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entertaining at home's gotten so expensive!

Is anyone else finding entertaining to be a bit hard on the pocket book? In this global economic climate, and due to personal circumstances, I've been feeling it quite a bit lately. I enjoy cooking for friends, but even the ingredients for baking a cake for a birthday seem ridiculously pricey.

I've tried to be pragmatic, have fewer people over at a time, serve simple food, feed them lots of pasta and soup, and while everyone's polite and seem to enjoy the food (whatever's wrong with my savings plan, nothing's wrong with my cooking!), I do sometimes see them looking at the table and thinking, "Where's the meat?".

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  1. I wouldn't think that (even though I am not a vegetarian). An example: the other night we were invited to some good friends' house for dinner. It was a last minute get-together, and the hostess told us it would be simple, just a chance to catch up, enjoy their hot tub, etc. The main dish at dinner was corn chowder. It was spiked with bacon, but just a few pieces, and she added the bacon after cooking to accomodate one other guest who is a vegetarian.

    Several finger food type of side dishes and some bread were served with the dinner. Dessert was fresh fruit, and a lemon merangue pie that another guest brought by special request (made with lemons from his tree; it is his specialty and pretty darn special).

    It never occured to me to miss a more formal, meat centered meal, and there was more than enough food. On the way home I thought to myself that I could entertain more often if I followed my hostess' lead and kept it simple.

    Are you sure you aren't projecting because you feel bad about not being able to always afford steak?

    3 Replies
    1. re: susancinsf

      We are meat eaters, but probably eat meat at home three or four nights out of seven, and even then, it's rarely steak, and not what most would consider 'meat' - a little bit of chopped bacon in a soup or stew, one crumbled sausage in a fried rice dish. Because we're trying to be good savers, and I think it's healthier. But I think the problem is, I live in a culture where meat is an extension of status, and is usually the centre of the meal. Men seem to mind more when it's not there.

      You might be right about the projecting. I think if I could afford steak freely and easily, I would buy it for my guests (or lamb shanks. Or big chickens for roasting. Or a whole fish for grilling).

      Personally, I love the super-simple menus like your friend offered. I just struggle to get away from the stereotypical mentality of: must-have-carb-meat-and-two-veg.

      1. re: Gooseberry

        I think you are right that it is at least in large part a cultural issue. Where I live, and among most of my friends (men included), the carb, meat and two vegie thing is not expected. Indeed, in a lot of cultures and sub-cultures it isn't even wanted. But, some food and eating cultures still are meat centered.

        So, perhaps it would help to think about it as a needed cultural change (given the current economy and your health issues, not to mention the carbon footprint of beef in particular). Time to change that culture!

        In that regard, keep in mind all of the posts I always see on CH about people who complain that they entertain, but aren't invited to others homes. I'd bet a lot of those folks you invite are thrilled to be getting the invitations and really don't care that you aren't serving steak or ribs.

        All that said, I do feel your pain, really. Hubby and I decided to give up beef for a while and to cut back on meat consumption in general, for health, economic and environmental reasons. However, it isn't an absolute ban, and last night I just was really craving a steak dinner. In better economic times I might have headed out to one of the many great local steakhouses, but instead we grilled at home and enjoyed two perfectly medium rare NYs with baked potato, grilled vegies, and a bottle of Cabernet. This is NOT a meal I would serve to guests, not the least because those two steaks cost about $25 (high quality beef) , but now and then when the craving hits, I give in.....

        1. re: susancinsf

          And of course, you are money ahead compared to going to a restaurant for a steak dinner. And I bet the wine was better!

    2. We invite people to dinner for their company and share good food and the moment. You've generously opened your home, heart and wallet to host in the first place - you have no reason to be hard on yourself. Your not their mother - let them help, bring a salad, a side dish, dessert, a bottle of wine and you spend what you can afford on the meat course. They'll be happily contribulting to the event, be more social and appreciative, everybody wins!!!

      Yes it is expensive, but so is going out to a great restaurant. Try to put things in context and feel blessed that you have the talent and confidence to make even the simplest of fare enjoyable.

      1. I went to my bff's on Saturday. We are are both on a budget; she served a tri-tip (bought at Costco) corn on the cob, string beans, and for apps, yummy whole wheat (store bought) bread. We had a nice cheese, strawberries, and crackers for an app. Decent (not over the top but yet a drinkable) chard and again, not over the top but a lovely cab with dinner. My husband made a wonderful blueberry tart for dessert. What made this dinner cost-effective was that there were pleaty of leftovers; enough for two lunches. This made it quite cost-effective for both couples.

        1. Ehh, it's summer--you can serve salads, fresh vegetables, and pasta, etc. If you need to serve meat, serve cheaper cuts, like sausage and chicken thighs.

          1. Our recent BBQ for 11 folks cost $280. Not so much cost-wise, but I'm too tired to do that again....

            1. We entertain frequently and it is VERY expensive. Dh likes to go all out with both food and drink and honestly with our group of friends they would definitely be looking for the meat (as would Dh). But for many groups it would not be an issue at all. But we have to have meat, good apps and plenty of good booze.

              1. We have not run into this issue. We still hold almost weekly cookouts at our house for neighbors, friends, or family. We didnt have one last weekend because the our deck was out of service while we applied a coat of stain to get it ready for the summer.

                Having a smoker we can use cheaper cuts of meat(pork butt, beef brisket, spare ribs, whole chickens, chicken wings, etc.), and still feed alot of people. A few cases of beer do not cost that much, and a couple of bottles of tequila are not that expensive either. Guests sometimes bring some beer, or tequila so that offsets some of the cost. I would never just serve soup, or no meat, but that is just me, and not a slight to anyone who may. I would just be run out of town if there was no meat at one of my cookouts.

                As I have stated 100's of times in previous posts, a meal without meat just isn't a meal to me. Be it cold cuts for lunch in a sandwich to leftover Greek chicken for dinner last night. I need real protein as a part of every meal that only meat can provide. I do not worry about carbon footprints, cultural status, etc. I just like meat/beef, and make no apologies.

                9 Replies
                1. re: swsidejim

                  I'm curious as to what your reaction would be if you were served vegetarian food at somebody else's house. The reason I'm asking is I'd like to know how my carnivore guests would feel if I didn't serve them a huge hunk of meat at a dinner party.

                  1. re: Miss Needle

                    I do not know any vegetarians.

                    However if I knew ahead of time I would either plan to eat before going, or after, to accomodate my lifestyle, and not go hungry. I imagine there would be something I could eat, and not stand out as being difficult, or a rude guest. I do the same when I am going to a home of someone who I know is not a very good cook, or uses alot of processed items(egg beaters, etc.), or low fat items in their cooking.

                  2. re: swsidejim

                    I think people's idea of expensive varies too. Just curious Jim, what is the average you spend for a weekend cookout?

                    My BBQ's sound like yours, plus people always bring a thing or two, and we average $350 for 30-40 people.

                    This year, that has started to hurt the pocket and we've cut down from 4x summer to just 1.

                    1. re: yamalam

                      I dont throw big cookouts(as far as the number of guests), but pretty regular ones. This past weekend we had 11 people over, and one guest brought a case of Corona, another brought a bottle of Cabo Reposado. I had a 30 pack of Miller High Life Lite($13) on hand, and a bottle of Herradura($40) Reposado. I purchased 5 Lbs of skirt steak from my butcher for $45 & some pork chops for $20 Went to the local mexican market, and got my tortillas(flour & corn), (8)avocados, (8) limes, and jalapenos. Total was $23. Went on to the supermarket for lump charcoal, sour cream, cheese, and some other items for $40. Total of $181 for Saturday nights dinner and drinks. Thats pretty typical.

                      We dont entertain much in the winter, we live pretty far from family and friends, & we tend to hibernate for the cold midwest months. But when the summer comes we see our neighbors more, and it is easy to convince other friends, family, and co-workers to drive the 60-70 miles out to our place, and enjoy a day of eating, playing sports, or relaxing on our acre of wooded property, or deck.

                      1. re: yamalam

                        Depending on what we serve......for 8-15 people we'll spend a minimum of $500 and sometimes significantly more.

                        1. re: Janet from Richmond

                          Wow! You must have some pretty good parties!

                          1. re: greedygirl

                            We do....LOL. Dh is a freak about making sure there is a lot of good food and good booze (beer, wine and liquor) and since he pays the tab (thank goodness I have his credit card) it's all on him.

                            Our last big party we had (for mains) shrimp, crab legs and lamb chops. And that was before the appetizers, the sides, the booze and dessert.

                          2. re: Janet from Richmond

                            Holy crap! I hope your friends reciprocate!

                            1. re: yamalam

                              They don't reciprocate for the most part....many of them aren't in a position financially to do so, but do what they can. Dh is very generous by nature (he also like taking guests golfing, etc.), but they are generous in other ways (taking care of dogs when we're out of town,etc.) and I try to not keep score (though it's a challenge). We have been very blessed financially and non-financially and Dh truly embraces passing that along (which I why I love him and why he makes me nuts <g>). I'm still a work in progress, though I do love our parties and our friends.

                      2. We're starting to host more potlucks to try to spread it around more. We're the only ones with a house big enough to hold everyone and no pets (I have allergies) so our choices always seem to be go out or host everyone.

                        1. Well, I live in hippy-dippy northern California, so my take may be different. I try to avoid meat in general, although like Susaninsf when I get a craving, I will go for it. I have so many friends who are vegetarian, pescatarian, vegan, etc. that I almost never serve meat when I'm entertaining, and definitely never if I'm entertaining a large group. I'll sometimes do a whole fish if there is something fresh and in season (and reasonably priced) but if I do, I'll do lots of vegetarian sides and/or appetizers. I'm pretty sure that in general, no one really notices one way or another whether there is meat, because the food is always good and there is always plenty of it.

                          4 Replies
                          1. re: Kathleen M

                            I'm the same way. I do have friends who are meat-eaters, but there's always salad or sides or grains to fill up with, so on the rare occasion that meat is served, I just eat the other stuff.

                            As for hosting, my place is kindof small, so the number of people I can have over is limited, and often, I resort to bringing food to people's places (a lot of my friends also have kids, so it's easier for them to stay put), and since I don't do meat, it's all vegetarian stuff.

                            Most of my friends, I noticed, serve in similar fashion-- apps, salad, main dish+grain or starch, then dessert is usually something simple, like fruit. If the dessert is the main focus (e.g. someone made a pie), then the mains become a lot simpler (grilled sandwiches, etc.).

                            And it's common for my meat-eating friends to serve an all-vegan meal, too.

                            Water is the preferred drink among most of my friends, so beverage cost is usually zero.

                            1. re: anzu

                              I think this issue is pretty silly. Yes, the cost of food is higher now. However, unless you are the only person out of your friends entertaining, everybody shares the cost. You have them over for dinner and they have you over for dinner. Your guests should also offer to bring over something (ex: bread, cheese, a dessert) which should decrease your cost.

                              I personally would feed my guests whatever I would be eating if they weren't there anyways.

                              I think good dinner ideas do not have to be expensive.

                              1. re: BellaDonna

                                That's probably part of the problem - most of my friends don't entertain at home (mainly grad students, so money I suppose is one excuse, but lots have no cooking experience). They're lovely people, and very appreciative when I have them over for dinner, so I don't mind this.

                                Most can safely be assigned wine as a 'what can I bring?' item. Last time, I asked a friend to bring lettuce, any lettuce - just not iceburg. Guess what he brought. He said he didn't know it was iceburg. So while we laughed it off and ate it and survived the tasteless lettuce, wine is about the only thing I'd trust my friends with.

                                1. re: Gooseberry

                                  You could try assigning specific items that come with a label - hummus and pita (which is also a filling appetizer) or even getting very specific with the brand and where they can find it at the grocery store. I think that would be fine with this group and they would probably like to help out, if they can't entertain at home themselves.
                                  Otherwise, I don't think a bunch of meat is necessary either. But you can try planning around whatever cheap protein you find. I had to feed a large family group at the cottage last year and I wanted cheap and easy. I did chicken drumsticks on the grill, finished with cheap BBQ sauce (not fancy, but people like it. Or you can make your own cheaply from ketchup, etc); a big old potato salad with dill pickles and boiled eggs; corn on the cob and I think a green salad. The big meat eaters can have several drumsticks and I think the chewing on the bone thing adds to meat-eating satisfaction. Or if you find cheap ground beef or bulk sausage, chili & cornbread. Etc.

                          2. Of our circle of friends, we have the biggest apartment (and the largest TV, ha!), so we tend to do most of the hosting when we get together. I try to distinguish between parties, where we pay for everything and more casual movie nights. For the movie nights, when I'm inviting people I'll usually say "we're going to order pizza, feel free to bring snacks." For the parties, it's definitely expensive. I try to remind myself that I am grateful for my circle of friends, and treating them to food and drink gives me a lot of pleasure.

                            I do suspect that your friends are happy with whatever you are serving them. Pasta and soup with friends sounds lovely to me!

                            1 Reply
                            1. "Light supper and a movie" works for me. Quiche, chowder, or pasta and a caesar salad are all still pretty affordable. So is old fashioned home made split pea soup with some nice sliced ham with crusty bread and bowls of strawberries for dessert. Chili and garlic bread is another winner. Tacos are good, not that expensive, but guests can get pretty messy with them. A good bulk wine and sodas work fine with a movie. And honestly, I don't think anyone even notices the food. They all love my 120 inch TV! LOL! Toss in plenty of microwave popcorn and call it a party! '-)

                              1. I agree it's gotten more expensive to eat in general, not just when entertaining, but when entertaining it's even more apparant.

                                I feel fortunate that with the group I have over for dinner most often, they are just as happy with a well-prepared pasta dish and salad as they are with the occasional treat of rack of lamb (which I did recently, and which set me back over $100 (and which I won't be doing again any time soon!)).

                                The other thing that works with my group, since we do get together often for home-cooked meals, is to divvy up the menu in advance. One person/couple will bring the fish/meat, another couple will be responsible for appetizers, another for dessert, and another for the wine. The host will be responsible for the staples, salad, veggies and rice/side dishes, and then we will all cook together. In that way, we can enjoy a nice meal without it being too expensive for the host. While this plan wouldn't work for a more formal dinner party, it is a nice option for more casual, regular get-togethers.

                                1. I really enjoy a games night/let's make our own pizzas events. Hosts provide Trader Joe's dough, precut peppers, mushrooms etc. Guests bring their favorite game.

                                  We also did a lobster/poker night. We each paid $8 per lobster picked up in Chinatown, brought sides and beer, and I won back my $8.

                                  Lasagne [a treat because who takes the bother to make it for home meals anymore?], spaghetti carbornara, a homey pot roast, umm, turkey is not just for Thanksgiving?

                                  1. My friend is wonderful at using things from Trader Joes. I think I need to explore this a bit more, but for ex., 4 of us went running, and then none of us planned this, but she ended up feeding all of us with a wonderful tortilla soup--she used the TJ jar as a base, then added tortillas and cheese; and a 3 sister's bean stew, along with a grain and rice medley. It was a lovely surprise meal, topped off with ripe plums from the farmer's market.

                                    Do you have a Trader Joe's near you?

                                    4 Replies
                                    1. re: anzu

                                      Hi Anzu, that impromptu meal sounds lovely.

                                      I'm in South Africa so no, no Trader Joe's near me! I'm lucky to have great access to fresh produce and meat though. Still, good meat costs money wherever you are in the world, as do random things (like mushrooms!).

                                      At home, I tend to entertain just two guests at a time (tiny table, ad it's more affordable), but once in a while we go to my family's holiday home, and all and any friends come along, take over all the camp beds and couches, and spend a weekend. which is absolutely lovely, but I've found it surprising how much something like breakfast can cost when cooking for sixteen! In the summer months, everyone brings their own meat to barbeque, but in the winter, we do more stews, pasta bakes, etc. Nonetheless, feeding sixteen people dinner and breakfast on a budget will cost me maybe $100, which doesn't sound much in dollar terms, but given the cheaper cost of living here, is quite a bit. Luckily, my friends are sensitive to this and will chip in, which covers most of it. But it still amazes me how much stuff is costing at the moment, especially compared to six months ago.

                                      1. re: Gooseberry

                                        Wow. How cool to exchange recipes/ideas w/ someone from half way around the world. :)

                                        Yeah, I'm the same way. My kitchen fits 3 adults (and one child) tops. I really wish I had space to entertain 6-8. I used to throw occasional sushi parties when I could do that. But wow. Cooking for sixteen does sound like a lot!

                                        I did hear that food price increases are much steeper in Asia/Africa, which granted, is a huge area. I have noticed prices going up a bit, so it does add up. However, I don't have the problem of cooking for 16.

                                        It sounds like you are doing the right thing, though, and your friends are aware of the financial pinch. Also, I know this isn't a "keeping score" type thing, but if you're feeding 16 people, hopefully at some point down the line, you'll get reciprocal invites, too.

                                        1. re: anzu

                                          Hi anzu. I used to live in the States, but since I came back home, I really like keeping in touch with what's happening food-wise in a country I have such fond memories of. And since we're always a couple years behind europe and the usa in trends, it's good to keep an eye on where we're going!

                                          Thankfully I don't have to feed sixteen too often. It's usually just the two of us at home.

                                          I keep an eye on prices, so I know that many staples (oil, eggs, milk, bread) have gone up 25-50% over the last six months. Not sure if that's happened in the States too.

                                          1. re: Gooseberry

                                            It's probably not as steep as your area, but some of the price points I have noticed increasing (it's hard to tell with grains, b/c I just buy them in bulk and replenish every few months, so this list isn't "necessities" per se, but prices of stuff I buy most often and therefore notice):
                                            -a 1L container of milk went from like $1.19 to $1.69
                                            -1/2 dozen (non-organic, but the "almost" organic, humane, cage free, no hormone, read to, massaged variety) eggs at the farmer's market went from $1.10 to $1.75.
                                            -I used to be able to find a 3 pk of organic strawberries for $5. Now I noticed that the organic ones are $8 and the nebulous, not-organic ones are $7. That's a 60 percent increase, but then again, organic strawberries aren't theoretically a "necessity". :-P
                                            -I saw a pint of cherry tomatoes for $4. Last year, I could get them for $2, but luckily, I'm growing my own this year.

                                            So I'm probably spending 20-30 percent more at the farmer's market than last year. But I imagine that given how far these farmers have to travel, the fuel required to travel, the fertilizer they may or may not use, etc., I'm sure even w/ these price increases, it's still hurting them significantly more than anything I feel.

                                            And they are still a bargain compared to Whole Paycheck.

                                            Oddly enough the less essential and more processed things have not seem to go up in price. Chocolate still seems to be the same price, junk food still seems to be the same price--even cheeses haven't really gone up in price much.

                                    2. We're having a party for 20 people in a few weeks. Nothing special, hamburgers ($2.29/lb ground meat from costco (3 lbs=$6.87), hot dogs from the deli, $5, and buffalo chicken dip ($7), plus a salad. Nothing fancy, but account for pop, condiments, plates etc., and we should be able to pull it off for no more than $50. Please note NO alcohol at this party, a huge cost saver.

                                      As a few others have said, when people offer to bring something, accept it. After years on chowhound there seem to be distinct camps of people who loathe people that bring things to a party the are hosting and people who really appreciate it. In our family, it's common place to bring something to a party.

                                      1. Gooseberry, on July 4 I was buying a pound of ground beef at WholeFoods, which is the only thing I buy at WholeFoods because I find their prices laughable, and the man ahead of me at the meat counter bought TWENTY steaks. We are talking WholeFoods here: God knows what twenty steaks cost him. Maybe your friends who thought "Where's the meat" should get his phone number. Otherwise, what's wrong with serving guests a delicious ethnic entree like lasagna or moussaka or chili or tamales or minestrone or quiche? Personally I would rather be served any of those than twenty steaks. I love it that this thread raises the point that meat is used in American culture as an expression of status. I would add to that, not by the most interesting people.

                                        1 Reply
                                        1. re: Querencia

                                          Well, clearly not everyone is being affected by the financial crunch! Although maybe he would have bought forty steaks during the 'good times'...

                                        2. Cheapest ground beef here = $4.25/lb, cheapest frozen chicken = $3.50/lb, cheap fresh chicken = $6.00/lb.

                                          16 Replies
                                          1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                                            Sam, how does the price of a dozen eggs, thru "supermarket distribution", compare to those prices?

                                            1. re: FoodFuser

                                              AAA eggs are about $2.00 a dozen; milk is about $4.00 a gallon.

                                              1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                                                Your eggs and milk are in line with what I'm paying, but the beef is 2x and the chicken is 3-4x. Are there "mega distributors" of chicken like Pilgrim and Tyson?

                                                1. re: FoodFuser

                                                  Most of the supermarket chicken comes from a few large grower-distributors.

                                                  1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                                                    Very weird food price phenomenon in Chicago that I do not at all understand: meat is cheaper than produce. This weekend one supermarket chain is advertising London Broil (a thick cut of lean beefsteak) for $1.99 lb and at another chicken breasts are 99 cents lb while $1 each for huge thick lean boneless pork chops is fairly standard. Meanwhile yesterday I paid $4.85 for two eggplants, tomatoes are $4 lb, and Bing cherries (in season now) are $5 lb, roughly twice what they cost last year. Transportation costs are blamed for high prices but those cows, chickens, and pigs did not walk to the market.

                                                    1. re: Querencia

                                                      I'd eat a lot more meat and chicken if I lived in Chicago! Maybe its better that fruit and vegetables are varied and not so expensive here; while meat is a bit of a luxery.

                                                      1. re: Querencia

                                                        Could it have been because it was a holiday weekend and they wanted people to buy meat to grill?

                                                    2. re: FoodFuser

                                                      Meat in the USA is very cheap - hence people eat a lot of it. It kind of freaks me out, if I'm honest, that you can buy chicken for 99 cents/lb. Here in the UK, prices are much higher, especially if you like to eat ethically farmed meat. A largish, free-range chicken is about £12, for example, and I think I pay around £3.99/lb for ground beef.

                                                      1. re: greedygirl

                                                        hmmmm... Don't misunderstand, greedygirl, there is NO free range chicken available for 99 cents a pound anywhere in the U.,S. that I'm aware or. But 12 pounds sterling would equate roughly with 24 dollars US, and free range chickens are usually about half your price here in many stores.

                                                        As for meat, only what I would call the really crappy grades of beef that never ever reached consumer level thirty or more years ago are now available for "cheap." Many super market meat departments now carry USDA Select as their primary (as opposed to "prime") grade of meat, and occasionally get in a few USDA Choice cuts of steak. And I haven't seen a USDA Prime cut of meat in a supermarket in about thirty years. Back then, USDA Choice was the normal cut of supermarket beef, with only the occasional USDA Prime (our highest grade of beef) found in their meat cases.

                                                        Fresh produce in this country varies greatly from area to area in both price and quality. When you live where quality is low and price is high, many vegetables move into the luxury category, along with USDA Choice or Prime beef. I bought a gorgeous eggplant about two weeks ago. Examined it carefully in the market before deciding that was the one for me. Brought it home, set it in a basket on my countertop so it would be ready to cook the next morning. When I got up, it had a huge orange rot spot in it's formerly lovely purple skin. With bacteria that grow that fast, and not having a clue as to what they were, it went straight into the trash. The gasoline to return it would have cost me at least the price of the damned eggplant! I guess the moral is shop closer to home. But do take things with a grain of salt when someone shares local prices that may not be universal (unfortunately) for the rest of us.

                                                        1. re: greedygirl

                                                          GG

                                                          here is an example from jfood's grocer where the meat is excellent

                                                          http://www.scottscornermarket.com/wee...

                                                          1. re: jfood

                                                            My god, I hope this is a typo! Two and one third OUNCES???

                                                            ..................
                                                            Lloyds BBQ Spare Ribs........................$14.99
                                                            2.3 oz pkg.

                                                            1. re: Caroline1

                                                              Lloyds BBQ Spare Ribs........................$14.99
                                                              2.3 oz pkg.

                                                              Cut and paste!

                                                              1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                                                                LOL! Check out jf's link. Bet people are rushing in to buy them in droves! '-)

                                                          2. re: greedygirl

                                                            Here's this week's local ad in my Oklahoma area. Note, on page 1, the whole chicken .68, pork .99, pork sausage (good brand) at .99. These "Front Page loss-leader item" sale prices are at about 50% of the non-sale prices for these items.

                                                            Page 2 reflects the newer reality: sales prices for these meat items are ca. 20% higher than sales prices 2 years ago, prior to the market changes of corn and petroleum.

                                                            This link will be different by 7/15/08 when the new weekly ads emerge).

                                                            http://buyforless.playintraffik.com/A...

                                                            1. re: FoodFuser

                                                              Wow!! Almost like next to free food! Cheaper than cheap!! All of it!

                                                              1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                                                                It is truly amazing how cheaply we can eat if we allow our weekly menus to be tweaked and guided by loss leaders, and if we take the time to calibrate our shopping brains to spot the deals.