The Dad’s Guide to Modern-Day Foraging

  by Chris Horst

I grew up reading books about kids who called their father “Pa.” These kids depended on Pa to hunt down deer and bison and to plow and harvest the fields, bringing fresh food into the home however they could. Our forebearers were masterful foragers, skilled at the arts of hunting, farming and provision-finding. Modern-day dads? Most of us haven’t ever slain a bear, hoed a field, or rustled grub from anywhere but the nearest pantry.

So where is a dad to hang his foraging hat? You might argue we do forage in a metaphorical sense—we earn salaries that buy groceries and still are capable of grilling up steaks and hot dogs for a summer barbecue.

But we might have something to learn from Pa. There’s something hardwired within the soul of fathers to forage. In the 21st century, here are a few simple ways you can find food for your families:

Hunt Samples, Gather Samples

There’s no quicker path to scoring big for the family than frequenting your neighborhood Costco or Sam’s Club in search for the kind elderly women staffing the free samples carts. Sure, your kids might turn up their noses at the rosemary salmon poppers, but the aisle-traipsing journey will at least quiet the ever-rumbling child bellies. Don’t feel guilty about loading up on free samples. Costco and Sam’s benefit tremendously by offering them, and the margin they make on your annual toilet paper purchases more than covers any short-term sampling costs.

Stake Out Free Food

With a little real estate foresight, you can scout out restaurant openings in your town. Many restaurants—including McDonald’s, Einstein/Caribou, and Chick-fil-A—offer massive amounts of free food for the first customers to christen their doors. Be warned: Often, being one of the first guests will demand you camp out the night before. I write from experience. Twice I’ve camped out with my fellow dadcraftsmen at Chick-fil-A grand openings, earning a year’s worth (52 free #1 meals, to be specific) of chicken dinners for my family. Because my companions and I  worked remotely, we didn’t even have to take full vacation days, as we were able to access our work from our tents. The restaurant gets great PR and you feed your family for a year? That’s modern-day foraging defined (not to mention you’ll be roughing it overnight in a tent…in a parking lot).

Cultivate Your Land

Some dads are hunters or are in locations where hunting is easy. For many of us, hunting just isn’t an option. But, almost everywhere, a front or backyard garden is an easy way to reconnect with our foraging forefathers. It can be intimidating to start, but there are a number of great starter guides to kickstart your new hobby. Not only is gardening an inexpensive way to put food in the fridge, it’s also a great family activity. Is there anything kids love more than digging in the dirt with their dad?

Taken together, these three modern-day foraging strategies will not transform you into “Pa,” let alone a true frontiersman. But, these ideas might help you reconnect with your inner hunter-gatherer. Even in our digital age, it’s in you.


Postscript: Sometimes “foraging” looks more like “assembling foodstuffs in the kitchen,” and making a pizza is a strong choice. Sometimes “foraging” looks like traveling from hunting hot spot to hunting hot spot … and by “hunting,” we mean “donuts.”