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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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    • rkhyclak profile image

      rkhyclak 6 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 :)

    • daisyjae profile image

      daisyjae 6 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.

    • empireofpink profile image

      empireofpink 6 years ago from North Carolina

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

    • hubmu profile image

      hubmu 6 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.

    • barryrutherford profile image

      Barry Rutherford 6 years ago from Queensland Australia

      Go to a soup kitchen...

    • profile image

      Light 6 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.

    • peeples profile image

      Peeples 6 years ago from South Carolina

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

    • NathanielZhu profile image

      Nathaniel Zhu 5 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.

    • 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.

    • 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!

    • 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.

    • reviewstop profile image

      reviewstop 3 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.

    • Hendrika profile image

      Hendrika 3 years ago from Pretoria, South Africa

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

    • profile image

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    • peachpurple profile image

      peachy 20 months ago from Home Sweet Home

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

    • peeples profile image

      Peeples 20 months 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!

    • profile image

      jedd 20 months 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 20 months 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

      Unanimous 19 months 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.

    • profile image

      max 15 months 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

      Gill 8 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

      JeLeCh 8 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)

    • Valene profile image

      Valene 8 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

      Raiden 7 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.

    • Dawn Momsen profile image

      Dawn Momsen 7 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... :-/

    • peeples profile image

      Peeples 7 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.

    • profile image

      Henry 6 months ago

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

    • profile image

      Garmo Aager 5 months ago

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

      2 days no food at all

    • peeples profile image

      Peeples 5 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

      humphrey 4 months ago

      wise tips

    • profile image

      Anonymous 2 months ago

      I'm dying of starvation, pls help me

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