Start by making sure food is clearly labeled and separated, so your roommate has no excuses. A roommate agreement showing how food is shared or separated is useful.
Then if needed, having your own lockable compact refrigerator is the most reliable solution.
Roommate’s stealing food is a common problem. Some think they can get away with it and you won’t notice, others don’t care and are brazen thieves.
This guide has the 10 best solutions.
1, Lock up your food so your roommate can’t steal it.
There are many products which will enable you to lock up your food. Searching the internet will give you a variety of options in different price ranges. There are lockable food boxes for inside the fridge and out. Just to give you an idea (without recommending any particular one): Lock a Box, Kitchen Safe, Locking Storage Bins.
In the old days of English boarding schools, each boy or girl had a tuck box they would put all their food and belongings in, just like the chests pupils took to Hogwarts School in Harry Potter.
2. Make it clear whose food is whose to reduce the chances of your roommate stealing your food.
A team of “Columbia University health promotion specialists, health care providers, and other health professionals, along with a staff of information and research specialists and writers” advise on their blog, Go ask Alice!
In their article of advice for someone who writes that ‘my roommate keeps eating my food’, the team recommends that food stored in shared spaces should be clearly marked as to ownership. One way to do this is to label each item with your name. Another way is to assign shelves in the fridge, cupboards, and pantry. (Of course, you can combine the two ideas also.)
3. Speak with your roommate about stealing food.
Communication, communication, communication. It’s the basis of every great relationship and essential here, too.
Erie Insurance Company has some sound advice on its website about dealing with roommates stealing your food. Choose a time when both of you are likely to be calm, in a good mood, and not rushing off to somewhere important. Be aware that your roommate may deny the theft, so be prepared to keep your cool.
Erie Insurance suggests starting casually and gently.
Mention that you notice your cheese (let’s say) is missing. Has your roommate seen it? Give them a chance to explain or own up. Perhaps they moved things around in the fridge, and you didn’t see it. Maybe they did just borrow it (without asking, yes) and intend to replace it as soon as they can. Could be that there’s another, more serious explanation.
4. Serious reasons why your roommate could be stealing your food.
- As strange as it may sound, your roommate might be hungry or tempted by your tasty food. It could be that after their share of rent and utilities, there is hardly any money left over for food. We know of college students living off-campus that have just $50-60 per month left over for food. True, they won’t starve, but they are not eating well. If they were feeling hungry or your food was just delicious looking, it might have been very hard to resist a taste…with one thing leading to another.
- Your roommate might have an eating disorder. On her blog, Tabitha Farrar (a coach who works with adults and their families to recover from eating disorders) writes: “Behaviours such as stealing support the biological approach to eating disorders…Many of us who steal…have a compulsion to do so despite having the financial means to buy things.” This same article includes a letter from a person who “started out stealing from my roommates in college. I couldn’t manage to eat during the day or buy any food for myself, so once everyone was asleep I would sneak into the kitchen and carefully take small amounts of a variety of things so no one would notice”. Sound familiar? Read more here
5. Make a roommate contract about food
If your roommate is willing to discuss things, it is recommended to co-create a ‘roommate contract’, often called a ‘roommate agreement.’ This contract will establish some ground rules about living together, including the issue of food.
This guide has a roommate food rules contract in it which has been carefully researched and tested.
6. Get back at your roommate for stealing your food.
I recommend not doing revenge; it never goes well. However done as a joke, it can be fun, as long as your roommate feels you are laughing with them and not at them.
Done this way it’s a light-hearted and fun way to get your point across, and an excellent story to share with others.
Just make sure it doesn’t get petty and nasty.
One example is cutting a piece of cake, replacing the chocolate ball decorations with peppercorns, and placing that piece in the fridge, taking the rest of the cake with you to the event you baked it for.
Be careful though. Revenge could backfire. It seems that even if someone steals your food, YOU could be held responsible for anything bad that happens to them.
Fun stores of how roommates have gotten revenge for the other roommate stealing their food!
Here’s a story of two co-workers: A and B. A had the habit of eating B’s lunch. Now B likes his food very (we mean VERY) spicy. On that particular day, A writes: “I was sitting at my desk when my coworker came running out, having a hard time breathing. He then ran into the bathroom and started being sick. Turns out he ate my clearly labeled lunch.” Next day, B’s boss asks him if he is trying to poison A. The following week, Human Resources (HR) begins an investigation.
Another form of revenge is stealing your roommate’s food…a little bit of tit for tat.
Then there are methods that border on, well, the disgusting — things like licking your food and putting it back into the fridge. Or sending your roomie snapchats of you placing your edibles ‘down there’ before replacing them on the shelf. You can get ‘creative’ by adding non-toxic but yucky things to your food like your spit and pencil shavings.
Fun to read about, but I don’t recommend them in real life. However you should stand up for yourself, so if you are doing it to defend your food and not out of revenge, then fair enough.
7. Sometimes it’s best to do nothing
If your roommate is only stealing a small amount of food, maybe it’s best to do nothing about it. As long as your roommate’s stealing doesn’t grow to them taking more and more.
Do you get along well with your roommate?
Maybe you have more to lose by going on the offensive with your roommate stealing some of your food, as they are a great roommate in other ways! Such as you enjoy hanging out with them.
Do you share things? Perhaps it’s not so much that your roommate is stealing your food, as sharing it. Maybe you also nibble at your roommate’s food on occasion. (It’s ok…you can be honest… I won’t tell.)
OK, maybe you don’t touch your roommate’s food, but there are other things you might ‘use’… A spray of perfume because it’s an expensive brand and who’s going to know? A bottle of cold beer because the six-pack you bought is still in the car, and you can’t be bothered to get it right now? Underarm deodorant because yours just ran out, and you’ve got a hot date? Shaving cream (same story)? See what we’re getting at here?
Education First, a global, student exchange organization, suggests that ‘sharing is caring’. They might not be the same things, but if you are both giving and getting, that could be a good thing, right?
Different cultural backgrounds
Another thing to think about is different value systems. Some cultures share quite precious and private things. One example is a host sharing his wife with a male guest with whom he wants to build close ties. Keeping this example in mind, what’s a little food among roomies? (I’m not saying it’s okay to share out your girlfriend or wife!)
8. Going to the authorities
Telling the college or university
If you are sharing a room in college or university, then maybe the Room Associate can sort this one out, even change your room if you need it.
Be careful though to have proper proof that your roommate is stealing your food, as your roommate may take slander seriously and try to defend themselves from your accusation.
Maybe the university will be happy to move you and say it’s for other reasons.
Telling the police
Sadly the police will not do anything about your roommate stealing food. They see it as too small an issue to spend resources on, as you are both sharing a place it comes up under civil law, and it’s hard to get the necessary proof.
If you take your roommate to court, for the reason above only a civil law court will accept your claim. A civil court can get you financial compensation from your roommate, but cannot put them in jail. All in all, it takes a lot of time and energy to make the court application, and all the stages involved in getting justice.
Ultimately, contacting the police is a waste of time, and taking them to court for your roommate stealing food is more hassle than it’s worth.
9. Tricks your roommate may do to steal your food
Knowing these tricks means you can catch your roommate out more often, this puts more pressure on them. You might be surprised when you find out how much food your roommate is actually stealing.
Your roommate will probably try to take things that you won’t notice, and this usually is things that are part of larger packets, which are soft and so go back to their old shape when you take a bit.
Such as cereal, spirits, butter, and so on where you are less likely to notice the levels going down.
Anything with quantity makes it harder to see if some of it has gone.
If your roommate take’s a bit of your sandwich, they know you will see the chunk taken out of it.
Your roommate’s view of reality may be so distorted that they think taking a bit of something is okay. Their logic is they’re only taking a sample, for example, only taking a few grapes from a bunch is okay as they haven’t finished them, or taken them all.
If you have loads of roommates, just taking a sample from each person can add up to a lot of food.
If you had closed your box of fries crookedly, your roommate might make sure they do the same when they close it. Using markers showing the previous levels of things, like marking on your whiskey bottle to show the current level of the liquid is the best way to go.
Usually, after a while, your roommate will get greedy, take too much, and that’s when you notice and can prove it.
10. Make it clear how much you don’t like them for stealing your food
Social pressure is a big one; if other people know your roommate is a thief, they won’t like them and think they’re a cheap scum of the earth.
If you are sure they’re doing it and have proof, there’s no need to keep it to yourself.
Social pressure is a powerful way to motivate people not to do something.
There are loads of ways to solve the problem, but if you tries these and they don’t work, you are justified in using the easiest and most effective solution which is to lock up your food.
Get a lockable refrigerator, or have one in your room and lock your room. Put things that don’t need to be refrigerated in a lockable box.