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Broke and Hungry? 8 Easy Ways to Get Free Food in College

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Have you ever noticed that food and college students constantly come up in the same conversations? New students are warned to watch themselves at all-you-can-eat campus dining halls for fear of gaining the dreaded Freshman Fifteen. Students who are not on dining plans are rumored to survive on ultra-cheap yet ultra-unhealthy Ramen noodles. But if there is one thing that college students love more than food (okay, and more than beer) it’s getting stuff for free. Free food? Bring it on! Here are eight ways to get free food during college:

1. Join a club on campus or attend club info sessions.

Clubs are often recommended as a great way to meet people in college. They are also a great way to score free food. Refreshments are served at most club meetings, so becoming a member of two or three different clubs with weekly meetings could be your ticket to regularly scoring something free to eat. Not ready to commit just yet? Attend an “information session” to learn what the club has to offer. If you’re careful, no one will know that you only showed up for the snacks and drinks.

2. Attend concerts, recitals and art exhibits on campus.

Art and music students are generally required to showcase their work and talents throughout the semester. Most concerts, recitals, movies, and exhibits are followed by small receptions featuring food. Note—sneaking in during the middle of a live performance is considered rude. If you are unable to arrive on time, you may want to skip these types of events.

3. Check the campus calendar of events.

Most college campuses, even small ones, are constantly bustling with activity. If you’re hungry, sick of the dining hall, and don’t have any extra money for food, find an event on the campus calendar. See what you can find that mentions “Refreshments Served” or even an outright “Free Food.” Besides, listening to a guest lecturer speak about his or her research may actually wind up to be interesting! Checking out an Open House or College Fair for high school students and their parents is a great way to pitch your school to prospective underclassmen and grab a quick bite.

4. Go to church.

If you are religious or spiritual, locate a church or other place of worship in the nearby area. Most serve refreshments after worship services. Note—this is probably not a wise idea if you’re only showing up for the food. There’s a good chance you’ll wind up feeling pretty guilty if you do.

5. Work in a restaurant or campus cafeteria.

Restaurants—even campus cafeterias—commonly allow employees to eat a free meal before their shifts. You might get sick of the food, but this isn’t a bad option if you only work a couple of shifts per week.

6. Eat free samples at the grocery store.

Warehouse clubs like Sam’s Club, BJ’s, Costco, and many supermarkets serve fee samples of new products or foods that are on sale that week. Multiple products are usually offered throughout the store at the same time. If you find out which days and times these samples are being handed out, you could potentially eat a light “lunch” or “dinner” for free while grocery shopping (or window shopping.)

7. Clip coupons and sign up for restaurant deals.

Clipping coupons is no longer limited to housewives. Many fast food restaurants place ads for free sandwiches or free fries in the Sunday paper. Note—you might not be able to use them in campus food court locations, but they may come in handy if you have to run errands off-campus. Many restaurants also encourage people to sign up for promotional emails by promising a coupon for a free meal, dessert, or beverage.

8. Go out to eat on your birthday.

Birthdays are great for presents and free food! You might have to sit through the wait staff’s off-key rendition of Happy Birthday, complete with plenty of hand clapping, but it’s usually pretty easy to score a free dessert. Note—if you try to pull a fast one on a restaurant that offers free food on birthdays and they ask to see your ID for proof, pretend you forgot it at home. Otherwise you’ll feel like a total idiot. You will feel like an even bigger idiot if you claim you forgot your ID but already whipped it out once when you ordered alcohol.

One final suggestion? If you plan on sneaking food out of the cafeteria to eat later so you don’t have to hit the vending machine, take one or two small snacks and do it very nonchalantly. Blatantly stealing food could get you into hot water.

Read More:

How to Enjoy College without Going Broke: 9 Easy Ways to Save Money in College

Campus Nutrition 101: Making Healthier Food Choices in the University Dining Hall


Melissa Rhone+

Melissa Rhone earned her Bachelor of Music in Education from the University of Tampa. She resides in the Tampa Bay area and enjoys writing about college, pop culture, and epilepsy awareness.

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