Yes, I like to save money. No, I don’t care if anybody sees me pushin’ around a loaded cart in the Dollar Tree. In fact, I am probably the most likely person to comment when you happen to pause in front of the frozen food section to ponder the possibilities (“Pick the Vegetable Spring Rolls-much lower in fat and they cook up fast!”). Why? Cuz’ one thing I do know about is how to shop, save money and still eat healthy-it’s a passion of mine-and am proud to say I’m a Dollar Tree Diva, girlfrien’! “It’s all about the thrill of the Hunt!”
I started up this road a few years back when I had both my (grown) children living at home–just after I’d lost my job of 3 years (at a Catholic school, for “living in sin”-no lie-another story for another time!), and I had to fill the cabinet without the family going into fat-and-sugar overload. I may write a book on it, and yes, I could-oh, if only I’d saved all those long receipts that tend to pile up in my wallet or end up in crumpled pile along with restaurant menus and business cards in the bottom of my purse! Barring that, however, I am ready to let you in on the big Secret: Dollar Tree Stores do not just contain chips and sodas and candy bars, Halloween masks, gaudy gift bags and cheap Christmas junk-when you’re countin’ your pennies this place is actually an excellent source for REAL food, groceries!
Eating healthy is important to me, and so is purchasing power of my dollars, so I generally will stop at Dollar Tree before I even hit the grocery store. Why pay $3.89 for a big bottle of lemon juice or $3.85 for whole grain sandwich thins when I can get the same items for $1? Often, the canned vegetables are marked even lower than a dollar so keep an eye on the signs. You can get fruit canned in juice (avoid the heavy syrups-even the “lite” is too sugary), green beans, corn, Margaret Holmes vegetables (the tomatoes/okra/corn combo is my favorite) and Campbells soups, as well as canned sardines, tuna, chicken and turkey in water (the ham is a little high in fat for me). Asian vegetables, Mexican beans, Italian potato dumplings, Thai Coconut water-you can get them all there–our city has a nice Latino section as well–just depends on your location.
Frozen vegetables and fruits are available in 12-16 oz size, like California Mix, spinach, as well as fries of all kinds, mangos, peaches, strawberries and blueberries-smoothie ingredients galore! Yes, there are plenty of high-fat goodies in the freezer there, but if you can read a label, you can find decent selections that won’t expand your waistline (check the fat, sugar and calories per serving): Michelina entrees, vegetable springrolls (heat them in a butter-sprayed pan-no need to fry-they’re already crispy), and -surprise, surprise!-frozen tilapia, flounder, salmon, scallops, and salad shrimp. The Dollar Tree near me often has small packs of 2 big chicken thighs or 3 drumsticks, which make a great meal for one or a soup for two. Check the section each week for new items: 3-4-oz rib eye and pork steaks are common and bacon too!
This is definitely the place to stock up on your dry goods! Why? Beans and grains are the basis of a healthy diet-get that fiber!-and there is a good variety here: white rice, brown rice, pastas, potato dumplings, yellow rice, black beans & rice (dried and canned), dried beans (and canned), even risotto and tortillas (both corn and white flour) can be found at The Dollar Tree. Healthy whole grain oatmeal, wheat biscuits, and cream-of-wheat are just some of the breakfast choices. Sauces of all kinds, including your usual mustard, ketchup and hot sauce, buffalo sauce, and spaghetti sauce are all good-avoid the fake soy sauce though! Coffee of various flavors, green tea, black tea, creamers (liquid and powdered), flavored coffee syrups (very good!) as well as brown sugar, white sugar and black-strap molasses. There is also a whole slew of baking items such as extracts, spices, sprinkles, raisins, dried fruits like cranberries, raisins, and apricots (check the snack aisle for more)-but unless the icing is a well-known brand like Pillsbury, don’t bother-this is one item that definitely needs improvement-their frostings, in general, smell and taste fake, just awful. Pickles, minced/dried/whole cloves of garlic, jams and jellies of all sorts—though I personally think the orange marmalade sucks, I’ll try anything new they put out.
The dairy cooler is surprising-there are actually 6 and 12 packs of eggs (small or medium), decent cheeses-though check the brands-while you can find famous names, the “cream cheese” and “sour cream” are made with fillers and a host of unpronounceable ingredients and taste terrible. Small packs of familiar brands of lunch meat and hotdogs make easy lunches, and I have often found brands like Sargento. Chocolate milk (full fat and low fat), skim milk, strawberry milk-all in pint-sized cartons-good for quickie breakfasts! My advice it to try whatever catches your eye, read the labels and know what you’re getting-if it turns out badly, well, all you’ve just wasted a dollar (and the family dog will take it off your hands, I’m sure).
Local companies send their breads, rolls and buns, as well as sandwich thins and bagels (frozen), but don’t expect to find much on a Monday or Tuesday-those weekend shoppers clean’em out! The snack aisle has plenty of low-fat and healthy choices, from Japanese rice crackers, dried fruits, peanuts and mixed nuts, whole grain chips, old-fashioned bags of popcorn (the microwave stuff is high in fat, so I avoid it), 3 kinds of preztels, and plenty more. The bean dip is tasty and low-fat and the salsa is pretty good–the glowing orange tub of “nacho cheese”? Brrrr, gives me shivers–AVOID! Yes, you have plenty of fatty, high-cal chips and junk, but there are better options available-don’t be in a hurry, take your time and you may be amazed at what you’ll find.
The Dollar Tree rules with Paper and Plastic: paper towels, toilet paper, napkins; sandwich bags, freezer bags; trash bags in plain or vanilla or lemon-scented; tableclothes, plastic plates and cutlery; wax paper, plastic wrap, baggies of all kinds—though one caution is the aluminum foil-even it is states “heavy duty”, believe me, it ain’t! It’s serviceable if you’re desperate to save money, but tears easily-too fragile for me!
It’s a fun place to go when you have a few bucks to spend and I’ve just touched the tip of the iceberg on what you can find in the way of groceries at The Dollar Tree. The folks there are usually kind, patient and informative, and whatever you’re looking for-even if they are out-of-stock at the moment-you can order from their website. It’s colorful, usually busy, and new items are always being introduced, so go and take a look, don’t be shy-and bring your grocery list!