Dish It Up

Save money while eating better this year.

Where not to compromise
Pantry basics (flour, grains, oils, vinegars, etc.) are definitely not negotiable. Gratto maintains that even loading up on simple ingredients like high-quality butter can add flavor to otherwise humdrum foods: "The flavor is really that much better, and I knew I'd use less of it than I would a generic, mass-produced butter, since a little goes a long way." All of the bloggers insist that it doesn't pay to scrimp on veggies and greens, fresh or frozen.

Savor the gourmet experience
Trying to spread the dollars thinly can be hard in a city that seems to exist solely for foodies, but that doesn't mean you need to stop dining out altogether. Kramer and Gratto suggest trying ethnic restaurants that have flavorful food and generous portions. "A place like [Pakistani restaurant] Shalimar may not be considered gourmet or high-end, but you can get a great deal," Gratto says. "It's divey, fun, the food is tasty, and two people can get out of there under $15."

Gratto, an ardent foodie who has experienced budget crunches in the past, says it's important to find creative ways to enjoy the Bay Area culinary experience, such as going to fancy restaurants at lunchtime. Even having drinks and appetizers before heading to a restaurant can help curb spending.

Sharing is caring
For Kramer, whose family used food stamps occasionally during her teenage years, "food is a communal experience. There are lots of reasons why we like to go out to eat, but when it comes down to it, it's because it's a way of sharing with our community."

Nowak of the San Francisco Food Bank also encourages people who'd like to volunteer or donate not to limit their contributions to the holiday season. Donating to the organization is also cost-effective. For every $1 donated, the bank can distribute $9 worth of food, so even small gifts make a huge difference. For more information, visit www.sffoodbank.org.

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