a lot of people looking to get free food from demonstrators. Most people don't realize (0r care) that a lot of demonstrators are there to sell the product. They are in the store to make a living by selling, not to hand out free food with no consequences. Recommending that hungry people can get well fed by demonstrators is a lie.
Anonymous on January 14, 2017:
I'm dying of starvation, pls help me
humphrey on November 20, 2016:
Peeples (author) from South Carolina on September 25, 2016:
^^^^^ Hence why there were 3 sections below the food list that were 100% FREE!!! If you don't have $2 then you need to opt for reading one of the other sections.
Not meaning to sound rude here, but I listed multiple options that don't involve money, just time. You have to be willing to invest time in helping yourself, no matter if it is dumpster diving, standing in the food line, standing in the EBT office applying for emergency food (which gets approved within 3-4 days in my state), or standing in the job fair lines.
Garmo Aager on September 25, 2016:
I am broke with 4 children and cant aford any of that food
2 days no food at all
Henry on August 29, 2016:
This reminds me of the not so distsnt past. My God. How did we get through it?
Peeples (author) from South Carolina on August 18, 2016:
Raiden, I'm not sure if some of you aren't fully reading the article or what. There are actually more words in this article about things to do involving NO money than there are words listing things you could buy if you're down to your last $5.
Also, I assume most people know they are about to be broke and prepare, at least a bit. Like I remember food stamps running out, and I would always stuff a couple small things in the back of the cabinet for that time of the month.
Now Dawn, I do understand your frustration. I have been there many many times when I was younger. Dumpster diving is best done when done after the store closes, so them watching you isn't an issue.
I've also been to the part of life where you start selling every little thing you can think of. I assume you have gone that route, but if you haven't and have a phone, Offer Up is a great app to see stuff locally. Also facebook buy/sell groups.
Nothing from nothing is nothing. So there is no point in writing a different article, because when you have exhausted these things, its when you get to a point of figuring out if we are going to continue down the drain or if we are going to relocate. And honestly I do know of some other ways, but they are manipulative or illegal, so past these options, there isn't much left to do.
If I had $2 to my name I would buy rice and beans. A $1 bag of each would be enough to feed one for a while. Then I would manipulate the system in whatever way I had to to keep my head above water.
By the way noodles, cooked with drained canned veggies, with a bit of seasonings actually taste pretty good.
Dawn, I had no family, I was alone for quite a while. I do know how that feels, and you don't need to say you are sorry. Times like that are rough, and they make it a lot easier to lash out or panic more than we normally do.
If you just need someone to vent to feel free to click on my profile, then fan mail, then "send peeples an email". If I think of anything else I can add here I will. Good luck.
Oh yeah, do you have Aldi discount grocery stores in your area? Dollar tree is another good place to dumpster dive. And what did you mean they watch the dumpsters? Cameras? Most of the time those things aren't monitored most of the time, and it probably isn't illegal so even if they did watch there isn't much they can do. Ok I am rambling, just trying to think of ideas for you.
Dawn Momsen on August 17, 2016:
So, what if you are more than broke? You have to scrounge up the last bit of loose change you have hiding here and there and come up with $2? That's 2 $1 large burritos at Walmart or a $0.98 package of hot dogs and not even a loaf of bread from walmart. What if you have NO money and all you have left is noodles and canned veggies? What if you have no cash, no food stamps and no one can help you, and you've already hit all the local food pantries (which only helps fractionally), and already turned in all recyclables...? You might want to rename this article as it's for people who have some cash left, unlike me at this very moment who can't even utilize this article. And dumpster diving in my local is a bit difficult as stores tend to keep an eagle eye on their dumpsters or time the tossing with when the dump truck arrives... I'm sorry, I am extremely frustrated. There has to be more to help those who's already exhausted all their options... :( I've been dealing with my situation for over a month... When you don't even have 2 pennies let alone anything to make an appetizing and edible meal with... :-/
Raiden on August 09, 2016:
I think your mistaking broke, with low on money. Broke to my understanding is not even having 21 cents to buy ramen noodles. You people have never been truly broke before.
Valene from Missouri on July 25, 2016:
Max, you are 100% right about dumpsters. I'm well paid and can always afford food, but I met up with some frugal freegans and we decided to try dumpster diving. It takes a little effort like waiting until after the stores are closed and bringing a friend to help you load the food and get in and out of the dumpster, but I've found a ton of excellent food in a very short time so far. It is amazing how much perfectly good food goes to waste. I've not had to buy any food for a whole month and I'm saving a ton of money and helping recycle as well.
JeLeCh on July 25, 2016:
I agree w/ #s 3, 5, 7, 10, & 18. I would add Tortillas, Soy Sauce, BBQ Sauce, & Jelly to the list (each under $2 for 18 oz)
Gill on July 23, 2016:
Or you can go to a Sikh Temple near you they will provide free food from the kitchen 24 hours a day everyday
max on December 28, 2015:
I am a disabled veteran living in my car. I find lots of good food in the dumpsters behind restruants. Mcdonalds used to have good stuff but they lock up their dumpsters now to keep people like me from eating.
Unanimous on August 10, 2015:
Once I did not eat for a whole day and we had no gas money and no food stamps and no money of course. We where about to like lose our house and my dog was starving. So I gave him stale bread and I found an old can of soup from a long time ago. Then the next day I ate paper. The day after the stamps came and we went shopping.
Peeples (author) from South Carolina on July 16, 2015:
Jedd, I have been in that position, but I also have very picky kids (and husband for that matter) who I have never wanted to see how bad we were struggling. So for us it was better to spend the money on hot dogs or ground beef (which if cooked right you can make stews, spaghetti, or chili with which will last for days) than just do beans. For us $5 makes 2 -3 days of spaghetti with meat sauce which doesn't show the kids just how bad it was. I tried to include something for everyone in the list which is why beans and rice are also included in the list. I am very sorry you do not have access to a food bank. Many churches will either deliver or bring a bus around to pick people up to take to a food bank. Please check to see if that is available. I hope things turn around for you soon!
jedd on July 16, 2015:
The fact that this list includes bread and meat... I'm in shock. I was browsing around for ideas online when I found this. Even on sale, $3 worth of beef verses $3 worth of beans, the beans will win. And they will fill you up more and longer than any meat. Or rice, but I can't handle another grain of rice. My shopping list, or at least the last one, included pinto beans, a bag of potatoes, and rice. $9 fed me for almost two weeks. No car to go to a food bank. No money. Applied for food stamps, but they aren't in any hurry. I haven't eaten in several days, and if I had $3, I couldn't bring myself to buy meat.
Peeples (author) from South Carolina on July 04, 2015:
Coupons are awesome peach! I don't go in a store without my coupon binder and I get tons of stuff free also!
peachy from Home Sweet Home on July 04, 2015:
i use coupons too, get to save at least 50% of food money
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Hendrika from Pretoria, South Africa on January 27, 2014:
At the moment we are surviving on cheap veggies, starch and peanut butter
reviewstop from Spain on July 05, 2013:
Cheap food also (at least here in Spain) red cross brings sandwiches (named bocadillo) in big railway stations. All you have to do is ask for one, is free.
jbshaban from California on March 23, 2013:
Yes, Valene! My advice as well is to go to the international markets. All the staples are less expensive. I can't imagine buying fresh fruits and vegetables anywhere else. The meat counters are no nonsense and you could probably ask them to help you find something in your budget. Also, if you like pita bread, the price is extremely right.
Valene from Missouri on February 07, 2013:
I recommend international markets. You can often find common staples for much less at grocery shops directed at "foreign" clientele. Try a Mexican, Chinese or Pakistani market for things like dry goods and produce or even snack food. I've written a few hubs on how to save money on food if you want to check them out!
Anne on January 26, 2012:
Come to my house. I will always feed you. I'm only 50 but I'm like everyone's grandma.
Nathaniel Zhu from Virginia Beach on April 21, 2011:
The best free food is to plant a garden of bamboo. They grow quickly - like VERY quickly and they taste delicious.
They're expensive in the markets so you can make a profit selling the easiest to grow crop.
Peeples (author) from South Carolina on January 06, 2011:
Thanks light I was unaware of that, wish I would have known that a couple years ago!
Light on November 07, 2010:
Whole foods actually has a "No Hunger policy". If you go in and tell them you're broke and hungry, they'll put together a plate of food for you and give it to you for free. If it happens like weekly or daily, obviously they'll tell you to get lost, but if you just need 1 day before you get paid, always a good policy.
Barry Rutherford from Queensland Australia on May 26, 2010:
Go to a soup kitchen...
hubmu from BN on May 26, 2010:
This is good, i'm always hungry and broke too. I always eat 0.50 cents noodle when i'm broke and hungry.
empireofpink from North Carolina on May 26, 2010:
Great tips, I had never thought about some of what you mentioned, and I have been broke before
daisyjae from Canada on May 26, 2010:
I have seen some restaurants give away soup and bread an hour before closing time, if they have any left. In our town, one of the churches has a free lunch one day a month too, for anyone who shows up. It may be worth it to find out about things like this wherever you live.
rkhyclak from Ohio on May 26, 2010:
Definitely with you on the grocery store thing! It may take some serious bargain searching, but you can get out of the store with a balanced meal (at least for yourself and probably 1 other) for $3-$5. Like you said, whatever meat is on sale is a good option. Throw a half a dozen eggs and a couple packages of ramen (the kind with dried veggies added) in the cart and you'll feel full for awhile AND have leftovers. This was an old standby in college when money was tight. Another idea is STORE BRAND STORE BRAND STORE BRAND! At our local Wal-Mart I can walk out of there with an $.88 loaf of bread (or buns), a $1 jar of PB and a $1 jar of jam. Same with cheese slices :)