Sunday, November 03, 2013

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


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. 

30 comments:

  1. You are so right!! I am on a tight budget. I do the best I can, but I'm sure I eat some questionable stuff. It's still better than eating meat or junk in my book. People need to leave their judgement at the door!

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    1. I think people who lecture and judge are doing SUCH a disservice to those who really just need to get food on the table. I also think that worrying over food ingredients sets such unrealistic expectations that people feel like they will never be able to do enough to get healthy, so why even bother? Plus, it can't be good for your health to stress so much over thing!

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  2. Thank you for doing this! Especially coinciding with the date when many families suffered a pretty serious cut to their SNAP benefits, bringing attention to these issues -- and simultaneously drawing attention to how difficult it can be to eat healthy on that budget and educating on how it CAN be done -- is a great lesson for everyone.

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    1. Yeah.. the whole SNAP cutbacks thing is HORRIBLE for so many people and families. How can congress do what they did? I will never understand it.

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  3. No lectures from me! I really appreciate your posts about food justice and security--it's a topic I think about all the time. Thisis really instructive and I may challenge myself to try it, but I lack your chef and menu planning skills.

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    1. I really need to write more about it... because it is such a huge passion.. borne out of necessity in many times in my life.. honestly, right now, due to all the health issues and my foot surgery, I would be homeless without my boyfriends help..

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  4. Love the budget challenges. I can't eat for 3.33 per day like people say they can't be vegetarian. If course I can, but I'm lucky I don't have to! :-) Don't let the organic/vegan/non-GMO/anti-palm oil/ etc. police get you down. Believe in yourself and know you have lots of people who think you are super cool who don't necessarily comment all that often. I lived on Mass Ave and Tremont for awhile (awhile ago!) and being technically Roxbury I hear ya on the dearth of affordable grocery in the area. I know it's tough to ignore judgmental commenters, but don't let them steal your mojo. You ROCK!

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    1. Fortunately, people have been pretty awesome about this so far! I know the Mass Ave/Tremont area well.. I used to walk it every single day on my way to and from work.. I worked just past Harvard SQ and I lived in Roxbury .. so yeah.. slim pickins there for sure!

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  5. And I'm currently watching Next Stop Wonderland, so I'm having nostalgia for Boston!

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  6. Well said..... love that you are doing this x

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  7. Coming from personal experience, if they can afford to complain about it, they can probably afford to eat "perfect" food. I certainly can't! I've had many weeks when I was happy enough to have food on the table at all. I love my local Dollar Tree- beans, canned tomatoes, raisins, soymilk- so many basic staples for a buck. I think you've done an amazing job showing how to find gems among the snack cakes and instant noodles.

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    1. Agree 100%.. it is a blessing to have access for sure!!

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  8. We did a $1.50/day (per person) challenge, which was really quite a challenge trying to feed a professional athlete and a 6'5" man. (We need about 6000 calories per day, non-negotiable.) It's pretty difficult to come up with 6000 calories of nutritious food for $3. We ate a lot of beans, rice and oats. And although we made it work, with leftover money, we were really tired of plain oatmeal by the end of the week. It sucked all of the joy out of eating.

    The whole experience made me reconsider how I view people who ask me for money for food. If I have an extra snack in my bag, I'm a lot more likely to share than I was before. It's tough not knowing if you can afford your next meal.

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    1. Wow! Just WOW! I can't even wrap my head around that.. My $3.33 a day budget was challenging for myself (well, part of the time it was more like 1 1/2 people because my kids were eating with me about 1/3 of the time).. How long did you do it? Did you blog about it?

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  9. Love your posts - and Dollar Tree . while I wasn't looking for food today while I pursed the isle of my local (30 miles away) Dollar Tree - I did snag some great looking roasted peppers in a 8oz jar for a dollar each - these are great for adding to hummus and I usually pick a few up every time I'm at a dollar tree. I've never tried to eat just from the dollar tree but you can bet i'm up for the challenge now. I usually do most of my shopping at Save a lot and get a lot of my vegys and fruit from the discount bin in the back of the store. My cupboards are packed right now so this month my challenge is to eat what's in the freezer-a lot of fruit from the summer- and cans of tomatoes and beans plus other dry goods .Sometimes I buy to much when I see a good deal so this month I'm eating in. But I will try your 25$ dollar store challenge in a month or two. Keep up the good posts! you are an inspiration to us all and don't let the "police" get you down. Just listen to Sting and turn up the music.

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    1. I love the discount produce bin! I used to get GREAT steals at Market Basket!

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  10. I really, really love you Melody. :)

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  11. I find this challenge interesting and hope you reach whatever goal it is you hope to achieve by doing this. While I would NEVER lecture or offer up unsolicited advice to people regarding food choices (it's such a personal topic), I DO consider GMOs and where my food comes from, among other factors, when making food decisions. This does not make me unempathetic or self righteous. I only mention this because perhaps the people who have previously mentioned these things to you were not trying to judge or preach, just simply share the information they have learned and the knowledge they have garnered. People passionate and enthusiastic about health and nutrition can definitely take it over the top, but I think that they're genuinely trying to help people be as healthy as they can be. I don't think that necessarily makes them unfeeling or unsympathetic, just ignorant of how some people really cannot afford most "healthy" food items. But sharing info, showing people things they haven't otherwise been exposed to, and, ultimately, education on all matters is how ignorance is annihilated. Some people do that by unwisely offering up unsolicited opinions about topics that they're passionate about, you do it by food budgeting on your blog. I think the intent, though, is the same -- to educate people on ALL aspects of food, nutrition and real world solutions. I commend you for your efforts and the challenge you're undertaking, and I'm sure countless readers will find your experiment enlightening and immensely helpful.

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    1. Oh, I think that many of the people I'm talking about it do it because they are self righteous jerks hiding behind a computer screen. I am NOT including you in that category at all :-)
      I also care about GMO's and local food and all of that.. and am grateful I have the knowledge I do and often, the ability to buy "better" options.. I think the true crusaders are the ones out there fighting politically and with their buying power.. and it's WONDERFUL they are doing that... where I have the issue is people who fail to understand or have empathy for those who can't even begin to fathom how they are going to get food on the table... the people who are struggling.. I've been in that situation too many times to count in my life... and since I've had this blog and blogged about my $3.33 budget, it was really hard to deal with the amount of FEAR MONGERING and negativity people would leave in comments about the food choices I was making. Like feeding my children collards or spinach would KILL them.. or giving my sons (organic) soy would turn them into "FAGS" (their words not mine).. Fortunately, I don't take those things to heart and buy into the FEAR.. I still believe it's better to eat conventional broccoli and collards than it would be to eat no veggies at all. Anyway.. I will probably write more about this..

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    2. Melody,
      Yes, some people can be SO horrible. They're just so hateful, angry, vitriolic and bitter. As AMAZING as the Internet is and how many avenues it's opened up for some people, it's also spawned a generation of the worst kind of bully -- those that, like you say, hide behind a computer screen. I try to stay away from the comments page on all non-food blogging sites because people are just SO nasty! About EVERYTHING. And nothing seems to rile d-bags up more than vegetarianism. I'm quite certain that there are whole bands of *ss wipes that go out in search of sites/articles/blogs where they can spread their negativity and hatred. All anger and hatred aside, people are bat crap crazy. The ridiculous conclusions they come to about food and health is astounding. Everyone needs to do what works for them and respect that what is one's ideal way of eating and living may not necessarily be the ideal way for someone else. To each his own; everyone just needs to keep their mouths shut about it. If they want to focus on something, concentrate on the similarities and not the differences. If people put as much time and energy into being productive and building repoires as they do into being weasels, this world (and they) would be far better off.

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    3. When I say "you" above, I mean people, "you" in general, not YOU.

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  12. You are so sensitive and thoughtful! And creative, so I know you'll blow my mind with what you come up with from this challenge.

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    1. Thanks.. I hope the recipes will be helpful

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  13. Wow--I am impressed at what you were able to find at the dollar store! The Dollar Tree's around here are not nearly as well stocked. There are no frozen/refrigerated goods and there are definitely not Goya beans. I am sorry they were out of oats and rice, but I am sure you will be able to still come up with delicious food based off of what you bought. Good luck!

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    1. Yeah.. I was so surprised too... I don't ever remember seeing produce and items like these at dollar stores!

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  14. I just came across this post and I loved it. Right now I am more than blessed of being able to buy most of my food organic but oh, Lord, being Vegan AND a poor grad student was harsh. I had no transportation and I just a CVS close to my apartment (which wasnt that well stocked like your Dollar Tree...tho they started having Silk bc I talked to them about it haha). The job I got after school wasnt the greatest and I still didnt have a car so I ended buying at my closest Dollar tree too! And Im thankful for it... granola, oatmeal, beans, rice, tomato sauce, pasta...you name it! No produce tho, and that made me sad... but still! How great it is that I was able to keep my life style on a very tight budget!

    So, anyways, Thanks for posting is!

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  15. I'm interested in this challenge. While I'm not doing it myself, I did watch A Place at the Table, and visit two dollar stores, Dollar General and Dollar Tree. I was surprised with all the food I saw there, especially Dollar Tree. I found everything you bought minus a couple minor items... probably different suppliers here in TX. I bought raisins (fantastic price), italian cut green beans, and soymilk. Will be donating to my local food bank in time for Thanksgiving. Pointed your blog out to some friends of mine in a financial bind.

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  16. Thank you so much for posting this! I've been wanting to do something like this for awhile now just to see (and to save money) but I've been a little scared. It is nice to see exactly what you got and for how much. And I totally applaud your comment about the GMOs/products from China/ingredients naysayers. While I think it's great to be concerned about such things, as your entire posts points out...not everyone can afforded the "luxury" of buying products that only align to certain standards. And this is an inarguable way to eat vegan really cheaply.

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