A college student’s guide to free food

Oct. 25, 2017, 1:02 a.m.

Hello fellow financially unstable college students!

This article will help you spend less and eat more with just a few simple tricks. I’ve been in college for three weeks now, and I’m already so broke I use my p-set-induced tears as fresh drinking water. I don’t have money to waste and college has brought out the frugality in me. I have truly peaked at being cheap.

DISCLAIMER: In order to successfully eat without paying for food, you must be willing to give up a portion of your soul to Satan, set your morals and dignity aside and sacrifice a few friendships … just kidding (maybe).

Now, some tips on how to eat more free food.

1. Invest in food appliances!

I know, I know, the point of this article is to SAVE money, not spend it. But hear me out: having a microwave, fridge, blender and Tupperware handy in your dorm room will allow you to hoard and prepare food more easily and thus save money in the long run. Because I have food appliances, I can steal free food from campus events, store it in my fridge and microwave it later to eat for lunch or dinner. #noshame

2. Take advantage of the all-you-can-eat style of the dining halls.

Every Saturday during brunch, my roommate and I bring our Tupperware containers into Wilbur Dining and fill them with essential smoothie ingredients like frozen fruit, bananas, yogurt and juice. We also fill a plastic Ziploc bag with cereal and refill our milk carton with dining hall milk.

With this weekly practice, we effectively save six meal swipes because we can make our own smoothies with our blender (see tip #1) and have cereal throughout the week for breakfast. Think of the dining hall as a grocery store where everything is free.

But, you may wonder, is that even allowed? Well fellow free food hoarder, if you do this confidently, and not like the shameless thief you really are, people will rarely ask questions. When they give you strange looks, stare them down and DARE them to doubt you, as if you couldn’t possibly be doing anything wrong.

3. Eat your friends’ and dormmates’ food.

Most people don’t notice if you take a handful of chips (or five). Also, people are nice. Don’t underestimate your friends, because they may just give you your very own bowl of ramen noodles or a slice of pizza at 2 a.m. when you need it the most. Warning: if you do this too much, you may lose a friend, so exercise this technique with caution.

4. Check your email!

Student organizations send tons of emails about events on campus that often have free food and some kind of educational or entertainment value. I went to a policy lunch with Phil Taubman, and in addition to learning about the media’s role in politics, I ate a delicious and FREE chicken pad thai. Bonus points if you take the excess noodles to go for lunch tomorrow!

5. Become friends with your professors and advisors.

Yes, adults pity you, poor college student. They feel morally obligated to feed you whenever you give them the opportunity to do so. Try joining an IntroSem, because certain professors have been known to bring snacks to class or invite the class to dinner at their house. #score

Your pre major advisor and academic advising director are also great sources of free food. They might take you to lunch or offer snacks at meetings, so stop avoiding them!

6. Use punch cards.

Gong Cha, a boba shop in Palo Alto, offers a free drink after you’ve bought nine. Bring nine friends with you, have them punch your card for each purchase, then yours is free! There’s a similar deal at T4, another bubble tea store in Palo Alto. Buy 10 drinks and the 11th is free! Using your friends for discounts isn’t wrong if free boba is involved.

7. Don’t forget to ask for a student discount.

Many places offer them! For example, at Gong Cha you get 50 cents off of your boba on Monday through Thursday if you bring your student ID. That doesn’t sound like a lot, but when boba costs $4 that’s essentially 12.5 percent off. Plus, small things add up. At Pop Tea Bar, you get a 10 percent discount when you bring valid student ID.

8. Know your plants!

One of the easiest ways to get free food is to pick it off of bushes and trees. At Stanford there are avocados, persimmons, feijoas, figs and strawberry tree fruits hanging on trees all over campus that are yours for the taking. They’re delicious, healthy and — most importantly — free! If you want to know where to find all these wonderful free fruits on campus, join the Gleaning Club.

So ultimately, if you want free food, you have to risk revealing how cheap you really are and you must embrace the #noshame attitude.

As a student body, let’s de-stigmatize being cheap and hoarding food. In my humble opinion, everyone should be allowed to be as cheap as they please without being judged. It’s not indecent; it’s frugal!


Contact Phoebe Quinton at pquinton ‘at’ stanford.edu.

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