16 ways to legally score free food
When you're on a student budget, nothing will make your day more than scoring free food. It's not the easiest thing to come by, but we've got tips!
You might think getting your hands on free food is verging on the impossible (and maybe even the criminal), but this is where you're wrong, friends!
There are actually a whole host of legit ways you can score free food, all of which keep well within the law.
The trick is simply just to know where to look for your free grub, so we're here to tell you where to focus your hungry eyes, plus a few tricks on how to get maximum results.
How to get free food
Use supermarket cashback apps
Supermarket cashback apps don't always guarantee free food – but even when you're only getting a discount, the savings can be substantial.
All you need to do is download the app, view the offers and check the eligibility criteria (like which supermarkets are taking part). Then, once you've bought the product, simply scan the receipt (and sometimes the product's barcode) and voilà – you've got your cashback!
As we said, not every offer will get you 100% cashback on your food, but the savings are usually at least around the 50% mark. However, if you use Shopmium to its full effect, you could get referral credits that'll cover the rest of the cost too.
Check out our guide to the best supermarket cashback apps for more details.
Attend supermarket openings
If you know of a new supermarket opening in your area (or any other food shop for that matter), make sure you’re there for opening day.
You can pretty much guarantee there will always be free samples a-plenty on offer, so make sure you show up with an appetite!
And if you’re keen to milk these events for all they're worth but scared of getting caught (although, let's be honest, who cares? Free food is free food), stick on your best disguise and do the rounds again!
Scout out free samples
Restaurants, cafes and bars often give out samples when promoting events. And elsewhere, big brands will sometimes hire promo staff to dish out samples of new products when launching.
The trick is to head for the busiest street corners you know of (train and tube stations are normally a good bet, too) and get your freebie-dar on.
Many brands also offer freebies online, and will even cover postage costs too. Our deals section and freebies page invariably lists great free grub, and signing up to our deals roundup, Facebook page and WhatsApp group will serve you up some edible freebies every week!
Also remember that things like sugar and ketchup sachets (and even some premium condiments, like Nando's Peri Peri sauce sachets) are free in a lot of places. Although, while there's no harm in taking a couple extra when you're paying for something already, don't go overboard!
Go to meet and greets
If you're yet to join a university society, this could be the motivation you need. Societies regularly hold meet-ups for members which invariably include free food and even free booze!
Freshers' week is probably the best time to join a society, and going to the freshers' fair should be one of the first things you do when you start uni. As well as being the ideal place to sign up to multiple societies at once, a fair share of the stalls will be giving out free food as a way to draw people in!
As for the societies themselves, not only are they are a great way to network and boost your CV, but you'll also fill your belly free of charge. Just don't get caught shoving the buffet sandwiches into your bag.
This also applies to film screenings at your SU and art exhibition openings. Stock up on free food and have a side order of culture – what could be better?
Eat out on your birthday
This one might only come in handy once a year, but you wouldn't believe how many restaurants and cafes have a policy to offer free food on customers' birthdays.
Play it right and you can dine like royalty for breakfast, lunch and dinner (and have a few cheeky free snacks to keep for the next day) without opening your wallet once. And to clarify, it's just not food – there's plenty of free booze on offer too!
Check out our ultimate guide to birthday freebies for more deets on where you can get your free food, plus how to get it.
Look for food waste supermarkets
Check to see if you have any food waste supermarkets in your area (yes, they really do exist!).
The Real Junk Food Project have warehouses popping up all over the UK now, which operate by a 'pay as you feel' policy – you can either pay by donation or offer some hours of your time volunteering in the warehouse in return for your purchases.
Essentially, food waste supermarkets have a deal with major supermarkets and restaurants meaning that any food that isn't up to their lofty standards – but is still perfectly edible – is donated to their warehouses.
This stops crazy amounts of food being wasted, and the products they have are amazing! See for yourself here.
Enter eating competitions
Not one for the faint-hearted, but signing up to an eating competition can be a great way to nab some free food and free kudos points.
Often (but not always) eating competitions will be held for free (or the winner won't have to worry about parting with any cash), which is all the more motivation to eat up.
Similarly, look out for restaurants that have posters advertising massive meals that they'll give to you free of charge if you can manage to eat the whole thing in one sitting.
Become a mystery diner
Mystery dining is when you sign up to an agency that 'pays' you to buy a meal in a restaurant or food chain, and write a report on your experience.
These agencies are paid by the owners of the establishment in order to ensure certain standards are being met, and in turn the agency 'pays' you for doing all the hard work.
The reason we say 'pay' with a pinch of salt (pun intended) is that agencies will only cover your grub, and you won't be paid in cash for your efforts.
But if you're just in it for a free meal, what's the harm? Find out what you need to do to sign up here.
Go foraging for food
The top chefs do it, so why can’t we? Foraging is something that can be done year-round by picking and collecting foods that are in season.
You'd need to take a wild food course to know what you’re doing when it comes to mushrooms/fungi, but there are others that are easier to identify. This super cheap guide to finding free food in the wild is a great starting point.
Obviously, this one suits the countryside dwellers a bit better, and might not be a way to score free food if you live in a city like London. And we also don't recommend breaking into any poor sod's allotments and nabbing all their precious veg...
Here are a few to get you started:
Highly abundant and available throughout the year. It's usually easy to find as it gives off a strong garlic-y aroma. The best time to harvest wild garlic is July–December, when the plant is dormant.
If you've ever gone blackberry picking at some point in your life, you'll know that it grows just about anywhere! They can be made into crumbles, pies, added to ice cream or made into jam. And the best thing is you can freeze them until you decide exactly how you'd like 'em!
If you live by the seaside, you can also go cockle picking! Check Google to find out the best spots to go picking cockles. Once they are cooked and thoroughly cleaned, they can be placed in a jar of vinegar to enjoy whenever.
Seaweed might not be at the top of everyone’s list, but the health benefits that seaweed offers are unparalleled. Boil it, steam it, make sushi with it, or fry and add it to salads and soups.
Find an employer that feeds you
A lot of cafes and restaurants will give their staff free meals during their shift, and also food to go home with if there's leftovers (although it might not be the best idea to inquire about this during your interview).
Grow your own food
Having a small garden gives you the opportunity to grow an array of different fruit and veg, and free seeds are another thing that often pops up on our deals page.
Allotments are great for the really committed, but these can be scarce in some areas and normally involve costs (although sharing an allotment with friends or flatmates can work out pretty economical).
If you don’t have either of these things, even just a simple window box can grow all kinds of herbs and salad ingredients.
If you're feeling super adventurous, a small potato patch can also be made out of an old dustbin filled with compost, and did you know that if you plant a single potato in there, multiple potatoes will grow from it? We're full of fun facts today!
If you're up for this challenge, we've got a whole article on growing your own fruit and veg at uni!
Download takeaway apps
Loads of takeaway companies offer free food when you first sign up to their app.
Sign up to cashback sites
These sites will often run offers for new customers where signing up (for a free account, we should add!) is rewarded with a reasonably large spend at a takeaway company.
Eat other people's leftover food
We've all been there. You drastically overestimate just how many oranges you'll eat in a week, and all of a sudden it hits you – they're gonna go off before you get a chance to eat them.
Fortunately, precisely because we've all been there, there's now an app for you and everyone else to get rid of their excess food for free!
It's called Olio, and what's on offer will vary based on what people in your area have going, ranging from raw ingredients to leftovers from a cooked meal. Sometimes they may ask for a small donation to charity as payment, but more often than not there's freebies to be had!
And, in the spirit of Olio, it's worth checking out Too Good To Go and Karma (if you're in London), too. These apps let cafes and restaurants sell their excess stock at a cut price, and while you're unlikely to get anything for free, you'll almost certainly bag yourself a bargain!
Sign up to restaurant newsletters and apps
It's not just takeaway services that give out freebies to their members. Loads of restaurants and fast food joints offer something free when you download their app or sign up to their newsletter, including the likes of KFC, Be at One and GBK.
The lesson here is: if you like eating somewhere, see if you can get in on their newsletter or app (using an alias email to avoid the spam). Even if there are no freebies right now, you never know when they might decide to treat you...
Get freebies from your mobile network
Customers of O2 and Three won't need us to tell them that their network hooks them up with some seriously good offers through their Priority Moments and Wuntu apps. But what if you're not on either of those networks?
Worry not, as we've got a couple of guides on how to get O2 Priority Moments and Three's Wuntu on any network. Just a heads up – you'll need to make sure you unlock your phone first (if it isn't unlocked already).
Once you've done that you'll have access to loads of free food, as well as your fair share of non-edible freebies and offers too.
Got any pro tips on scoring free grub? We want to hear about them!