With the U.S. economy staggering and inflation rising, dollar stores are booming. More Americans are shopping at dollar stores every year, and 1 in 3 new stores opening in the U.S. is a Dollar General.
But is it possible to eat healthy using foods exclusively sourced from Dollar General? What are the healthiest products they sell in each product category? What would a sample healthy meal plan from the Dollar General look like? And what foods should be avoided?
In this article we'll answer all of these questions and more as we give our top picks for the healthiest products in the following categories from Dollar General: fruits & vegetables, animal protein, carbs, snacks, drinks, cooking oils, and condiments & spices.
We'll start by explaining how we define healthy eating, and finish the article with a sample healthy meal plan with foods sourced exclusively from Dollar General.
What is Healthy Eating?
The term “healthy eating” itself is of course subjective, but we define it as a nutrient-dense diet high in produce and free of harmful additives like preservatives and added sugars.
A medical review published in the Nutrients journal investigated what makes a diet healthy and concluded that a diet similar to the Mediterranean diet is optimal for most individuals.
This diet is higher in plant-based foods than the Standard American Diet, including fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, legumes, seeds and nuts. The diet is lower in animal-based foods and in particular processed meats.
Everyone has an individual optimal diet and should talk with their doctor or dietitian before making substantial dietary changes, but we will use this diet model to inform our investigation of whether you can eat a healthy diet at Dollar General.
Please note that the pricing used in this article is an example from several stores in our region (Western Massachusetts), and pricing will vary nationally.
Our Fruit & Vegetable Picks
There were no fresh fruits and vegetables at the Dollar General stores we visited, and the selection was relatively limited, but there is enough frozen and canned produce for a healthy diet.
Some of the canned items contain added sugar which we don’t recommend, but here are some healthy canned options without additives:
Whole kernel corn: $1
Green beans: $0.65
Here are the frozen produce items available for sale:
Mixed berries: $4.50
Whole strawberries: $4.50
Broccoli & cauliflower: $2.50
Mixed vegetables: $1
Sweet peas: $1
Green beans: $1
There’s a misconception in health circles that fresh produce is always healthier than frozen. This is false and it may even be the opposite. Frozen produce has been proven in medical research to be higher in nutrients than equivalent fresh produce, because it’s flash-frozen at the time of harvest which retains nutrients.
We generally recommend frozen over canned produce. Canned produce often has added salt, so for the equivalent item (e.g. green beans frozen vs. canned) we believe the frozen option is healthier. There is also some concern over chemical leaching from liners into canned foods as evidenced in medical studies, but we still believe that canned produce is superior to consuming no produce if it’s the only option available.
Given that the frozen fruit options are much more expensive than the frozen vegetable options, it makes sense for consumers on a budget to buy more vegetables than fruits from Dollar General.
Our Animal Protein Picks
Fish is your best bet when it comes to healthy protein options at Dollar General.
Here are the animal protein options we recommend:
Canned pink salmon: $4.25
Canned oysters: $2
Packaged pink salmon: $1.65
Canned sardines: $1.25
As we documented in our review of fish oil vs whole fish consumption, the omega-3 fatty acids in fish have a number of health benefits including reduced risk of cardiovascular disease.
Since overconsumption of fish can potentially lead to high mercury levels, we recommend consuming fish 2-4 times weekly in line with research-based recommendations from the American Heart Association (AHA).
For those on a budget, the sardines are clearly the best option. Four servings weekly would only cost you $5 total.
We don’t recommend any of Dollar General’s meat or cheese products, as most are processed and sourced from conventionally-raised animals, which is less healthy than animal products sourced from grass-fed animals.
Our Carb Picks
If you’re shopping for a week’s worth of food at Dollar General, we recommend that you use dried beans and rice as the base for most of your meals. This combination is super cheap, very nutritious and used across the world as a low-cost healthy option that's high in fiber.
Here are the prices:
Pinto beans: $5
Great Northern beans: $3.50
Minute brand white rice: $2.85
We don't recommend Dollar General pasta or the 5-pound rice bags because they're enriched with synthetic vitamin additives and we recommend eating whole, unprocessed foods.
We don’t recommend their dried instant carbs like instant mashed potatoes because they tend to have additives like sugar and preservatives.
Dollar General also sells canned beans, but they’re more expensive and less healthy than dried beans so we don’t recommend purchasing these.
Rice and beans is the most nutritious staple option available, and comes at a very low cost per-meal.
Our Snack Picks
The healthiest snack options available at Dollar General are found in their nut section. Nut consumption is associated with lower mortality rates according to medical research.
Here are the prices:
Sunflower seeds: $1.95
We recommend choosing nut products that are free of questionable additives like vegetable oil, preservatives and "natural flavors." Walnuts and pecans are typically found in the baking section, not with the other nuts at the front of the store.
We don’t recommend any other Dollar General snacks like chips or candies as these are unhealthy.
Our Drink Picks
Dollar General has a surprising amount of healthy drink options. Below are the prices:
Coffee beans (largest size): $5.50
Pineapple juice: $4
Water (32-pack): $3.95
Black tea: $2
Orange juice: $1.95
Green tea: $1
We recommend using a Brita filter (official Amazon link here) and filtering tap water instead of buying bottled water which is more expensive, worse for human health due to the plasticizing chemicals leaching into water (source), and worse for the environment.
Spending less than $10 for all of the green tea, black tea and coffee for a month is a great deal in our opinion.
Our Cooking Oil Picks
Dollar General has two cooking oils which make excellent options:
Extra virgin olive oil: $4.50
Coconut oil: $4.20
Both coconut oil and extra virgin olive oil are significantly healthier than the standard vegetable oil, which is associated in medical studies with inflammation and atherosclerosis.
Our Condiment & Spice Picks
Adding spices to your food is one of the cheapest and most convenient ways to make your meals healthier. Spices have a variety of micronutrients and typically last months-to-years. Dollar General has plenty of condiments and spices that we find healthy:
Louisiana hot sauce: $1
Parsley flakes: $1
Crushed red pepper: $1
Garlic powder: $1
Chili powder: $1
Yellow mustard: $0.90
Sample Healthy Meal Plan
Using the healthy options at Dollar General we highlighted above, you could put together a very healthy day’s worth of meals:
Breakfast: Black coffee brewed at home, with a bowl of pistachios and strawberries.
Lunch: Large serving of pinto beans and rice, with cooked pink salmon, spinach and hot sauce mixed together in a bowl.
Dinner: Small serving of beans and rice and chili powder, with a side of green beans doused with olive oil. Green tea and water to drink.
This set of meals would be cheaper and healthier than the vast majority of Americans eat daily, and can be done with Dollar General food alone.
A YouTube creator named "MiaHasDiggles" did a healthy meal challenge for one day at Dollar General: