College, unemployment, or another major life change can require a major cut in spending to survive from week to week. There may still be a stigma attached to buying food at the dollar store, but perhaps it's time to get over it. Cheapism.com found that it's possible to take care of the essentials, with a dollop of comfort thrown in, for less than $50 a week by shopping at a local Dollar Tree.
Dollar stores can sell food cheaply in part because they sell smaller sizes than conventional grocery stores, stock items with long shelf lives, and carry generic-brand products that aren't backed by enormous advertising budgets. That said, customers will also find reputable brands such as Welch's and Progresso. Some dollar stores accept manufacturer coupons.
Cheapism.com put together a week's worth of dollar store meals from a shopping list of 38 items (some purchased in multiples). Total cost: $45. The suggested menus presume that a few staples, such as oil and spices, already reside in the cupboard. Although some stores have a refrigerated section, canned and boxed goods dominate dollar store shelves, so fresh fruit and vegetables will have to be put on hold. Most of the items are sold in-store, although inventory varies. This may not be the most nutritious meal plan, but it will get one person through the week with a single trip to the dollar store.
Breakfast: Pancakes and coffee (Harvest Hill Light & Fluffy pancake mix, Harvest Hill pancake syrup, Nescafé Original instant coffee, shelf-stable Gossner Foods premium milk)
Lunch: Pizza (Camillo's 7-inch premade pizza crusts, Franceso Rinaldi pizza sauce, Country Line mozzarella cheese)
Dinner: Tuna pasta salad (StarKist chunk light tuna, Pagasa elbow macaroni, Libby's canned sweet peas or frozen peas, Calder's Gourmet mayonnaise)
If you take milk in coffee, be sure to refrigerate it after opening to pour over cereal and use in a recipe later in the week. A pasta salad recipe posted on Food.com calls for celery, which dollar store shoppers may have to forgo, but the rest of the ingredients are on the dollar-store shopping list or likely already in the kitchen. Make enough to have leftovers for lunch tomorrow.
Breakfast: Oatmeal, apple juice, and coffee (Village Farm instant oatmeal, Ruby Kist apple juice)
Lunch: Leftover tuna pasta salad
Dinner: Barbecue chicken, rice, and vegetables (frozen chicken, Original Restaurant Style barbecue sauce, Premier Fields long-grain white rice, Libby's canned mixed vegetables or frozen vegetables)
The bag of Nescafé Original instant coffee contains 50 servings -- plenty to last all week. Most Dollar Tree locations now contain freezers stocked with items such as frozen meat and vegetables, which many consumers may prefer to more commonly available canned goods. Cook a second package of chicken to use for lunch tomorrow.
Breakfast: Cereal, coffee, apple juice (Hospitality raisin bran)
Lunch: Chicken salad sandwich (frozen chicken, Nature's Own bread, mayonnaise)
Dinner: Spaghetti and vegetables (Pagasa spaghetti, Hunt's pasta sauce, Libby's canned mixed vegetables or frozen vegetables)
A Cheapism.com comparison of the dollar store vs. Walmart found that cereal costs less per ounce at Dollar Tree, and for those who don't like raisin bran, many generic brands earn high ratings online. For lunch, shred the extra chicken cooked the night before and mix with mayonnaise to make a basic chicken salad. The pasta sauce comes in traditional, meat-flavored, and mushroom varieties.
Breakfast: Scrambled eggs, toast with jelly or peanut butter, and coffee (carton of eggs, Welch's Concord grape jelly, Greenbrier Farms creamy peanut butter, bread)
Lunch: Chow mein (Nissin microwavable meal)
Dinner: Rice, beans, and a corn muffin (Vigo Spanish yellow rice, La Rosa dry red kidney beans, Marie Callender corn bread muffin mix)
The mix makes five muffins. Save one or two to round out an upcoming dinner and eat the rest as snacks. Other items to have on hand to sate hunger between meals: a box of Select Choice chewy peanut butter and chocolate chip granola bars, Home Style Select tortilla chips, and a jar of nacho cheese dip. The peanut butter and jelly can go on crackers as well as bread.
Breakfast: Oatmeal, apple juice, and coffee
Lunch: PB&J and potato chips (Home Style Select kettle-cooked potato chips)
Dinner: Hamburger Helper (Hamburger Helper, Circle A Ranch home-style meatballs)
No ground meat in the coolers? No problem. Crumble frozen meatballs into the Hamburger Helper. Save half the 5-ounce bag of chips for lunch tomorrow.
Breakfast: Cereal, apple juice, and coffee
Lunch: Tuna salad sandwich and potato chips (StarKist chunk light tuna, Breckenridge Farms sweet relish, mayonnaise, bread)
Dinner: Egg fried rice (Libby's canned mixed vegetables or frozen vegetables, Hisakawa soy sauce, eggs, rice)
Add mayonnaise to the tuna and pickle relish to stir up a quick tuna salad posted on Allrecipes. For the fried rice, prepare a batch of long-grain white rice in advance -- many cooks assert that leftovers work best -- and use a recipe posted on Allthecooks as a guideline.
Breakfast: French toast, coffee, apple juice
Lunch: Soup with crackers (Progresso canned soup, Original Saltines)
Dinner: Baked chicken, mashed potatoes, vegetables, and corn bread muffins (frozen chicken, Idaho Supreme dehydrated mashed potatoes, Libby's canned mixed vegetables or frozen vegetables)
By now the bread may be getting a bit dry and stale -- ideal for a quick and easy French toast recipe found on Food.com. It calls for an egg and some of the remaining milk, plus a dash of cinnamon and vanilla if on hand.
|1 box Harvest Hill Light & Fluffy pancake mix (16.5 ounces)||$1|
|1 bottle Harvest Hill pancake syrup (24 ounces)||$1|
|1 bag Nescafé Original instant coffee||$1|
|1 quart shelf-stable Gossner Foods premium 2 percent milk||$1|
|1 pack Camillo’s 7-inch pizza crusts (2)||$1|
|1 jar Franceso Rinaldi pizza sauce (14 ounces)||$1|
|1 pack Country Line mozzarella cheese (3 ounces)||$1|
|3 cans StarKist chunk light tuna (5 ounces)||$3|
|1 bag Pagasa elbow macaroni (24 ounces)||$1|
|4 cans Libby’s mixed vegetables (or frozen vegetables)||$4|
|1 jar Calder’s Gourmet mayonnaise (10 ounces)||$1|
|1 box Village Farm instant oatmeal||$1|
|1 jar Ruby Kist apple juice (32 ounces)||$1|
|3 packages frozen chicken||$3|
|1 bottle Original Restaurant Style barbecue sauce (18 ounces)||$1|
|1 bag Premier Fields long-grain white rice (24 ounces)||$1|
|1 box Hospitality raisin bran cereal (7 ounces)||$1|
|1 loaf Nature’s Own bread||$1|
|1 bag Pagasa spaghetti (24 ounces)||$1|
|1 can Hunt’s pasta sauce (24 ounces)||$1|
|1 jar Welch’s Concord grape jelly (9.5 ounces)||$1|
|1 jar Greenbrier Farms creamy peanut butter (10 ounces)||$1|
|1 carton eggs (12)||$1|
|1 Nissin chow mein meal (4 ounces)||$1|
|1 bag Vigo Spanish yellow rice (9 ounces)||$1|
|1 bag La Rosa dry red kidney beans (12 ounces)||$1|
|1 pack Marie Callender corn bread muffin mix (7 ounces)||$1|
|1 bag Home Style Select kettle-cooked potato chips (5 ounces)||$1|
|1 box Hamburger Helper||$1|
|1 bag Circle A Ranch frozen meatballs (6.24 ounces)||$1|
|1 jar Breckenridge Farms sweet relish (12.5 ounces)||$1|
|1 bottle Hisakawa soy sauce (10 ounces)||$1|
|1 can Progresso soup||$1|
|1 box Original Saltines||$1|
|1 box Idaho Supreme dehydrated mashed potatoes (8 ounces)||$1|
|1 box Select Choice chewy peanut butter and chocolate chip granola bars (6)||$1|
|1 bag Home Style Select tortilla chips (8.5 ounces)||$1|
|1 jar nacho cheese dip (9 ounces)||$1|