12 Days of Holiday Food Gifts

Give the gift of healthier edible goodies this season.

12 min read

The perfect present for many people is a food gift. Think about it: Sooner or later, food gets consumed, and it won't collect dust sitting on a shelf or take up space in a closet.

The way I see it, you can never have too many festive food gifts on hand during the holiday season. You can bring them to parties as hostess gifts, or give them to friends or neighbors who stop by unexpectedly. When you don't quite know what to give to kind coworkers or talented teachers, give the gift of food. Everyone's got to eat!

To give you some ideas -- 12 to be exact -- I've put together 12 days' worth of holiday food gifts. But these are not your typical holiday offerings -- there's no fruitcake to joke about, no tacky tins of stale popcorn parked under the tree, no obligatory bottles of wine given as host or hostess gifts.

Some of these gifts you can order online, and some you assemble at home and deliver in person. They may not all appeal to you, but there should be something here for just about anyone.

There are several brands of Pomegranate Green tea out there. But the shiny red tin from The Republic of Tea makes an especially festive gift. It's the gift that keeps on giving, because each tin contains 50 tea bags to enjoy. Send it in a beautiful gift box or wrap with pretty cellophane or tissue paper. You could include a teacup or mug, too.

Instead of wine, give friends a Napa Valley company's best-selling duo: a bottle of Lemon Pepper Olive Oil and a bottle of Blackberry Vanilla Balsamic Vinegar. "When these two are paired together, the flavor just pops," says owner Tony Pennisi, who says the combination was discovered quite by accident.

This relatively young company, Big Paw (started in 1993) doesn't advertise. They sell their gourmet goods at farmer's markets across Northern California, and now online. They'll mail their products anywhere Federal Express will go. You can find them at www.bigpawgrub.com.

The Grinder Trio can be found for under $10 at your local supermarket. When you give this to someone, you're giving the gift of fresh flavor.

  • Nutmeg Mill by Drogheria Alimentari. There's nothing like freshly ground nutmeg topping your light eggnog or pumpkin pancakes or flavoring your coffee. The Nutmeg Mill makes this easy. You'll never buy ground nutmeg again.
  • Sea Salt Grinder by McCormick. If you're going to add salt to your food, it might as well be freshly ground. This way, you may be likely to use less of it.
  • Pepper Grinder by McCormick. Every healthful kitchen needs a pepper grinder. This multicolored peppercorn blend adds color and flavor to any dish without adding calories or sodium.

Whole-wheat cake mixes? That's right. They're brand new from Bob's Red Mill, headquartered in Oregon. There are four flavors, each calling for a small amount of vegetable oil and each with its own topping suggestion printed on the package:

  • Lemon Poppy Seed Cake Mix.
  • Chocolate Cake Mix.
  • Gingerbread Cake Mix.
  • Spice Apple Cake Mix.

A serving of each of these cakes contains around 2 grams of fiber, 220 calories, and 17 grams of sugar. A nonstick, 9-inch cake pan completes the gift nicely. Find them at www.bobsredmill.com

Remember the "5 golden rings"? I can't think of anything, food-wise, that compares to the preciousness of gold other than chocolate. Here are a couple of options (but there are, of course, many more wonderful chocolate bars out there to behold).

Moonstruck Chocolate Co. sells a 5-bar pack of elegant chocolate bars for $15. It includes the standard milk, ivory and dark chocolate, plus Chile Variado and Espresso Bean flavors. Find them at www.moonstruckchocolate.com

Dagoba Organic Chocolate is one of a few organic chocolate companies in the U.S., and their bars are loaded with the phytochemicals that the cocoa bean is naturally endowed with. May I suggest their 12 Bar Alchemist's Blend box? It's a mix of their top-selling dark and milk chocolate bars, including flavors like "Brasilia," with coconut and roasted exotic nuts, "Chai" with a secret blend of chai spices and crystallized ginger, and "Mon Cherri" with cherries/vanilla. According to my calculations, if you give away two gifts of 5 chocolate bars each, that leaves two bars for you. But who's counting? Find them at www.dagobachocolate.com

This Faux Frying Gift Basket uses a brand spanking new nonstick frying pan as the basket (item No. 1). The pan is filled with these 5 other faux frying essentials:

  • A nonstick spatula to help "fry" food in your nonstick frying pan and bakeware.
  • A silicon brush, for brushing canola oil lightly onto food or your nonstick frying pan and bakeware.
  • A can of canola cooking spray for lightly covering your food or pans.
  • A small bottle of canola oil. Light frying often requires a small amount of an oil that can handle higher temperature oven-frying and light pan-frying.
  • A cookbook that contains recipes for lighter versions of "fried" foods. Of course, I recommend my own book Fry Light, Fry Right, which is all about having your favorite fried foods and eating light, too.

To all your sporty friends, give the gift of fast fuel. Assemble an assortment of 7 of your favorite power bars, packaged with a new sports towel and sports bottle, and maybe even a small workout bag. A box of 12 bars costs about $15. Here are some suggested flavors:

From Clif Bar:

  • Iced Gingerbread
  • Caramel Apple Cobbler
  • Spiced Pumpkin Pie (include 2 of these bars for your total of 7)
  • Banana Nut

From Luna Bar:

  • Peppermint Stick
  • Chocolate Pecan Pie

You can find Clif and Luna bars at grocery stores and health food stores across the country, or order online at: www.clifbar.com or www.lunabar.com

This bread machine recipe for lighter, higher-fiber cinnamon rolls makes two cake pans filled with eight rolls each. They rise in the refrigerator overnight and are ready to bake in the morning. You can either give them ready-to-rise, ready-to-bake, or ready-to-eat -- it's your choice! The best part is that this recipe makes one pan to keep and one pan to give.

Easy & Light Cinnamon Rolls

WebMD Weight Loss Clinic members: Journal 1 roll as 2 small muffins OR 3 pieces of pancake, waffle, French toast

1 cup plus 2 tablespoons warm milk (105-110 degrees)
3 tablespoons canola oil
1 egg, lightly beaten
1/4 cup egg substitute
1/2 cup sugar
2 cups whole-wheat flour
2 cups unbleached white flour (add 1/4-1/3 cup more if dough seems too wet in the pan after the first 5 minutes of mixing in the machine)
1 teaspoon salt
4 teaspoons bread machine yeast (rapid rise)

1 cup packed brown sugar
2 tablespoons ground cinnamon
1/4 cup less-fat margarine (like Take Control) or whipped butter

1/2 cup light cream cheese
2 tablespoons less fat margarine or whipped butter
1 1/2 cups powdered sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

  • Place dough ingredients in a 2-pound bread machine pan in the order recommended by manufacturer (usually in the order listed here). Set machine to "dough" cycle and press START.
  • When dough cycle is complete, roll dough out on lightly floured surface with a rolling pin until it is about 21 inches long and 16 inches wide. It should be about 1/4-inch thick.
  • Combine brown sugar and cinnamon in a small bowl with a fork or whisk. Spread margarine evenly over the top surface of the dough. Sprinkle the cinnamon mixture evenly over the margarine.
  • Working carefully from the 21-inch side, roll the dough down to the bottom edge. Cut the rolled dough into 16 slices (about 1 1/4-inch thick) and place slices (8 per pan) into two, 9-inch round cake pans that have been coated with canola cooking spray. Cover the pans with plastic wrap or foil and let rise in the refrigerator overnight or at room temperature for an hour.
  • Bake in preheated, 375-degree oven for about 15 minutes, or until rolls are light brown on top and cooked throughout. While the rolls bake, beat the icing ingredients with an electric mixer until fluffy.
  • When rolls come out of the oven, coat each generously with icing and serve.

Yield: 16 cinnamon rolls

Per roll: 370 calories, 7.5 g protein, 66 g carbohydrate, 8.5 g fat, 4.5 g saturated fat, 35 mg cholesterol, 3 g fiber, 330 mg sodium. Calories from fat: 21%

You can find festive, 9-ounce cans of nuts from Planters in your neighborhood grocery store. Dress it up with a colorful bow and gift tag, and you're good to go. One of my favorite Planters Nut can collections is the lightly salted Heart-Healthy Mix with peanuts, almonds, pistachios, pecans, walnuts and hazelnuts.

As a bonus, the health claim on the label reads: "Scientific evidence suggests, but does not prove, that eating 1.5 ounces per day of most nuts, such as peanuts, almonds, pistachios, pecans, walnuts and hazelnuts, as part of a diet low in saturated fat and cholesterol and not resulting in increased caloric intake, may reduce the risk of coronary heart disease."

Send your special someone the healthy gift of flax, which I consider one of the most nutritionally powerful plant foods on the planet. You could send a pound of ground flaxseed along with a printed version of the "10 Facts about Flax" below. Or put together a Flax Pack: Package a cookbook with flaxseed recipes (like my book, The Flax Cookbook) with a pound of ground flaxseed, all wrapped up in ribbon with a shiny new tablespoon measure dangling from the bow.

10 Facts about Flax

To help motivate you to add flaxseed to your diet, here are 10 interesting facts about flax:

1. Flaxseed has been on the planet for thousands of years, and is now mostly grown in Canada and the Dakotas.
2. Flaxseed contains a high concentration of plant omega-3 fatty acids (around 1.5 grams per tablespoon) and lignans (phytoestrogen phytochemicals), which have anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. Omega-3s are thought to be highly protective against heart disease.
3. Each tablespoon of ground flaxseed contributes about 2.3 grams of fiber. It's a combination of soluble and insoluble fiber.
4. A tablespoon of ground flaxseed also contributes important vitamins and minerals: 6% of the recommended daily amount for vitamin B6, 6% for vitamin E, 15% for folic acid, and 12% for magnesium.
5. Along with flaxseed's heart-healthy qualities, some studies over the years have pointed to possible protective effects against breast, prostate, and colon cancer.
6. One tablespoon is a good amount of flax to strive for each day (which is why you'd include a tablespoon measure in your Flax Pack). "I think it is reasonable to take one tablespoon of ground flaxseed a day," says Lilian Thompson, PhD, an expert on flaxseed from the University of Toronto.
7. Be sure to either to buy flaxseed already ground, or grind it before you eat it (or cook with it). Otherwise it passes through your digestive system, and you don't get all the nutritional benefits.
8. The freezer is a great place to store flaxseed.
9. To sneak flaxseed into your baking recipes, try replacing 1/8 of a cup of ground flaxseed per cup of flour called for in the recipe. You can also add it to cereal, smoothies, or yogurt.
10. Keep in mind that researchers have yet to conduct large, randomized studies on the role of flaxseed in reducing cancer and other health risks. For example, there is no conclusive data on the safety of flaxseed taken daily by children, and women who are pregnant, breastfeeding, or on anti-estrogen medications.

But not just any coffee. Give them the best coffee on the planet (at least what you think is the best coffee). You might want to know if they like their coffee locked and loaded (with caffeine) or if they are discrete decaf-ers. Obviously the "best" coffee is highly subjective. But if you're looking for a company that sells coffee befitting fine restaurants around the world and that packages that fabulous coffee in sleek, festive-looking tins, give Illy at look.

Illy is not just for espresso machines anymore. They now sell coffee ground perfectly for a drip coffee system. For $26, you can get two tins (8.8 ounces each) of medium grind for drip coffee in medium or dark roast, with an Illy-engraved measuring spoon thrown in. The Illy company was founded in Italy in 1933, and now its coffee is brewed in more than 41,000 restaurants and coffee bars and is sold in over 100 countries around the world --- totaling over 6 million cups of Illy espresso a day! It's been my own experience that Illy offers coffee enthusiasts an authentic Italian experience in every cup. I will travel to Italy one of these years, but in the meantime, at least I've got my Illy coffee. Visit them at www.illy.com

What candy says "Christmas" more than fudge? And this lighter fudge recipe is super-special because it literally takes 5 minutes to make in the microwave. The recipe also gives you some options to personalize your fudge. Your recipient will know the fudge was created just for him or her.

Personalized 5-Minute Fudge

WebMD Weight Loss Clinic members: Journal as 1 portion light dessert (without mix-ins). With mix-ins, journal as 1 portion medium dessert.

3 cups chocolate chips, according to preference (such as 1 1/2 cups milk chocolate chips plus 1 1/2 semi-sweet chocolate chips)
14 ounces fat-free sweetened condensed milk
Dash salt
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Mix-ins to personalize your fudge, such as:

  • For Rocky Road Fudge: 1 1/4 cups miniature marshmallows + 1 cup walnut pieces.
  • For German Chocolate Cake Fudge: 1 cup flaked or shredded coconut + 1 cup pecan pieces.
  • For Peppermint Stick Fudge: 1 cup crunched-up candy canes.
  • For Choco Mint Fudge: Add 1 1/2 teaspoons peppermint extract instead of vanilla extract (same calories as vanilla fudge)
  • For Peanut Butter Fudge: 1 cup of peanut butter M&Ms.

  • Line an 8x8-inch or 9x9-inch square baking dish with foil.
  • Add chocolate chips, sweetened condensed milk, and dash salt to an 8-cup microwave-safe glass measure and stir to blend. Microwave on HIGH for 1 minute. Stir and microwave 1 minute more. Stir until chocolate chips are completely melted and a smooth mixture has formed.
  • Stir in any mix-ins you're using to personalize your fudge (including vanilla extract) and spoon into prepared baking dish. Cover and chill in refrigerator for at least two hours, or until firm. Pull foil out of baking dish so you can easily cut fudge into about 49 squares (cut 7 columns vertically, then horizontally).

Yield: 64 squares

Per 2 squares (not including mix-ins): 110 calories, 1.5 g protein, 16 g carbohydrate, 4.5 g fat, 2.5 g saturated fat, <5 mg cholesterol, 1.0 g fiber, 19 mg sodium. Calories from fat: 37%.

Recipes provided by Elaine Magee; © 2006 Elaine Magee

Elaine Magee, MPH, RD, is the "Recipe Doctor" for the WebMD Weight Loss Clinic and the author of numerous books on nutrition and health. Her opinions and conclusions are her own.

Published December 8, 2006.