14 Dollar Store Foods You Should Seriously Avoid

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Dollar stores like the Dollar Tree and the 99 Cents Only Store can be great places to snag a bargain, even though Dollar Tree raised its prices to $1.25 for most items. Other discount stores like Family Dollar and Dollar General, where prices are not limited to $1.25 or $0.99, still offer lots of quality products at a heavily discounted price. You can score fantastic deals on staples such as pasta sauce, oatmeal, frozen blueberries, and more.

Because of these deals, shoppers everywhere are flocking to dollar stores, and retailers are responding to this demand by opening new locations. According to a 2021 story reported by Fox Business, Dollar General, Dollar Tree, and Family Dollar opened more branches that year than many other big box stores.

Dollar stores offer a wide range of grocery products, and savvy shoppers can stretch their grocery dollars at these stores. But just because something is cheap does not make it a good deal. Many products at dollar stores come in smaller packages than their grocery store counterparts, are inferior in quality, or both. So while there are plenty of foods you should make a point to buy at the dollar store, there are others that you should seriously avoid.

1. Premade baked goods

Baked goods are delicious, but you should get them from the bakery or make them yourself. Baked goods from the dollar store tend to be high in fat and calories but low in flavor and nutritional value. These baked goods are made with cheap ingredients to keep the price low and lots of preservatives to extend their shelf life, and these two goals are directly at odds with good flavor and high nutrition.

Take the 7Days Croissant with Vanilla Flavor, which is sold individually. How tasty can it be when its shelf life is indefinite? For just another dollar or two, you can enjoy a fresh-baked croissant from a French bakery or even just the bakery counter at your local grocery store. If you are going to eat a croissant, you might as well eat the real thing.

The same thing goes for the other premade baked goods, such as muffins and off-brand Pop-Tarts available at dollar stores. These products are highly processed, which can be dangerous for your health. According to Medical News Today, highly processed foods are typically low in dietary fiber and vitamins but high in saturated fats, added sugar, and salt. Research has linked the consumption of large amounts of the last three ingredients to cardiovascular disease, coronary heart disease, and cerebrovascular disorders such as stroke and aneurysm. Avoid highly processed foods wherever you shop.

2. Honey

Honey can be expensive. Stroll through your farmer's market and check out the price tag for a jar of locally-sourced honey: Even the smallest jar will likely start at around $10. So when you see a bottle of honey at the dollar store, it seems like a steal. But don't bother tossing buying it because chances are that the golden liquid is not really honey.

Take a look at the label, and you will probably find that the "honey" is actually a mixture of corn syrup or high fructose corn syrup with a small amount of honey. That's a dangerous swap because high-fructose corn syrup is bad for your health (as per the Cleveland Clinic). Many of its detrimental health effects stem from the way the liver processes fructose. Research has linked the consumption of high fructose corn syrup to obesity, high blood sugar, insulin resistance, and type 2 diabetes.

In contrast, pure honey, while still a form of liquid sugar, offers many health benefits. According to Healthline, honey is rich in antioxidants. Additionally, it may regulate blood sugar levels and benefit your heart by reducing blood pressure and blood fat levels. 

It works as an all-natural cough syrup, and you can even use it to treat wounds! And even though a jar of honey can be a little pricey, you will probably use just a few teaspoons at a time, so it should last for several weeks or longer. It's a splurge, but it's worth it.

3. Ramen noodles

Ramen noodles are quick to make and comforting to eat. They're a staple of the college student diet. They're supposed to be inexpensive, but just because you buy them at the dollar store does not mean that you are getting the best deal. Ramen is often sold in single servings at dollar stores. At a dollar or $1.25 each, these "cups o' soup" are not a bargain compared to the soups you can get at a big box store.

In addition to the so-so price, many dollar-store varieties of ramen noodles are loaded with fat and sodium. For example, one serving of Tapatio brand noodles has 12 grams of fat and 880 mg of sodium. The Maruchan Ramen Bowl Chicken Flavor provides 19 grams of fat and 1640 mg of sodium, which is more than 70 percent of your daily sodium quota. 

According to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), diets that are high in sodium are associated with an increased risk of high blood pressure, which can cause stroke and heart disease. If you crave ramen noodles, try making your own. It's almost as fast and provides much more flavor and much healthier ingredients. 

This Chicken Ramen Soup has just six ingredients and takes roughly ten minutes to make. You can add fresh vegetables to the soup to enhance its nutritional profile or swap out the shredded chicken for tofu for a vegetarian version.

4. Dips

Dollar stores offer a slew of pre-made dips, ranging from guacamole to onion dip and even cheese dip. These dips are convenient and cheap, but they're also light on real ingredients and heavy on fat and preservatives.

For example, check out the ingredient list for Home Style Select guacamole-style dip, available at the Dollar Tree. Avocado, which should be the main ingredient in guacamole, is the 13th ingredient, well after water, vegetable oil, a bunch of dried vegetables, chemical names for preservatives, and natural and artificial flavors. You can make real guacamole at home with just seven ingredients, none of which are dried or artificial. Try this Classic Fresh Guacamole for a healthier and tastier dip.

Similarly, you should steer clear of dollar-store cheese dips. Frankly, we're a little skeptical of any dairy products that have a long shelf life. A lot of these dips, such as Home Style Select Nacho Cheese Dip, contain little-to-no actual cheese and are really just cheese-flavored products. This dip contains less than 2% cheddar cheese; the main ingredients are water, whey, and vegetable oil. For a real cheese dip packed with flavor, serve Jalapeno Popper Dip at your next party.

If you are truly crunched for time, nothing is faster or easier than onion soup dip, and you can pick up the ingredients at the dollar store. Just mix one packet of onion soup mix with one 16-ounce container of sour cream. Delicious!

5. Grated parmesan cheese

So-called grated Parmesan cheese is one product you should never buy at the dollar store. It's not really cheese, and it's certainly not Parmesan. According to Forbes, real Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese can only contain three ingredients: Milk, salt, and rennet (an enzyme used in cheese production). But grated parmesan cheese can contain food starch, natural flavors, and palm oil: Not exactly an appetizing list of ingredients.

The kind of grated Parmesan "cheese" sold in shaker bottles often contains food additives meant to extend its shelf life. One common additive is cellulose, which can prevent the cheese product from caking. The cellulose used for this purpose is derived from wood or food waste products like almond skins, peanut skins, and oat hulls (as per Healthline). 

Because of these additives, grated Parmesan may contain wheat, making it unsuitable for people with celiac disease or gluten intolerance. It's worth the extra money to buy genuine Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese.

6. Dairy products

Parmesan cheese isn't the only dairy product you should avoid at the dollar store. In fact, you should avoid pretty much every dairy product available there. These products are often not appetizing or are sold in such small quantities that they are simply not a bargain.

You can find cheese sold in slices or bars in the refrigerated section. The bars of cheese may be genuine cheese, but they are smaller than the bars sold in the grocery store. The price per pound is not a particularly great deal. You can get more cheese for your buck by buying cheese on sale or using a coupon at your usual grocer.

Likewise, the ice cream sold at dollar stores may be good, but it doesn't compare to the brands you can find at a regular grocery store. Dollar store ice cream just doesn't meet the standard. For just about the same price, you can drive through McDonald's and get a cone of soft serve.

7. Individual servings of applesauce

Those little cups of applesauce are perfect for school lunches but don't buy them at the dollar store. Most of the applesauce that you'll find at the dollar store contains high fructose corn syrup, which has so many adverse health effects. Not only is it unhealthy, but it is also not even a good deal. Just keep an eye out for sales, and you can get a much better deal at your regular grocer.

Applesauce is surprisingly easy to make, and doing so allows you to control what goes into it. You can lightly sweeten it or add no sugar at all. After all, apples are naturally sweet. Homemade applesauce is the perfect thing to make after a day of apple picking in the fall, but you can make it year-round with apples from the grocery store. All you need are apples, water, lemon juice, and cinnamon.

You can make applesauce over the stove, but it is a lot easier to make with a slow cooker or an instant pot. With this recipe for slow cooker cinnamon applesauce, you simply toss the ingredients in the slow cooker for three to six hours, then blend to your desired consistency. If you are short on time, try this instant pot applesauce instead. Once cool, split the applesauce up into small, reusable containers and send them to school with your kids: This method is cheaper, healthier, and better for the environment!

8. Cake and brownie mixes

Boxed mixes are an easy way to make brownies, cakes, and cupcakes at home. Just add eggs, water, oil, or butter and pop it in the oven. The results will fool almost anyone into thinking you baked it from scratch. We've got nothing against boxed baking mixes, but the dollar store isn't the best place to get them.

Dollar stores often carry brand-name boxed mixes like Betty Crocker, Pillsbury, and Duncan Hines. But if you look closely, you'll see that these boxes may be smaller than the boxes you find at the standard grocery store. So while you only pay one dollar or a dollar and change, you actually pay more per pound because of the smaller size. 

You might be unpleasantly surprised when you pour the batter into the pan and find you only have enough for one layer of cake or half a pan of brownies. Financially, you are better off buying the bigger box at your usual grocery store: Bonus points if it's on sale!

Baking dessert from scratch is not much more work than using a mix. The longest part, either way, is the baking time in the oven. For basic brownies, try this classic brownies recipe. If you are in the mood for cake, start with this sheet pan vanilla cake recipe. You can adapt it to make cupcakes by pouring the batter into cupcake tins and shortening the baking time to 15 minutes.

9. Premade frosting

Whether you bake a cake from scratch or use a boxed mix, don't bother purchasing premade frosting (or the cake mix) from the dollar store. Dollar store frosting may be cheap, but it is also made from cheap ingredients. The result is low-quality frosting that drips when it should stick and tastes about as bad as it looks. Not only that, but the containers are half the size of a standard container, so it's not even a good deal.

Classic buttercream frosting is made from butter, which means it is solid at room temperature. Real buttercream will melt in the hot sun, but it should hold its shape as long as you don't leave your cake or cupcakes on a picnic table. Cheap frosting, on the other hand, is made from palm oil, which has a lower melting point than butter. It has a greasier texture and melts easily, resulting in drippy cakes.

Not only is dollar store frosting made from palm oil, but the other ingredients are even less enticing. Corn syrup, polysorbate 60, potassium sorbate, and artificial flavors are just a few of the other components. Between the food coloring and preservatives, there's not a lot of room left for real flavor. 

Traditional American Buttercream Frosting contains just four ingredients: Butter, vanilla extract, powdered sugar, and milk. You can whip up a batch in ten minutes, and your guests will be amazed at the rich flavor and creamy (not melty) consistency.

10. Frozen vegetables

With grocery prices rising everywhere, everyone is trying to make their grocery budget stretch as far as possible. Frozen vegetables often go for $1.50 a pound on sale, so a dollar for a bag of veggies seems like a great deal. Unfortunately, it's not.

To start, many bags of frozen vegetables at the dollar store are not one-pound bags. They are often 10 or 12 ounces, making the unit price closer to the unit price at the grocery store. Still, if the price is the same or almost the same, then what's the problem?

The problem is that dollar store frozen vegetables are usually inferior in quality when compared to what you can get at the regular store. These bags often sit in the freezer case for a long time, making them prone to freezer burn and being filled with ice when you bring them home. As a result, dollar-store veggies turn out soggy when you warm them up.

Even without the freezer burn and excess ice, the quality of the actual vegetables is subpar. Bags of broccoli tend to be heavy on the stems and light on the florets, and mixes like Asian stir-fries or onions and peppers are mostly onions, which are cheaper than other vegetables. Stick with brand name, or even store brand, frozen vegetables for superior quality at a similar price.

11. Condiments

If you are getting ready to grill, you should definitely stock up on condiments. What's a barbecue without ketchup and mustard? But the dollar store is not necessarily the best place to buy these.

Like many other items sold at the dollar store, the containers of ketchup and mustard may be smaller than the standard size. Paying a dollar for a small bottle may mean paying a higher price per ounce, which is not a bargain.

But the bigger drawback is that many cheap varieties of ketchup contain high fructose corn syrup, corn syrup, or both. Since the consumption of high fructose corn syrup has been linked to weight gain, diabetes, and fatty liver disease, you should avoid it whenever possible (as per Healthline). 

Take the time to pick up ketchup that is free of high fructose corn when you are at the grocery store picking up your hot dogs and burgers. Many brands now come labeled "HFCS-Free," and they are well worth the extra dollar or two.

Although you should avoid buying ketchup and mustard at the dollar store, go ahead and pick up some pickle relish. The ingredients in dollar store relish are the same as the ingredients in relish from the grocery store, and the price per ounce is the same or better.

12. Coffee

If you are like most Americans, you start the day with a cup of coffee. Whether you drink it in a travel mug on the way to work or at home while you read the paper, your morning coffee is a critical part of your daily routine. As such, it is worth spending the money on high-quality coffee, and you won't find it at the dollar store.

Dollar store coffee tends to be low-quality, which is why it is available at such a low price. But you don't need to buy coffee at the dollar store to save money. One pound of coffee makes 16 to 32 cups of coffee, depending on how strong you like it. Even at $8 or $10 a bag, you should be able to make coffee at home for between fifty cents and a dollar a cup. That's cheaper than going out for coffee, and you don't have to sacrifice on the flavor.

The exception here is instant coffee. While we wouldn't recommend drinking it (but go right ahead!), instant coffee granules are great for baking. Pick some up at the dollar store and keep it in the pantry, where it will last forever without having any impact on the flavor. Add a few teaspoons of instant coffee granules to chocolate cake or brownies. For a rich flavor or try making this Mocha Buttercream Frosting.