I Ate Dollar Store Meals for a Day & Here's Why I'll Never Do It Again

I found brand-name food, but still had problems with my meals.

When I think of the dollar store, I think of pool noodles. Growing up, I loved filling up my pool with the colorful floaties, but even though summer called for countless trips to the dollar store, I don't remember ever reaching for the food aisles. Since Dr. Oz loves sharing grocery and dollar store hacks, I got the idea to make up my own bargain store experiment and see if I could eat dollar store meals for breakfast, lunch, and dinner for an entire day.

As I walked down the aisles, I was surprised by my options, or lack thereof. The shelves were lined with mostly pre-packaged items and there were little to no fresh food choices. I knew I'd have to get creative if I was going to squeeze an entire day of meals out of a dollar store run. Here's what I chose, what I'd pass on in the future, and what I suggest if you're willing to take on this experiment at home.

Breakfast on a Budget

I’m the kind of person who can’t function in the morning without some coffee and little food in my stomach. The dollar store was perfect for stocking up on quick breakfast items. They had oatmeal, granola bars, eggs, and more, but my first priority was coffee. I bought a box of French vanilla coffee single serve cups. I’m usually not too particular about my coffee, but I really did not like this brand. The vanilla flavor was so sweet that by the time I added half and half and my zero calorie sweetner, I'd completely ruined my cup.

For the food itself, I found a great Greek yogurt cup. When buying dairy products from the dollar store, it’s important to check the expiration date, and as Dr. Oz mentioned, it's best to stick with your regular grocery store when buying milk, since it can be cheaper to get more gallons for less as opposed to the dollar store. This yogurt had at least three weeks until it would expire, and it tasted just as good as anything I would have bought at the grocery store. While I was disappointed with my coffee, I think it’s a safe bet to give dollar store yogurt a try.

A Low-Calorie, On-the-Go Lunch

For lunch, I was looking for something I could prepare quickly and that I could throw in my bag to eat later when I had the time. I found some boxed pasta salad that seemed perfect. It took under 20 minutes to make and had easy, clear instructions. While it was definitely a carb-heavy option for lunch, it was relatively low in calories, with only 250 calories per serving. Each box came with two servings, so it was like two lunches for the price of one.

I wish there would have been fresh produce options for me to add to it, like tomatoes or mushrooms, but overall, I would make this again. It may not be my usual go-to for lunch, but if you’re strapped for cash or in a hurry, this is a great lunch option.

The Dinner That Ruined It

A Dr. Oz investigation revealed that cheaper cuts of steak were usually found at dollar stores, so it's best to avoid the red meat options, but that was no problem for me since I don't eat it anyway. I'm used to a veggie-heavy dinner, and that was nearly impossible to accomplish at the dollar store. Most of the meat items were red meat, and all of the microwave dinners seemed unappetizing. I ended up going with frozen turkey burger patties.

I also picked up hamburger buns, ketchup, and swiss cheese. While I would typically use these ingredients in some fashion, I was disappointed that I couldn’t get any fresh lettuce or tomatoes to add on. The frozen patty didn’t expire until the end of the year, which was a good sign, and contained only three ingredients: turkey, rosemary extract, and salt. However, after I started cooking it, the burger appeared unappetizing and tasted very bland.

I added a slice of “swiss style” cheese to the burger, and that didn’t do much to improve it. The slice had a slimy appearance and when I scanned the ingredients list, I saw it contained zero percent calcium. (Is this even real cheese?!) Calcium is an important ingredient to have in cheese because it supports bone health, is needed for muscle contraction, and is essential for many other bodily functions. So, the lack of any calcium in this product was concerning and obviously not the healthiest choice. As for the ketchup and roll, they were both very standard, but couldn’t save the burger for me.

This day of grocery shopping at the dollar store taught me that some items are best left for the supermarket. It was a bit disappointing because as someone who lives on a budget, I love going to the dollar store for deals. While I only spent $9 on a whole day of meals, if you’re looking to sustain an overall healthy or veggie-heavy diet, your money might be better spent elsewhere.

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