Believe it or not, you can buy and prepare healthy meals from the dollar store. Don’t believe us? Let’s talk about the healthy food options we can find that won’t break the bank.

We all know that fruits and vegetables are healthy, but not all dollar stores offer those. So, what else is healthy? Let’s take a virtual walk through the aisles and discuss the healthy and not so healthy options that dollar stores offer.

Dry goods

The dry goods aisle has a wide variety of options. You can get the most bang for your buck here. This section is wonderful because it offers several whole food options that are minimally processed. In other words, not significantly changed from their original form with added ingredients.

Healthier options include dry beans and lentils, oils like olive and canola, low-fat mayonnaise, low-sodium broth, and no-sugar-added V8 juice and spices. In this aisle you can also find grains like bread, rice, pasta, oatmeal and even ramen noodles. You can make those noodles healthier by getting rid of the seasoning packet.

Canned goods are another option that sometimes gets a bad reputation. These goods are usually preserved with salt and/or sugar, and a lot of it. However, not all canned goods are created equal.

When purchasing canned items, read the nutrition facts label. Purchase items that contain less than 140 mg of sodium or less than 6 grams of added sugars whenever possible.

Do not worry if the canned goods at your local store are high in these. You can reduce the sodium or sugar by simply rinsing it off with water. Some great canned options include vegetables, fruit, tuna and chicken.

Other healthier snack options in this section include peanut butter, unsalted nuts or pretzels, unbuttered popcorn and applesauce with no sugar added. Avoid ultra-processed snacks like chips, candy, cookies and most cereals. These foods contain a lot of sugar, saturated fat and/or sodium. Also, these types of foods can worsen issues like heart disease and diabetes.

Selection of frozen berries.

Frozen

The frozen section has some great options. Any form of whole, frozen foods are always better choices. One added benefit of frozen foods is they can last much longer than the fresh version.

Choose frozen vegetables, fruit, fish, chicken and lean beef. In this section you may want to skip the frozen meals (“TV dinners”). These are usually highly processed and may contain high amounts of sodium and saturated fats.

As mentioned previously, every store is different, so make sure to read the label.

Refrigerated section

Finally, we arrive at the refrigerated section. Remember, the goal is to buy minimally processed, whole foods whenever possible. In this section, choose healthier options like low-fat or fat-free milk and low-fat mozzarella sticks. Sometimes value stores will even have eggs, low-fat, no-sugar-added yogurt, or fresh vegetables like spinach.

Unfortunately, there may be more options to avoid here than to add to your cart. Lunch meat, some shredded cheeses, flavored yogurt and sweetened juice drinks just to name a few. These foods tend to be heavily processed and contain high amounts of sodium, fat and sugar. Just like the other aisles we have walked through, it’s important to check the nutrition label.

Homemade chicken noodle soup with carrots and crackers.

I bought my groceries. Now what can I make?

Need some help with meal and snack ideas? We are here to help.

Meal Ideas: 

  • Peanut butter and banana sandwich on whole wheat bread
  • Oatmeal topped with no-sugar-added dried fruit
  • Chicken and vegetable stir-fry with ramen noodles or rice
  • Beans and rice with roasted vegetables
  • Spaghetti and meatballs and side salad with Italian dressing
  • Homemade chicken noodle soup
  • Chili with beans, beef, corn and spinach
  • Tuna, chicken or egg salad sandwich

Snack Ideas: 

  • Unflavored yogurt with frozen fruit of your choice
  • Peanut butter and pretzels or apple
  • Low-fat mozzarella cheese stick with unsalted crackers or apple
  • Boiled eggs
  • Low-sodium popcorn
  • Unsalted nuts

Jennifer Afana and Trever Williams are VA dietetic interns.

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7 Comments

  1. Jennifer Afana April 3, 2021 at 5:51 pm

    Thank you for your feedback. It sounds like you and your wife are very innovative! You two may already know this, but the dollar store has a wide variety of spices along with some other goodies. I hope this blog post sparks some new ideas in the kitchen!

  2. RANDOLPH ABLER March 28, 2021 at 3:10 pm

    Hello and thank you for your article. Linda and I been married 43 years. I married her three year’s into my twenty year’s of navy service. She now lives in a nursing care center. Linda, was great in the kitchen. I now navigate not only the grocery store but now our small kitchen. Your suggestions for meals are happily received. I’m becoming cooking friendly and even our cat Dusty, approves a sample every now and than.

  3. gregory anderson March 26, 2021 at 10:53 am

    I thank you for your article.
    My wife and I have been buying food at $ stores for near 20 years; options have increased, aisles expanded, but whether local or national these types of stores can be quite a bargain. But then we need to shop carefully. Many think buying bulk saves money, but a significant number of times this actually costs more. The stores try to trick you, especially when you have a Target on your back. hint hint.
    It is sad that those of us veterans who live below the poverty level don’t actually get assistance and help we need from the Government we serve. We need real help, not just getting our shoes shined. We don’t have transportation, we don’t have Costco accounts, we aren’t with VA medical because it is cheaper insurance.
    I look forward to actively being involved in my metro area helping especially impoverished veterans.

  4. Walter Larson March 25, 2021 at 7:10 pm

    I never thought of buying food at a dollar store. Will give it a try

  5. Denwood Fairley March 25, 2021 at 6:10 pm

    Are eggs healthy?

    • Jennifer Afana April 3, 2021 at 5:45 pm

      Yes! Eggs are a wonderful source of protein. If you can find it at your local dollar store I would get them!

  6. KIE B DILLS March 23, 2021 at 6:37 am

    We, my wife and I, thank you for the grocery shopping suggestion. My wife has a very creative imagination on how she combines foods and seasonings together and I cook the meals which we then consume together. Thank you.

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