25 Ways to Eat For Free (Really): Get Free Food!

In tough economic times, we start thinking about how we can cut back when it comes to costs. We’re looking for good deals and even trying to see if we can get anything for free. Every little bit helps. And this includes food. If you are looking to get free food, here are 25 ways…
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In tough economic times, we start thinking about how we can cut back when it comes to costs. We’re looking for good deals and even trying to see if we can get anything for free. Every little bit helps. And this includes food. If you are looking to get free food, here are 25 ways that you can eat for free.

Ways to get a free meal

If you do a little legwork and a little research, it should be possible for you to get a free meal. Here are some ways to earn yourself free food.

1. Forage. Look for wild-growing foods. Nuts, fruits, and other plants can provide sustenance for free. My husband’s grandmother used to make a salad composed solely of greens foraged from around her house. She called it “dandelion salad”, but dandelion leaves were just one of the greens included. Foraging can also be a fun family activity. Just make sure you understand what is safe to eat, and what is not. Check locally to find out if wild food tours are offered, or if there is a master gardener, agricultural extension or horticulturist on hand to help you identify edible plants. If foraging seems too risky, spend a few dollars for a range of seeds and plant a garden. Homegrown fruits and vegetables taste better than store-bought, are less expensive, and you control whether or not they are exposed to chemicals or pesticides.

2. Fish. “Teach a man to fish…” I love fishing. And I love eating what I catch. It does cost something for a fishing license, I suppose, but it’s not that much, and if you get a yearly license, it more than pays for itself. Learn how to clean and prepare fish, and you can prepare a free meal easily. Something else that is related: Hunting. But the gear and the license costs more, and many people are not comfortable with this option.

3. Go to church. I live in Utah, one of the capitals of all things church. There is almost always free food when you go to an activity during the week. But no matter where you live, there is likely a church event that you can attend — one that includes food. My husband’s parents’ parish in rural New York offers free donuts and coffee the first Sunday of every month. Many other religious denominations offer free food at activities ranging from scripture study to fellowshipping events to holiday programs.

4. Mystery shopping. My mom was a mystery shopper for a while, and sometimes she was asked to try out a restaurant in town. That means a free meal. Mom had to pay for the meal up front, but she was reimbursed the full cost and then paid for her report on the restaurant. Watch out for scams, however. Not all mystery shopping opportunities are legitimate.

5. Barter. Bartering is actually making a bit of a comeback right now as the recession deepens. If you have skills and knowledge that others can use, trade them for a free meal or for some kind of foodstuffs.

6. Free grocery samples. Have you ever been to a discount warehouse such as Costco, Sam’s Club, or BJ’s Wholesale Club on a Saturday afternoon? You can eat an entire meal for free by moving around the sample stations. Many stores offer free samples, and many of them do it predictably. Get a feel for when stores are offering freebies, and get in line.

7. Go home. Nothing beats a home-cooked, free meal from mom. And you’ll get in some quality bonding time.

8. Continental breakfast. When you travel, check to see whether the hotel offers a free continental breakfast. This usually includes cold cereal, bread products and juice. When I traveled as a child, we always stayed in hotels that offered free breakfasts.

9. Special promotions. Keep an eye out for special promotions. Many restaurants have them — especially fast-food restaurants. Senior promotions for those 55 and older, college student promotions with school ID, and promotions recently run by chains like Quizzno’s (first 1 million people get a free sub) and Denny’s (free Grand Slam breakfast) can provide sustenance for no cost to you. Seasonal promotions and special events are another good way to eat free. For example, Veterans can eat free at dozens of restaurants on Veterans Day.

10. Coupons. Careful couponing can lead to free food. Buy food on sale with coupons. I’m not a coupon maven, but I hear that if you know how to properly use your coupons, you can get your groceries for very, very little — and some items for free. And, of course, there are those coupons that allow you a buy one, get one free on some items, as well as restaurant coupons that help you get a free entree or drink.

11. Become a freegan. Perhaps you’ve heard about freeganism. It’s all about foraging for used, still in good condition items, from urban dumping grounds. It’s extreme, and many people are uncomfortable with it. Perfectly good — or nearly perfectly good — food is often tossed out from grocery stores and restaurants. I think you know where this is going.

Eating free in college

College students are notoriously hungry — and poor. I know that I was always looking for a little free food in college. Here are some places you can go if you are looking for a free meal in college:

12. Campus food services. I worked at the campus cafeteria for two years while in college. At the end of every shift, workers were allowed to have a free meal. If there were enough leftovers, we could even box up some of the food and take it home. Many campuses also have grills, cafes, and catering services. Even working in a restaurant off-campus can lead to free food (this works even if you aren’t in college).

13. Clubs. Join a club, get free food. Many clubs include some money for food at events in their budgets. Attend an “information” meeting, and you’ll most likely see some form of free food.

14. Art openings and films. Student art shows and film festivals are great places to score free food. Most of the time, a “reception” is held with food and beverage. You can go gnosh a little and enjoy the arts.

15. Get to know your professors. Lots of professors like to be buddies with their students. If you show initiative in class, and an interest in the subject matter, you might find yourself invited over for dinner. I had one professor that made it a point to have his students and their families over for dinner.

16. Conferences and seminars. Many campuses host professional and academic conferences and seminars. In many cases, students are allowed to some of the sessions. It is often possible to get free food at a reception or meeting during the course of the conference or meeting.

17. Open houses and orientations. Many organizations on campus offer open houses. Greek societies, honor societies, new buildings recently constructed and new programs recently begun all offer open houses so that you can visit the premises. And one of the draws is free food. Orientations offer similar opportunities. Even as a senior, it is possible to score free food when you attend freshman orientation.

Web sites to help you find free food

Thanks to the Internet, it is possible to find even more free food. Go online to find good deals and places where you can eat free. Here are some Web sites that can help you enjoy food at little to no cost.

18. My Kids Eat Free provides a list of more than 2,500 locations in all 50 states that allow your kids to eat free. You can get free kids’ meals and more when you look for the right deals. (Locally, check for “kid’s night” at buffets, pancakes houses and other restaurants.)

19. TheFreeSite.com includes a list of freebie Web sites that can point you to special offers on food. And there’s more than just food here — there are freebies on a number of other products and services.

20. Restaurant.com Can help you find great deals and get restaurant gift certificates on discounts. You can get $25 certificates by paying $10. That’s $15 of free food!

21. FreeMania can help you find free food from grocery stores, restaurants, and other sources. Plus, there are free recipes (to help you cook your free food) and other savings. FreeMania also offers directories to other free items.

22. Grocery Coupon Guide helps you develop strategies to maximize your grocery (and other) coupons to help you get the most bang for the buck — and even get items for free.

23. FreakyFreddies.com provides access to free food samples. A great list of food manufacturers and restaurants from Quaker, Betty Crocker, Splenda, Red Bull, Starbucks, Chili’s, Arby’s, and much, much more.

24. Coupons.com provides coupons and other savings from a number of stores — including grocery stores and health food stores and co-ops. Sign up for emails for free coupons and other savings.

25. FreeRice.com is an interesting and fun site for wordsmiths who want to help provide free food for others. Answer a series of questions about word meanings, and every time you get one right, ten grains of rice are donated to the UN World Food Program. A free way to help others get free food.

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  1. matt says

    that’s not “Freeganism”, that’s dumpster diving. a freegan is someone who eats vegan when paying for food, and eats some amount of animal products when the food is free.

    • Ryan says

      That’s a very narrow point of view about what a Freegan is, Matt. I would think the definition is much more broad than yours. At least the main definitions I found (which does include urban foraging by the way): What is a Freegan?

  2. Andrea says

    One more tip if you are on a college campus or event center. When an event is over, there will usually be leftover food. The food service staff members are supposed to take that food and throw it away, but if you can hit the sweet spot after the event is done with the food, but before the food service folks come to grab it, you can rack up on all kinds of good stuff. Fruits and veggies are nearly always leftover and safe to eat even if they have been out for awhile. You can get loads of tortilla chips, bread, and deserts too. Keep baggies in your backpack or desk drawer so you are ready when you hit the free food sweet spot.

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