No Food? What to Eat When You're Broke!

Updated on June 23, 2016

Hungry? 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 long run not quick fix, and go to the grocery store.

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 Mart 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 a 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.

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.

$1 pack of 12 hot dog buns and $1 pack of 8 hot dogs: Not so healthy, but it will feed a family of four for $2.
$1 pack of 12 hot dog buns and $1 pack of 8 hot dogs: Not so healthy, but it will feed a family of four for $2.

List of 35 Cheap Foods to Eat When You're Broke

  1. Hotdogs
  2. Bologna
  3. Bread (full loaf under $2 in most places)
  4. Sliced cheese (not Kraft)
  5. Noodles (5 packs $1 Dollar Tree)
  6. Soup
  7. Rice ($1 or less for a bag in many places)
  8. Vienna sausages
  9. Tuna
  10. Peanut butter
  11. Beans or lentils
  12. Pork 'n' beans
  13. Canned chili
  14. Lettuce
  15. Kiwis
  16. Carrots (great with ranch dressing)
  17. Cucumbers (great with Italian dressing: $1 at Dollar Tree)
  18. Potatoes (sweet or regular)
  19. Frozen vegetables
  20. Cabbage
  21. Eggs (mmmm protein)
  22. Oatmeal
  23. Grits
  24. Canned salmon (add an egg and some bread crumbs to make cheap salmon patty burgers)
  25. Yogurt (3 for $1 at my local Walmart)
  26. Spaghetti (a 16 oz. box of noodles and $2 can of sauce is enough to feed a family)
  27. Popcorn
  28. Bananas
  29. Broccoli
  30. Onions (add flavor)
  31. Garlic (add flavor)
  32. Tomatoes (better price if you buy local)
  33. Protein bars
  34. Cereal ($1 at Dollar Tree)
  35. Pecans (in season, you can find trees that drop these in public places, meaning free!)

Toasting and topping day-old bagels with eggs or melted cheese is a great way to save money on breakfast and you'll never taste the difference.
Toasting and topping day-old bagels with eggs or melted cheese is a great way to save money on breakfast and you'll never taste the difference.

Got Coupons?

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!

Park Your Ego

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.

Dial 211 from any phone to find out where the local food bank is.

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.

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!

Would You Go to a Food Bank?

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    • profile image

      Ruby 7 days ago

      What do u do iff u have 2 small children and u have no cash at all.

    • lisalewis1972 profile image

      lisalewis1972 11 days ago

      The best way to eat free, go to your nearest foodstamp office and apply. its not a whole lot for just one person, if you have kids you will get a good amount. Shop wisely. meals, first. then desserts if you have enough. Then if your smart you wont sell your foodstamps for drugs. Be real now people your body needs food, and your kids need it more. The foodbanks are good to hit before you shop, shop wisley eat wisely. Dont splurge your last dollar at mcdonalds. you can download apps on your android to win gift cards or items. save all your pennies. I know how you feel, just follow what i said, you will be alright, if you smart enough to do right. Godbless

    • profile image

      Angel 2 weeks ago

      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.

    • profile image

      Luddite Steve 7 weeks ago

      Bar S hotdogs sell for $1.00 at Stop & Shop. Eight dogs in a 12oz package.

    • profile image

      Tenzim 2 months ago

      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.

    • profile image

      Ladybugs777 3 months ago

      @ Pechtea. Look for bottles (particularly during garbage day), and do some online surveys (GrabPoints is particularly good at racking the points quickly). Not exactly appetizing, but buy a bag of pasta at the dollar store, and use some ketchup as sauce (might be able to grab some samples at a food court). Pasta tends to fill me up.

    • profile image

      pechtea 3 months ago

      I've run out of food stamps this month and won't get anymore until the 8th of next month. I recently got laid off, my car died on me (permanently, unfortunately), and I don't have enough money for rent. I've been looking for another job for 2 weeks, but at this point I'm getting desperate, none of my family lives in the same state as me, and all I have left in my fridge is some cheese. My phone charger finally crapped out on me, so I don't even have a phone if someone calls me back for a job. If I search I might be able to find $2 in my room, in which case this might just save my ass, I couldn't go that long (well over a week) with no food. As for rent... well, I don't know what I'm going to do about that, so maybe food is slightly less important.

    • profile image

      Kumfer 3 months ago

      Work in retail , see the abuse of food stamps! They buy pop and other unhealth items! You could buy beans,rice,make everything homemade instead of prepackaged items that cost you so much more!!!! Just don't get it when your on a low budget!!!!

    • profile image

      Yea 4 months ago

      On library computer

    • profile image

      Manon 5 months ago

      I don't have any money to pay foods

    • profile image

      Anon 5 months ago

      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

    • profile image

      Nikki 6 months ago

      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?

    • profile image

      Amy 6 months ago

      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...

    • profile image

      Kat 7 months ago

      Those who ar broke on this page , sell the device you are using to view this. Keep you lasting for a month at most

    • profile image

      alex 8 months ago

      The comment about stealing is just insensitive and judgmental

    • profile image

      unknown_______________ 9 months ago

      This really helped I fried up some onions with garlic powder olive oil and harvest specialty vinegar!

    • profile image

      Pasha Spencer 9 months ago

      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.

    • profile image

      Anonymous 12 months ago

      I'm dying of starvation, pls help me

    • profile image

      humphrey 14 months ago

      wise tips

    • peeples profile image

      Peeples 16 months ago from South Carolina

      ^^^^^ 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.

    • profile image

      Garmo Aager 16 months ago

      I am broke with 4 children and cant aford any of that food

      2 days no food at all

    • profile image

      Henry 17 months ago

      This reminds me of the not so distsnt past. My God. How did we get through it?

    • peeples profile image

      Peeples 17 months ago from South Carolina

      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 profile image

      Dawn Momsen 17 months ago

      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... :-/

    • profile image

      Raiden 17 months ago

      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 profile image

      Valene 18 months ago from Missouri

      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.

    • profile image

      JeLeCh 18 months ago

      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)

    • profile image

      Gill 18 months ago

      Or you can go to a Sikh Temple near you they will provide free food from the kitchen 24 hours a day everyday

    • profile image

      max 2 years ago

      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.

    • profile image

      Unanimous 2 years ago

      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 profile image

      Peeples 2 years ago from South Carolina

      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!

    • profile image

      jedd 2 years ago

      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 profile image

      Peeples 2 years ago from South Carolina

      Coupons are awesome peach! I don't go in a store without my coupon binder and I get tons of stuff free also!

    • peachpurple profile image

      peachy 2 years ago from Home Sweet Home

      i use coupons too, get to save at least 50% of food money

    • profile image

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      Johnk947 3 years ago

      I all the time used to read paragraph in news papers but now as I am a user of web thus from now I am using net for posts, thanks to web. bekeaeaffkag

    • Hendrika profile image

      Hendrika 3 years ago from Pretoria, South Africa

      At the moment we are surviving on cheap veggies, starch and peanut butter

    • reviewstop profile image

      reviewstop 4 years ago from Spain

      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 profile image

      jbshaban 4 years ago from California

      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 profile image

      Valene 4 years ago from Missouri

      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!

    • profile image

      Anne 5 years ago

      Come to my house. I will always feed you. I'm only 50 but I'm like everyone's grandma.

    • NathanielZhu profile image

      Nathaniel Zhu 6 years ago from Virginia Beach

      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 profile image

      Peeples 7 years ago from South Carolina

      Thanks light I was unaware of that, wish I would have known that a couple years ago!

    • profile image

      Light 7 years ago

      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.

    • barryrutherford profile image

      Barry Rutherford 7 years ago from Queensland Australia

      Go to a soup kitchen...

    • hubmu profile image

      hubmu 7 years ago from BN

      This is good, i'm always hungry and broke too. I always eat 0.50 cents noodle when i'm broke and hungry.

    • empireofpink profile image

      empireofpink 7 years ago from North Carolina

      Great tips, I had never thought about some of what you mentioned, and I have been broke before

    • daisyjae profile image

      daisyjae 7 years ago from Canada

      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 profile image

      rkhyclak 7 years ago from Ohio

      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 :)