The More Economical Dollar Menu

Many fast food restaurants have the Dollar Menu, which provides a cheaper alternative to the normal meals. However, if you go to a supermarket or grocery store or just browse the weekly ads, then you can find a variety of goods for a dollar. The best part is, some goods are ready-to-eat immediately after purchase. You just have to wash the good under a sink somewhere. Other goods involve very little preparation.

Let's take a look at what's a dollar this week at my local stores. To save time, you may want to brush up on your mental math skills. I have a lot of experience with this, so I can just scan the ad and immediately know the unit price. If you can't do this, don't worry. The longer you practice with mental math, the more calculation short-cuts and tricks you can discover and the quicker you'll be a mental math wiz! In a future myTake, I will explain my own tricks to quickly compute shopping deals. This is an important life skill that will last you a lifetime.

The prices are derived on August 19, 2016.

Kroger

White potatoes (5-pound bag) - $0.99 for the bag

Ah, potatoes! In Ireland, potatoes are a staple food. That makes sense, given that potatoes tend to be very energy-dense and starchy. An easy, brainless recipe is to wash the potatoes, scrape the skin off the potatoes (for hygiene and safe consumption), and bake the potatoes in the oven at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for 30 minutes.

Fresh greens (collard, kale, mustard, turnip) - $0.79 per bunch

Fresh greens can be eaten raw or cooked. However, you probably don't want to eat them raw, because they are so hard to chew and swallow. I suppose you can wash the greens first, getting rid of the dirt caught in the leaves, and then plop them in the big pot filled with water. The purpose is to make green vegetable soup.

Seasoned chicken leg quarters (value pack) - $0.99 per pound

The chicken thigh is probably 3 oz. The chicken drumstick is probably 2 oz. So, a whole leg quarter is probably 5 oz. There are 16 ounces in a pound, so you can fit 3 chicken legs for a dollar. It's not a bad deal, if you consider the amount of chicken you get from a fast food restaurant. An easy, completely brainless recipe for chicken is to put the chicken legs in the oven, and then you have baked chicken for a whole week.

Facebook Like Freebie

If you like Kroger on Facebook, then you can find weekly freebies on the Kroger page. You have to be a member, which is free. You attach your Kroger card to your membership account and then load the coupon to your account. This week's coupon is a FREE PowerBar, any variety, and it expires on September 4, 2016.

Sometimes, Kroger will promote soda pop or sugary drinks. Sugary drinks are okay, if you are planning for a party soon. Hey, you want your guests to be happy. Your guests may not like you, if you serve them only water. Give them some choice. But if you are not planning for a party, then you should just collect tap water and boil it on the stove. If you do not want to collect tap water at the sink because it tastes bad, and you do not want to pay for the extra water bill or electric/gas bill, then you may collect bottles of water at the fountain at work or school. The water may taste better there, and you don't have to pay for anything. There should be no reason why you can't drink water in a developed country that provides free access to clean water.

Giant Eagle

Del Monte Canned Tomatoes (14.5 oz) - $0.88 each

This is the cheapest kind of tomato I can find right now. Look on the bright side! At least you can make tomato soup!

Chicken of the Sea Chunk Light Tuna (5 oz, in oil or water) - $0.79 each

I often see people eating canned or packaged tuna fish with crackers. I suppose you can buy this can of tuna at Giant Eagle and the loaf of bread (below) at Aldi to make yourself a tuna fish sandwich for one mealtime.

Giant Eagle Mac & Cheese Cups (2.05 oz) - $0.68 each

This is an instant meal at Giant Eagle. See how much you can save, compared to the Dollar Menu at fast food restaurants?

Meijer

Locally grown sweet corn - $1.00 for five ears of corn

Just recently, I went to Walmart and saw that an ear of corn would cost $0.25. At Meijer, I can find a better deal. Each ear of corn costs $0.20. The extra $0.05 makes a big difference, because it can buy 5 whole ears of corn at $1.00. At Walmart, 5 ears of corn would cost $1.25.

The good thing about corn is that you can boil several ears in a pot, eat a piece of corn cob for one mealtime, and then drink the corn juice.

Locally grown cabbage - $0.33 per pound

A typical cabbage head is about 2 pounds. If you buy a cabbage head, then you are just paying $0.66 for the whole head. Cabbages have many leaves, so you can tear off some leaves and use the leaves as a wrapper to make (cooked) cabbage wraps. Cabbages can be placed in acidic vinegar solution and preserved. Spices may be added to enhance the preserved cabbages.

Locally grown green beans - $0.88 per pound

Green beans are fairly lightweight, so it is possible to eat a pound of green beans at 1 or 2 mealtimes.

Locally grown zucchini or yellow squash - $0.88 per pound

Zucchini or yellow squash tends to be on the heavy end of vegetables. The price is about $0.06 per ounce. You should weigh zucchinis or squash on the scale to fit within one pound. Zucchinis and yellow squash can be stir-fried to make a dish, but you probably need cooking oil or vegetable oil for that.

Broccoli - $0.99 per pound

Given that broccoli is bought in heads, which may be $1.00 to $2.00 each, $0.99 for a pound may not seem like a good value. However, I don't expect a typical person to eat a whole broccoli (stem and floret) in one sitting, given the size. Therefore, the price may be a good deal, simply because one broccoli head can be eaten for a couple of mealtimes.

Aldi

Blueberries - $0.99 per pint pack

Blueberries usually come in pint packs. It is likely that you will just eat a quarter to a half a pint of blueberries in one sitting, unless you really love blueberries and can eat the whole pint.

Mangoes - $0.49 each

These mangoes are cheap. You can buy 2 mangoes for a dollar. One mango can be eaten at one mealtime. So, buying 2 mangoes means that you are buying 2 meals under a dollar.

Del Monte bananas - $0.29 per pound

These bananas are cheap. If you buy 3 pounds of bananas (approximately a bunch), then you are still under a dollar. You should buy bananas that are more green, because they have a longer shelf life than the yellower ones. Bananas are very starchy and filling, so they can be a good grab-and-go breakfast food, an afternoon snack, or a simple dessert to complete the evening meal.

Red grapes ($1.58 per 2-pound package) - $0.79 per pound

These red grapes come in 2-pound packages, which yield $1.58. It is very unlikely you are going to eat a whole 2-pound package of red grapes in a sitting, unless you have a voracious appetite for red grapes and other sweet things. So, the package can last a few mealtimes.

L'oven Fresh Honey Wheat Bread (20 oz) - $0.99 per loaf

Ah, bread! Another type of energy-dense staple food! The name implies that it is just regular white bread, which is more easily absorbable than whole wheat bread (whole-grain bread). So, buying a loaf of white bread for $0.99 is a good deal, because the loaf of bread can last several days (2 weeks). To preserve bread for that long, you should place bread in the refrigerator, not in the kitchen pantry. You may eat one or two slices of bread every day.

Walmart

Dynasty: Sliced Water Chestnuts (8 oz) - $0.76 per can

These water chestnuts are a tasty treat and can be served with the other vegetables you buy at the other stores.

Assorted spices (ground cinnamon, paprika powder, basil leaves, onion salt, oregano leaves, parsley flakes, garlic salt) - $0.70 - $1.00 per container

These assorted spices come in relatively small bottles at Walmart. They are flavor enhancers.

Fresh Thyme

Green onions, radishes, cilantro, parsley, or carrots (1-pound bag) - $1.00 for 2 bags

Green onions, cilantro, and parsley are typically used as flavor enhancers or garnishes. Radishes and carrots can be used to make a soup dish. Soup takes a long cooking time to get the vegetables soft and tender. A slow-cooker would make the process of making soup easier. If you buy the chicken at Kroger and bake that in the oven, then the chicken will release a lot of oily water. You may collect the fatty chicken broth and include that in the soup of radishes and carrots.

Green bell peppers or cucumbers - $1.00 for 2 items

In the Kroger weekly ad, I remember the green pepper or cucumber would cost about a $1.00 each. In this ad, green pepper or cucumber costs $0.50 each. So, you get twice as many products at Fresh Thyme than at Kroger. The green pepper can be used to make a stir-fry dish or be added in soup or be baked on a skewer with the chicken at Kroger. The cucumber can be eaten raw or cooked. A raw cucumber is a very hydrating snack, because it mostly consists of water.

Sweet potatoes or yellow onions - $0.77 per pound

A big sweet potato will weigh more than a pound. Depending on how much it exactly weighs, you may have to pay $1.00 to $2.00 for one sweet potato that can be consumed during one meal. Meanwhile, if you buy one yellow onion, then you are less likely to consume the entire onion in one meal, because yellow onions are typically used as a spice or flavor enhancer.

Analysis

1. One complication of grocery shopping is that you have to go to several different stores to find the bargains. It may be very useful to own a personal car and to plan the shortest driving route in advance.

2. The Internet is a powerful tool in the digital age. Instead of going to the stores directly and picking up the ad brochures at the entrance, you can go online and find digital versions of the weekly ads.

3. Making a specific recipe from a cookbook is not efficient. You should always be creative and flexible with whatever ingredients you have in your inventory. You should make a grocery list of the bargain items that you want to buy and then commit to buy them. It's cheaper to drop things off the list than to add on.

4. I have written the myTake with the assumption of feeding one person. At a fast food restaurant, each item on the Dollar Menu is intended to feed only one person. Certainly, more mouths mean more food.

5. I believe that food priority is very important in grocery shopping. For me, I view that energy-dense starchy foods (breads, potatoes, corn ears, bananas, noodles, pasta, rice) should be prioritized first. They provide the most energy and form the basis of the diet. Foods of second priority are the vegetables. Various vegetables contain a lot of nutrients. Foods of third priority are meats, because they provide mostly fat and animal protein. On that day, the chicken and tuna are on the "Dollar Menu". In case one doesn't have any vegetable oil in the home, one can buy the tuna-in-oil can, scoop out the tuna, and save the oil for a stir-fry or soup dish. You should save as much fat as possible from the meat products, because it can easily fatten the meals if you are left with just vegetables. Fruits should be eaten sparingly, because they are bite-size and may only be enough for one meal. Basically, you are spending a lot of money in a type of food that will not give you much energy in return. Banana is okay, because it has more starch. But you should not really depend on fruits as the basis of your diet.

6. Meal planning can be a tricky process. Some dishes can be made using the products from a former dish. So, the tuna fish sandwich or chicken leg can be eaten on Day 1. The oil from the tuna fish can be used in stir-fry or soup. The baked chicken will release chicken broth, and the chicken broth can be used to make soup.

7. Every individual has preferences based in religion or biology. If pork is on sale and your religion forbids you to eat pork because it is not clean or godly, then you should not buy the pork, regardless of whether it is on sale or not. If your body cannot handle milk or dairy products, then it really doesn't matter whether milk or dairy products are on sale. Therefore, one person's grocery list may be totally different from another person's grocery list.

On YouTube, I found someone who can "eat very well on $3 a day". However, he cooks only for himself, so his plan may not work for a family or household with more members.



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What Guys Said 5

  • 3mo

    Well done! :)

    You can save a LOT more money and eat a LOT healthier by actually getting off your ass, buying decent food, and making it at home.

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    • 3mo

      Yep. Fast food may be pricey, but that does not mean it should be completely avoided. Sometimes, a person may take someone out for a date. The fast food restaurant is the perfect place to do that. There is a reason why they call it the "Happy Meal". You get a free toy inside!

      People who live in inner cities and rural communities may be stranded in food deserts. Also, college students who go to urban universities may be stranded in a food desert with only restaurants and pricey cafeteria food from the campus. Sometimes, the university's tuition will cover the cost of the bus fare, so it is possible to take the bus with your university ID to get to the grocery store or supermarket in remote areas.

    • 3mo

      "Sometimes, a person may take someone out for a date. The fast food restaurant is the perfect place to do that."

      Holy mother of God, NO. LOL

  • 2mo

    There are many things to factor in for example: time to figure how much of each item you need. Time to look for in store and non in stote coupons online and off. Time to figure out what coupons each store takes. Time to figure out what the final cost would be after the coupons for each item on your list. Not all items will have a coupon. Time driving to more than one store if you are going to. How long the food will be in your vehicle for. (Dairy product could be in a hot vehicle for too long and be unsafe to consume then). Time you spend at each store. A store could be out of what you want and you might have to spend a little more than wanted. Time driving. How much gas will be used. How much time you have to get whets on the list. There is a lot of planning involved.

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  • 3mo

    The prices represented in your myTake are much less than they are in my state. For instance, chicking through various stores, the regular price of ears of corn is 59 cents an ear, 50 cents if on sale. Bananas are usually 69 cents a pound. All of our fresh fruits and vegetables are much higher than you listed. So any attempt at coming close to your meal prices will grossly fail here. Plus, suggesting that two mangos equals two meals would not begin to provide the recommended nutrients for meals (and it would leave me starving).

    For reference, on the west coast we have Fred Meyer, which is a Kroger store, Safeway, which is tied in with other stores nationally, Walmart, which I have found to be more expensive that the others, and of course the natural food chains.

    Safeway offers a club membership at no cost that gives you member only sale prices on different products changing often. And the prices are usually pretty good, compared to the general prices around town. But still not what you were listing.

    As for fast food restaurants, I often use Wendy's for my lunch break. I get a chicken sandwich, medium fries, and drink. The chicken sandwich is off their value menu. I get the fries because I was not meeting the caloric intake needed for my diabetic diet (I know that sounds strange, but my glucose readings were too low without that). And being a "senior", my drink is free. So my meal there comes to $3.04 which is not bad for a meal from a fast food restaurant.

    One thing that scares me about your take is the use of tuna oil as an oil to cook other foods in. Tuna oil is very strongly tainted with the tuna flavor, and would not go well with most other foods.

    Overall, I am impressed with your research and your myTake. Wish I could purchase at those prices.

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    • 3mo

      The guy in the video I linked in the myTake lives in New York. He once did an one-week-long challenge where he tried to survive on $3 a day, $1 for each meal, using very clever strategies. Some of them are adopted from immigrant families in the United States (collecting sauce packets, growing green onions at home, etc.).

      The prices above are collected from what I saw in the online weekly ad on Friday, so the foods are probably on sale. I think the weekly ads change every Wednesday. On Wednesday, Fresh Thyme boasts that both weekly ads (from previous and following week) can be used, so consumers can double the savings. I think the main reason why the grocery store chains have relatively low prices is that they source the food products from local farms, cutting transportation costs.

    • Show All
    • 3mo

      Wow. You are very resourceful! The Food Front is a co-op, so I am not sure if anybody can shop there. I had never even heard of them. There are only two in the whole greater Portland area, the closest being quite far from me. I would need to find a long list of items to buy there to make the trip cost/time effective. But I do intend to check it out. Thank you.

      The Fred Meyer price for corn is a first for this year. As I mentioned, it had been running 59 cents normally, 50 cents when on sale. Milk is normally $2.49 a gallon there.

      One thing I learned from your take (and comments) is to spend more time on the computer looking at ads. Thanks again.

    • 3mo

      Thank my mom and dad. I owe a lot of smart shopping tricks from them.

  • 3mo

    Ya but the time it takes to do all that work you could have made more than you could have saved.

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    • 3mo

      Explain?

    • 3mo

      I think he is saying that if you had worked at your employment and just grabbed a take out lunch, you could have put more time in at you job getting paid more. But that disregards that you are likely to work a set number of hours regardless of your time at lunch.

    • 3mo

      @Red_Arrow Ah, I see. In that case, bringing lunch reduces cost. Weekly meal planning around the foods in your inventory may be more economical than eating out. At least you can skip the long lines. Non-microwaveable meals, like a sandwich, make good lunch meals.

  • 3mo

    This is a VERY GOOD thread!
    Fast food joints are very expensive to eat at. And it probably will eventually kill you if you live on it.
    When shopping in a bigger store like Walmart or Safeway shop the outer wall area. That is where the healthiest foods are. Mainly proteins. The trash that layers fat onto your body is found in the isles.

    Focus on low carb, low calorie and high protein foods and, if you are overweight, you will lose weight, have more energy, that shine in your eyes comes back and you will feel much better. The only positive about junk and fast foods is they are convenient.

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    • 3mo

      Many people in inner cities and rural parts of America are trapped in food deserts. Living in food deserts also applies to college students who are living away from Mom and Dad and have to pay for their own living expenses for the first time in an urban college town, where the cafeteria food is overpriced and the local stores are restaurants.

      I have never heard of Safeway; I think that is a regional store. Walmart is an international supermarket chain. However, I wouldn't depend on Walmart for good deals. The corn at Walmart is actually pricier than the locally grown corn found in Meijer. When food is made local, it tends to be cheaper, because the vendor can cut transportation costs.

      In the myTake, I emphasized the importance on high-calorie, high-carbohydrate staple food and fats. Staple food is called staple food, because it comprises the most amount of calories in the diet.

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    • 3mo

      The Walmart store was used as a reference. There are several stores that will honor other store coupons. Something to think about.

      As for the light bill, It is included in the rent as long as I do not abuse it.

      I remember going to college in the city and looking for any way to make my money go farther. It was a good learning experience. Glad it is over! Hope you stay focused on eating healthy. Your body will repay you especially later on! :0)

    • 3mo

      Ok, then, Cool!

      I forgot to mention that Fresh Thyme, unlike the other stores, has an unconventional layout. Now, you may think, "How does it make money then?" It has its own way. First, the store motto is "Healthy Food, Healthy Values", so as you walk in, you see fruits and vegetables right across the room. Tall aisles are on the side. It makes money, because it sells a lot of organics, which tend to be a luxury product. Sometimes, Fresh Thyme will promote one of the regular produce on the ads, and the new price is cheaper than what you find in other places simply because the store sources the produce locally, cutting transportation costs.

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