How To Create a Week’s Worth of Healthy Meals From the Dollar Store

Dollar Tree
Mike Mozart /

The bad news keeps getting worse when it comes to spending at the grocery store. Inflation pushed food-at-home prices 10% higher in March 2022 than they were in March 2021, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and projections call for food prices to rise between 5% and 6% this year.

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So, what can you do to rein in your spending on food? Turn to your local dollar store for your grocery shopping.

Surprise! Dollar Stores Have Healthy Options

With food offerings expanding at several national dollar-store chains, it’s possible to create healthy dinners for your family that also are friendly for your budget. The retailers’ shelves contain vegetables, proteins, grains and healthy fats needed for a well-balanced diet.

“As a pediatric registered dietitian working primarily with families, I know how expensive meals can be,” said Caitlyn Edson, who works with clients virtually. “When you live in an area that does not have a lot of options, making nutritious meals can seem even more challenging. Surprisingly, dollar stores have a lot of options to make quick and nutrient-dense meals. You’ll want to aim to make meals that contain carbohydrates, fat and protein, along with some fruits and vegetables.

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“Many canned and boxed items that can be found in these stores can be mixed and matched to compose a meal with all these important categories. By making larger quantities of many of these ingredients, you can alter them slightly to make meals for multiple nights of the week.”

Do Dollar Stores Sell Fresh Food?

Increasingly, yes. The 99 Cents Only Stores chain sells produce and dairy items at its nearly 400 stores in California, Texas, Arizona and Nevada.

Last October, the industry publication Growing Produce reported that Dollar General was planning to offer fresh produce in more than 10,000 stores. Family Dollar entered the market last summer, selling apples, potatoes and other fruits and vegetables at about 100 of its stores so far.

Dollar General has more than 18,000 stores in 47 states. A new Dollar General that opened this month in Albrightsville, Pa., for example, sells lettuce, tomatoes, salad mixes, onions, strawberries and sweet potatoes.

Planning the Menu

Even if your dollar store doesn’t stock fresh fruits and vegetables, it could have a small dairy case of the basics: milk, eggs and cheese. And the shelves likely are packed with staples needed to form a healthy menu, such as canned vegetables, pasta, canned tuna, bread, rice, beans and oatmeal.

Make Your Money Work for You

“Try to shop for nutrient-dense foods, meaning there is a substantial amount of nutrients in a smaller amount of food,” Edson said. “Typically, these foods are higher in calories, healthy fats, and contain various vitamins and minerals. Some nutrient-dense foods that can be found in most dollar stores include eggs, canned tuna, fortified pasta, whole grain cereals and beans.”

A Week of Meals

The meals you can prepare for your family from dollar store ingredients are limited only by your creativity.

Pasta with vegetables: “Pastas are typically fortified in important iron and contain protein,” she said. “By adding canned vegetables and a jar of sauce, you have a complete meal.”

Edson said it’s crucial to throw the vegetables in a colander and rinse them well before serving. By doing so, you’ll wash away much of the sodium found in canned veggies.

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Tuna melt: Canned tuna is a staple at the dollar store, and it’s full of nutrient dense sources, Edson said. Chop up pickles to add a vegetable serving to your sandwich.

Tuna noodle casserole: Take your leftover pasta and tuna, add some cheese, and put it in the oven for a tuna noodle dinner.

Rice dishes: “Rice, another item that’s typically found in these stores, is a highly versatile ingredient that can be made into meals the whole family will enjoy,” Edson said. “Add canned beans, like black beans, plus a jar of salsa and cheese and you have a quick meal. The next night, use your leftover cooked rice to make fried rice, by adding an egg and veggies.”

Burritos: Even without meat, tacos and burritos can be nutritious and delicious. Top the dollar store tortillas with canned beans, canned tomatoes, shredded lettuce and cheese.

Stir fry: Prepare a stir fry with green beans and peppers, which some dollar stores stock. The stores also have a variety of seasonings to spice up your favorite stir-fry recipe.

Eggs: Try egg salad, an omelet or an egg sandwich for dinner. “Any type of egg meal is a really easy, really nutrient-dense meal,” she said.

If you’ve discounted grocery shopping at dollar stores in the past, it’s time to reconsider. Your local dollar store just might stock a bumper crop of fruits and vegetables you didn’t know it had, along with canned and boxed items plentiful enough to give your family a variety of meal options and cut your spending at the same time.

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About the Author

Jami Farkas holds a communications degree from California State University, Fullerton, and has worked as a reporter or editor at daily newspapers in all four corners of the United States. She brings to GOBankingRates experience as a sports editor, business editor, religion editor, digital editor — and more. With a passion for real estate, she passed the real estate licensing exam in her state and is still weighing whether to take the plunge into selling homes — or just writing about selling homes.
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