Dollar stores aren’t as good as they seem, with low-quality products that rarely cost exactly one dollar. When they do, items may be sold in smaller sizes than usual. This only gives shoppers the appearance that they’re saving money when in reality, they’re not. However, chains like Dollar Tree, Family Dollar, Dollar General, and other dollar stores have ways of keeping us coming back for more.
According to Atlas Obscura, dollar stores bring in customers by stocking stores with disposable home goods, having a consistent interior layout, and putting popular products in the back. As Consumer Reports explains, dollar stores are so widespread throughout the United States — there are more than 15,000 locations split between Family Dollar and Dollar Tree — that most Americans have a dollar store nearby. Along with affordability, pervasiveness is why some people grocery shop at the dollar store.
Despite dollar stores’ convenience, we recommend you reconsider your relationship with them. Most importantly, think twice about buying your canned food or snacks at the dollar store. The off-brand canned goods sold there are often made with low-quality ingredients, may be past their expiration date, and are not necessarily cheaper. Grocery stores usually sell packs of canned food for less. On top of that, canned foods tend to taste worse and be less nutritious than fresh foods. Try to never buy them at the dollar store. But if you can’t stop altogether, here are some of the best-canned foods to avoid when shopping at these types of stores.
Collard greens are one type of canned food you shouldn’t put on your dollar store shopping list. This product consists of greens that have been cooked and preserved in individual cans. According to Masterclass, collard greens themselves are nutritious vegetables. The greens are high in vitamins and nutrients such as fiber, iron, and vitamin A. Sauteed collard greens are a typical side dish popular in Southern recipes. With the canned version, the greens come pre-cooked, allowing you to save time. Despite these positive aspects, buying this canned good is not worth it.
According to Insider, canned vegetables such as collard greens lose some health-boosting properties when packed in brine. Unfortunately, this is the case with Chestnut Hill’s Seasoned Collard Greens sold at Family Dollar. This particular product is packed with salty, briny water to give it its "seasoned" quality. The same goes for Glory Foods’ Seasoned Collard Greens sold at Dollar General. To make matters worse, canned collard greens like these can be purchased for lower prices at traditional grocery stores such as Walmart. At the time of writing, Walmart offered at least two different brands of canned collard greens for less than those at Dollar General.
If you want to buy meat from the dollar store, skip the luncheon loaf. This antiquated form of food consists of processed meat formed into an unnatural shape. Per Delighted Cooking, it can be made with a blend of various types of meat, such as beef, pork, turkey, or ham. Inside each can is a protein that vaguely resembles a bread loaf. This enables you to use luncheon loaf slices for your sandwiches. While this is convenient, we’d recommend using other ingredients for your lunch. As a canned meat, luncheon loaf is a type of processed meat, meaning it’s not the healthiest addition to your diet. According to Healthline, eating processed meat has been linked to chronic diseases such as stomach cancer, heart disease, and high blood pressure.
You can find luncheon loaf at Dollar General — which sells a product made by Clover Valley — and Dollar Tree — which sells one made by Celebrity. Along with possibly harming your health, luncheon loaf doesn’t taste great. On Dollar Tree’s website, customers found that this canned food had poor flavor and texture. "It’s flavorless, the can probably has more flavor!" said one reviewer. "Disgusting. This is not good," wrote another Dollar Tree customer. "Too much gelatin. Very dry in the tin…Turned hard when I tried to fry it in a pan for a sandwich," said another review. If you still desire luncheon loaf, there is a cheaper version of this product sold by Walmart.
Although it is a vegetable, you shouldn’t buy canned asparagus at the dollar store. Fresh asparagus is an antioxidant-rich piece of produce that keeps your eyes healthy and prevents blood clots (via WebMD). But the diminished nutritional profile of canned asparagus may outweigh the vegetable’s natural health benefits. According to Weigh School, canned asparagus comes with added salt that sometimes reaches shocking levels. This is the case with Lady Liberty’s canned asparagus sold by Family Dollar, which contains 14% of the daily recommended serving of sodium. It’s also the case with the Clover Valley canned asparagus sold by Dollar General, which includes 13% of your daily recommended sodium intake. Additionally, the canned stuff has less fiber, less protein, and fewer nutrients than the fresh stuff.
Canning asparagus also worsens its appearance and texture. For one, you lose some of its natural crunch. Additionally, the color becomes an off-putting brownish-green color that’s shown by this Reddit post. The food inspires disgust in some people; just reading the name caused one person to say, "Did a spontaneous gag at ‘canned asparagus." Since Dollar General sells its product for over $3 per can, you can find cheaper canned asparagus elsewhere, such as at Stop & Shop.
Another type of food to be avoided at the dollar store is deviled ham. This canned meat is used as a sandwich spread. According to New England Today, the recipe has remained similar since the 1800s. Deviled ham usually consists of ground ham that’s been "deviled." In other words, it had spices added to it. Although it may sound okay, deviled ham is something you’ll want to avoid at the dollar store due to its poor nutritional value and unsightly appearance.
Per Very Meaty, you’re better off making your own deviled ham. The canned version is high in potentially harmful ingredients such as sodium nitrate, salt, and sugar, which are used to cure the meat. According to Healthline, sodium nitrate is a preservative that’s been linked to diseases like colorectal cancer. Canned deviled ham products — such as Clark sold by Dollar Tree — can also be extremely high in fat. While the taste may make up for this in some people, others won’t be able to get past the appearance, which is similar to wet cat food. If you come across deviled ham at the dollar store, we say skip it.
Canned green beans are another vegetable that you’d be better off buying fresh from the grocery store. Fresh green beans are extremely high in vitamin K, which is useful for maintaining strong bone health (via Almanac). But while canned green beans may still help you with your vitamin K intake, these preserved vegetables come with additional downsides. As Food Insight explains, canned green beans are lower in protein and higher in sodium. The amount of salt — which is added for its preservative benefits as well as flavor — skyrockets in the canned version of green beans. Such is the case with Del Monte canned green beans sold at Family Dollar, in which one serving contains 16% of your daily recommended sodium intake.
While some people may prefer soggy, discolored green beans — which are found inside the canned version — we’re betting that most people do not. If so, skip the canned stuff. Multiple Dollar General customers who bought canned green beans had complaints about it. "The beans still had the strings in them and were very woody … they were awful," wrote one person. Another shopper complained about the price, claiming that the chain raised the cost by 50%. To us, all of this makes us want to steer clear of dollar-store canned green beans.
Sloppy joe sauce
A typical sloppy joe recipe consists of ground beef coated in a sauce made of ingredients like ketchup, mustard, Worcestershire sauce, salt, and sugar, then placed between two hamburger buns. When you buy canned sloppy joe sauce, you mainly get the juices meant to season your ground beef. Made fresh, sloppy joe sauce isn’t that bad, nutritionally. The main ingredient is typically tomatoes, which are high in nutrients like potassium, vitamin A, and vitamin C (via Health). However, there are downsides when tomatoes come canned or in a ketchup-like substance (which is the case with canned sloppy joe sauce). According to SFGate, this product is likely to be high in sodium.
This is the case with the Manwich Sloppy Joe Sauce sold by Family Dollar. The product is also very high in sugar, containing around 12% of your daily recommended intake per serving. Dollar General, which also sells this sloppy joe sauce, doesn’t have the best reputation either. Dollar stores like this have reputations for mishandling food products, especially canned ones, which we mistakenly believe to be indestructible. As a result, at least one person complained that their sloppy joe sauce can was dented. To avoid these negative factors, we recommend going to a traditional grocery store to make your sloppy joe sauce from scratch. It will be fresher and healthier. It might even taste better, too.
For some people, gravy is not just a Thanksgiving day treat. Recipes like homemade white gravy can be used with dishes like fried chicken, mashed potatoes, or biscuits — at any time of year. For those looking to add a splash of gravy to their weeknight dinner, canned gravy may seem like a useful hack for shortening time in the kitchen. However, we don’t recommend buying pre-made gravy, especially not from the dollar store.
To start, canned dollar-store gravy is unlikely to be healthier than the fresh stuff. Per RateMds, you can get a potentially lower-calorie version by purchasing fat-free turkey gravy. Even so, that canned turkey gravy is going to have a lot of salt. But the biggest downside is the flavor. The canned stuff just doesn’t taste as good, as one Reddit user claimed. They were not alone. When asked what to do with canned gravy, another person responded, "I’d throw it out. But then again I can’t imagine ever using canned gravy." Although this canned food is sold at places like Dollar Tree and Family Dollar, please don’t waste your time buying it there.
Chicken and dumplings
Chicken and dumplings is a classic, affordable meal that’s popular across America. As Our Everyday Life explains, it’s a dish that’s so common across the country that there are multiple variations and arguments concerning its origin story. But there are a few things about it that we all can agree on regarding chicken and dumplings. The dish consists of chicken, flour-based dumplings, and broth, all of which are found in canned versions. However, buying this from the dollar store is not going to yield a similar, home-cooked feel.
According to SFGate, canned chicken and dumplings are higher in sodium. This can be avoided by purchasing low-sodium versions of this canned product, but those may not be available among the limited options at the dollar store. The Swanson Chicken and Dumplings sold by Dollar Tree come with 990 milligrams of sodium per serving, amounting to 43% of your daily recommended sodium intake. A similar product, made by the company Sweet Sue, which is sold at both Dollar General and Family Dollar, is just as bad (if not slightly worse) in the salt department. The dollar store doesn’t even have competitive pricing for this particular item. Walmart sells a larger can for less money.
Potted meat doesn’t have the best name for a food. It doesn’t have much going on for it at all. But if you must try this outdated form of canned meat, don’t do it at the dollar store, where cans may have stayed on the shelves so long they’ve become expired. If there’s one thing worse than potted meat, it’s expired potted meat.
According to Kitchennarry, potted meat is more of an umbrella term that can be used to mean a few different things. But in general, it refers to meat that’s cured, smoked, and spiced. The brand Armour’s Potted Meat, sold at Dollar Tree, Dollar General, and Family Dollar, contains all those ingredients. The two main types of meats used are chicken and pork. However, what’s contained inside those cans no longer resembles anything you’ve eaten before. Potted meat looks like it’s meant for animals, not humans. It’s also non-nutritious, containing more than 20% of your daily recommended servings of cholesterol, sodium, fat, and saturated fat per serving. Don’t bother with this type of dollar-store canned food.
Compared to some dollar-store canned foods, canned beef stew almost seems like a normal choice. But if you’re really hungry the next time you’re there, please get something else. As VeryMeaty explains, the canned beef stew made by affordable brands like Dinty Moore (which is sold at Family Dollar) contains shockingly high levels of most stuff that people consider unhealthy. This canned beef stew is loaded with sodium, cholesterol, fat, and saturated fat. The only time we’d recommend looking for this shelf-stable food is to sustain yourself in the event of a natural disaster, and even then, eating this stuff should only come as a necessity.
In terms of taste, canned beef stew doesn’t have a great track record there, either. On Dollar Tree’s website, customers tore the store’s canned Southgate beef stew to shreds. "Smells bad, tastes bad, and looks bad! I’m not a picky eater at all and I thought this was just plain nasty!" wrote one person. "I made this for my husband recently and he got sick!" said another customer. Yet one more Dollar Tree customer simply said, "That was not edible." Reviews for Dollar General’s canned beef stew were nearly as bad. If you must get canned food at the dollar store, put this at the bottom of your list.
Mostly due to their diminished taste compared to the real thing, we don’t recommend buying canned tamales from the dollar store. Authentic Mexican tamale recipes lead to a somewhat time-consuming food that — when traditionally made — requires the laborious task of making your own masa dough. It also requires gathering traditional ingredients like corn husks and ancho chiles, which may be harder to find at grocery stores in the United States. The length of time preparing tamales is what makes them a special occasion food, often enjoyed around the holidays. All of this serves to say that canned tamales will not compare to the real thing.
One blogger took the time to point out the many flaws within Hormel’s canned tamales — which is the brand sold by Dollar Tree, Family Dollar, and Dollar General. The blog complained that the canned tamales came wrapped in tiny pieces of wax paper, which had to be removed before reheating. The tamales themselves were also smaller than usual. Each was about the size of a cigar. In terms of both flavor and texture, the dish was subpar. As the report says, the masa fell apart, and the sauce wasn’t spicy. Even if you find the taste acceptable, Hormel’s canned tamales contain 62% of your daily recommended sodium intake (if you eat the whole can). Don’t buy this product from the dollar store.
Canned is not the best format in which to eat chili. According to Greengo’s Cantina, the meat in canned chili can be low quality, making it less tasty and nutritious. This is more likely to be true with canned chili products made without turkey, which is the case with the Southgate chili sold at Dollar Tree and the Hormel canned chili sold at Family Dollar. Both of those products are made with beef and pork rather than turkey. Additionally, canned chili is high in sodium and saturated fat. With both of the aforementioned dollar store chili products, this is true. Canned chili may not necessarily be bad, but if your only options are made by the low-quality brands sold at the dollar store, it’s not a good option.
Also, you’re likely to find better prices for canned chili at a traditional grocery store. At the time of writing, Dollar General and Family Dollar sold their canned chili products for more than $2 per can. However, you can easily find cans of chili sold for less than $2 at Walmart or other supermarkets.
If you’re looking to feed yourself or your family some vegetables but happen to be shopping at the dollar store, grabbing a can of prep-packed produce can seem like a good idea. Because food insecurity and food deserts exist, if this is your only source of produce, then our opinion is any vegetable is better than none. Unfortunately, however, there are a lot of factors that separate canned and fresh veggies. For starters, canned vegetables are visually much worse than the real thing. The color of every vegetable becomes dulled, unlike its natural self. Then, every piece is coated in a layer of shiny, slimy film. To top it all off, every vegetable is softened from being stored in a can of preservatives. Despite their best efforts, all the sodium nitrate in the world can’t keep a carrot from getting mushy in the can.
While they may still offer some of their original nutrients, vegetables from a can are not as good as the fresh stuff. According to Healthline, these items contain less of certain beneficial vitamins and more unhealthy preservatives. That isn’t stopping some people from buying cans of mixed vegetables from Dollar Tree, Dollar General, or Family Dollar. As we said, if inequitable policies have left you with little option, then buy this canned food. But if you have the potential to score fresh vegetables and fruit, we recommend skipping this tin.