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Why I Shopped for Groceries at Dollar Tree for a Whole Week

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Does the thought of eating dollar store food surprise you? Here's why I shopped for mostly healthy groceries at Dollar Tree for a whole week.

Are you in an emergency situation and just need to eat? Part one of this 3-part series explains why I shopped at Dollar Tree for a full week and spent $52 on my family of 3.

As a blogger of 4+ years, I’ve met many people who have needed help with groceries. Whether it’s saving money on each trip, or meal planning tips, I’ve usually come up with a helpful answer that I hope was beneficial.

Situations come up, though, that leave me almost speechless and mess up everything I know.

You see, I use Google Analytics to track my blog stats. And when people type search terms into Google, I can usually see what they type that leads them to my blog. Things like “5 dollar dinners” and “how to stick to a grocery budget”.

But the other day, I saw one that said, “What to eat but no money to get full”.

And my heart kind of shattered after reading that. I know that the people I’ve talked to in the past have gone through rough times. But whoever this person is is currently in the throes of their situation and desperate to get something to eat.

And their search somehow led to my blog. I couldn’t see which of my posts that search led to, but I’m left wondering if whatever I have on here is even helpful to them. That’s when I knew I had to take action.

Image of a Dollar Tree store

Why Dollar Tree?

When I saw that Google search, I started to think of what kind of situation this person might be living in. Maybe he has a very low income, no car, and isn’t within walking distance of any grocery store. What IS around almost everywhere, though, is a dollar store. I can think of at least 6 in my immediate area, spread out across the city.

And if a dollar store is all you have, you need to find a way to make that work for you.

I’d been wanting to try an experiment with Dollar Tree anyway, to see if you can actually eat healthy food there. And seeing that Google search sealed that determination, so immediately I set out to create a grocery list. I went to two different Dollar Trees in my area and scoped out all the best items that could be used in a meal plan, and I’ll share those with you below.

Healthiest items to buy

I’ll start off by saying that when you’re low on money, your main priority is to fill your stomach any way you can. Any food is better than nothing when you’re starving. But you CAN make some healthier choices at Dollar Tree if you look carefully. I searched through two different stores to see what kind of stock they had, and here’s what I came up with:

Image of frozen vegetables on display

Vegetables and fruit: Unfortunately, I’ve never seen any Dollar Tree carry fresh produce. However, there are a few ways you can get the next best thing- frozen and canned. As long as the fruits and veggies you buy have only that as the ingredient, you’re good! Here’s what I’ve found:

  • Frozen Winter Blend (Broccoli and cauliflower)
  • Frozen Stir Fry Blend (Broccoli, snap peas, carrots, peppers, onions)
  • Frozen broccoli
  • Frozen mixed veggies
  • Frozen riced cauliflower (I was surprised to find this one!)
  • Canned peas, corn, green beans
  • Frozen blueberries
  • Frozen mangoes
  • Frozen strawberries
  • Frozen smoothie blends (Banana and strawberries)
  • Canned fruit (Pineapple, fruit cocktail, peaches… just make sure they’re packaged in 100% juice and not syrup)
Image of trail mix on display at Dollar Tree

Snacks: I’m all about the snacks, but I’m also conscious about added sugar intake. You can still find some pretty good snacks on the cheap here!

  • Crackers
  • Popcorn kernels (Freshly popped popcorn is the best!)
  • Peanuts/almonds/nut mix
  • Trail mix
  • Dried fruit (Raisins, cranberries)
  • Freeze-dried fruit (Apples, peaches, strawberries)
  • Beef jerky
  • Goldfish
  • Granola bars (They’re kind of small and not filling, though. Some stores actually sell Larabars and Clif bars, which aren’t too bad at all)
Image of hot dogs on display at Dollar Tree

Meat: So I’ll admit, I’ve been a little wary of buying dollar store meat. Depending on what you buy, the quality may not be that great. However, there are a few things I’ve tried and don’t mind buying again:

  • Pepperoni
  • Frozen chicken sausages ( I was surprised at the good ingredient list!)
  • Jennie-o turkey bacon
  • Frozen chicken breast (Haven’t actually tried this yet, but thought it was interesting that they carry individual chicken breasts)
  • Meatballs (Not the best ingredients, but they taste pretty good!)
  • Canned tuna/chicken
Image of milk on display at Dollar Tree

Dairy: I was actually surprised at the amount of good dairy products! My Dollar Tree actually carries yogurt and eggs. But be careful when you buy cheese. You want to be sure it’s actual cheese, and not “Shredded processed cheese product” or something similar. Here’s what I found:

  • Dozen eggs
  • Carton of milk/chocolate milk
  • Shredded mozzarella cheese
  • Frigo cheese sticks (Allison loves these)
  • 1 stick of butter (Like real butter)
  • Dannon yogurt 4-packs (An excellent price!)
Image of dried beans and pasta on display at Dollar Tree

Pantry staples: Even when you’re not strapped for cash, Dollar Tree can be a good place to stock up on random pantry items! Just look at the price-per-ounce because a lot of items here are smaller than at grocery stores.

  • Diced tomatoes/tomato sauce
  • Rolled oats
  • Pancake mix/syrup
  • Condiments
  • Peanut butter (I’d rather buy the ones with no sugar, but this will do in a pinch)
  • Jelly
  • Pasta
  • Rice
  • Dried/canned beans
  • Cereal
  • Bread- Some Dollar Tree stores carry loaves of bread! My stores were out of stock but had cinnamon raisin bagels, which I picked up for PB&J “sandwiches”.

Next week’s post will include my entire grocery list and what we ate all week. I lay out my entire thought process and why I chose these specific items for both health and budget reasons. Be sure to follow me on Instagram and get a sneak peek at all the meals I’ve made!

In the meantime, leave me a comment: Have you ever shopped at Dollar Tree for groceries? What are some of your favorite finds? Can you actually eat healthy there or should you only shop there for a week in desperate situations? I’d love to hear your feedback!

Whitney Tucker

Tuesday 25th of May 2021

I somehow came across your channel, and I saw your Dollar Tree Meals play list, I thought you were being creative and thrifty, which is Amazing, somehow I just came across this link, as to why you started this, Wow, your amazing Jamie. I’ve been through tough times, but I’ve been beyond fortunate to never not have enough food, and when you said the search was “What to eat when you have no money” I truly felt that. Thank you for all you do. Your an inspiration to us all.

Jaime

Wednesday 26th of May 2021

Thank you, Whitney! I'm glad this is helping lots of people. =)

Karen

Wednesday 17th of February 2021

We live I. A very small town and we have 1 grocery store which is just too expensive for us. We also have a dollar general. We shop there weekly as they have special deals each Saturday. They also have regular size food in there and gallon size milk and my oldest son drinks a lot of milk. Ultimately, that store feeds my family of 5 quite well. In the city next door, there is a .99 cent store that actually sells fresh produce and fresh fruit that sometimes I have never seen nor heard of before. I have bought fresh produce and made meals out of it by researching the veggies and fruits.

Jaime

Wednesday 17th of February 2021

That is awesome to hear!! Thanks for sharing this!

Michelle Williams

Saturday 26th of December 2020

One of my favorite snacks to get from Dollar Tree is Boiled peanuts . My husband and I are from Florida and that let's us have a taste of home. I also got roasted red peppers in a jar for a dollar and they go amazing in several recipes. Definitely worth looking around there.Glad I found your vlog.🥰

Jaime

Sunday 27th of December 2020

Thanks, Michelle! I've never tried the roasted red peppers, but I'll have to look net time I'm there!

Sandy

Wednesday 23rd of December 2020

They have wonderful rice cakes made with brown rice and super seeds. They have some lower sodium items and some sugar free. I have been happy with everything I get there.

Jaime

Wednesday 23rd of December 2020

That's so good to hear!!

Kiv

Saturday 12th of December 2020

1) Frito pie - can of beans, can of spiced tomatoes or chunky salsa over fritos and dabs of plain yogurt on top 2) Navajo tacos - flour, oil & water shaped in small balls then flatten and fry fill with a can of chilli or leftovers of frito pie 3) Hot dog bacon and scrambled egg sandwich. Overnight marinate thin slices of hot dog in fennel, pancake syrup and pepper/chilles. Scramble eggs, pan fry “bacon” and assemble open faced on a piece of toast 4) Ramen Pud Thai - peanut butter, vinegar, chili/lime salt, water and package of ramen (save broth packet for soup) 5) Leftover pasta/spagetti meat loaf - save in freeze bits of left over pasta/tomato sauce/onion etc. when you have about 4 cups break up finely with 3 eggs, add any fast food sauces you have (bbq, honey mustard, mustard, hot sauce etc) and mix with a small package of sausage and bake 6) Yogurt - stretch yogurt by heating milk (amount. To refill plain large yogurt container) to just hot (can still quickly dip a finger into) pour it into Yogurt container that has about 1/2 cup left. Stir put lid on and wrap in a towel and leave on counter overnight. By morning it will have thickened. It is tangy so you can eat with a bit of jam. Or use like sour cream for 1&2 above. 7) Flat bread - 2 cups flour, 1/2 cup oil and water to bring together. Knead for 7 minutes and roll out flat in long strip. Sprinkle with parm cheese and topping (dollar tree has pickled aspargus, mushrooms, olives, sometimes sundries tomatoes, pistachios, smoked fish, dried chives, basil -pick one or two) sprinkle with olive oil and bake 8) Quiche - sometimes they sell pie crust, fill with frozen broccoli, drain canned mushrooms, 2 slices of bread diced, cover with 2 cups milk and 2 eggs, season bake and in last 10 minutes sprinkle cheese over the top.

Good mission keeping tummies full :)

Lori

Sunday 27th of December 2020

Those recipes sound yummy!! Thanks!!

Jaime

Saturday 12th of December 2020

Thank you so much for all these ideas!! I know they'll really help someone out there.

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