The Dollarama Diet: Could You Survive On It?

If you ever went to college or university you probably could relate to the term “starving student.”  Although I am working full-time now and have a grocery budget, I buying food can still be expensive. It drives me nuts when grocery stores raise the price of certain items, then drop the price down to its regular price and consider it a “sale”. I keep track of many of the things I buy in a price book so I know when a “sale” is really a sale and when to stock up on certain items.

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dollarama dietI went away to school so that I would be far enough from my parents, but close enough to come home on the weekends. When I came home, I stocked up on food big time.  There were even times when my parents would come up to visit me and take me and my roommates grocery shopping.   Alright fine, so I wasn’t exactly a “starving student”. But at times, especially during exams, it felt like it when I was running low on supplies.   Who has time to grocery shop and cook when you’re in the middle of studying for finals? Of course there is the more expensive option known as the meal plan….which I resorted to using from time to time.

The Dollarama Diet

I have never bothered to check out the food aisle in Dollarama. In all honesty, just the thought of making a meal with food bought from Dollarama grossed me out.  Thanks to my common law partner though, I’ve tried a couple of snacks such as chocolate covered pretzels and gummy candies.  Needless to say, the price matched the quality.  They weren’t too pleasing on my taste buds.

One university student, Jonathan Lemieux, took the term “starving student” to a whole different level by living off of food sold in Dollarama for three years. I love Dollarama. I don’t know anyone who doesn’t. There is so much stuff you can get for a dollar (or more). The closest I’ve ever gotten to buying food from Dollarama was pop and candy.  But food?  Actual food? The same canned goods and non-perishable items you would find at your local grocery store? Except these items would most likely be brands I’ve never heard of, made by companies I’ve never heard of.

Although Lemieux would still go to the grocery store to find discounted meat and produce, about 90% of the food he was living off of was from Dollarama. He used his creative culinary skills and even made a thrifty version of seafood paella using canned mussels and oysters and beef jerky instead of chorizo.

While a Dollarama diet may not be the healthiest due to the high salt content, there is no doubt that it is the cheapest. Lemieux managed to survive for three years on a monthly food budget of $75!

What’s even more amazing is that by the time he completed his second degree, he accumulated over 90 self-tested recipes to create a cookbook entitled: Survivre avec une poignée de change (Surviving on a handful of change). This cookbook is currently sold only in French. I hope they come out with an English version soon or I’ll have to brush up on my high school French to figure out just what exactly can you make with Dollarama food. Then maybe, I too, could try out the Dollarama diet.

For a week or two. That’s it.

Do you think you could live off of food mostly from Dollarama?

Related: Saving Money on Food

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32 thoughts on “The Dollarama Diet: Could You Survive On It?

  1. I think you’d eat very unhealthy and your overall cost to what you do to your body could come back and give you increased costs in the long run. Like you I could maybe try it for a few days, but for three years, no way. I probably wouldn’t live through it!

    • Three years is definitely way too long to be on a diet like that. At my university, they had a student run food bank where students could get food if they needed it, no questions asked. I wonder if it was available at his school and if he looked into that option at all.

  2. That’s interesting that he was able to convert his experiences into a book! ..but I’m still not sure it would be worth it. That is an awful lot of processed junk to consume, but I imagine the longer you stuck to the diet the more creative and resourceful you would become and the better you would be at putting decent meals together. For now, I’ll just be very grateful that I have more than $75 as my grocery budget and I can afford to buy and make meals out of whole, fresh foods.

    • I ate a lot of processed food in university (hello, frozen dinners), but not to the extent he did. The odd time $75 will be what I spend for a week’s worth of food. Mind you, that’s for two people so I guess that’s pretty good. 🙂

  3. I agree wholeheartedly with Money Beagle. Food is not a good place to economize to the extent that you’re eating unhealthy “food-like substances” (Michael Pollan’s term). You will pay a price in the long run, both in terms of money but also quality and quantity of life. Buying good quality ingredients, cooking at home from scratch, and eating out rarely is the way to both control what you spend on food and eat healthfully.

    • One of the farmer’s markets near us uses the motto “You can pay the farmer now, or you can pay doctor later”. I think that is an awesome slogan for them. Food is one of the bigger expenses we have so it naturally becomes an area where we want to save. The long term health costs though can easily destroy whatever savings you gained.

    • It’s funny how the student said he didn’t experience any serious health problems and never went to the hospital. I’m sure if he went to the doctor and has some tests done it would show results of high salt intake and high cholesterol though.

  4. Interesting proposal. I agree with the above commentators: eating unhealthy processed food will cost you in the long run no matter where you buy them. Although I wouldn’t shop at a dollar store for all my food needs, a dollar store can be used to compliment a diet of fresh food-especially if you’re going to buy the food anyways.

    • I wouldn’t shop at the dollar store for all my food needs either. 🙂 I think the only thing I would consider buying would be canned goods, at least they have a long shelf life.

  5. I’ve never heard of Dollarama but I have looked at the food prices at the local dollar store and they aren’t all that great. The store brands tend to be more expensive than grocery store brands and the name brands are cheaper because the sizes are smaller. At a unit price level, name brands are actually more expensive at my local dollar store than at my local supermarket!

  6. Food is something I spend more on but for my husband, him being a picky eater and growing up with a lot more processed foods means that sometimes those $4 frozen family sized lasagnas are the only thing he’ll eat!

    I don’t like to make statements about people’s food choices as I’ve never been in a situation where I’ve been dependent on food stamps and free goods from a food pantry so if affordable food options ensure a person at least has enough to eat and more money for saving, more power to them!

  7. Ugh this reminds me of the huge obesity problem we have here. It’s not that people are STARVING per say, but starving for nutritious food. So some folks on a very limited budget are shopping at places like this and they are actually obese. Obviously my answer is no, because in the long run the health problems it will cause will cost WAY MORE than purchasing healthy food. What to do for people who have to make that dollar stretch? I have no idea, but I know it’s a big problem.

    • I agree with the starving for nutritious food part. I don’t know how the prices are in the US, but I feel a lot of the produce here is quite affordable and it’s actually the processed foods that are more expensive. Perhaps people also eat unhealthy quite often because it’s convenient. Another reason could be was that they ate that stuff all the time growing up and that’s what they’re used to.

    • It’s funny how the story never mentioned whether or not he had a part time job or tried to get a part time job to help pay for the food. I probably would have asked my parents’ first for money before resorting to dollar store food.

  8. I ate a ton of processed and canned food in college. Mine was usually from the grocery store or Walmart though, so it was usually alot more than a dollar. I didn’t really mind it, but I can’t say it was healthy for me, as I gained a bunch of weight in college (although that might have to do more with beer :p)

    • I ate a ton of frozen dinners in school. They were so quick and easy- perfect after a long day of studying. At the time, I was more concerned with convenience than the actual health factor.

  9. I’ve eaten pretty well for a long time on $100/month, and I hardly ever eat processed foods. I do eat a lot of cheap starches (rice) and cheap protein (chicken/turkey/eggs), so that helps. But I still eat steak occasionally and I make sure to get lots of fresh seafood, yogurt and olives – yum!. It just depends on what markets are available, what you are able to cook, and what you are willing to eat. I am happy to eat seasonally and I enjoy cooking, so that brings my cost down quite a bit.

    Generally, I shop local ethnic markets for produce, No Frills/T&T for meats and staples, and Whole Foods for cheeses and olives.

  10. I think that this article missed a lot of crucial points…

    – He didn’t live exclusively on a Dollarama diet for three years, but rather, a mostly Dollarama diet (supplemented with farmer’s market vegetables and meat when he could afford it)
    – He admits that ALL of the food can be purchased at regular grocery stores (same brands etc.)
    – Dollarama sells name brand foods, often in smaller portions that regular grocery stores — you admitted that you haven’t been down the grocery aisle and so I’m a bit put off by the fact that you bashed the foods that are sold down said aisles
    – This book is a collection of the recipes he used over the years; it’s not meant to be a guidebook on how to eat (just as a cake cookbook is not meant to be a listing of the ONLY desserts offered).

    As per the comments on this post, I feel that it’s a bit extreme to blame a recipe book that offers paella, soups, cookies, crepes etc. as a cause for modern obesity — especially when, as I wrote above, ALL of the ingredients can be found at grocery stores.

    • I may have missed a few points, but I did mention that it wasn’t an exclusively Dollarama diet here: “Although Lemieux would still go to the grocery store to find discounted meat and produce, about 90% of the food he was living off of was from Dollarama.”

      I’m just giving my two cents here (along with everyone else) I’m also giving him kudos for being able to survive on the mostly Dollarama food diet and the fact that he was able to create a cookbook out of it.

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