Many eco-conscious people face a quandary over the holidays. In a consumer-driven society with too much waste and houses overcrowded with stuff, shouldn’t we axe the gift-giving tradition? Then again, our inner Santa-loving child may feel neglected, unloved or just ripped off by a giftless December. Fortunately, there’s an easy solution: the gift of food. Everybody has to eat, and a food gift doesn’t hang around forever, taking up space. To make food gifts more special — and to save lots of money — consider making your own. Here’s a roundup of some ideas for handmade food gifts.
Fruitcakes are probably the most traditional holiday food gift. This recipe by Gretchen Price features lots of dried fruit chopped up into impressively small bits, and the loaf is strongly spiced with grated ginger, cloves, anise, cinnamon, allspice and cardamom. Gretchen kindly suggests subbing apple juice for rum if you happen to operate an alcohol-free kitchen.
However, while fruitcakes are traditional, many people find cookies more delicious. If you’re feeling extra creative, get out your cookie cutters and decorate with frosting, sprinkles and candies. Ellie of My Healthy Dessert offers a trendy spin on rolled cookies with her recipe for crispy matcha Christmas cookies. Scones, muffins and fruit breads also make good holiday gifts, but don’t make them too far ahead, because they’re best eaten within a couple of days of baking.
Related: A guide to the best eco-friendly holiday gifts for foodies
You could go a little healthier by making a fresh batch of granola for folks on your list. My basic recipe starts with preheating the oven to 450. Put about six cups of old fashioned oats in a baking pan, add a cup of raw seeds and a cup of raw nuts and mix them up. Then, combine about one-half to three-quarters of a cup of vegetable or coconut oil with the same amount of sweetener: brown sugar, coconut sugar, agave, maple syrup, molasses, etc. I might throw in ginger, cinnamon, unsweetened cocoa and/or a little cayenne pepper, too. Once that mixture melts, combine it in with the oats and nuts. Stick the pan in the oven for 8 minutes. Take it out, stir and bake for another 8 minutes. If you want it well done, continue cooking but be sure to check it every minute or two after that to prevent burning.
If your friends, family, office mates and other gift recipients have a sweet tooth, it’s fun to make candy for them. Peanut brittle is delicious and easy with this recipe from Loving it Vegan. Use up extra candy canes with this peppermint candy cane truffle recipe from Where Do You Get Your Protein.
For friends with slightly more adventurous palates, Vegan Gastronomy offers a recipe for chocolate-covered dates stuffed with orange cream and topped with orange zest, sea salt and shredded coconut.
Freshly toasted and spiced nuts are simple to make and more nutritious than cookies. All you need are raw pecans, walnuts, cashews or any other nuts, some vegan butter or coconut oil, sugar and/or spices. For a sweet nut, add brown sugar and cinnamon to your skillet of nuts. For savory nuts, experiment with paprika, chili powder, cumin or turmeric.
Trail mix is even easier to assemble. Just choose some nuts, seeds and dried fruits from the bulk section of a grocery store, and pour it all into an attractive, reusable jar.
Native Americans ate a food similar to modern-day tamales as far back as 8,000 B.C.E. Corn was considered the substance of life, and consuming it could be a spiritual experience. The love of tamales has continued through the ages and is now tied to Christmas celebrations in Mexico and the American Southwest.
Making tamales isn’t especially hard, but it takes a lot of time. Consider doing what the tamaleras, or tamale makers like to do: throw a tamalada, or tamale making party. You’ll need a tamale steamer, access to Hispanic foods like corn husks and masa and a gathering of loved ones who also want to give the gift of tamales. Check out 18 vegan tamale recipes from Dora’s Table, including red chile jackfruit, jalapeño and cactus, and sweet pineapple tamales.
It seems like every financial advice article highlights how much money you could save by making coffee at home. Help your friends break their high-cost habits by gifting them with homemade coffee syrups. This is an easy and unusual gift. All it takes is water, sugar, extracts, a saucepan and a stove. Check out these recipes from Royal Cup Coffee for flavors like vanilla, peppermint, blackberry and cinnamon brown sugar.
Related: 10 recipes you can gift in jars
Infused oils are another easy-to-make food gift. Luci’s Morsels tells you how to infuse olive oil with lemon, garlic, chili or rosemary in less than an hour.
For the friend who just cannot get enough spicy food, homemade chili pepper sauce is a thoughtful gift. From ghost pepper to scotch bonnets, Chili Pepper Madness answers questions about crafting hot sauce at home. You might want to have a dedicated blender or food processor for this, unless you like your smoothies spicy.
Custom-blended spice mixes are one of the easiest handmade food gift ideas. Your friends who like to cook quick dishes will thank you when your homemade jerk seasoning blend perks up their tofu, or your barbecue seasoning breathes new life into their kale and chickpeas. Real Simple offers 10 simple spice mix ideas.
For those on your list who believe chocolate makes everything better, dip some snacks in chocolate and call it a gift. Strawberries, nuts, pretzels — this is easy, messy fun. Melt dairy-free dark chocolate chips for the vegans on your list, dip the snack and let it cool. Use your creative license. Have you ever wondered what ghost pepper potato chips dipped in dark chocolate would taste like?
Packaging for your homemade food gifts
Think about what you can reuse here. Do you have extra mason jars on hand? Bottles you can wash thoroughly and remove the commercial labels? Excess Tupperware? Scour your nearest thrift shops for secondhand festive cookie tins or pretty tea cups to fill with truffles. If you like making food gifts this year, start a collection of your old jars, bottles and garage sale finds for next year.
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