This article is part of a three-part series where we investigate whether it’s possible to create a nutrient-dense, healthy meal plan exclusively sourced from the three most popular dollar stores: Dollar General, Dollar Tree and Family Dollar.
There’s a popular conception that all food from dollar stores is unhealthy, and while much of it is, we’ve found some healthy options that may be useful for Dollar Tree shoppers to look for.
In this article we’ll review some of the healthiest options from the Dollar Tree across various food categories, and provide a sample meal plan.
How Do We Define Healthy?
Healthy eating is of course a subjective term, because what’s healthy for one person may not be for another. A diabetic may not be able to eat healthy carbs that would suit an average healthy adult.
We define healthy eating as a diet model that’s high in nutrients and free of harmful additives like sugars, preservatives or flavoring chemicals.
This diet model has been shown in medical studies to be optimal for the average adult. The basis of most meals are whole grains, legumes, fresh produce, wild-caught fish and animal products sourced from grass-fed animals, as well as seeds and nuts.
Please note that the pricing used in this article is an example from one store in our region (Western Massachusetts), and pricing will vary nationally.
There are a decent number of produce options at Dollar Tree, and definitely more than at Dollar General.
There is dried, canned and frozen produce to choose from. Some of the canned items contain added sugar which we don’t recommend. Here are the produce options we do recommend:
Dried apples: $1
Dried mangos: $1
Dried pineapple: $1
Frozen okra: $1
Frozen California blend (cauliflower, broccoli, carrots): $1
Frozen peas & carrots: $1
Frozen cauliflower: $1
Frozen broccoli: $1
Frozen asparagus: $1
Frozen stir fry blend (carrots, snap peas, yellow bell peppers): $1
Frozen spinach: $1
Frozen peaches: $1
Frozen strawberries: $1
Frozen mixed berries: $1
Frozen mangoes: $1
Frozen banana berry blend: $1
Canned olives: $1
Canned pumpkin: $1
Canned green beans: $1
Canned carrots: $1
Canned beets: $1
Canned mushrooms: $1
Canned potatoes: $1
As you can see, there is actually a significant variety of produce available at Dollar Tree and the prices are lower on average than at Dollar General. We listed 19 different varieties of produce available just at one store.
Most people think that fresh produce is the healthiest, but frozen produce is arguably superior from a nutritional standpoint. Medical research shows that frozen produce is higher in nutrients on average because the nutritional content is locked in right upon harvest during the freezing process.
We recommend frozen produce over canned produce, because there are some legitimate concerns over chemicals leaching from liners into canned foods. That being said, the benefits of produce consumption outweigh these concerns, so for consumers who only have access to a Dollar Tree we’d recommend usually selecting the frozen produce items listed, but occasionally choosing some of the canned produce like beets and green beans for variety.
Similar to Dollar General, the only healthy animal products at Dollar Tree are fish. We don’t recommend any of their meats or dairy offerings because they’re sourced from conventionally-raised animals which we know from medical studies to be significantly less healthy than those from pastured animals. Here are the animal products we recommend:
Packaged pink salmon 2.6 ounces (oz): $1
Canned sardines in water 3.75 oz: $1
Canned mackerel 10 oz: $1
Canned tuna: $1
Fish are a great protein source, and are high in omega-3 fatty acids. All of the products recommended above are sourced from wild-caught fish which we believe to be healthier than farmed fish.
Fish probably shouldn’t be consumed more than four times a week to minimize mercury exposure, and we’d recommend limiting tuna intake to twice weekly or less as it’s significantly higher in mercury than sardines or salmon.
Staples like rice and beans should make up the base of most of your meals if you’re shooting for a cheap and healthy meal plan. Dollar Tree has some healthy staple options:
Great Northern beans 1 pound (lb): $1
Pinto beans 1 lb: $1
Lentils 1 lb: $1
Long grain brown rice 2 lb: $1
Rolled oats 1 lb: $1
Golden quinoa 6 oz: $1
Popcorn kernels 20oz: $1
This is a significantly wider variety than Dollar General, and provides a healthy set of cheap carb staples. Dollar General only had rice and beans, so adding oats and quinoa adds nutrition, micronutrients and variety.
Many cultures worldwide make rice and beans the base of many of their meals because of its low cost and high nutrition. At these prices, you could have a large meal of rice and beans for under 10 cents.
We don’t recommend any of Dollar Tree’s pasta products because they’re all enriched with synthetic vitamin blends which we feel are unhealthy and potentially harmful.
The healthiest snacks at Dollar Tree are whole nuts. Consumption of nuts is shown in medical research to reduce mortality rates for nearly all causes. They have a smaller selection than Dollar General, but better prices:
Peanuts 7.5 oz: $1
Sunflower seeds 5 oz: $1
Pumpkin seeds 2 oz: $2
All of the nuts products mentioned above have no additives. Dollar Tree has a wide variety of candy and chips but we don’t recommend any of these products as they’re unhealthy.
You can find a surprising amount of healthy tea options at Dollar Tree:
Energy Boost tea (20 bags): $1
Immunity Boost tea (20 bags): $1
Detox tea (20 bags): $1
Peppermint tea (20 bags): $1
Green tea (100 bags): $1
Coffee grounds (6 oz): $1
Organic Arabica coffee grounds (2.25 oz): $1
Espresso coffee grounds (6 oz): $1
Prune juice (1 lb): $1
Red grapefruit juice (14 oz): $1
Apple cider vinegar (1 lb): $1
Water (6-pack): $1
Once again, Dollar Tree easily beats Dollar General in healthy options for this category.
We don’t agree with the health claims for the tea (“detox”, “immunity”), but they’re just blends of herbal teas with no additives so they’re perfectly healthy.
We only recommend one cooking oil found at Dollar Tree:
Refined coconut oil (7.25 oz): $1
The majority of the cooking oils they have for sale are cheap vegetable oils like corn oil and vegetable oil blends. We know from medical research that vegetable oils are associated with inflammation and poor cardiovascular outcomes, so sticking to coconut oil is a safe choice.
Condiments & Spices
Dollar Tree has a wide variety of spices and condiments that you can use to add flavor and micronutrients to your meals:
Himalayan pink salt: $1
Cayenne pepper: $1
Crushed red pepper: $1
Black pepper: $1
Garlic powder: $1
Onion powder: $1
Yellow mustard (20 oz): $1
Frank’s hot sauce (5 oz): $1
Surprisingly, Dollar Tree has a decent selection of vitamins and supplements that are free of harmful additives like preservatives and artificial colorings. We didn’t publish a Vitamins section in our Dollar General review, because of the additives included in their supplements.
Here are the supplements we’d recommend from Dollar Tree:
Fish oil (1000 mg): $1
Probiotic acidophilus: $1
Vitamin D (400 IU): $1
Vitamin C (500 mg): $1
We don’t believe that supplements are necessary for everyone; it’s situational. You can get your fish oil from eating whole fish, but supplementation could be a good option for those who dislike and avoid eating fish.
Similarly, you can get Vitamin D and Vitamin C from food, but they’re very safe to supplement and can have profound health benefits, which is why we even cautiously recommend them in our article on best vitamins for teens.
Dollar Tree’s supplement even contains the best-absorbed form of Vitamin D, which is Vitamin D3.
Sample Daily Meals
To illustrate how healthy of a diet you could eat from the Dollar Tree products we highlighted in this article, here’s an example set of meals for the day using our recommendations:
Breakfast: Mixed berries and pumpkin seeds with a large organic black coffee to drink. Vitamin C and Vitamin D as supplements.
Lunch: Quinoa and pink salmon cooked with onion powder, pink himalayan salt and thyme, topped with hot sauce.
Dinner: Lentils and rice and asparagus with cayenne and onion powder, with peppermint tea to drink.
The above meal plan is healthier than the vast majority of Americans eat, and can be acquired for a total of less than $5 at Dollar Tree. It goes to show that with proper planning, nearly anyone in the developed world can achieve good nutrition.