I Ate Nothing But Dollar Tree Food For Three Days And That Was Long Enough

I don't remember quite when I started shopping at Dollar Tree. I've long been a fan of dollar stores since back in the day when they were called 99-cent stores.  However, at some point, there seemed to be a big shift in how dollar stores operated. It wasn't the extra penny that bugged me, but the fact that stores calling themselves Dollar General and Family Dollar were selling items for considerably more than a buck. The nerve! I switched my loyalties over to Dollar Tree when I found out that it was the last surviving chain where everything really was priced at just $1. 

Initially, I just purchased toiletries, cleaning supplies, and cheesy novelty items, but then I soon started expanding into Dollar Tree's grocery options, as well. While there are some Dollar Tree foods you should never buy, there are certain items that I now purchase regularly (more on these later). 

I'm lucky enough to live just five blocks away from a Dollar Tree, but I guess you'd call the rest of my neighborhood a food desert, or at least a grocery desert: There are taquerias aplenty, as well as a few fast food places and a great Middle Eastern restaurant, but the nearest grocery stores are several miles away. I started wondering how I would get along if I did all my grocery shopping at Dollar Tree, so as an experiment, I spent a few days eating nothing but foods that were purchased there.

Day 0: The shopping trip

I went out to my friendly neighborhood Dollar Tree hours before a major snowstorm was predicted to hit, but it wasn't crowded with panic buyers since most Milwaukee residents are used to March weather. 

Since all of my Dollar Tree grocery shopping was meant to supplement my regular groceries, it was somewhat challenging trying to think of everything I might want for three days if I disregarded everything that was already in my fridge and cupboards. But, the biggest problem with Dollar Tree groceries is that the chain mostly stocks convenience foods. While Dollar Tree does stock certain ingredient foods like sauces, condiments, and spices, I didn't find the makings for too many complete entrées, or at least not ones in my repertoire. 

Eventually, I picked out items for three different breakfasts, lunches, dinners, and snacks, plus a bag of bacon and cheese Canine Carryouts for my two lovely dining companions, Lada the husky and Pixel the man of mystery. The total was pretty high: $42.47 for one person for 3 days, but a lot of the items would last for more than one day. 

I was trying to showcase a variety of foods here rather than focus solely on the money-saving aspect of Dollar Tree shopping. Plus, it would be really boring to write (and probably even more boring to read) about me eating nothing but sunflower seeds and tuna for three days.

Day 1: So far, so good

I usually start my day with coffee, and today was no different: Well, a little. The ground coffee itself wasn't bad, it was a small (4-ounce) bag of Harry & David's vanilla crème brûlée. However, settling for 2% milk instead of my usual half-and-half was a bummer, but Dollar Tree's dairy selection is limited. I also had a lemon-flavored fiber bar from a Dutch brand called Sun Best that tasted oddly like cardamom.

Lunch was a quickie: A Fast Bites microwaved spicy chicken sandwich. I used to buy these as after-school snacks for my son, along with Fast Bites cheeseburgers, and he liked them just fine. I thought the sandwich was pretty okay, too, in a value menu kind of way (it needed salt, though). A little while later, I had a few of my favorite Dollar Tree snacks: Takis Fuego sunflower seeds and Cry Baby bubble gum.

Dinner featured another of my favorites: Country ham! I was thrilled to find this at Dollar Tree last month and have been buying it regularly ever since. It's so salty and delicious, especially on top of a biscuit. There were no biscuits at Dollar Tree, though, so I fried up the ham and ate it with a side of Campbell's baked beans. Dessert was an unexpected treat: Bake-it-yourself sugar cookies from Mrs. Fields. They don't really rival homemade cookies due to the lack of butter, but they were definitely easy to bake.

Day 2: This diet's probably not the healthiest

Another day, another Dollar Tree cup of coffee to start my day, along with Sunkist coconut-flavored breakfast biscuits. The biscuits were really good — definitely worth buying again. Lunch was Maruchan Yakisoba Fire Spicy Beef, which you can easily buy at the supermarket. This item can sometimes cost a little more (or a little less) at Dollar Tree, although the chain likely wins points for convenience. 

Anyway, the noodles tasted great, but the nutrition label made for depressing reading (the meal contained more than 500 calories and 1,640 milligrams of sodium). Later, I snacked on a surprisingly delicious maple pork meat stick from Thrushwood Farms and some Cry Baby sour chews.

For dinner, I splurged on a premium item from the $3 section of the freezer case: Steak-umms, which my mom used to make when I was a kid. I paired these with Gio garlic-parmesan Texas toast. This item is another one of my Dollar Tree favorites since it tastes just as good as frozen garlic bread that costs over $3 elsewhere.

I topped the Steak-umm sandwich with Lakeview pepper jack cheese, which, unlike Dollar Tree's notorious sandwich slices, melted just fine and actually tasted good. A side of fries would have been nice, but although I've bought the frozen kind at Dollar Tree before, I couldn't find them this time, so I went with Chester's Flamin' Hot fries instead, plus a Mrs. Fields take-and-bake chocolate chip cookie to follow.

Day 3: I made it through just fine

Today's breakfast was a little different: Brunswick Buffalo-style chicken salad with crackers. Hey, they do cold cuts and crispbread for breakfast in Scandinavia, so I'm just going Euro-style here. Instead of coffee, I had Tea House brand black tea, which tastes just like the generic black tea I buy at Pick'n'Save (our local Kroger affiliate) at just one-third of the price. I also had a can of V-8 spiced up with some Crystal hot sauce purchased at, you guessed it, Dollar Tree.

Lunch was a Golden Krust Jamaican-style spicy beef patty. It was a little light on spicy beef and heavy on the crust (or krust), but not terrible. I then snacked on a handful (okay, a bowlful) of bright orange Brim's cheese popcorn. I prefer the orange stuff since it always tastes cheesier than faux-healthy white cheese popcorn. For dinner, I went with another premium item, a Banquet chicken fajita bowl for $3. This Banquet bowl was my first, and may or may not be my last: It was a bit bland but tasted okay with hot sauce. 

Dessert was Blue Hawaiian Philadelphia Water Ice, a pina colada and blueberry flavor mashup that mostly tasted of sugar as water ice tends to do. I paired it with two leftover Mrs. Fields cookies plus a celebratory glass of Martinelli's sparkling cider to mark the successful conclusion of my three-day Dollar Tree diet.

Conclusion: Not bad, but I could really go for a salad

So what happened after I ate nothing but Dollar Tree food for three days? I'm guessing I gained a few pounds since I usually just eat one meal a day (plus snacks, as they are non-negotiable). I also tend to eat a diet that's at least somewhat healthier since my go-to dinner is often a big salad, and I usually stick with just sunflower seeds for snacking. 

While I had fun eating all of these different Dollar Tree foods, I now have to break it to my taste buds that party time is over. It's a good thing I didn't extend the experiment too much longer, though, since I've probably already exceeded my recommended weekly (or monthly) allowance of convenience foods.

For the most part, I think Dollar Tree food is fine as far as it goes, but the selection, or lack thereof, is a problem. While a Dollar Tree diet can be a big step up from the gas station or fast food dining, the fact that there's no fresh produce and very limited amounts of dairy and non-processed meat means that it's no substitute for a real grocery store. So, I guess the next time my car's out of commission (or my son borrows it for another road trip), I can walk to Dollar Tree for some of my staples, but I'll still be taking the bus to Aldi to fill in the gaps.