Homemade "Healthful" Holiday Gifts

Try these festive goodies for giving

By Elaine Magee, MPH, RD
WebMD Weight Loss Clinic - Expert Column

Reviewed By Kathleen Zelman, MPH, RD, LD

People love getting edible gifts from the kitchens of friends of family; at least that's what they tell me when I give them something healthful and homemade each year! Homemade food gifts are particularly welcome during the holidays because this is the time of year when people are busier than usual and could use a beverage or food break.

I brought 9-inch pans of light cinnamon rolls to neighbors one year. Another year I made my less-sugar triple berry jam, and last year I left loaves of cranberry walnut bread on their doorsteps. But just in case you don't want to brave the kitchen right about now, I included a list of some healthful food and non-food gifts that you can purchase instead of make.

10 Healthful Food Gifts You Can Buy for Your Friends and Family

  • A ceramic mixing bowl filled with light mixes, a new mixing spoon and scraper, and a kitchen towel
  • A nonstick frying pan or skillet wrapped with a can of canola oil cooking spray or a Misto sprayer and a couple of nonstick spatulas
  • A salad bowl filled with a couple of bottles of tasty, light salad dressings and some light salad toppers such as a bag of croutons or Salad Toppins and some salad tongs or serving spoons
  • A teacup or teakettle gift-wrapped with a box or can of flavorful tea bags. Republic of Tea brand has some pretty cans of tea in fun flavors such as Mango Ceylon or Ginger Peach (also available in decaf)
  • A medium-sized basket filled with just-baked light muffins, nut bread, or scones (preferably part whole grain) with a jar of less-sugar preserves
  • A pretty candy dish filled with individually wrapped pieces of sugarless gum
  • A bottle of olive oil and a bottle of balsamic vinegar decoratively wrapped together
  • A cheese platter including a couple of great tasting, reduced-fat cheeses and a box of reduced-fat crackers (possibly whole grain), packaged with a cheese knife
  • A bag of ground flaxseed packaged with a light cookbook on cooking with flax (such as The Flax Cookbook by Elaine Magee)
  • A fresh fruit and nut basket can be made by filling decoratively with fresh fruit and some packages of festive nuts.

10 Healthful Non-Food Gifts You Can Buy for Your Friends & Family

  • A subscription to a health-oriented magazine
  • A one-month pass to a gym offering classes in Pilates, yoga, swimming, aerobics, etc.
  • A user-friendly book on nutrition or healthy cooking
  • Exercise equipment (such as a stationary bike or treadmill)
  • An exercise video
  • A certificate for "pamper yourself" gifts that have nothing to do with food -- manicure, pedicure, facial, or massage
  • A bottle of scented massage oil packaged with a candle
  • A "de-stress yourself "gift basket including an aromatherapy relaxing candle with a CD of relaxing music, a package of "calm" or "serenity" tea, and a bottle of bath oil and/or lotion
  • A "get in touch with your feelings" gift set including a nighttime journal, a pen (with or without a light), and a book light
  • A few sessions with a personal trainer

And for you kitchen-friendly folks, here are a few recipes that work out great as homemade holiday gifts:

Cranberry Eggnog Quick Bread

Journal one slice as: 1/2 of a small muffin.

This bread tastes even better the next day. Cute little loaves make excellent gifts because the color and flavor of this bread epitomizes the holiday season! These loaves also freeze well.

1 large egg
1/4 cup egg substitute
1 cup white sugar (Splenda can be substituted)
1 cup light eggnog (from carton); soy eggnog is now available and can be substituted
1/4 cup canola oil
1/4 cup rum
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup fresh cranberries (washed and well drained and bad cranberries thrown out)

  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Coat loaf pans with canola cooking spray.
  • Beat egg and egg substitute in large bowl. Blend in sugar, eggnog, canola oil, rum, and vanilla until smooth.
  • Stir together flour, baking powder, salt, and nutmeg. Mix dry ingredients into eggnog mixture; beat on low just to moisten dry ingredients. Gently stir in cranberries.
  • Pour batter into prepared pan(s). Bake until toothpick or tester inserted in center comes out clean (about 50-60 minutes for one large loaf, 40-50 minutes for two medium-sized loaves, or 35-40 minutes for three mini loaves.) Cool completely. Wrap tightly and store in the refrigerator.

Makes two 8x3 3/4 inch loaves, one 9x5 inch loaf, or three 5 3/4x3 1/4 inch loaves.

Per serving (about 20 servings altogether): 135 calories, 3 g protein, 22 g carbohydrate, 3.5 g fat (0.5 g saturated fat, 1.8 g monounsaturated fat, 0.9 g polyunsaturated fat), 20 mg cholesterol, 1 g fiber, 118 mg sodium. Calories from fat: 24%.

Cinna-nilla Hot Cocoa Mix (with Splenda)

Journal as: 3/4 cup of skim milk.

Hot cocoa mix with a twist! This recipe makes enough hot cocoa mix to fill about four 1-pint jars. Many of the hot cocoa mixes you buy in the store contain partially hydrogenated fats, which mean they contain the undesirable trans fats. By making your own hot cocoa mix, you can use a fat-free nondairy creamer and powdered milk to almost eliminate the trans fats and Splenda to replace the sugar.

4 cups nonfat dry milk powder
2 cups Splenda (powdered sugar can be substituted)
1 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
3/4 cup fat-free French vanilla nondairy creamer (or use regular fat-free nondairy creamer and add 2 tablespoons pure vanilla powder -- it's near the extracts in most supermarkets)
2 tablespoons ground cinnamon (just leave it out if you don't like cinnamon)

  • Add dry milk powder, Splenda or powdered sugar, cocoa powder, nondairy creamer, and cinnamon to an extra-large bowl and stir to blend ingredients well.
  • Use a flexible mat or funnel to gently pour the hot cocoa mix into empty pint jars (filling them about 3/4-inch from the top) and decorate the jars with ribbon, bows, or fabric rounds.
  • Include a tag or label with the directions; "Add 1/3 cup of cocoa mix to 3/4 cup of boiling water."

Makes about four 1-pint jars.

Per cup of prepared hot cocoa: 70 calories, 4.5 g protein, 12 g carbohydrate, 0.5 g fat (0.3 g saturated fat, 0.2 g monounsaturated fat), 2 mg cholesterol, 1.2 g fiber, 68 mg sodium. Calories from fat: 6%.

A cup of cocoa a day ...

Hot cocoa wins as the food beverage most likely to have the highest amount of antioxidants, compared with green and black tea and red wine, according to a study recently published in the Dec. 3 issue of the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry. The antioxidants in question are the phenols and flavonoids, which are thought to help prevent heart disease and cancer. The researchers in the study did chemical analyses of the four beverages and found that cocoa not only had two times the antioxidants of red wine and almost three times as much as green tea (black tea had even less than green tea), but the lead researcher also suspects that the heat in hot cocoa may even trigger the release of more antioxidants.

Easy Orange Cranberry Sauce

This festive sauce is as easy as it is beautiful. Make it a gourmet food gift by ladling the sauce in a see-through serving dish or gift jar, cover, and wrap with decorative cellophane. I have three sugar options in this recipe. You can make it with 2 cups of sugar, you can use less sugar (1 1/2 cups), or you can use 1 cup regular sugar and 1 cup Splenda (sugar substitute).

2 cups sugar (Splenda can be substituted for 1 cup of this sugar)
2 cups orange juice
2 packages (12 ounces each) fresh cranberries
Zest from 2 oranges

  • Add all the ingredients to a large, nonstick saucepan; bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce the heat to a simmer and let cook until cranberries pop open, stirring often (about 10 minutes).
  • Fill gift jars or serving dishes with the orange cranberry mixture, cover well, then keep chilled in refrigerator until serving or giving it to your friends and family.

Makes enough sauce to fill about five 1-cup jars.

Journal as: 4 teaspoons of jam.

Per 1/4 cup serving (if using 2 cups of sugar): 105 calories, 0.3 g protein, 27 g carbohydrate, 0.1 g fiber, 0 mg cholesterol, 1.2 g fiber, 0.8 mg sodium. Calories from fat: 1%.

Journal as: 3 teaspoons of jam.

Per 1/4 cup serving (if using 1 1/2 cups sugar): 85 calories, .3 g protein, 22 g carbohydrate, .1 g fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 1.2 g fiber, .8 mg sodium. Calories from fat: 1%.

Journal as: 2 teaspoons of jam.

Per 1/4 cup serving (if using 1 cup sugar and 1 cup Splenda): 67 calories, 0.3 g protein, 17 g carbohydrate, 0.1 g fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 1.2 g fiber, 0.8 mg sodium. Calories from fat: 2%.

Originally Published December 5, 2003.
Mediacally Updated Oct. 15, 2004.

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