Want good advice? Ask your grandmother. Alanya Williams did, and now he’s TikTok-famous for creating budget meals from ingredients bought at Dollar Tree. Williams, who according to “Good Morning America” works as a cook at a California assisted living facility, shares his cheap-meal magic in TikTok videos under the screen name @thundermane328, getting tens of thousands of views every time.
Williams has been working in kitchens for decades, according to “GMA.” His budget-conscious approach began as a teenager, after being surprised that the frozen meals and snacks that cost him $200 at the grocery store were gone in a few days. He went to his grandmother, who suggested that he instead buy inexpensive staples like rice, potatoes, ground beef, and mixed vegetables to craft his own dishes.
Williams’ TikTok videos take viewers to Dollar Tree, with the frozen foods case as a favorite stop. In one TikTok, he selects a package of frozen chicken patties and some frozen mixed vegetables before going elsewhere in the store for cheese biscuits, instant mashed potatoes, and sweet tea. The bill is $6.25, his target price. Back home, Williams preps and bakes the biscuit mix, heats up the potatoes, and cooks the chicken patties and frozen vegetables in separate skillets. He uses items already in his pantry to enhance the meal, turning milk, flour, and spices into gravy. “Gave y’all a country one this time,” Williams smiles as he reveals the budget meal: two plates, each loaded with gravy-smothered chicken and mashed potatoes, plus vegetables and two biscuits.
Williams’ low-cost approach to preparing meals has unsurprisingly captured a lot of attention as inflation continues to grip the U.S. economy, taking food prices upward. In an interview with Business Insider, Williams shared some tips for shopping at Dollar Tree, where his TikToks show him punctuating his excitement at finding those just-right ingredient with signature phrases like, “This will work” and “Oh, yeah.”
Williams doesn’t necessarily go to Dollar Tree with any specific meal idea in his head. But, he told Business Insider, the frozen foods case routinely contains items like cooked shrimp, pork loin riblets, and spring rolls, all of which can become the centerpiece of a nutritious meal. In other parts of the store, Williams scans shelves for staples like rice and canned vegetables, easily enhanced with a dash of this or a pinch of that from ingredients he already has at home. His add-ins aren’t particularly expensive or hard to find, instead favoring onions, garlic powder, and other items that TikTok viewers are likely to have on hand. They appear to appreciate the concept, like one user who left him the comment: “Dude this is so awesome. So many people are struggling and you’re giving them options. Blessings.”