• “Buy long shelf-life foods as they won’t lose their nutrition if you don’t eat them straight away,” suggests Dr Probst. (The Image Bank/Getty Images)Source: The Image Bank/Getty Images
If you don't have a home with a kitchen and cupboards to store ingredients, it's a lot harder to eat nutritious food. Is there a solution?
By
Yasmin Noone

13 Aug 2018 - 9:39 AM  UPDATED 13 Aug 2018 - 3:55 PM

Access to food is a basic human right, even if you don't have a home.

Yet more than 116,000 Australians are currently homeless - they're sleeping on their mate's couches, living in shared crisis accomodation, moving from shelter-to-shelter, living in their cars and sleeping rough.

They don't just lack a permanent place to call home - some are without the money needed to buy food, a kitchen to cook ingredients, cupboards to store food items and a safe place to eat. The health consequence of food insecurity caused by homelessness is hunger, poor nutrition and inadequate dental health.

Kellie Watson, general manager of FareShare in Queensland, explains the hunger-nutrition seesaw facing many people who are homeless or at risk of homelessness.

“There are so many issues going on in their lives,” says Watson. “They are living hand-to-mouth and usually food is the last think they think to purchase.”

Watson tells SBS that when a homeless individual does get the financial means to buy or cook food, it makes sense to buy cheap ingredients or meals.

“There are so many issues going on in their lives. They are living hand-to-mouth and usually food is the last think they think to purchase.”

However, she says, sometimes cheap meals are highly processed. “Unfortunately, a lot of cheap food doesn’t have a lot of nutrition to it. It may contain a lot of calories but that doesn’t mean it is good for you.”

Advanced Accredited Practising Dietician from Wollongong University, Dr Yasmin Probst, also clarifies that eating a large but unhealthy meal will not help a person to battle hunger or preserve their health over the long-term. In fact, even if you experience hunger on a regular basis, if you eat highly processed foods you could develop obesity.

“A lot of the energy-dense, nutrient poor foods will give you a quick fill but they wont keep you full for very long,” says Dr Probst.  

Coffee, croissants and a therapy dog helping youth homelessness one bite at a time
Last year, 365 young people took part in STREAT courses, the Melbourne cafe-cum-social enterprise helping youth get off the streets.

She adds that there is no minimum amount of food that a person, facing food insecurity, should eat to stay healthy. However, there is a minimum amount of nutrition that all adults should be getting from their food each day, as dictated by the Australian Guide to Healthy Eating.

The truth is that - no matter our wealth or social status – we all need to eat a variety of foods from the five food groups to stay somewhat healthy over time.

But how do you do that on a tight budget if you also lack access to basic kitchen utensils or a permanent to store your food?

“Buy long shelf-life foods as they won’t lose their nutrition if you don’t eat them straight away,” suggests Dr Probst.

“Products like canned tuna in spring water have a longer shelf-life and provide a good source of protein. Baked beans could also be a good choice – they are not expensive but are nutritious.”

Dr Probst says frozen fruits and vegetables are convenient, cheaper and quite nutritious if you have a freezer.

“Eating legumes, chickpeas and kidney beans – in a dried form or in a can – may also be an efficient way of getting extra vegetables into your body and having protein that will fill you up.”

“The meal we provide might be the only food a person will get in the day, we want it to count. So one of the things we concentrate on here is to pack as much vegetables, protein and pulses into a meal as possible.”

Organisations like FareShare try to overcome this catch-22 by rescuing and cooking nutritious, quality food, and redistributing it to charities like soup vans, homeless shelters, women’s refuges and community food banks throughout Melbourne and Brisbane.

“The meal we provide might be the only food a person will get in the day, we want it to count,” says Watson. “So one of the things we concentrate on here is to pack as much vegetables, protein and pulses into a meal as possible.”

These 5 cafes serve up care alongside cake and coffee to the homeless
From pay-it-forward coffee schemes and free breakfasts, to helping at-risk youth learn life skills, these enterprises are doing good.

Watson offers the following for budget-friendly tips for adults, who are couch-surfing or living in shared, crisis accommodation and have access to a kitchen.

  • Try to stretch each meal you make by bulking it up with fresh vegetables. “If you’re making spaghetti, throw in more cans of tomatoes, onions and celery. Some of these vegetables cost very little but they have a lot of nutrition.”
  • Make a meal heartier by adding a can of chickpeas or eggs.
  • Buy bargains – shop for seasonal vegetables and two-for-one ingredients.
  • Purchase cheap cuts of meat which you can slow cook (if you have a slow cooker that uses minimal electricity). 

Watson also advises anyone who is struggling with hunger, no matter their financial position, to contact their local council or homeless charity and ask for details on the organisations offering food aid (fresh fruit and vegetables or cooked meals) in their local area.


SBS's new season of Filthy Rich & Homeless is an honest and compassionate exploration of what it’s like to be homeless in Australia today as it shines a light on a part of our society often overlooked and ignored. Watch the trailer below:

Filthy Rich and Homeless airs over three nights – Tuesday 14, Wednesday 15 and Thursday 16 August on SBS from 8.30pm. A special live studio program will air directly after episode three.

Join the conversation #FilthyRichHomeless

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