Recently curiosity got the best of me. Can you eat vegan shopping at a dollar store? How about whole food plant based? So I popped in one to see.
Dollar stores are on a growth trajectory. In certain parts of the country, you can't turn a corner without seeing a dollar store. Sometimes they're within eyeshot of each other.
Often the dollar stores fill in the gaps where there isn't a close by traditional grocery store. It might be a better option than a gas station convenience store but not by much.
Are Dollar Stores Cheaper?
First, should you seek out a dollar store to save money on your groceries? After walking the whole store, I did see a few non-food items that might be bargains. But the dollar store is NOT the cheapest place to get food.
For example, all of the foods I found are the same price or cheaper at our local Kroger store (City Market.) But sometimes a dollar store is your only option. If that's the case for you, let's see what options I found.
Vegan Finds at Family Dollar
If a dollar store is what you've got to work with, can you get vegan food there? The short answer is yes. I share some possible meals with these ingredients later on, but first let's see what you might find at a dollar store.
Healthy Dollar Store Options
Originally, I was wondering what healthy options might be available at the dollar store. The answer to that is not many. But I did find a few options. Now, keep in mind that the store didn't have any whole grain pasta, rice other than white rice, low or no salt canned vegetables, whole grain bread, etc. There were no organic products at all that I found.
With that in mind, here are the items I found that were towards the healthier end of the spectrum.
We eat oats for breakfast every day. Like many meals oats can be healthy if you top them with whole ingredients or unhealthy if you load them up with sugar and fats.
This Family Dollar did have some dried fruit and nuts that would make great toppings.
Frozen vegetables are often a better choice than canned because they don't have added salt. Just make sure you're getting the package that just contains vegetables. There are some frozen packages that come with a sauce or seasoning.
I love to keep around a California blend like this one. The broccoli, cauliflower, and carrot reheat well in the microwave. This blend is also versatile. I will use something like this as a side sometimes and as the base to a stir-fry others.
In addition to this blend, the Family Dollar had frozen peas, corn, and green beans, all wonderful options.
Spices and Seasonings
The spice shelf was pretty limited but all the basics are here. There aren't very many individual spices, but the Italian seasoning and chili powder in combination with the onion, garlic, salt, and pepper will season up a few meals.
You'll find vegan hot sauces, mustard and ketchup at Family Dollar. They also had soy sauce, apple cider, and white vinegar. Those will come in handy when making sauces. You can also pick up Eatz Salsa which is vegan, fat free, and moderate in sodium.
This store only had dried pinto and great northern beans. But, these are both pretty useful.
I always keep canned tomato products on hand for making sauces, soups, and stews.
I rarely use canned vegetables because of the salt content and because I like frozen better. But they are super convenient when you don't have much freezer space.
Pasta is cheap and filling. You can top it with a variety of sauces, add vegetables to increase the nutrition, pop it in soups and more.
This is literally the only type of dried rice this store had. But when you're on a budget, rice is your friend.
Nuts, Seeds, and Dried Fruit
This Family Dollar had a few options for nuts, seeds, and dried fruit. Sunflower seeds are a great addition for nutrition. They also had raisins. There were some other dried fruit, but you'll want to watch for added sugar. Dry roasted nuts are great but some contain gelatin. This is why it takes vegans so long to grocery shop - we've got to read every label.
Less Healthy Dollar Store Options
Canned Baked Beans
These baked beans contain a ton of refined sugar. But they are vegan!
I used to take peanut butter crackers to school for lunch when I was a kid because I didn't like how sandwiches got soggy. Not all saltines are vegan, but these are.
Nope, not a stitch of natural peanut butter in this store. These all contain added oil, sugar, or both. But it's an easy, cheap, vegan source of protein.
Some flour tortillas contain lard but these are vegan. This store also had some bread that might be vegan but the ingredient lists were so long that I couldn't be bothered to figure it out. Can you tell this was toward the end of my shopping trip?
Fun fact: most movie theater "butter" is actually vegan. This popcorn also happens to be vegan.
Your dentist hates this but Skittles, Sour Patch Kids, and Swedish Fish are all vegan,
Dollar Store Meal Ideas
Now that you've seen the vegan options at Family Dollar, what can you make with them?
I'm not even going to pretend that you will be able to make impressive gourmet meals out of dollar store items. But it is possible to make nourishing, tasty food.
None of these are set-in-stone recipes. Think of them more as inspiration. When you don't know what you will find from one dollar store to the next you mostly have to wing it. Some stores will have taco or chili seasoning packets that could make meals come together even easier. If you'd like formal recipes for simple meals like this, check out my plant-based pantry staple meals post.
Because the store I visited didn't have any plain canned beans, I've given can and cup measurements for the beans in recipes below in case you also would need to cook the beans from dried first.
Here are four dollar store meal ideas.
Pasta in a Peanut Sauce with Peas
We have pasta in peanut sauce often. It's a meal that comes together quickly on a weeknight. Here's how you could do one with dollar store ingredients.
1/2 cup creamy peanut butter
1-2 Tbsp soy sauce
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1/4 tsp ginger powder, optional
1/4 tsp red pepper flakes (could use hot sauce instead)
2-3 Tbsp white vinegar
1/4 cup warm water (pasta cooking water is perfect), or as much as needed to get desired consistency
Pasta for 4 people
1 1/2 cups frozen peas
Cook pasta according to package. Add in peas for the last 2 minutes to heat up. When done, pull out about 1/2 cup of pasta water then drain. Add all the sauce ingredients to the cooking pot. Whisk until smooth. Add more pasta water if it seems too thick. Add pasta and peas back to the pot and toss to coat. Serve!
Pasta in Red Sauce
With a few simple spices, you can easily make your own red pasta sauce. This dollar store had everything you need.
1 28 oz. can tomato sauce
1 1/2 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp Italian seasoning
1/2 tsp onion powder
1/4 tsp red pepper flakes, optional, if you like a kick
salt and pepper to taste
1 can Italian cut green beans, rinsed and drained
1 can or 1 1/2 cup white beans or lentils, rinsed and drained, optional
pasta for 4 people
Cook the pasta according to package, drain, and set aside.
Add the tomato sauce and all of the spices but the salt and pepper to the pasta pot. Simmer for about 10 minutes covered to let the flavors meld. Add the green beans and beans, if using. Let simmer until heated through. Taste and add salt, pepper, and additional seasonings, if needed. Add pasta and stir to combine then serve.
Yes, you can pull together a chili with dollar store ingredients! This will make a pretty big batch, about 6 servings. Stretch this meal or have leftovers over pasta or rice.
1 28oz can diced tomatoes
4 1/2 cups cooked beans (or 3 cans, rinsed and drained)
1 can corn (or 1 1/2 cups frozen)
1 jar salsa
2 Tbsp chili powder
1 Tbsp garlic powder
1/2 tsp onion powder
salt and pepper to taste
Hot sauce to taste (optional)
Add all ingredients to a large pot. Simmer 20-30 minutes until flavors have combined. Taste and adjust seasonings as needed.
Corn and Pinto Bean Enchiladas smothered in Salsa
8 flour tortillas
2 cups cooked pinto beans
1 tsp chili powder
1/2 tsp garlic powder
salt & pepper to taste
1 can corn, rinsed and drained or 1 1/2 cups frozen, completely defrosted
1 jar of salsa
Preheat oven to 350ºF. Mash the pinto beans with the chili powder, garlic powder, salt and pepper. Take a 9" square baking pan of one of a similar size and coat the bottom in a layer of the salsa.
Grab a tortilla and spread about 1/4 cup of the bean mixture down the center. Add about 2 tablespoons of corn. Roll it up and repeat with the rest. These should all fit in the pan. Once the enchiladas are all rolled up, spread the remaining salsa all over the top. Bake for about 20-25 minutes until everything is heated through.
Even if you don't shop for vegan food at the dollar store, I hope this will give you some ideas of meals you can make when options are limited. Do you have any meal tricks to share when trying to save money? Please share in a comment!