Give Healthful Food Gifts This Holiday Season

By Deborah Jeanne Sergeant

Many people enjoy giving (and receiving) food gifts. They don’t end up as clutter and offer a treat the recipient might not otherwise indulge in.

Giving food also bears a few caveats, however.

It helps to know the preferences of the recipient and any dietary restrictions, both medical and self-imposed.

We spoke with some local experts and they offered a few suggestions.

While store-bought food gifts may seem convenient, they often contain plenty of sugar for taste appeal and additives to keep them self stable.

Mary Jo Parker, registered dietitian with Nutrition & Counseling Services in Williamsville, recommended giving homemade treats, including healthful cookies, candied pecans or walnuts, low-fat fudge, granola cereal or granola bars, dried fruits, dark chocolates, and fruit jams. By making them yourself, you can choose healthful recipes.

She also suggested giving food gifts that can support healthful home cooking, including gourmet oils and vinegars and gourmet herbs and spices. All of these can jazz up vegetable dishes, for example.

Parker also mentioned specialty coffees and teas, fresh fruit baskets or boxes, healthful popcorn and popcorn maker, and “boxes of favorite foods, healthy snacks like bean tortilla chips, whole wheat pretzels, etc.; subscription box of foods, subscription for healthy magazines, newsletters, or healthy cookbooks,” she said.

Erin Burch, registered dietitian and owner of Erin Burch Nutrition in Buffalo, likes gifts baskets with fresh fruit or nuts/seeds/trail mixes.

“Those would be the only options I would recommend buying,” she said. “Many of the other options are boxed items, filled with preservatives, or cured meats like sausages.”

Many older adults on a fixed income seldom buy fresh fruits, especially those out of season.    

“Many times seniors who live alone, or with just a spouse, are unable to get through large bags of produce, so a sampling of one or two is nice,” Burch said. “Dried fruits last much longer as well.”

Watch out for things that are hard to chew, as many older adults wear dentures, and salty items, since  many watch their sodium intake.

For people eating “clean” and trying to lose weight, fruit also makes a welcomed gift.

College students may like grab-and-go options such as single-serving nuts, seeds and raisins. Packets of oatmeal or healthful granola bars can provide a quick breakfast. Fill a microwave popcorn bowl with a bag of kernels and a shaker of sea salt for those study night cravings. Keep their items simple and easy to fix. Most microwavable foods will work, but most dorms don’t have an oven or many kitchen tools.

Don’t forget about the children on your list. Burch likes to give gifts that can inspire them to get cooking, or some foods that seem like treats but are actually healthful.

“This could be something as simple as a healthier homemade dessert or homemade granola bars,” Burch said. “Or a basket with unique fruits they may have never had, like plantains, star fruit, dragon fruits, or a basket to make their own trail mix. It would include lots of different dried fruits, nuts, seeds and dark chocolate.

She also likes no-sugar-added dried fruit as a fun stocking stuffer or to tuck into a larger present.

“It offers protein, fiber, healthy fats, making it a nice, satisfying snack that will hold them over before their next meal,” Burch said.

As you compile your own gift basket, you can line it with a new tea towel and tuck in any accessories that complement the gift, such as a nutcracker with unshelled nuts. Many party stores and discount stores sell cellophane outer wraps to keep your goodies in the basket.

Local experts suggest a food basket with fresh fruit or nuts/seeds/trail mixes can be a great holiday season gift.