With living costs still high, many of us are finding it difficult to make ends meet. Essentials like food and housing have seen huge jumps in price over the past couple of years, causing widespread worry and concern.
Some people have even had to go without to feed their families – or been forced to choose between necessities like food and heating.
While this is an undeniably tough situation, if you’re struggling to cover your food bills, there are a few places you may be able to get free or cheap food to help feed yourself and/or your family.
We’ve pulled some ideas below that we hope you’ll find helpful.
1. For free food, make use of Olio
Olio is the #1 free sharing app in the UK. Its main aim is to reduce food waste by connecting people with food to spare, with those who want or need it. Once you sign up to the app, you can see what your neighbours and people in your local community are giving away, and arrange to go and collect it for free.
Some food may have a long shelf life (for example, tins and packets), so you can store it and use it throughout the week or month, while other food may need to be eaten more urgently – such as food being given away by a bakery or sandwich shop.
2. For cheap food, try Too Good To Go
Too Good to Go is similar to Olio in that it aims to prevent perfectly good food from hitting the bin – though, unlike Olio, there’s a small cost.
Too Good To Go works with supermarkets, restaurants, bakeries etc across the UK to sell food that would otherwise be thrown away at a fraction of the price.
It’s as simple as downloading the app, searching for food offers near you, buying the food via the app, and going to pick it up from the business selling it.
The interesting thing about this app is that helpings of food aren’t listed individually. Instead, customers buy a ‘magic bag’, which is filled up with a random assortment of food (a bit like a lucky dip!) and listed at a price the seller sees as fair. One bag could contain an assortment of pastries from Pret A Manger, for example.
Too Good To Go is currently working with more than 25,000 UK stores.
3. Consider using your local food bank
If you can’t afford food, then you might be able to get a referral to your local food bank, where you can access groceries for free. Food banks are charitable, non-profit organisations and centres that rely on donations of food and hygiene products from the local community.
Items commonly donated to food banks are non-perishable, with a long shelf life, such as tinned beans, long-life milk, rice, pasta, canned soup, and peanut butter.
You can get a food bank referral from Citizens Advice or Jobcentre Plus, or from your GP, housing association, or social worker. If you don’t have access to any of these services, then you can also contact your local council for advice on how to get a referral.
Once you’ve got your referral, you’ll be given a voucher and told where the food bank is.
To find out more about food banks and how they work, have a read of our article; Everything you need to know about food banks.
4. Use community fridges
Community fridges are open to everyone. They’re run by volunteers and are places where local people come together to connect and share food – often surplus food from houses, gardens, supermarkets, and other food businesses.
Unlike a food bank, you don’t need a referral; you can just turn up at any time and there’s often no limit on how much food you can take or how often. Though some fridges may come up with their own rules to prevent misuse and make sure there’s enough to go around.
While some community fridges operate independently, 280 of them (and growing) are currently connected by Hubbub – the world’s largest community fridge network. You can find your nearest fridge using the map below.
5. Find a soup kitchen
Soup kitchens serve hot, nutritious food (for free) to people who are homeless, lonely, vulnerable, or can’t afford to feed themselves – not just in the UK but all over the world.
Some soup kitchens also provide additional free services like practical help, clothing, haircuts, showers, and a food parcel to take with you.
You can find your nearest soup kitchen by searching online…
6. Visit ‘pay as you feel’ cafes and restaurants
It’s worth looking out for ‘pay as you feel’ cafes and restaurants in your local area. They have a focus on preventing food waste and will often take food that’s not up to supermarket standards (perhaps because it looks less than perfect or is approaching its sell by date) and use it to make meals for the community. These meals are sold on a ‘pay as you feel’ basis, meaning that you just pay what you can or offer your time as a volunteer.
An example of an initiative like this is the Real Junk Food Project, which operates all over the UK. They don’t have a website but a Google search returns plenty of area-specific Facebook pages – so it’s worth having a look to see what might be available in your area.
7. Keep an eye on which supermarkets are cheapest
Food prices fluctuate across supermarkets – so what might be the cheapest supermarket one week but not be later that month. Having said that though, Aldi and Lidl usually take the top spots for the least expensive.
We’ve created a food price barometer, which we update twice a month so you can check back whenever you want to find the latest prices. Hopefully, you’ll find it useful when trying to keep food costs down.
8. Consider growing your own fruit and veggies
Growing your own fruit and veg is something that takes time, so we appreciate that it’s a longer-term solution – rather than something to help in an emergency.
However, it’s definitely an investment that can save you money. Plus, home grown fruit and veg usually tastes better and is kinder to the environment than buying supermarket produce.
You don’t need much space to start growing your own fruit and veg because many can be grown in containers. Take a look at this article from Gardeners’ World, which features potatoes and tomatoes, to see how to get started.
If you’re not sure what sort of things you can grow at certain times of the year, you might also want to check out our Rest Less planting calendar – what to sow and plant month by month, and our article; What fruit and vegetables are in season now?
9. Build meals around foods that are cheap, yet nutrient-dense
With food prices rising, it can help to spend what money you might have for food on items that are cheap, yet packed full of nutrition, so you can get more value for money.
For example, eggs are quick and easy to prepare and can be used as the centrepiece for a huge number of breakfast, lunch, and dinner recipes. You can buy a pack of six eggs for as little as £1 and they’re a rich source of B-vitamins, selenium, vitamin A, and vitamin D.
Oats are also cheap, filling, and versatile, and can be especially warming in the winter months. A one-kilogram bag can be bought for as little as £0.75 and porridge contains plenty of essential nutrients like manganese, phosphorus, magnesium, copper, iron, zinc, and B-vitamins.
For more ideas, you might want to read our article; 11 nutrient-dense foods that cost £1 or less.
The cost of living crisis has presented challenges for many of us, with some people cutting back on food, missing meals, or going without. Though the worry that may accompany this can be insurmountable, we hope that some of the ideas in this article can help in some way.