How low do you think you could go with your grocery budget? What if you only had $10 to feed yourself for the whole week? What would you buy?
I decided to put this idea to the test and see what kind of meals I could get out of $10 at the dollar tree. This is to feed myself for an entire week: breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
Why the Dollar Tree?
I plan to try out this idea with several different stores where people go for groceries, and this time happens to be the Dollar Tree. While the Dollar Tree doesn’t have the largest selection of fresh food and isn’t always the most economical choice for many items, the reality is that for many people who lack access to other retailers, grocery shopping at the Dollar Tree is either the best option they have or the only option they have.
What about pantry items and groceries already bought?
I have enough rice, beans, and pasta in my cabinets that I could easily survive off of that for a week without spending a dime. For the purposes of this challenge, I won’t be using any pantry items or ingredients with the exception of a small handful of spices and cooking oil.
This challenge is ultimately just for fun and for educational purposes. No one should realistically subsist on only $10 of food per week. If you are struggling, please reach out to the resources around you.
If you are in the United States, the United Way runs a confidential helpline that can be accessed simply by dialing 211 from any phone, and they can help connect you with community resources (this includes assistance needs outside of food access too).
Additionally, I make no claims about the nutritional value of this meal plan and recognize that different bodies have different needs, allergies, preferences, etc.
So what did I buy from the Dollar Tree?
- 2lb Bag of Rice
- 1lb Bag of Pinto Beans
- 1lb Bag of Lentils
- Box of Bouillon Packets
- 1 Pack of 12 Tortillas
- 1 Dozen Medium Eggs
- 7oz of Ground Sausage
- 8oz of Beef Patties
- 1 Bag Stir Fry Veggies
- 1 Bag Mixed Veggies
Wednesday night I prepared my Wednesday-Saturday dinners, my weekday lunches, and my Thursday and Friday breakfasts.
The first thing I did was start the pinto beans. I quickly sorted through them looking for any stones or bad beans, and then after a quick rinse, they went into my pressure cooker with 2 quarts of water and some bouillon. I made the entire pound of beans, because they take a long time to cook, but can be easily stored in the fridge or freezer for later use. I also started 2 cups of rice in my rice cooker. Both of these tasks could be completed on the stove, but having appliances to help made it so much easier for me.
Because I was cooking 2 meals, I wanted to keep my breakfast prep simple. I hard boiled 4 eggs with the intention of eating 2 each on Thursday and Friday. I took about about 2/3 of my stir fry onion and peppers mix and sautéed them until the onions started browning. I added about half of my cooked pinto beans to the pan and mashed them slightly. I added some of the bean liquid to thin out the beans a bit before adding half of my cooked rice. I divided it into 4 dinner portions and ate each portion with one tortilla. I put the remaining pinto beans away for later use.
Once I was done using my instant pot for the pinto beans, I cooked the sausage using the saute setting. Then I added 3 cups of water, a cup of lentils (half the bag), some bouillon, and half the bag of frozen mixed vegetables. I cooked them for 15 minutes under pressure with a 10 minute natural release, and then added my remaining rice to the dish. This was then portioned into 5 containers to be eaten for weekday work lunches. Once they were sufficiently cooled, the dishes for Monday-Wednesday went into the freezer. I pulled each dish out of the freezer the night before I needed it.
On Saturday morning I prepared my breakfasts for that morning, and for Monday-Wednesday at work. I sautéed the remaining stir fry veggies and cooked up the hamburger patties, breaking them up as they cooked. Once fully cooked, I pushed the meat and veggies to the side and added 4 eggs that I had just whisked together.
Once the eggs were done, I mixed everything together and filled 4 burritos using 4 of the tortillas. I browned these in my pan, ate one, and then wrapped the remaining three in aluminum foil to be eaten later.
Saturday (and Sunday) Lunch
For lunch I used most of the remaining pinto beans with some oil and made as close to a refried bean dish as I could with my limited spices and ingredients. They must have turned out good, because I had taste testers who kept dipping spoons into the pan!
I divided my beans and put half on a tortilla and fried it up in my pan for lunch. The other half of the beans went into the fridge to do the same for Sunday’s lunch.
Sunday Breakfast and Dinner Prep
I cooked the remainder of my rice in my rice cooker. Once cooked, I took about a cup of it and put it in a bowl. While the rice was still piping hot, I stirred a raw egg into it. I seasoned it with pepper and soy sauce, and ate it. The remainder of the rice went into the fridge to be used for dinner.
For dinner, I made an egg fried rice using my refrigerated rice, the second half of the bag of frozen mixed veggies, bouillon, and the remainder of my eggs. I also tossed in the remaining pinto beans I had, about a cup. It made a surprisingly large pan of food, especially as I was only going to be dividing it up into 3 dinners. My taste testers also heartily approved of this dish. This was also the last cooking I would need to do until dinner came around Wednesday night.
So How Did it Go?
Normally I cook every night, so this actually drastically reduced the amount of time I spent cooking for the week. I really enjoyed every meal I made. The meal I enjoyed the least, at least initially, was the rice, lentil, and sausage stew. However, it turned out to be one of those meals that tasted much better once it was cooled and reheated. It made fantastic lunches.
I also was not hungry between meals – they were all very filling. I don’t mind eating the same dish for several meals, especially in exchange for the convenience of not having to spend the time cooking something, so that was not an issue for me.
While I felt full and satisfied, I am a petite woman with a desk job. When I worked out the calories for this meal, I was eating roughly 1300-1400 calories a day. That amount is fine for me, as I maintain my weight on 1500-1600 and have a few extra pounds to spare. However, other people with larger bodies or more active lifestyles may struggle on attempting to eat this amount of food, especially for multiple weeks, which I mainly point out to re-emphasize the point that if you need help, absolutely seek it out!
I did really miss not having a variety of fresh produce, but as a short term diet, that was really just a preference and not an issue in my satiety.
All that being said, I hope you were able to get something useful out of this post, whether it was inspiration to slim down your grocery budget, ideas for different ways to use ingredients, or even if it was just an entertaining read.
Below you’ll find a couple links to other (less extreme) food budgeting posts I’ve done!