Michele: Making Due at the Dollar Store

I participate each year in the SNAP Challenge and have learned a lot about how to put together healthful meals on the tiny budget allotted.  But this year my favorite discount grocer had closed shop, so I had to think about where else I could go where my food dollars would really stretch.  For many people relying on SNAP, the options are truly limited.  If you’re only getting $4.39 a day for food are you going to spend $5.00 on bus fare getting to a cheaper store and back?  Not if you don’t have to.  I know Dollar Stores are often the best option for people living in food deserts, so in the spirit of the SNAP challenge I decided to shop there. 

In some ways I was pleasantly surprised: riced cauliflower, shelf-stable milk, and real coffee for only $1 each!  But the options were severely limited—unless you are talking snacks.  I had to hunt high and low to find things that weren’t overly processed or high in sugar and fat.  I’m only doing 3 days of the challenge, so that helped. But even so, I spent nearly ¾ of an hour putting together meals based on the meager choices before me while keeping to my budget.  While my nutritional needs will be met, I already know what I’ll miss most:  fresh produce.  I snagged some peach and pineapple fruit cups, but nothing I purchased makes a crunch when I bite into it.

Not that crunchy foods weren’t available—there were aisles and aisles of empty calorie snack foods.  Probably most of them offering more flavor than the foods I purchased.  Dollar Store did have a lot of spices available, but I couldn’t afford them. I couldn’t imagine the kinds of battles I’d have had to face if I took my kids shopping with me and had to get past all the tasty-junk before reaching the relatively nutritious food in the very furthest corner of the store.  It was a hard enough battle with myself.  In the end I had to be really stern with myself to get that riced cauliflower instead of stretching pasta out another day and grabbing some peanut-butter cheese crackers.  I know I wouldn’t be able to maintain that level of discipline for long.  And right now, I’m kind of regretting the healthy choice.  I wonder what kind of toll it takes on people who face a constant feeling of deprivation.

-Michele Zurakowski, Executive Director