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.
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:
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)
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!
- 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
- 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)
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:
- 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
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!)
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
- Peanut butter (I’d rather buy the ones with no sugar, but this will do in a pinch)
- Dried/canned beans
- 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!
Wednesday 8th of March 2023
I'm late to the party on your post, which I found after thinking of cost effective ways to restock my entire fridge/freezer. We recently had 78 mph winds with tornados in my region (KY) that knocked out power for almost three days. I was able to save a few items in a cooler, but the entire contents were spoiled and had to be thrown out. Thank you for highlighting healthier items, when available, and giving me some ideas on what to grab when at Dollar Tree.
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.
Wednesday 26th of May 2021
Thank you, Whitney! I'm glad this is helping lots of people. =)
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.
Wednesday 27th of July 2022
@Karen, I think we live in the same town. I'm just kidding but I sure can relate. There is also a DG in the village next to ours that carries fresh produce. Thankfully, there are also little produce stands and fresh eggs for sale on the roadside here. I have to travel 25-30 minutes to Aldi or Walmart when I can to get better grocery prices. Blessing to you for frugal and healthy eating.
Wednesday 17th of February 2021
That is awesome to hear!! Thanks for sharing this!
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.🥰
Tuesday 12th of April 2022
@Michelle Williams, This past weekend, had broiled peanuts. I never heard of them. I was at cousins in NC. They are from Florida. Very good!
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!
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.
Wednesday 23rd of December 2020
That's so good to hear!!