TikTok Is Beating Inflation With Dollar Tree Dinners, But Is It Worth The Hype?
I took this budget-friendly trend for a test drive with my family.
Feeding a family is expensive, especially when inflation sends grocery prices sky-high. But as usual, social media influencers are showing up to help — TikTok is buzzing about delicious meals made from Dollar Tree ingredients.
Like many moms, I love Dollar Tree for their balloons, toys, and crafts. When I go with my kids, they pick one item, and I know what I'm signing up for: exactly $1.25 (or less) for each product in the store. I've never looked at the grocery section, but when I heard about the Dollar Tree dinner trend, I decided to dig in. Is this craze worth its weight in $1.25 salt?
One of the biggest influencers in this space is Rebecca Chobat, who created her @DollarTreeDinners TikTok account to share tasty recipes made from the store's products.
It all started one day when Chobat saw YouTubers stretching $15 grocery budgets by shopping at Dollar Tree. She visited the store and was surprised by the food selection. That day she launched her TikTok channel.
"I started it for fun, and over time I talked to the people who utilize it as a resource and got a better understanding of their reasoning and challenges," says Chobat. "Through those conversations, I've adapted my content to better meet their needs."
Customers choose Dollar Tree for a variety of reasons. It's the only store in a remote area; it's less overwhelming with fewer choices; it's easier to stay on budget with a $1.25 fixed-price structure.
With these motivations in mind, Chobat created videos with suggestions and recipes showing shoppers how to create entire meals using only Dollar Tree ingredients. Her most popular videos are the $20 Christmas dinner, $5 dinners, KFC bowls, $15 week-long breakfast and lunch prep, and $10 chicken parmesan.
Cooking your first Dollar Tree meal may seem daunting. Certainly, it's a leap of faith if you've never purchased groceries there. I know since I was one of those people who'd never purchased groceries at Dollar Tree before I started this assignment. But I figured, "What the heck — I'll check it out for myself and all of you Scary Mommy readers."
I decided to make the chicken parmesan recipe and headed to my local Dollar Tree. I bypassed my favorite craft and toy aisles and entered the mysterious grocery section.
I'll be totally honest; I was pleasantly surprised.
There were tons of products from popular brands: Tyson chicken nuggets, Pillsbury baking kits, Jimmy Dean breakfast sandwiches, Hot Pockets, Bumble Bee tuna cans, Campbell's soups, and so much more.
For my chicken parmesan, I picked up penne pasta and chicken nuggets. I also grabbed crushed tomatoes to make my own sauce, although I could have used the Hunts pre-made sauce sold at the store.
By this point, I already felt like a Dollar Tree meal pro. Then, disaster struck. No mozzarella cheese. I'd heard on TikTok that Dollar Tree sometimes runs out of key ingredients, and I would need to be flexible. I looked at the cheddar and the pepper jack. Nope, not going to cut it. Eventually, I stumbled upon string cheese. Bingo! It's mozzarella in stick form.
To finish off the meal, I bought frozen veggies and Mrs. Field's cookie dough. On my way out, I picked up mini pizza crusts, thinking my kids could use the leftover sauce and cheese to make pizza.
The entire haul cost $12.50.
Sounds great, right? Here's the catch. I compared costs, and Aldi has lower unit prices on chicken nuggets, canned tomatoes, string cheese, and penne pasta. Regardless, Dollar Tree is still a decent option for small families needing fewer portions or those struggling to manage a budget.
Back at my house, I started cooking. For the chicken parmesan dish, I air-fried the chicken nuggets, shredded the string cheese, and made sauce using pantry spices. I combined it all with the pasta and baked it for 30 minutes. While that was cooking, I microwaved the veggies and baked the cookies.
The verdict? My kids said the chicken nuggets were too spicy, but they still thought the pasta was "amazing" and the cookies were "delicious."
The only major failure was the frozen veggies, which were borderline inedible. I tried a few bites of the tough peas and mushy carrots before throwing them away.
The next day, we decorated pizzas with the leftover ingredients. I was nervous about the thin, pre-made crusts, which didn't look too appetizing, but the pizzas were surprisingly good. Due to the thin crusts, we agreed that pizza "crisps" might be a more accurate name for this recipe, and we would absolutely make them again.
Am I ready to go die-hard for Dollar Tree groceries? Not yet. That said, I'm definitely heading back to buy more Mrs. Field's cookie dough.