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Eating Well on a Budget: 15 Money-Saving Tips
You don’t have to shop at an expensive health food store or organic market to enjoy nutritious food. Here are some tips from the experts for shopping and eating healthfully on a budget.
While retail organic food markets have popped up all over the country during the last several years, they’re rarely an option for budget-conscious grocery shoppers. “But there’s a misconception that in order to be healthy, you have to be organic,” says Marisa Moore, RD, a spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association (ADA).
The hardest part of eating well on a budget is planning, says Moore. The keys, she points out, are to shop for produce in season when it’s cheapest, buy less expensive grocery store brands when purchasing items such as cereals and rice, and make extra portions of soups and casseroles when cooking to can or freeze for later meals. “Eating out costs a lot more than eating in,” explains Moore. “Plan ahead so you can make and eat most of your meals at home.”
But part of eating healthy at home means having healthy ingredients on hand. And a big pitfall is not having the items you need to make nutritious meals or the time to make them. Anne Sheasby, author of Kitchen Wisdom: Hundreds of Hints and Tips for Every Cook, offers lots of advice on inexpensive basics to keep in your cupboards. Nutritious and economical standbys, she says, include rice and pasta, canned vegetables (in water or brine), canned fruit (in fruit juice), dried fruit, nuts, and seeds, as well as a variety of dried herbs and spices for flavoring.
Here’s a guide from the experts for budget-conscious, healthy buying on your next grocery store or farmers’ market trip:
• Buy less expensive fruits like apples and bananas or buy fruits in season or locally grown throughout much of the year, like oranges in Florida or strawberries in California.
• Buy fruits in bulk if you are able to freeze or can them.
• Be conscious of the nutritional value of foods and read the ingredient labels. Search for products, for example, that list a whole grain as the first ingredient and look for nutritional punch items that are high in fiber but low in sugar.
• Buy generic or store brands.
• Plan shopping trips around weekly specials. Buy meats, for example, when they’re on sale and freeze for later.
• Purchase canned fish such as tuna and salmon, which still have a lot of valuable nutrition but are less expensive than cuts of fresh fish.
• Rice, pasta, beans, and soups are all low-cost items that generally have a lot of nutritional value and can be combined with more expensive items like vegetables and meat to give the higher cost products bulk.
• If you have leftover bread, use it for bread crumbs or stuffing,
• Avoid buying in bulk unless you have a large family and know you will use the food.
• Don’t let food in your fridge o...
More Green for Less Green
Avoid the “dirty dozen” and buy in season to save big $$$.
Honoring her New Year’s resolution, Brenda Carlton embarked on her maiden voyage down the aisles of an organic food store. Cruising past a showcase of scenic produce, the twentysomething Baltimore social worker touched, smelled, and greatly admired.
But as she reached for a handful of peaches, she got zapped—by organic sticker shock. The fuzzy little beauties, she discovered, were priced at $2 a piece. Nearby, organic pineapples were going for $5, organic eggs for $5 a dozen, and gallon jugs of organic milk for nearly $7. As Carlton scrambled for an exit, she spied a slender jar of almond nut spread. Its stratospheric $22 tag wasn’t a typo.
Carlton was aghast—and still is. “My tiny little salary forces me to pinch pennies,” she says. “I share a studio apartment, brown bag it at work, scrimp and save, and still barely make ends meet. Who can afford a $2 peach?”
But Carlton’s real question goes beyond peaches. “How can I work more nutritious organic produce into my diet without blowing my budget?” she asks. “When is it OK to save money and buy nonorganic?”
The answer, she learned, is to be an informed consumer, savvy shopper, and thrifty cook.
Avoid the “Dirty Dozen”
Some nonorganic fruits and vegetables are virtually indistinguishable from certified organic produce. Others should be avoided even if sold at super saver prices. Knowing the difference can stretch your dollars—and safeguard your health.
That’s the conclusion of Consumer Reports and the Environmental Working Group (EWG). The EWG, a Washington, D.C.-based watchdog organization, used data from 50,000 tests conducted by the USDA to rank 44 popular fruits and vegetables by their pesticide residue levels.
The result was a surprisingly mixed picture. The EWG determined that some nonorganic fruits and vegetables are “consistently clean,” while others practically set off sirens. If you’re on a tight budget and can’t afford an across-the-board 25% to 75% organic upcharge on your grocery bill, the EWG suggests finding green substitutes for the “Dirty Dozen.” Sure, warehouse prices may woo the bargain hunter in you, but the health risks associated with these toxic 12 make them not worth the gamble, says Cindy Burke, author of To Buy or Not to Buy Organic: What You Need to Know to Choose the Healthiest, Safest, Most Earth-Friendly Foods.
Regrettably, the EWG’s dirty dozen list reads like a who’s who of America’s favorite produce. Sweet, succulent peaches turned in the worst performance, maxing out the EWG’s pesticide index with a jaw-dropping score of 100. Apples did almost as badly, rating a dismal 96. Rounding out the list were sweet bell peppers, strawberries, cherries, and lettuce. Consumer groups have long warned about the...
Stretch Your Food Budget
Cost-saving tips from Healthy Kitchens, Healthy Lives
Physicians and other health professionals enjoyed delicious recipes and worked side by side with world-class chef educators at this year’s Healthy Kitchens, Healthy Lives, a leadership conference bridging nutrition science, healthcare, and the culinary arts and presented by the Culinary Institute of America (CIA) and Harvard Medical School at the CIA’s Greystone campus in St. Helena, California. Among the participants were Amy Myrdal Miller, MS, RD, author and a director at the CIA; and Suvir Saran, cookbook author, chef, and restaurateur, who offered these cost-saving ideas:
• When you’re planning menus, check the newspaper ads for foods that are on sale .
• Use coupons but only for items you really need.
• Use more whole foods as opposed to processed foods.
• Use leftovers in soups and for lunch.
• Stock up on staples that are on sale, including frozen foods.
• Compare store brands to national brands. They’re often less expensive.
• Shop for fresh produce in season. It’s usually the least expensive and the most tasty.
• Visit a local farmers’ market to get the best prices and freshest produce.
• Plant an herb garden. It doesn’t take much space and you can snip what you need.
• If you have room, consider planting a vegetable garden.
• Write menus for the week along with a corresponding grocery...