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Top Ten Online Food Gifts for 2010

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I avoided the Mall on Black Friday, and stayed off all e-commerce sites on Cyber Monday. But I won’t be able to avoid it for long. Holiday gift shopping is facing me whether I like it or not.

Over the years, my shopping habits have evolved. As a teenager, it was about making a statement within a babysitter’s budget. So friends received “small but meaningful” holiday gifts that were meant to remind them of some inside joke or memory. As a newlywed, it was about the romantic gift. Makes me wonder whatever happened to those leopard print . . . never mind.

When the kids were little, it was about surprising them with things only Santa would know. As they grew, it became more about fulfilling their holiday wish lists, meaning electronics and music.

And, now, as most of my friends are downsizing, it’s about gifts that don’t cause clutter or create a storage problem. In other words, consumables. For family, friends, co-workers and other special people I want to remember, the best holiday gifts are things they can eat. Here, then, is the list of gifts I plan to give this year:

1.     Restaurant gift certificates. I’ve given these before but am passionate about it this year. In the midst of economic woes, I think it’s time to eat out again. And I’m all about encouraging others to do the same. Stores have made it easy to pick up gift cards for many of the popular chains, or you can stop in at most of your local restaurants and buy a certificate now, as well. Wrap up a few with a food calendar so your friends and family can plan their year of eating well.

2.     Club memberships. Someone gave a Sam’s Club membership to my daughter as a wedding gift, and I’ve decided it’s one of the smartest things you can do. It allows people a full year of benefit, often for something they wouldn’t buy themselves but will appreciate.

3.     Food Clubs. This is more about mail order than a personal visit, and is the type of gift that brings the joy of anticipation to the recipient—often monthly, or at any frequency you choose. A good one is Community Coffee, but there are food and wine clubs for almost any taste.

4.     Fun food. I’m talking things like Garrett’s popcorn, or cotton candy and caramel apples from Tasty Clouds. These are items that bring smiles and a bit of nostalgia—perfect at the holidays, when it’s all about bringing out your inner child.

5.     Indulgence food. This is the once-a-year splurge for something that is as much about beautiful presentation as it is taste—but, to their credit, these companies make the food taste good too. Harry & David. Wolferman’s. Dean & Deluca. Neiman Marcus. Williams-Sonoma. I’ll never forget my first tower from Harry & David. The top box contained a single pear, that was as precious as anything I’d ever received.

6.     Practical food. For the person who has everything, there’s nothing like a steak. Omaha SteaksAllen Brothers Steaks. Kansas City Steak Company. Take your pick of gourmet selections that are also practical. We started doing this for my father-in-law a few years ago, and knew it was a hit when he started re-ordering on his own. And it doesn't have to be just steak. There are all kinds of great food items, like the honey items from Honey Ridge Farms.

7.     Regional food. This is a great idea for friends who have moved away from their hometown, or for those whom you’d like to entice back for a visit. Most states have sites where products are featured, like Wisconsinmade.com.

8.     Chocolate. This gift actually breaks my own rule of not giving gifts that cause weight gain, but there is a chocolate that is so delectable I just have to put it on the list. We came across it at a specialty food show this year, after we had identified sea salt and chocolate as a trend the year before. So, a shout out to John Kelly Chocolates!

9.     Gulf seafood. For many months this year we have run a series of articles about the Gulf, in the aftermath of the oil spill that so devastated the area. This makes our list as a show of support for all of those who are plugging away, working with Mother Nature to farm, harvest, and sell the seafood. Check it out at links from the Louisiana Seafood Marketing and Promotions Board.

10.    CookbooksThe Food Channel is offering an e-book full of 100 of our best dessert recipes. Find more about that on our site!