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$25 Dollar Tree Challenge. 7 Day of "Healthy" Eats!

Posted Nov 03 2013 6:11pm

So, the other day I was in the Dollar Tree and I noticed what a great selection of food they had. I was reminded of when I ate my vegan diet for $3.33 a day for several years.  I did it out of necessity then, due to being laid off from my job.  Even though it was difficult, I started with a very full pantry, a working kitchen complete with a vita mix, food processor, stove, fridge, oven, dehydrator and all the gadgets that make preparing food easy.  I also had extensive cooking knowledge since I am a Vegetarian Chef. I also had access to a variety of stores and transportation

But, the reality is, that so many people are not so lucky.  They have a budget like that, but do not have access to stores, transportation or working kitchens with all the luxuries I had.

Last year, I lived in Roxbury, MA, and while I was not in a food dessert, it was not exactly easy to get to the grocery store without a car.  The nearest grocery store was around 1.2 miles away and the prices weren't great.  There were lots of small stores around and a liquor store (complete with drug dealers and prostitutes who hung out in front of it) around the corner, and they sold some grocery items, but there was not a good selection of the foods I eat and the prices were high.  I walked all the time then and it was easy for me, as a single person, to walk by Tropical Foods on my way home from work, or stop in Chinatown to get veggies or Trader Joes.. (because I was walking 6 miles each way to and from work)..  but I could not have done that if I had kids at home who needed to be fed, helped with homework and all that jazz.  I even found it difficult to keep food stocked in my house and found myself paying way too much money for things at the closer stores.

I was thinking all of this as I was wandering the aisles of the Dollar Tree in Randolph, MA on Thursday and I know there are so many people out there who have a very limited budget, so I wanted to challenge myself to see if I could eat a mostly vegan, whole food diet from Dollar Tree.

I wish I had just bought the food that day, because when I went back today, they had been almost wiped out of food!  No oatmeal, no brown rice, no whole grain pasta.  I decided to make due with what they have, because that's the point of the challenge.

I wasn't thrilled with the Barilla pasta for a couple reasons.  First, it's not whole grain, and second.. not sure I'm into supporting their views on "family." .. But, it was either the High Fiber pasta or plain white pasta and this a healthier option with 6 grams of fiber per serving. vs. 2 in the plain pasta.

This store has no fresh produce, so I relied on frozen. I ended up spending $26 instead of $25, so I will probably not use an item on the list.  Here is the receipt.


I also wasn't thrilled with the red beans and rice, but figured it was a better option than instant mashed potatoes or frozen potatoes with lots of hydrogenated oils.. Also, the spaghetti sauce has sugar in it.  So this is not 100% "perfect", but it's a hell of a lot better than Ramen Noodles and Mac and Cheese, which so many people think they need to eat if they don't have much money.

This is what I got
  • Red Beans and Rice 
  • 3 pounds dried kidney beans
  • 2 cans Mushroom Marinara
  • 4 cans Progresso Fire Roasted Tomato Sauce with herbs and spices. (I got these for $.50 each and they each contain a small amount of dairy)
  • 2 cans Tomatoes, Okra and Corn
  • 1 15 oz can Chickpeas
  • 4 lbs frozen broccoli and cauliflower florets
  • 2 lbs frozen mixed peppers and onions
  • 12 oz frozen peas and carrots
  • 2 quarts organic Westsoy Plain Soymilk
  • 20 oz frozen blueberries 
  • 2 packages Barilla High Fiber Pasta
  • Jarred Roasted Red Pepper
  • Jarred Garlic 
As I said before, I'm bummed I didn't get any oatmeal or brown rice.  I also wanted to get some sunflower seeds and sauerkraut to make seed cheese, but it is what it is.  

The pantry items I am allowing myself are:
  • oils
  • spices
  • soy sauce
  • ketchup/mustard/condiments
  • hot sauce
  • stevia 
  • flax meal 
I will also probably use some fresh parsley I have on hand for garnish purposes for photography.. because I am anal like that.  

I am going to Portsmouth for one day this week to see my son, and then on Friday evening, we are going to NJ for The Boyfriend's Grandmothers' birthday.  So Friday Evening and all day Saturday I will be not eating at home, but I will resume once I get back.  I plan on eating this food for 7 days, and feeding The Boyfriend around 1 meal per day from it. 

For those of you who want to lecture me on GMOS, food from China or this or that horrific ingredient I'm consuming.. SAVE YOUR BREATH.  Instead, why don't you take on a $25 Dollar Store Challenge of your own and show the world how much better YOU can do it! If I had gone to Market Basket, I would have bought lots of fresh produce, but Market Basked is 8 miles from home and the Dollar Store is a walkable store for many people in the neighborhood it serves. 

.. and if you would never dream of such a thing, then maybe stop and watch A PLACE AT THE TABLE (available on Netflix) and educate yourself about the DESPERATE situation so many Americans go through on a daily basis.  Check your privilege at the door and practice empathy. Seriously. 
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