This article is the third of a three-part series where we research whether you can get a healthy and nutritious meal plan from the most popular dollar stores in America. You can read our Dollar General review and our Dollar Tree review if you’re interested.
The common conception is that it’s impossible to eat healthy at dollar stores, and they contain nothing but junk food, but that’s not what we’ve found in our previous reviews. If you know what to look for, you can eat a perfectly healthy diet even if a dollar store is your only option.
In this article we’ll review the healthiest options at Family Dollar from various food categories, and put together a sample meal plan.
What is “Healthy Eating” Anyway?
Even nutritionists and doctors disagree on exactly what constitutes healthy eating, and no one diet is perfect for everyone.
That being said, we know from medical studies on healthy dietary practices that a diet high in whole foods, high in natural vitamins and minerals and free of preservatives, added sugars and other industrial ingredients is best for most people.
We define this further as a diet with a wide variety of produce, with whole grains and legumes serving as staple carbs and animal products derived from grass-fed animals, as well as nuts and seeds. This is the diet model we’ll use to assess the healthy options at Family Dollar.
Prices listed in this article are from one sample store in our region of Massachusetts, and mary vary nationally.
Dollar General has a number of canned and frozen produce options. We recommend frozen produce over canned since there are some legitimate medical concerns over BPA liners leaching from cans into food products.
Frozen California blend (carrots, cauliflower, broccoli): $1
Frozen okra: $1
Frozen Santa Fe blend (corn, black beans, red pepper, green pepper, diced onions): $1
Frozen pepper stir fry (onion, red, yellow & green bell peppers): $1
Seasoning blend (onion, celery, red and green bell pepper, parsley): $1
Raisins 6-pack: $1.80
Canned tomato sauce: $1
Canned sauerkraut: $1
This is a decent produce selection and similar to what we found in Dollar General. Dollar Tree had many more options. Rotating these produce options would still provide good nutrition but more variety would be better.
Like both of the other dollar stores we reviewed, fish are the only animal-based protein source that we recommend from Family Dollar. All of their meat options are sourced from conventionally-raised animals, and are often processed.
There is strong medical evidence linking processed meat consumption with a wide range of negative health effects, so we don’t recommend it.
Here are some fish options we’d recommend instead:
Pink salmon canned 14.75 ounces (oz): $4.60
Chunk light tuna (5 oz): $1
Sardines (3.75 oz): $1
Oysters in water (8 oz): $3.15
Of these options we prefer sardines, because they’re high in healthy fish oils like omega-3 which are good for your health. They’re also much lower in mercury than tuna.
For healthy consumers on a budget, carb-based staples like beans and rice should comprise the base for most of your meals. They’re extremely cheap and high in nutritional value.
Here are the staple options we recommend from Family Dollar:
Great Northern beans dried 1 pound (lb): $1.50
Pinto beans dried (1 lb): $1.50
Long grain rice (2 lb): $3.75
Jasmine rice (8 oz): $1
Rolled oats (18 oz): $1.85
We don’t recommend any Family Dollar grain products like pasta as they’re all enriched with synthetic vitamin blends.
Even though these prices are slightly higher than the other two dollar stores, you can still make a large serving of rice and pinto beans for around 30 cents.
Family Dollar has a surprisingly good nut selection. We recommend nuts for most of your snacking because they’re associated with improved health outcomes in many medical studies.
Sunflower kernels: $1
Salted pistachios (8 oz): $4
Peanuts (1 lb): $2.75
Walnuts (4 oz): $3
Pecans (4 oz): $3
Pumpkin seeds (2 oz): $1
Hershey’s cocoa unsweetened (8 oz): $3.50
This is the best healthy snack selection of all of the dollar stores we reviewed. For those on a really tight budget, you can get plenty of nutrition from peanuts alone which are the cheapest option per ounce.
Generally though we recommend varying your nut consumption because different nuts have different nutrients and health benefits.
Unsweetened cocoa is like the purest form of dark chocolate as it has no sugar added. It has many studied health benefits.
Family Dollar of course has a huge variety of chips, candies and soda for snacks which are all processed garbage that we don’t recommend.
Prune juice (32 oz): $3
Apple cider vinegar (32 oz): $1.80
Ground coffee (2 lb, 2 oz): $5.95
Black tea bags (100-count): $1
This is the worst healthy beverage selection of the three dollar stores. 100 black tea bags for $1 is a great steal though, and the Super Saver brand had no additives or sugar.
Over two pounds of ground coffee for the price of one single Starbucks is another great deal. You can find cheap coffee makers for under $10 at Walmart, and it’ll pay itself off within one week. That’s over 2 months worth of coffee for under $6.
Family Dollar has only two cooking oils we recommend:
Refined coconut oil: $3
Extra virgin olive oil: $4.35
For the most part we’d recommend cooking with the coconut oil as it has a higher smoke point, but either will do. Extra virgin olive oil is one of the healthiest food products in the world, and is shown in medical studies to be one of the core reasons why the Mediterranean diet leads to such great health outcomes.
Condiments & Spices
For anyone food shopping on a budget, the spices aisle is one of the cheapest ways to access a ton of different healthy micronutrients:
Chili powder: $1
Onion powder: $1
Parsley flakes: $1
Crushed red pepper: $1
Ground sage: $1
Himalayan pink salt: $1
Chestnut Hill yellow mustard: $0.85
Louisiana Supreme hot sauce: $1
We generally recommend single-ingredient spices, as many of the blends contain added sugars and other questionable ingredients.
Similar to Dollar Tree, Family Dollar actually has a decent vitamin and supplement selection. Here are the brands we recommend:
Nature Made Vitamin C (500 mg): $5
Nature Made Fish Oil (1200 mg): $6
Family Wellness Vitamin D3 (1000 IU): $4.60
These prices are much worse than Dollar Tree, so we recommend going there for vitamins if both stores are local to you.
You can get all of the vitamins and minerals you need from food, but if you’re deficient and your doctor recommends you take vitamins, the brands listed above are well-formulated and safe from harmful filler ingredients.
Family Dollar Meal Plan Example
Even with this relatively limited selection of healthy foods, we want to illustrate how you can combine them into a healthy meal plan for a day:
Breakfast: Bowl of oats and raisins with a large black coffee.
Lunch: Great Northern beans and jasmine rice with sardines, onion powder and sage mixed in, topped with hot sauce.
Dinner: A large California blend salad topped with pecans and olive oil, and a small bowl of white rice as a side. Black tea to drink.
The meals above are healthier than the vast majority of Americans at all income levels are eating, and it’s encouraging to discover that they can be sourced from Family Dollar alone.